Who’ll Occupy education?

Protests against tuition hikes and program in public education and service cuts have become more frequent and more intense as state budgets have tightened.  It’s awful everywhere–and worse in California (e.g. ), where an old tradition of the state supporting access to a low (or no) tuition/high quality education for its top students has been eroding for some time.

On Monday, in coordination with a national day of action on education, several groups staged protests in Sacramento about current–and proposed–cuts to spending on education.  Thousands of protesters, including the formal groups representing California students at the community colleges, state colleges, and state universities, as well as labor groups and numerous Occupy groups, participated, bringing shared concerns and sharp differences on long term goals and tactics.  At least 70 students were arrested for refusing to leave the Capitol.

Governor Brown, who has already cut spending for every level of public education in California, sees more cuts on the horizon, as state revenues have fallen below projections.  He expressed sympathy for the students, and tried to turn the protests to his own purposes.  He released a statement pointing those concerned with education to his proposal for new temporary taxes to balance the state budget:

The students today are reflecting the frustrations of millions of Californians who have seen their public schools and universities eroded year after year.  That’s why it’s imperative that we get more tax revenue this November.

Some of the student groups support new taxes, but have rallied behind an alternative proposal which earmarks the new revenue for education.  Others are trying to avoid specific proposals, and just trying to urge the Legislature–as forcefully as possible–to fund education adequately.  Some of the students lobbied legislators, and were pleased to have elected officials speak to them and offer support.

Others, including Refund California and Occupy Education California, were wary about the legislators’ support and politics as usual.  To be sure, polls suggest that approving a new tax, even a temporary one, through a referendum will be an uphill battle.

Occupy brings new energies and new activists into the campaign for education funding, but it does more than that.  By framing the education campaign as part of a larger struggle against inequality, the Occupy protesters make for a more ambitious movement, one that won’t be willing to fund education at the expense of, for example, the already stingy Medical program.  (Governor Brown has been lobbying, unsuccessfully, for the Federal government to allow him to cut Medicaid spending even more sharply.)

Old school interest group politics is based on focusing narrowly on your organization and constituency, letting government sort out competing pressures.  Occupy pushes for a larger political vision, one which seeks to stop their government from playing one vulnerable constituency against another.

It’s a better analysis.  It remains to be seen if it’s a more effective strategy.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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6 Responses to Who’ll Occupy education?

  1. The problem of education in American and elsewhere in the Western world is not one of politics, but economics.

    The nice thing about leaving a comment, is that it does not need to be the gospel truth, nor should it be judged as the be-all-and-end–all of the debate.

    Education in the 21st century needs to be viewed through the prism of a free market economy. A simple example that I always bring forward, is how the automobile industry works. When the price of a Cadillac, Lincoln or Focus becomes unaffordable – a Kia comes along.

    It still gets you from point A to point B, but without the hit to your pocket book.

    Education in the 21st century needs to take an idea like this into account.

    J.R. Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher.

    • If the idea is that education doesn’t have to be good, just adequate, the obvious question is adequate for what. Here in California, we’ve starved K-12 education spending over the past thirty years. Children are still getting high school degrees–just not as high a percentage, and they just don’t learn as much. As a Californian, I’m very uncomfortable with the notion that my children won’t be offered as good an education as the previous generation. People who can afford better will pay for it, and the rest of us will get, uh, adequate. As an American, I hate the notion of compromising our future, economic and otherwise, with the idea that we don’t have to provide a good education for all our children. And in a democracy, where governance rests on a well-educated electorate, the consequences should be unacceptable.

      • I guess I was going for more than just adequate with my example.

        The auto industry seems to be the most technologically streamlined and efficient business system ever created by man, geared to provide a complex-product to the masses.

        I hate to say it, but education is a complex-product; a product not necessarily made better by profit- but made more accessible to the general public – if more money(profit) is available.

        To unravel this conundrum, we in the 21st century need to carefully examine the education model that is still in use since its inception in the 18th century.

        That structure (model) revolving exclusively around the teacher and student. We used the teacher (professor at the higher level), as instructor and as conduit because that was all that existed at the time. What was being conveyed was knowledge, understanding, and skill development.

        But instead of using technology to shape and enhance the system; thereby cutting costs, innovating in the delivery of the product, proper accounting and wage/benefit packages; working within communities sharing costs/cirriculum with all local business; encouraging parental involvement beyond the PTA… Somehow this simple system over time, morphed into an all encompassing mini-world, with the teacher/student model still at the core of education, but a core model that is no longer its raison d’être.

        From being a social safety net, daycare provider, mental and physical health developer, music teacher, sport developer, community organizer, political/activist incubator at the lower levels -to skills and trades training, medical health developers at the community college level – to leaders of research and development in all the sciences, NCAA sport leagues owners and fine art talent agencies….at the top of this behemoth…the educational system is unrecognizable.

        Somewhere in this vast system of education, a flaw exists, that threatens to bring down the most important vehicle the individual needs to make his/her way in this world.

        Access to a system that conveys the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to their community and society in a way that works for them on an individual basis.

        If I have the money – I can buy my Ford F150 truck with bucket seats, air conditioning, power windows, V8 super charger, hemi engine with carbon scrubber, Microsoft sync-system, that can parallel park in my favorite color of venetian blue…

        But I can’t find a job, despite going to school, because I don’t know how to read.

        J.R. Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher.

  2. Milan Moravec says:

    Occupy campus University of California Chancellor offices to protest squandering of higher education tax funds: why travel to Sacramento when the problem is on the campus.

    • Students believe, as I do as well, that when the state cuts appropriations per student by more than fifty percent, the costs of their education will increase and the quality will decline. I think they’ve got it right.

      • Milan Moravec says:

        Students and you have it wrong. If state cuts appropriations by more than 50% and higher education keeps trying to do what it has in the past quality will suffer if higher education only does what it has in the past.The Japanese produced outstanding cars at less cost than we Americans and it was not because their wages were less, Instead of doining what they had in the past the Japanese discovered better ways of doing things at lower costs,
        The japanese produced better quality cars than Detroit at less cost.

        Higher education is where the American car industry was before Detroit went into the tank. It is the innovative thinking and breakthroughs that allowed Detroit to come out from past practices into creating their new future,

        Time for great minds like you and your students to discover new ways of delivering higher education at less cost with more quality. $ by themselves do not guarantee quality in higher education especially when faculty keep doing what they have in the past but at a higher expense to Californians.

        Start thinking instead of reinventing the wheel in the 21st Century David. You might actually learn and apply outstanding new ways of delivering quality higher education.

        We are looking at people like you to reinvent higher education for Californians.

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