“Education Cuts Never Heal”: Why the Sequestration Plan is Insensitive and Irresponsible

What kinds of judgments are we qualified to make about a country like the United States which, in the toughest of economic binds decides to cut funding not of, say, the military but of education? Especially considering that the military receives well over half of national funding while education receives less than 3% of the meager non-discretionary spending slither of the same pie?

It would have to be a country with big claws and a small brain, naturally requiring to keep its claws sharp and naturally unequipped to realize its own need to get smart. Even when it uses its little cranium to consider the importance of education, it does so relative to how it can use it to polish its claws. It cannot imagine that it can be another type of creature altogether if its priorities were not always seen through this hegemonic, competitive filter.

In my years of studying social justice and the importance of connectedness between representatives and constituents, but in reality feeling underrepresented and discouraged by it, I experienced a rare occasion to exercise direct political agency.

This week, I was able to join TRIO professionals from across the nation in Capitol Hill to lobby for continued funding for education opportunity programs. I did this as someone who has benefited from the services of TRIO and who has come to better realize how irreplaceably necessary the encouragement they provide to the likes of me is. I would likely be crocheting doilies for some unappreciative husband right now if my academic interests and creative prowess had not received the support and encouragement they did. Yet, due to the repeated funding cuts that TRIO programs have suffered in the past decade, and now facing more cuts due to sequestration, thousands of people like me will not get this imperative encouragement.

I can’t bear the thought of thousands of “me”s left to crochet doilies or passively carry out any such passionless activity, not for lack of smarts but lack of confidence and opportunity. People forced to live for a short time with the anxiety and turmoil of having to stifle and gag all their hopes, and then to persist in an eternal graveyard with the corpses of their hopes. Imagine an inner life of walking among headstones of aborted experiences, provided that you were even exposed to enough privilege to imagine possibilities for yourself. The thought eminently pains me, and it is well to consider here that the clawed, brainless creature mentioned earlier may just as well be heartless.

I’m not alone in thinking that cutting education funding is not a solution to anything ever. According to national statistics discussed this weekend at the COE Policy Seminar, less than 10% of the US population supports such cuts, while more than 60% of the population actually supports increased funding in education. Obviously. Equal opportunity in education should not be a luxury in a liberal democracy that is supposed to promote the self-determination and self-development of individuals–it should be as fundamental as basic health care (but need I go into that issue?). And a democracy that takes away funding from education opportunity programs not only chooses to stay blind to the structural oppression it harbors, but it sends to the underprivileged the message that it is happy to see them stay that way.

My point here is more about why increased education funding, particularly for programs like TRIO, is connected to promoting basic human capabilities. But increased education funding also promotes the interests of the clawed monster (if the clawed monster was smart enough to realize it), as it increases overall productivity and hence global competitiveness.

Ideally, education funding should be increased. Realistically right now, it should at the very least not be cut. But in reality, it very likely will be cut. What can we do, what do we do?

More on this (and my experience in DC) later.

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