Educating the Next Generation

by Robert L. Borosage and Earl Hadlev

The Apollo Initiative for Energy Independence

by Bracken Hendriks

excerpted from the book

Taking America Back

and taking down the radical right

edited and introduced by Katrina Vanden Heuvel and Robert L. Borosage

Nation Books, 2004

Educating the Next Generation

by Robert L. Borosage and Earl Hadlev

George Bush has started talking about education again, a sure sign that 204 is an election year. The President will tout his education reforms as a centerpiece of the "compassionate conservatism" certain to be revived for the election campaign. Bush's poll-packaged Administration understands that schools are a central concern of voters, particularly the now-iconic soccer moms.

Sadly, the President's posturing is not reflected in his priorities. His No Child Left Behind reform bill imposes the most ambitious federal mandates on the schools since the civil rights reforms of the 1960S. Bush gained bipartisan support for punishing schools that don't measure up on tests by providing parents with the right to transfer to another public school, while promising significant new funding to pay for school improvement. He then reneged on that commitment, failing to budget even the funds he promised, which were already far less than what schools actually needed to meet the mandates. Bush's budget fell $9 billion short of his own promise; he offered Turkey more than that as a bribe to get it to enter the war in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, the emphasis on testing has generated a firestorm of protest. Forced, focused attention on the progress of all students could potentially generate greater commitment to educating the poor and minority students who have been too often dismissed as hopeless. But when the President broke his own commitment on resources to help schools deal with the challenge, he left school districts to struggle with a vastly underfunded mandate. And with states and localities facing the worst fiscal crisis in fifty years, schools-particularly those in poorer neighborhoods- have been forced to cut programs and teachers, not add them. The resulting pressures may reproduce the scandals that marred the Houston schools that were the much-celebrated model for the national reforms. There Bush's Education Secretary Rodney Paige supervised schools that showed progress on tests by routinely increasing and masking dropout rates. Paige made his name in a district that claimed success, while hiding the fact that it was literally leaving children behind.

Yet, even if the President had contributed the funds he had promised for his reforms, he would still have failed the staggering challenge this country faces in educating the next generation of Americans in the new century.

With more than 50 million students and 3 million teachers in g2,000 public schools in 15,000 districts, simply running what has traditionally been a locally governed nonsystem is hard enough. The new information age and the new global economy make education-and lifelong learning-even more essential to our prosperity. A new generation of immigrants requires the schooling vital for assimilation of our language and civic traditions. As communications technologies make the world smaller and generate a growing sophistication in packaging and propaganda, an educated, questioning, independently thinking citizenry is even more vital to our democracy.

Americans understand this. They expect their leaders to make education a priority. They demand ever more from their schools. They are alarmed at reports, often misleading, of their children lagging behind those in other countries in reading, math, or science. Over the past two decades, waves of reform have set higher standards and provided greater resources to schools.

Yet even as public spending on schools has risen over the past two decades, particularly at the state and local level, the national debate about schools has been dominated by a conservative mantra: Money is not the solution, something else is. For the now dominant Republican Right, public schools-where one in four Americans work or study-are an ideological affront. The exodus of whites from the public schools in the South after integration and in urban areas of the North has enabled calculating politicians to turn school funding into a political wedge issue. For two decades, conservatives have scorned public investment in schools, while offering up a menu of alternative "fixes": school prayer, zero tolerance, standardized testing, phonics, English-only immersion, ending certification of teachers, vouchers. They've gone from demanding the abolition of the Department of Education to seeking to supplant the common public school with a "marketplace" of private institutions, all the while opposing increased investment in schools.

For all his photo ops, President Bush reflects this conservative animus. Not only did the President fail to fund his own reform legislation adequately, he also zeroed out funding for new school construction, cut funding for teacher education, failed to extend Head Start to all children eligible, and sought to allow states to siphon funds from the program. And most destructive, the President insisted on his entire package of top-end tax cuts as a "stimulus plan" while opposing targeted aid to prevent layoffs of teachers and cutbacks in school programs that indebted states have been forced to impose. Yet, it is on this record that Bush will undoubtedly campaign in 2004 as an education President.

But the country can no longer afford this default. Consider simply the following:

* This fall, $3 million students will attend elementary and secondary schools in America, the largest number in our nation's history. In the next decade, that number will begin to grow again, ending up at nearly 100 million children in school by the end of the century. A growing number of these students are from immigrant families, newly arrived on our shores speaking little or no English. With one in five children raised in poverty, a significant portion comes to school deprived of the healthy start vital to being ready to learn. One third of all American schoolchildren are needy enough to quality for free or reduced-price school lunches. In New York City, it is 70 percent. In Detroit, 78 percent.

* These students will attend schools that are aged, overcrowded, and underrepaired. America's schools average forty-two years in age, with the oldest often in the areas where the needs are greatest. The influx of students, particularly in urban areas, has led to doubling up classes, half-day shifts, and the conversion of trailers, closets, libraries, and gyms for classrooms. One third of all schools now use trailers to house classrooms. In 1995, the General Accounting Office estimated that it would require $112 billion simply to bring the schools up to safe standards. A more detailed estimate by the National Education Association in 2000 that included funds needed to update schools for advanced technology, estimated the cost at $322 billion.

* These same schools now face the largest wave of teacher retirements ever, as the baby-boom teachers begin to leave the workforce. At the same time, the retention rate of new teachers is shockingly low, with 20 percent of new hires leaving the classroom after three years. One reason is that the starting pay of teachers is among the lowest of all professions requiring a college degree with specialized training. Since 1970, average teacher pay has outpaced inflation by only one third of I percent a year. Now women and minorities are no longer locked out of other careers, depriving schools of what had been a captive quality labor pool that could be had on the cheap. Low teacher pay hurts the most in the low-income urban communities that have the greatest need for experienced, skilled, and committed teachers.

* As they graduate, students will seek to enter colleges where tuitions and costs are rising at 14-15 percent a year. Federal grants for deserving students have not kept up with these costs: The maximum Pell grant now covers 39 percent of public school tuition, down from 84 percent in 1975-76. College graduates now leave with debt burdens 35 percent higher than those of students graduating a decade ago. And more and more simply are priced out of four-year colleges altogether. At a time when we ought to be making college education universally available, our commitment is flagging.

There is a legitimate debate about how efficiently money is used in our schools. Too often, when more money is available, sclerotic bureaucratic systems spend it not on meeting specific needs, but on placating entrenched lobbies. Decades of reform fads have come and gone without settling significant disagreements about which reforms make a difference. But beneath the ideological posturing and legitimate debates, there is a common sense agenda for public education.

Children should come to school ready to learn. That means having a healthy start, with good nutrition, health care, and adequate shelter. Preschool is essential in providing basic social, behavioral, and cognitive skills. Children should attend schools that are safe, pleasant to be in, well-equipped, well-lit, and not dangerous to their health. Schools must engage parents, and insure that they are involved and present as much as possible. Small classes make a difference, particularly in early grades when individual attention can give slower starters a needed boost. For working parents, diverse after-school programs are both helpful to children and vital to society. Skilled, experienced, and dedicated teachers are indispensable. They need to be well-prepared and committed to lifelong learning and retraining, and should be rewarded accordingly. Children should know from the start that going on to college is both expected and affordable.

These are neither new nor revolutionary concepts. They don't encompass the latest fad in high-tech education, the latest vogue of small middle schools, or whole child learning. They are the basics. And yet for a dramatic and growing portion of the next generation, they are out of reach.

For that to change, Americans need to hold their public officials accountable. It has been too easy for politicians like George W. Bush to parade as education reformers while refusing to make schools a priority in their budgets, and failing to rally the nation at all levels to make the investments vital to providing the basics for every child.

The politics of this default are poisonous. In 1972, nearly 80 percent of US public school students were white. In 2002, it was barely 60 percent. Imposing underfunded mandates on schools, railing against failing schools, proffering vouchers that weaken the schools further, all the while defaulting on the basic investments needed could easily become a staple in the racial wedge politics that is the foundation of the modern Republican Party. In 2004, the President will boast about his historic reforms, while calling for limits on domestic spending. Yet this is the President who ran up record deficits paying for tax breaks for the already affluent, added $100 billion a year to a military budget that is now nearly as great as the rest of the world's combined, and spent $87 billion to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan for one year alone. At the same time, he claimed we could not afford the funds needed to avoid debilitating cuts in public schools across the country, much less to double the federal commitment to public schools-from 2.8 to 5 percent of the national budget-and lead a renewed commitment at all levels to educating the next generation.

Neither our democracy nor our prosperity can easily withstand this posturing. An educated citizenry has always been a hallmark of America's democracy and a foundation of its progress. That was surely true over the past century, as America rose to global prominence and enjoyed unparalleled prosperity. Education taught a common language and extended a shared civic culture to the flood of immigrants that forged America's industrial might. America became the first country to require twelve years of formal schooling. After World War II with the GI Bill, America became the first nation to make college education widely available. Integrating America's schools was central to the effort to end segregation and address the challenge of equal opportunity for all. This commitment to education helped to forge the broad middle class that is the pride of America's democracy and the foundation of its prosperity.

The workers and the citizens of the next generation will necessarily come in increasing measure from the ranks of today's poor and working-class children. And while the test-score gaps between white and black, and white and Hispanic children have begun to shrink, the gulf between rich and poor achievement in schools remains enormous. If those children are not educated well, and well beyond even the high school level, it is not simply the economy that will suffer, but our democracy itself.

Can we now educate to a high level of achievement a remarkably diverse population of children, drawn from many races and cultures, many with little or no English, many raised in poverty on dangerous streets? No other nation has attempted anything like this. This is the great democratic, economic, and human rights challenge of our time.

To meet this daunting but inescapable mission requires not more posturing, but a renewed commitment to public education. Those who seek to dismantle or starve the public schools should be scorned as the cranks that they are. If we are to provide a high quality public education from preschool through college to the next generation, we must ante up the resources even as we undertake necessary reforms. That isn't a task for the federal government alone, nor for the states or the localities. It is a task for the nation.


The Apollo Initiative for Energy Independence

by Bracken Hendriks

Too often we are told to think small-that we must choose between good jobs and environmental quality, and that we cannot break the crippling dependence on foreign oil that threatens the security of our nation. But we can do better. Working families should not have to choose between putting food on the table for our children today and protecting the health of our children tomorrow. The new Apollo Project seeks to break the zero-sum framework of jobs versus the environment, by putting forward a strategic initiative that works to improve both environmental and economic quality of life. Apollo represents a bold and hopeful vision that unites the progressive base, curbs our addiction to foreign oil, paves the way to a new environmental strategy, and invests in our economic future.


Even at the height of its current power and prosperity, America faces daunting challenges. Our cities and states are experiencing the worst financial crisis since World War 11. Programs such as Social Security and Medicare are facing massive budget cuts. Americans are out of work, with this Bush administration managing the worst jobs record of any President since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression. We're hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs. Our cities face over a trillion dollars of unmet infrastructure needs. This year, millions of Americans faced rolling blackouts. Global warming is a real and growing danger.

The U.S.'s crippling dependence on foreign oil is unsustainable. At the time of the 1973 oil embargo, the United States imported 35 percent of its petroleum. Today we import well over half. The United States consumes a quarter of the world's oil yet has only 3 percent of its reserves, so more drilling offers no solution. Our energy problems go deeper than oil. We use 25 percent of the world's energy, nearly three times the amount of any other country. Deregulation has destabilized the energy sector, contributing to historic blackouts. Further, pollution problems are escalating, and environmental impacts threaten to limit our economic growth and hurt our quality of life.

These big challenges-crises in our environment, in our energy security, in our economy, and in the fabric of our cities-need to be met with big ideas and bold solutions. The Bush administration established a task force under Vice President Cheney to lay out a comprehensive energy policy. But Cheney expressed little but contempt for conservation-a "personal lifestyle," he sniffed-and turned the commission over to the lobbyists from Big Oil and Enron. The result is an energy plan that lards subsidies on energy suppliers, calls for more drilling from Alaska to Florida, and does nothing to reduce our dependence on imported oil. The plan succeeded in sparking a pitched battle, with many labor unions and environmentalists on opposite sides, posing a choice between creating jobs and protecting the environment.

Now moving beyond these false divisions, labor leaders and environmentalists are uniting around a bold new vision for America's future. A new project-of the scope and urgency of the original Apollo Project that took us to the moon decades ago-that would dramatically break our dependence on foreign oil by investing in energy efficient and renewable technology, creating millions of good jobs here at home and building a sustainable infrastructure that will make our communities more livable and more equitable.


Named after President Kennedy's famous challenge to put a man on the moon, the new Apollo Project seeks to curb America's addiction to oil, increase the diversity of our energy resources, invest in new technology, and create new jobs for Americans. Specifically, Apollo calls for a bold $300 billion plan for the next ten years. It will be broad-based, sharing the benefits of investment widely across the economy while insuring that no single sector bears all the costs. And it will be immediate, deploying proven and cost-effective technologies that exist today, not placing all our hopes on long-term R&D like the Bush plan for a hydrogen "freedom car."

Backed by seventeen international labor unions and a broad cross section of the environmental community, the Apollo alliance calls for an investment to jump-start America on the road to energy independence. Investment will accelerate new renewable energy sources. It will convert assembly lines to put American-made advanced technology cars on the road. It will help older plants improve their environmental performance, preserving domestic manufacturing jobs. It will deploy new technology for pollution control at older power plants, and invest in research and development to create a hydrogen energy revolution.

The new Apollo Project will promote high-performance "green" building and push a new generation of energy-efficient appliances to market-driving up efficiency without driving jobs overseas. It will support smart growth and mass transit, increase brownfield redevelopment, and rebuild transportation and water infrastructure, relieving municipal budget pressures. And an Apollo Project will strengthen, not repeal, regulatory protections for consumers, workers, and the environment.

Like Kennedy's Apollo program, the new Apollo Project will put America at the cutting edge of new technology and global economic leadership. At present, America is neglecting the industries of the future while other nations move rapidly to capture them. Wind is the fastest-growing energy source in the world but European producers, not Americans, dominate turbine production. Fuel cells are poised to revolutionize energy technology, but most are produced at nonunion plants in Canada. In 2000, the Japanese government invested more than $500 million to build the market for photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity, over seven times the U.S. commitment of resources. It is time for America to step up to the plate-to unleash the ingenuity, enthusiasm, and drive that sent a man to the moon.


Investing in the Apollo Project means more than dollars and cents; it means investing in a new political strategy. For too long, Democrats have allowed the GOP to exploit old fault lines between economic populists and environmentalists, pitting jobs against the environment and today against tomorrow. But an Apollo Project represents both good policy and good politics.

Voters want a better vision of the future. Recent polls in key Midwestern swing states show strong approval among voters-72 percent support a large-scale Federal program to invest $300 billion on energy independence. Even more striking, support for Apollo jumps to 81 percent among noncollege educated, Bush-leaning, Democratic, white men-a segment of the population that often breaks with progressives, and a group that could determine the outcome of the next election. These "Reagan Democrats" have been burned by the current economy, and they respond to a message of hope for good jobs, renewal, and reinvestment.

An Apollo Project is attractive to swing voters, but it also heals the progressive base. By focusing on good jobs and new investment to solve persistent energy and environmental problems, Apollo offers common ground for both labor unions and environmental advocates. "By building fuel cells and wind turbines, by retooling American plants with efficient technologies, we can create good jobs, a strong economy, and a sound environment," according to Tom Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists. United Steelworkers' International's president Leo Gerard notes, "In the face of a trading system that's devastating both workers and the environment, an Apollo Project for energy independence has the potential to unite trade unionists and environmentalists in building an economy that values every worker's right to bargain for a decent living and every citizen's right to live in a healthier world."

This investment agenda is a stark contrast to Bush's millionaire tax cuts. With wealthy investors increasingly going global, Mr. Bush's tax breaks may create more jobs in Shanghai than in St. Louis. Unlike tax cuts for the rich, investment in new energy infrastructure is targeted toward and anchored in communities where it is most needed. Moreover, increasing energy efficiency provides ongoing cost savings for working families and municipal budgets. As Michael Sullivan, president of the Sheetmetal Workers' International Association says, "Energy independence means more economic security, lower energy costs, and healthier environments. The Apollo Project offers a long term solution that reinvests in communities and the future of our nation."

The pollsters Greenberg, Quinlan, and Rosner found that when asked about terrorism and events in Iraq, 86 percent of Americans placed a priority on reducing dependence on Middle East oil, with 63 percent believing that a combination of renewable power, efficient technology, and conservation is the answer to improving security. By linking national security and good jobs, and by speaking to Bush's vulnerability on the environment, clean energy will have major influence in the coming debates.

When labor and environmentalists work together, we can accomplish great things. Both movements represent real capacity for our democracy. Both bring foot soldiers, message operations, policy sophistication, and a core set of values that strengthen civil society, public welfare, and community integrity. And, both will be involved in building a solution to our country's deep economic and environmental troubles. Apollo helps forge a single progressive movement- a movement for good jobs and energy independence, that brings together the 14 million union members, with the 12 million environmental members, and growing majority of Americans who are concerned with the fight for civil rights and economic justice. This is a coalition that can take back power and demand a future that is both just and sustainable.

By uniting a broad coalition of labor unions, environmentalists, civil rights activists, social justice advocates, and others, the new Apollo Project showcases the best of the Progressive movement. It restores faith in a positive role for government, and aligns activists around a common agenda built on common interests. From the railroads, to the national highway system, from Roosevelt's New Deal, to the space program, to the telecommunications revolution, visionary public leadership-and meaningful public investment- have always paved the way for great national endeavors. It is time once again to meet our challenges head on, with bold vision, a sense of optimism, and a shared commitment. It is time for a new Apollo Project for good jobs and energy independence that rebuilds America, and makes the greening of he economy the next great engine of jobs and growth.

On the way to a fresh foreign policy based on preventive democracy and the recognition of interdependence, an international coterie of citizens has adopted a new "Declaration of Interdependence" which will be promulgated on September 12, 2003, the first "Interdependence Day" to be celebrated in Philadelphia and Budapest as well as in schools and universities in many places (for details see The Declaration reads as follows:


We the people of the world do herewith declare our interdependence as individuals and members of distinct communities and nations. We do pledge ourselves citizens of one CivWorld, civic, civil and civilized. Without prejudice to the goods and interests of our national and regional identities, we recognize our responsibilities to the common goods and liberties of humankind as a whole.

We do therefore pledge to work both directly and through the nations and communities of which we are also citizens:

To guarantee justice and equality for all by establishing on a firm basis the human rights of every person on the planet, ensuring that the least among us may enjoy the same liberties as the prominent and the powerful;

To forge a safe and sustainable global environment for all-which is the condition of human survival-at a cost to peoples based on their current share in the world's wealth;

To offer children, our common human future, special attention and protection in distributing our common goods, above all those upon which health and education depend;

To establish democratic forms of global civil and legal governance through which our common rights can be secured and our common ends realized;

To foster democratic policies and institutions expressing and protecting our human commonality; and at the same time,

To nurture free spaces in which our distinctive religious, ethnic and cultural identities may flourish and our equally worthy lives may be lived in dignity, protected from political, economic and cultural hegemony of every kind.

Interdependence Day falls on September 12, the day after the memorial to that fateful day on September 11, 2001, when terrorism came to America and changed the course of history by teaching us that unless all are free and equal, none may be free and equal. Unless the poorest most desperate nations find a way to live democratically, the world's oldest democracies may perish. Declaring our interdependence and celebrating the possibility of rendering interdependence just and democratic for all is one way to begin the struggle to take back America by joining the world.

Taking America Back

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