On education

That lovely library, and looking down the street to Copley Square

Our Boston hotel room overlooked the finish line for the Boston Marathon, and faced the north side of the Boston Public Library.  On the north side of the old McKim, Mead and White section of the Library was the following, carved into the limestone of the frieze:


I thought about this statement a lot as we watched the Republican convention coverage in the evenings.  If I have a bias toward anything, I would say I am avowedly pro-education.  Whether in the hands of the state or in private hands, it is my belief that access to a solid, well-rounded education for all citizens will cure most of what ails us as a country.  A lifelong love and quest for knowledge, likewise, is what we as parents and as people should expect for our children and ourselves.

So it was with some dismay that I watched the governor of Alaska’s speech on Wednesday:  her finger-wagging prettiness will go far in a country where style trumps substance.  She, of the six colleges in five years, she, mother of the teen daughter whom she’s goading into early motherhood and shotgun matrimony.  Do you think she had education as a topmost concern in her own life, in her daughter’s life?  Good God the woman doesn’t even believe in sexual education.

Perhaps this is petty of me.  John McCain’s choice of running mate should be seen as what it is: a purely craven choice, a hard-right pander to an ever-shrinking base of religious white folks.  And my bias plainly shows, as not everyone has the educational opportunities I have had, or is as knee-jerk a card-carrying liberal as I am.  But in this country, and it is one of the things that makes it so great, education is available to anyone who wants it.  Education, more than class or gender or race, is any American’s ticket to a better life for themselves and their families.  We have the best post-secondary education system in the world, even if we don’t value educating our elementary and high school-aged children as much as we should.  And we (still) have LIBRARIES, even if Sarah Palin actually tried to get her own town’s librarian to ban books.

I worry for this country, I do.

Addendum: I love this woman.

29 responses to “On education

  1. I am worried as well. When she was nominated and after watching her speech, I was confident that we were safe; that McJohn had wasted his wish. Alas, his choice has apparently saved him.
    How can this be? How can people be fooled by such a person. Family values- are you kidding me? She has her teenaged enlisted son, a soon-to-be-wed seventeen year abstinence-doesn’t-work daughter, the token cute kid and let’s not forget the challenged baby. That middle kid is not pulling her weight-she has no category. Sarah Palin’s family is in a state of chaos; what parent (either sex) would add more to that family’s plate. AND why would we elect someone who has such disregard for her own family’s welfare.
    Sorry, I was reduced to a state of shouting obscenities during her speech, and the realization that she may be our president has me in a state of continuing fury.
    I was planning a Bye-bye Wacky party for January. I pray that I am not making arrangements to move to Italy.

  2. p.s. I totally agree with you that education could save us all.

  3. I think, for my sanity and overall sense of well-being, that I’m going to have to stop paying attention if the McCain/Palin ticket prevails in November. I don’t want to, but I’m getting so weary of watching Americans vote against their self-interest.
    My bleeding liberal heart just can’t take it anymore.

  4. excellent post. I am determined to not let this election pull me down into the pits of despair again, to just focus hard on my family and my friends and my community…on building a good, strong, connected life.

    our country is on a train that’s about to derail and i no longer trust that anyone can do anything about it. other than the above…which is my version of cup half full or something.


  5. Amen! Totally agree with you! Obama believes that education is a top priority. Palen is a scary and horribly inexperienced person for McCain to have chosen.

  6. oh….. banning books!!! A terrible thing to do. I too, am really frightened for our country and the world. So much hatred. So little concern for our civil liberties.

    I am with Liz and Kelly above – trying to not get bogged down in the negativity. Its unhealthy.

    As Gandhi said, “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

  7. Thanks El. It’s nice to know that other women that I respect are just as horrified and worried as I am. If she ends up in office I don’t what I’m going to do. Probably disengage at the national level and worry about impacting my community and state.

  8. You are not the only one in favor of education and terrified by this woman’s ignorance and closed-mindedness. We need to move beyond banning books and trying to restrict people’s rights – Palin in office will set the women’s rights movement back 100 years! I can’t get out of my head the stuff I was hearing when she got chosen “She was a beauty queen AND a basketball star!” comes to mind, as well as “I’m so glad we’ll have someone in office who doesn’t support killing babies”. Talk about missing the point. My only hope is that the debates will show how inexperienced and underqualified for the job she really is. Comparing herself to Hillary Clinton, my patootie!

    End rant, back to garden now. Thanks for sharing your feelings with us so we could do the same!

  9. Just a thought…who are we to judge how a grown woman runs her own family? All these attacks about her son enlisting and her daughter’s pregnancy…we don’t know what goes on it that family. It’s tacky. Maybe her politics are whacky, but honestly…let’s show a little tact.

  10. Amanda, I agree Palin’s family is her own to ruin. My point is she is actively denying her daughter the opportunity to continue her education at the time of her life when it’s easiest to do it: right after high school.

  11. Amanda, with the VERY little experience that Palin has, what else are we to judge her by? If she cannot “run” (your word) her own family in a way that is acceptable to societal norms, then why should we believe that she is able to run her administration, and heaven forbid, this country? And like it or not, her whole family is thrown into the political arena, where they are exposed to the media, and are supposed to be role models for the nation. One should not enter politics without first realizing that.

    El, we have time and again given our boys the “importance of education” lecture. And when we start talking about an issue, we make sure that they hear both sides of the arguement, and understand the logic behind our decisions. Logic is essential to the learning process. I wish it were taught earlier (or at all) in schools. It is so much “easier” and “quicker” to teach kids what to think, that they don’t have the ability to think for themselves. And there inlies the danger. It is so much easier for leaders, civil or religious, corrupt or not, to lead the uneducated by the nose. Ergo the quote on the library.

    I applaud the librarians that stand up against censorship, even when faced with losing their jobs, as the librarian in Wasilla was.

    Great post, by the way.

  12. I am so with you, and very scared. When Palin was introduced, I thought the Republican ticket had gone down the tubes. I am open-mouthed and thunderstruck that so many people feel she is qualified for the position, even letting alone her extreme positions and her inability to keep a small town on budget. If I hear about spendy Democrats versus monetarily responsible Republicans one more time, I think I’ll be sick.

    Then again, I was open-mouthed and thunderstruck at the last election . . .

  13. I agree wholeheartedly that this nation really needs to get back to focusing on education. I think it is the key to everything. Let teachers teach, not teach the test. I wish we’d hear more about this subject in the election, not who is better looking!

  14. Me too. It literally chills me to the bones to see how people stand and cheer for a party that will do nothing but steal the food out of their childrens mouths and then make them turn around and beg for more.

    To see people wildly celebrating a woman who stands up proudly in support of stupidity and ignorance and can simply deny the exsistance of science, that’s frightening.

  15. I can hardly bear to read the news anymore. (Of course, I continue to devour it.)
    Shit. And I haven’t even recovered from my hangover on election day four years ago. (That was an all-day pickling, spurred by exit polls and Ohio disasters and finally, utter despair.)
    On the bright side! Sarah, Palin and Tall, is about to give an unscripted interview on TV. C’mon, Charlie, ask some hard questions.

  16. I am offering another perspective here. I am the mother of five children, all home schooled until this year when my two eldest daughters began public school in a “good” school system.

    My first daughter is considered “gifted” by popular standards but she is not. She is bright and well educated because I took the time to take care of my own children instead of pushing them off on the government nannies, aka Public School System, and dumbing them down.

    My older three children are all in the 90-99% national average according to the Stanford and California Achievement Tests as well as the Woodcock-Johnson test, and test well above grade level. My younger two will not be tested until they are 8 years old.

    The last comment, by Taylor, has inspired me to write something about this because…well… I just can’t be silent.

    I am not a card carrying conservative or liberal, but try to always seek a balance. I will, however, be voting conservative this year, just to let you know where I stand politically. I don’t cheer for either party.

    As someone who is curious about what goes on in peoples’ minds, I wonder how you find grounds to criticize a woman for having a young woman in her family who is pregnant when you have not, maybe, scrutinized the personal lives of the children of the liberal candidates?

    We don’t know what books would have been potentially banned from the library or why, but when I was in elementary school there was a book on the shelf titled Forever by Judy Bloom…do you really want your 8 year old daughters to read a book like that and then expect them to not have sex at an early age? Or is it that the sex is good, but the baby is bad and girls shouldn’t learn to expect more themselves than to be subject to their hormones and impulses?

    I’m having a hard time seeing the validity in any of the criticisms offered about Palin and how it relates to education.

    Have you hear of Robert Howard Allen? The product of a superior education….all by himself, no college, numerous honorary degrees, several languages….because someone inspired him to learn. No one taught him, he actually had to use his mind to think for himself.

    I could really get going about education. I know a man with a degree from a well known university, which shall remain unidentified, who has a Masters in History and never, I repeat – never, studied ONE WAR in his college years.

    I haven’t see a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g that suggests McCain/Palin will shut down avenues to a liberal education in the core subjects. You can’t seriously think that children learn anything new in sex education classes beyond the 6th grade. The kids who experiment pass it on and it gets around….remember!? My sex education classes in high school were an absolute joke and my children who choose to attend high school will not partake of the incredibly disrespectful view of sexuality that is presented. It is MY job as a parent to tell my children about sex and the normal functions of the body, and it is NOT my job to make sure everyone else’s children know what a stranger wants to tell them about it.

    Talk about taking the food out of the childrens’ mouths and then making them turn around and beg for more. Another scenario: spend lots of money on sex education, after school programs (babysitting), and tons of unnecessary testing instead of skills development and life counseling and then when aimless teens have lost their spark they will find it easier to shack up and be on the welfare wheel begging for more. What a slap in the face to the potential within each growing person.

    I usually stay away from political stuff and I’ll swallow my pride if I’m deleted, but for what it’s worth, this is my dissenting opinion.

  17. preach it sister!! I seriously feel like I’m watching a circus act and can’t do anything to stop it. I’m beyond worried for us, I’m to the point of making plans to live out of the country. We are riding on a shred of what’s left of roevwade. I’m sick beyond sick that my 19 yr old daughter or my son’s girlfriend’s may someday soon have to risk their life in an attempt to find reproductive rights. And that train Kelly speaks of…McCain/Palin are seeking the conductor seats.

    And I certainly hope the above comment does not represent the majority of America, or we’re screwed!

  18. Great post!

    I worry about your contry too. I know it’s not really of my buisness, but really, sometimes what I hear on the news just scares me… Especially the religious funded politics. The thing is – your president makes an impact on the world – not just your own country.

    I’m a little confused about this sentence in your post:
    “But in this country, and it is one of the things that makes it so great, education is available to anyone who wants it.”

    Is it? I always thought that you had to pay for your education in US, that parents set up saving accounts to be able to afford sendning their kids to university. Which will leave out a lot of poor families… Or did I misunderstand this?

  19. Pamela, 100% agreement.

    Liz, not paying attention is what I though I did when Bush got into office a second time. The first time, I thought: okay: how much can this really affect my life. Boy what a fool I was.

    Kelly, I so agree you are doing the right thing: family and community are everything in trying times. All our other handwringing really will just give us agita that we can’t stop so it’s best we change and help and support what we can.

    Clare, yep, Obama has education as a top priority. He even has had it as a top priority in his own and his family’s lives.

    Angie M: It’s not just the book-banning that bugs me: it’s the hatred too, hatred based mainly on fear of difference. And intolerance. Watching the RNC was rather like seeing America in the 1950s, all tight-lipped white men, with the few women and my gosh 2 or 3 token minorities scattered in the audience (which the cameras panned to all the time). I am sorry but it’s 2008, and white folks won’t be the majority in 2025. Time to wake up and change the message, Republicans.

    Laura, you and Kelly are on to the right idea if the worst happens. THough I suppose it’s a fine idea too even if things “go our way” in Nov.

    Anne, I know! All I can continue to think is, well, geez, did they even have enough girls to choose from to have five on the basketball team and good golly even I could’ve won Caribou Queen or whatever in that state. Come to think of it, I am probably more qualified to be vice president than she is.

    Amanda, I think the actions she’s shown toward her family are all we have to go on so far. And someone who’s supposedly “family values” means family is fair game.

    Kristi, what you’re doing with your boys is great: critical discourse (meaning the healthy debate of both sides of an issue) is terribly important to teach one’s children. There’s something really gratifying and empowering to see a kid in a debate class in high school arguing, say, for abortion rights if she’s antiabortion. It is important to teach one’s children the importance of both sides of an argument, and, more importantly, that people on the other side are not BAD just…holding different opinions, as is their right.

    Anne, I know!! I thought for sure Cheney would resign after he shot someone in the face, but my gosh he didn’t even mention it for a week much less visit the guy in the hospital, a supposed “friend.” These blokes aren’t to be underestimated. Time for trench warfare, I say. Let’s get her record, thin as it is, out there.

    Jules, my point of mentioning education at all was that by golly if enough people were fully educated, they’d see this woman as the phony she is, and McCain’s policies as the continuation of the mess we’re already in. Instead, it’s all about looks, it’d appear.

    Taylor, all I can hope is enough of us who are chilled to the bone about this actually show up and vote.

    CC, how come I have a feeling Charlie’s going to throw her softballs and she’s going to bat her eyelashes and demur? (Can you see Hillary doing that?)

    Ah, Jennifer. As the mother of 5 you have amazing perspective on this situation. And I would never delete your comment, though it did go into moderation because it had a couple links in it (it’s a spam filter actually). My point in mentioning education is our elementary and high school public education in this country plainly sucks, especially if we teach to tests and then benchmark (as you mentioned) children according to those tests. But our colleges are, or should be, really wonderful places where our young citizens, especially, can get perspective different from what they’ve learned at home.

    As far as scrutinizing the children of the liberal candidates: the only ones that mean anything are Obama’s children, who are still at home, and they are doing fine. Biden’s children are out of the home and are lawyers and social workers. In other words, they’ve had someone in their family who’s had their education as a priority.

    I won’t take the bite about banning books, but you and I are in agreement about the responsibilities of parenting, and that sexual education is the responsibility of one’s parents as much as making sure the kids have adequate food and water, just like our housepets.

    But why do I have the feeling that you, as the mother of five, would not have let a job come between you and your children? Would you:
    1. have come home only the night before your son leaves for training and then war? Just a kiss and then goodbye?
    2. hid your fifth pregnancy?
    3. would ANYTHING have come between you and your four month old child?

    We have little to go on with this candidate so far. But her actions “just” as a mother, to me, mean she’s got her priorities a bit screwy.

    Kathy, if abortions go back-alley again, it’s only the poor who are truly screwed. That is the unspoken horror of this country.

    Ah, Maria: perhaps I should have clarified this statement, or at least finished the statement with ““But in this country, and it is one of the things that makes it so great, COLLEGE is available to anyone who wants TO PAY FOR it.” You see, if you’re poor, you can get scholarships and grants. If you’re middle class, you’re screwed as your liberal arts degree is something you are going to have to pay for for 20 years after graduation. And if you’re rich, well.

  20. Perhaps I should have clarified *my* statement to say “stop paying attention to national politics”. Politics has been a big interest of mine for years…. I’m a poli sci major who volunteered for Clinton, Clinton, Gore after all (not Kerry because we lived in ME by then… here we’re too blue to matter much). I do all I can for my local community, but I am making myself sick thinking about and analyzing what goes on in pursuit of the highest office in this land. This election is even invading my dreams… giving me no safe place to sleep, even! It’s unbearable!!

    I’ve been angry about GWB being president for the past eight years, but the truth is that, aside from raising my blood pressure, his presidency has had no impact on my life. This year, I actually read the Republican Party Platform and there is really nothing they propose that will directly affect me and my homestead (but one… although James has half-jokingly said that he will get a vasectomy if McPalin wins. Ok, and maybe pollution from more coal-fired power plants, but that’s really about it).

    It makes me incredibly sad to see what they can do the the COUNTRY, however, but those things are completely out of my control. And if the people of this great nation are too blindsided by fear, and cannot see past the lies, and continue to vote against their interests for a party that truly does not support them, then I NEED to stop worrying about those people. If Obama loses, my heart will break for those who voted for him and now have to suffer MORE failing schools, MORE war, MORE taxes, and LESS choice, while slipping further and further behind economically.

    So, MY choice comes down to continuing to care as much as I do now, or to simply pay less attention to politics than I ever have before (but still voting, of course…. I’m one of those crazies who votes for EVERYTHING). Because it’s not going to affect me. And I can’t keep worrying about this country like this. Jeez…. can you imagine what a wreck I’d be if I had kids to worry about?!

  21. Lizzybits, tell James that a vasectomy might be a good idea 😉 Actually, Tom’s was no big deal at all; we went out bookshopping immediately after it. And then dinner. They’re also reversible.

    I know what you mean though about the worry. Our kid is a prime motivator in my life and she does give our lives a lot of purpose and we did do the nearly un-American thing by only having one child…purposefully. I do worry, though, about all the other children in this country, and yes, it’s why I am a Democrat, because I also worry for the poor and the disabled and the powerless too, be they young OR old. I’d like to think my head was in the sand for the last 7.75 years but honestly, on today, the anniversary of 9/11/01, our nation is nothing but fearful and gets more agitated about American Idol than America’s standing in the world. And though I cannot claim that GWB is why American Idol (or whatever) is so popular, he is directly responsible for our loss of global esteem.

  22. Hi El,
    My comment was actually addressed to all who commented, not to you personally and I should have been more clear about that.

    I still don’t have a clear picture of how the Republican candidates will ruin education and I doubt that Palin is forcing her daughter to do anything against her own wishes. Palin is definitely not keeping her daughter from furthering her education if she were to choose to do so. I just see a lot of emotional talk without substance all over the place about these issues and I let it bubble over here….didn’t mean to depress you!

    I’ll answer your query and then duck out.

    But why do I have the feeling that you, as the mother of five, would not have let a job come between you and your children? Would you:
    1. have come home only the night before your son leaves for training and then war? Just a kiss and then goodbye?

    Yes. I’m sure he would be packing and distracted by all that needs to be ready for his days ahead. My husband is in the military and has served two tours in Iraq, plus other assignments , and he doesn’t usually get much sleep before leaving because he has so many details to attend to. We don’t know how many talks and special moments they shared beforehand.

    2. hid your fifth pregnancy?

    No, but by my fifth child I let people figure it out for themselves. My fifth child was just as precious, but the experience changes with age and repetition. 🙂

    3. would ANYTHING have come between you and your four month old child?

    No way! I also, after having experienced it once, would not let anything come between me and my uterus which holds precious cargo. I would take responsibility for my actions. I am thankful for the women who, like my eldest daughter plans, practice medicine so my daughters and I can take our female troubles to a female doctor. Many professions are filled by women which require them to make a choice between their babies and their career. If the widow Lillian Gilbreth can mother 12 children while running a science of time management business, earning her doctorate in psychology, AND being an accomplished inventor , I think Sarah Palin can make it on time to meetings, keep up with current events and mother her children with the help of her husband and extended family.

    I won’t bug you anymore, we all have our opinions and I thoroughly enjoy your blog!!! I’m learning a lot.

  23. Well, I guess I just don’t think that anyone’s children, no matter what they as a parent stand for, should be involved in any media circus. Also, I read an article on USA Today about how Palin never tried to get any books banned from the library, so now I’m just confused. And yesterday I read on USA Today that Obama was leading in the polls, and two minutes later read on Newsweek’s website that McCain was leading in the polls! Here’s my conclusion: media=wrong. I’m an independent, and don’t have much to say about any bias in the media, liberal OR conservative, but…they’re obviously not doing their job properly. Sigh. There’s something you should talk about, El- how does the ADULT public get educated when the news is so out of whack?? Oye!

  24. Great view from your room!I know the Lenox Hotel is near there but this might be a newer hotel than in my Boston undergrad years.As for the Gov if you do the math their eldest son came along less than 9 months after their marriage.It seems they preach one thing and do another.On turkeys my friend ordered one of those Bourbon Reds last Thanksgiving for dinner.

  25. I’m with you, El. Pahlin scares the bejeezus out of me! Heaven help us all if McCain gets in.

  26. I have held off on making comments on the presidential race because it just seems so obvious that the republican ticket and all who support it view their world with issue blinders on. The tunnel vision created by the abortion argument and patriotism. It all sickens me that 50% of our nation feels that we would be better off with ….awe hell! I’m just wasting my breath.

  27. Jennifer — You wrote:

    “I haven’t see a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g that suggests McCain/Palin will shut down avenues to a liberal education in the core subjects.”

    1. Pahlin supports Creationism & feels it should be taught in the schools.

    2. She has been caught in numerous & blatant lies regarding her past experience.

    3. Has no real foreign policy experience — regardless if Alaska is located next to Russia.

    4. Judging by her comments today, feels that America entering a war with Russia over Georgia would be acceptable.

    5. Doesn’t feel that polar bears should be protected by the government, despite overwhelming evidence that their habitat is disappearing as the northern ice is quickly melting.

    But, hey – she’s America’s newest celebrity sweetheart! Specially chosen so women would flock to vote for her and shore up the vote for a 72 year old politician who happens to have had cancer 4 times. Wouldn’t it be ironic if she wound up as president some day? She’d have no problem sending OUR sons & daughters to war.

    I could care less that her daughter is 17 & pregnant. That could happen to any of us — it’s her family’s business. What I do care about is that she would take away our daughters’ choice of not going through with an unwanted pregnancy due to her conservative Christian beliefs.

    I think this country is crazy to think she could handle the presidency.

  28. I am in agreement with the general alarm about what a McCain/Palin administration might look like – act like. I also agree about the importance of education, all our life long. It took me until I was 34 to finish my Bachelor’s Degree, 5 children, a divorce, new locales intervening, but all during those intervening years I made good use of my library. Educational institutions are invaluable, but we also have to instill in our children, by our own example, the joy of learning all by ourselves, all about whatever interests us at the moment and to follow one interesting idea to another. One of the things that must clearly interests us now is the qualifications and records of McCain and Palin and we had better educate ourselves fully so we can help teach others.

  29. Jennifer, I never thought you were addressing me personally, and frankly I am glad you piped up. And I think we can all agree that women can of course take on the role of president, even the mothers of five or more children. The thing I think we can also all agree on is that this particular woman is not the most qualified of all women candidates the Republicans could have selected and–and this is my opinion–it was a cynical choice.

    Amanda, I don’t know! I do know though that if something smells fishy it’s probably because there’s a fish nearby. Fact-checking sites are the one way we can find what fish are really stinky:

    Hi John! Yep, newer hotel. Nice location, nice place. Yeah, I also heard the eldest kid liked his OxyContin and was kinda forced into the service, and the preg daughter actually got kicked out of the house upon revealing her state. So heh family values. A cat’s got better family values than that household.

    Woody, well, I don’t think you’re wasting your breath. Our country IS in each citizen’s national interest.

    Laurene, I just found it impossible to believe that the Republicans could have come up with a ticket worse than Cheney/Bush. I’m always surprised by them, and I really shouldn’t be. I agree she’s scary.

    Commonweeder, yours is a great story. I can’t agree with you more about the benefit of self AND formal education. Don’t squander the formal education but yes one can follow one’s nose through all kinds of interesting journeys as close as our own local libraries. And life’s learning should be a journey. I wish this country valued it more.

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