Ignorant and free? Impossible

Cutting funding for education is unwise if we want to preserve our freedom

Mr. Carroll is a graduate of CSU Chico, with a master’s degree in history.

“Laws for the liberal education of youth … are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.” So said a prophetic John Adams 200 years ago.

Adams no doubt would be distraught by the state of education in this country, especially in California. In an atrocious effort to balance the state budget on the backs of educators, Gov. Schwarzenegger cut $4 billion from the state’s schools, effectively relinquishing any commitment to the education of future American citizens.

In practical terms, this meant that 20 percent of the teaching workforce would be fired, or the school year shortened by a month, or class sizes increased by 23 percent. This is not a new trend; every year a politician campaigns with the promise of a renewed commitment to education, only to quickly slash funds whenever hard times fall on the nation.

This could not come at a worse time for this country. America’s children have been sliding down the totem pole of intelligence for years. Compared to the youth of other countries in reading and mathematics, American children are not even in the top 10. We already have a shamefully uninformed population. A 2006 poll found that only two out of five Americans know that we have three branches of government, and can name them. A similar poll found that six out of 10 young adults, aged 18 to 24, could not find Iraq on a map. Fewer than half of our citizens know which war the Battle of Bunker Hill took place in, and only 49 percent of Americans know that the only country to use a nuclear weapon in a war is our own.

No one wants to see these kinds of polls produce any worse results. However, our fears could become realized. Investing in education does not always produce immediate results, but we need the foresight to realize that it is the key to unlocking unlimited potential and progress for our citizens. We must ensure that our population is equipped for a changing job market, and a changing world.

Moreover, an educated and informed population is more capable of making sound decisions, of critically analyzing our politicians and business leaders, and ensuring their own success. Ultimately, an intelligent citizenry is the key to safeguarding and preserving our democracy.

As Thomas Jefferson once said: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”