"Education is rapidly becoming a $1 trillion industry, second in size only to the health care industry ..." --statement issued by the Education Industry Association.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Sonya Rosario, an independent film maker. She gave me a copy of a documentary she produced for Idaho Public Television, Idaho's Forgotten War. It tells the story of the struggle of Idaho's Kootenai tribe, which by 1974 was down to a sickly 67 members, owing to a century of deprivation, poverty, neglect and the desperate malaise that comes with being an utterly defeated people. The Kootenai had come out of the Age of American Indian Screwing without so much as an acre of reservation. Their most essential birthright--their land--was gone, fallen into the hands of those who smelled a fortune to be made behind every old-growth forest and under every unmined hillside.
By coincidence, for the days leading to the time I watched Rosario's film, I had been trying to think of a fresh way to write about Propositions 1, 2 and 3--our last chance to overturn the Luna laws and defend one of our essential birthrights: the public education system. I don't always succeed, but I always try to come up with something that hasn't been argued. And as concerns the Luna reforms, I have already written ... what? ... maybe six columns against them. Maybe 30? I've lost count.
But there is no issue specific to Idaho that has mattered more to me since I started writing this column. The fringy nuts that Idahoans are prone to put into office come and go, I've come to accept that. The Chenoweths, the Salis, the Labradors, the Otters and Kempthornes ... they are all just temporary placeholders, acting out their pious little dramas until the next goofball comes along to take over. However, there has been nothing capable of doing more lasting damage to our state than Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's horseshit reforms, and I am compelled to testify against them strongly and often, until time runs out. Until it has been decided once and for all whether we swallow them, or spit them out like rancid fat.
Oh, I could do as Frank VanderSloot's infantile "Community Page" ads do: spew the same feeble-minded bile over and over. (Teachers' unions--nasty! They want your kid to FAIL! Look at what they did to Luna's poor truck! Will they stop at NOTHING to darken our children's future!?) But if I am right about the true motive behind this radical move--if Luna's reforms (and the nationwide wave to turn education into a sellers' market) are truly a ploy for very rich people to get even richer at the expense of taxpayers, of the public education system that has served our nation well since 1635, and of the men and women who have dedicated themselves to teaching your kids a thing or two--then there must be myriad ways to present the case. If only I can think of it.
And then came Rosario's film. You may have guessed where this is headed. It's a simple analogy between what we are facing now and how well it turned out before, when a past society was forced to accept what was offered them by powerful special interests, believing all other choices were worse. (You might protest that it was the government, not the captains of capitalism, that stripped the tribes of virtually everything that was once theirs. But please remember your history: In the 19th century, the U.S. government served generally as the business agent for the engine of capitalism, and the U.S. military as often as not acted as security.)
No, I am not suggesting students will be herded onto reservations or slow learners will be given laptops soaked in small pox so as to improve average test results. What I am suggesting is that we might infer from the Native American experience exactly how sympathetic free marketeers are to those they regard first and foremost as a commodity to be manipulated for maximum profit.
And if you're one of those who have bought into the myth that the private sector can solve all public woes, then why are monstrosities like Haliburton and Corrections Corporation of America continually under scrutiny for the fraud, cost overruns, unaccountability and substandard service we are paying for from public coffers? (Of interest, more relevant to education are the lawsuits shareholders have brought against Virginia-based K12, Inc., Idaho's foremost provider of online education services. K12 management is accused of making "false and misleading statements" not only about its business practices but the performance of students enrolled in charter schools catered to by this company--one being Idaho's Virtual Academy, extolled by Tom Luna and the Albertson Foundation.)
But there is a larger question voters must answer: What's the damn hurry? If Luna's reforms are truly the right approach, why must they be pushed upon us so shrilly, so overbearingly, and with such hostility against our teaching corps? If state leaders honestly have students first in their hearts, why haven't they examined more judiciously how those many nations ahead of us in academic achievement have gotten there with no privatization and with healthy, strong teachers' unions? Why must we believe Idaho's kingly rich that it's now or never?
As any member of the Kootenai (or any other) tribe could tell us, once it's gone, there's no getting it back. So let us be not so quick to give it away.