Elementary Lessons

Wanna Prevent A Bloody Revolution In This Country? Here's How

By Jeff Smith

REMEMBER THAT bloody revolution I warned you about a couple of weeks ago? Want to know how to avoid it?

Smith Start treating people fairly. Right now.

I'm not talking anything even as radical as affirmative action (mild as that Band-Aid approach may be), I'm suggesting simple human decency and justice of the sort any gartenkinder understands.

Kids are not inherently civilized, any more than a pack of wolves, but they do comprehend quite early--thanks to personal political experience coupled with moral instruction from well-meaning adults--what's fair and what ain't. For that matter, wolves are smart enough and decent enough to allow the weak and chromosomally undesirable enough of a shot at the carcass of the latest kill to keep body and soul together.

Would that we humans here in the land of plenty were similarly democratic.

To briefly review the lesson of a fortnight past, I outlined certain flaws in our social welfare systems, chiefly the tendency to create single-parent households without good male role-models, and the dangerous imbalance between the haves and have-nots. We've got a very small coterie of very rich white folks with very delicate musculature and very soft hands, and a very large underclass with bigger chips on bigger shoulders, from which hang bigger arms and harder hands.

Oh, and they're getting righteously pissed-off.

Reading last week's morning papers, I can't say as I blame them.

Consider for instance the State of Arizona's ABC plan for financing public education. Following a state Supreme Court ruling that Arizona's system of paying for education through tax dollars raised entirely within the individual district is unconstitutional, the Legislature has been trying to come up with some way of making this unfair system look better, without actually doing anything that would take away the unfair advantage enjoyed by the rich school districts.

So far the courts aren't falling for it, but that hasn't kept the Legislature, under the dubious moral leadership of Gov. J. Fife Symington III, from trying every lame excuse and delay it can. First they tried a $100-million one-time payment to the poorer districts, to build, operate, hire teachers, whatever. That didn't fly.

Now they've come up with this ABC plan that will shuffle about $32 million a year to all the state's under-financed districts. That's about enough to build a high school. A small one. For the entire state. The efficacy of this load of manure is being considered in Maricopa County Superior Court as we speak.

Okay, let's just reduce this to terms even Fifey can comprehend: You've got this great big state with a few cities and a lot of rocks and sand. The rich people buy the best parts of the nicest towns, where the water and trees are, and they form school districts tightly conforming to the highest property values. The poor people get the stuff like Eloy, after the cotton farmers have sucked all the water out of the ground and poisoned the dirt with pesticides and defoliant. They get their own school district too. The tax base of the rich districts include malls and office buildings and luxury homes and Jerry Colangelo's latest NBA, NFL or MLB domed stadium. The poor get to tax a lot of tar-paper shacks, maybe a failed Circle K converted to a porno shop, and with luck some industrial property. Perhaps a tallow plant.

Guess whose kids get the latest computer teaching aids, new undies for the football team, and a spiffy gymnasium for the pep rallies and proms?

Yet Gov. Symington and our Legislature have never admitted that Arizona school financing is unfair.

Here is an opportunity for Arizona to directly and immediately take a giant step toward correcting some of the worst and most frightening social ills we all recognize and fear, and our leaders are spending our money doing all they can to make a bad situation worse.

Want to know how bad this situation is? Well, under the ABC plan, which Symington and the Legislature proudly claim is the best of the available alternatives, the disparity between rich and poor districts has been nickled and dimed down to a 4-1 ratio. Meaning some districts get four times as much money per pupil as others.

Hey, this ain't fair, this ain't smart, and under the equal protection of the law provisions of the U.S. Constitution, this ain't legal.

We worry about gang violence. We worry about drugs. We worry about kids too ignorant to hold down jobs, and how this failure of education and vocation handicaps America in the global marketplace. And yet we fail--hell, we refuse--to do the simplest, fairest, most common-sense and self-interested thing available to us to make our whole community better for us all:

Teach our children well.

And don't try to sell me this cowflop about charter schools or vouchers for private and parochial schools, or any of the myriad schemes the rich are concocting to keep their kids out of public schools and daily contact with the commonfolk. These are nothing but elitist attempts at separating classes and colors and keeping the poor where the wealthy have put them.

How much brain-power does it take to understand that if you deny people the chance to get as good an education as anyone else in a supposedly free, equal and democratic society, that person is going to grow up ignorant, unproductive, angry...and expensive to deal with?

More, apparently, than our elected leaders possess.

Education isn't cheap, but it's still the best bargain going in public spending. TW

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