Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How About A Curriculum for An Antidote to Societal Pursuit of Greed and Selfishness

John Gardner

I write this posting in what we all hope are the waning days of the Congressional/Presidential debate over how to address the raising of the US debt ceiling. While any interested citizens have had ample opportunity before this latest exercise of brinksmanship to observe the power of rationalized gross selfishness and greed, these past few weeks have really laid these values out for all to see, and for many to shake their heads at.
In my whole adult life following the politics of our great nation I don’t think I have ever seen such stubborn adherence to an ideology that rationalizes avoiding having to ask the rich and the fortunate to contribute more to their opposites. This is one of the grandest political values clarification exercises I have ever observed. And its implications really frighten me for the future of our country.

Last fall my wife and I took a six day cruise on a barge in France. We were serendipitously booked on this craft with two other couples—a wealthy medical practitioner and a hedge fund manager, and their well educated spouses. They were literate, cultured, tolerant, extremely well travelled, hard working, highly successful, and from a very affluent and sophisticated suburb in northern New Jersey. We saw life in many of the same ways except they absolutely detested our newest American President. Why? Very simple. He wanted to increase their taxes. And for these people, how going from a 35 to a 39% marginal tax rate would change their life style one bit was beyond my capacity to rationally comprehend.
In 2000, during that Presidential election campaign, when the press  reported that Vice Presidential candidate Dick Cheney had earned approximately $20,000,000 during the four prior years as CEO of Haliburton Corp, and during same period had reported less than 4% of his income for charitable deductions—this was a moment of truth for my wife and me. Mr. Cheney was asked about this appallingly low level of personal philanthropy and told the press that “my family is my favorite charity”. My wife’s and my epiphany was that we could certainly do far better than 4% on our much, much smaller incomes, and we resolved to do so and we have done so.

As I think about what I would like us to do for our entering college students this fall, I would like to have them experience a “lived curriculum”—and an explicit one, not what has been called a “hidden curriculum” that might result in producing college graduates who would be less selfish than so many we are hearing in the media who are so strongly opposed to increasing taxes on the wealthiest of our citizens. What kind of experiences out of class would we provide for students that might motivate them,  no matter how successful they became  materially, to make a lifetime commitment to pay a fair share of their success for the greater good of the country.

I guess I am asking how do you teach unselfishness? How do you teach a culture that is counter to the culture of greed? If it is anything we have seen since the financial meltdown in 2008, it is the power of greed—and greed as practiced by some very, very well (college) educated bankers, brokers, investors, lawyers, who have wreaked such havoc on the welfare of the whole society.
As the evidence mounts of the correlation between de-regulation of the financial industry, and the growth of inequality, and the increasing disproportionate benefits being accorded the rich, how can we possibly get our students to aspire to being less selfish, less greedy. I believe we could teach for these outcomes if we really wanted to.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What I Got for Firing All the Teachers

John Gardner

I was urged recently by one of my colleagues to try to be more positive in my blog. And I have been trying. But I think I am losing the battle. This is about the most recent example of my struggle.
Last Friday July 1 when I engaged in one of my great daily pleasures, purchasing my New York Times, I got a clue, but one I didn’t pick up on immediately. Each morning, seven days a week, when I am in town, I go into this shop that sells good newspapers, thank goodness, to small town citizens like me in the western North Carolina mountain town of 6000 people where I live. The clerks know me by name, and more than that. And they never fail to engage me in conversation which is very easily done.
So last Friday the clerk says, “You get to pay two cents less today in tax on your paper.” At first it didn’t dawn on me the significance of what she told me.
Five days later I have figured it out.
In my adopted state last November the voters, as was their right, turned over both houses of the State Legislature to one political party that hadn’t controlled both houses for a century. And one of the actions that party took was ending a temporary half cent on the dollar sales tax that was due to expire this June 30. And with the expiration of that tax no longer being paid by 9.5 million residents, it meant that the state had significantly less revenue to operate on. As a result the new budget  has cut about 20,000  teacher/education related jobs, massively cut preschool education and whacked higher education like nothing since the Great Depression.

And so I suddenly realized this is what I get/got. I get to pay 2 cents less a day. And 20,000 of my fellow citizens lost their jobs. I am so priveleged. I am a higher educator that still has a job and now 2 cents more a day to get by on. This has finally come home to me in a way I can measure. Now I get it.