Who said that all Americans should have the following rights?
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.
A. President Barack Obama
B. Newt Gingrich
C. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
D. Mitt Romney
E. None of the above
The correct answer is E.
The list of “rights” came from President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s “State of the Union” address to the U.S. Congress in 1944. As you scan those social and economic “rights,” it becomes clear that the man who became President at the beginning of the Great Depression knew that having jobs, sufficient income, medical care, protection from monopolistic corporations, and security for the elderly and unemployed were as important to Americans as the political rights in the first Bill of Rights.
In 2011, however, when unemployment hovers just below 10 percent, when income inequality is the worst in three-quarters of a century, when the backwash of the housing bust has thrown more Americans into poverty–our political leaders thrust and parry over whether cutting federal deficits and cost containment or generating more jobs should be first on the nation’s action agenda.
Yet amid that polarized debate both political parties do agree that improving the nation’s schools should be high on the nation’s agenda since economic growth and education are Siamese twins in keeping the U.S. globally competitive. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton sought more charter schools, Common Core Standards, performance evaluation and pay for teachers, and universal college attendance. For more than a decade, these educational reforms have regularly shown up on front pages of newspapers, magazine articles, television reports, and subject matter for the blogosphere.
Between 1944 and 2011, then, improving education has come to overshadow decent housing, income, and medical care. How come?
Part of any answer to the question has to be American faith in the power of schooling to make citizens, prepare workers, build moral character while boosting individuals up the ladder of success. Such faith has been unstinting for nearly two centuries. Another part of the answer is the national tic of “educationalizing” problems, that is, converting serious economic and social issues into curricular, instructional, and organizationa solutions located in schools.
This sturdy faith and “educationalizing” national problems are captured by those bumper-sticker reforms of “everyone goes to college,” “reducing the test score gap,” and “value-added teacher evaluation.” What all of the hullaballoo does, however, is distract public attention from serious economic and social issues that directly affect Americans every day rather than education, a “solution” aimed at tomorrow when the next generation enters adulthood.
Income inequality (the percentage of wealth that has gone to the top one percent and the amounts divvied up among the other 99 percent) is as bad as it was in the late-1920s. Racially and ethnically segregated schools have increased in every section of the country. Since the Great Recession of 2008, unemployment, housing foreclosures, and poverty have gone up as middle class families slip down the socioeconomic ladder.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had it right in 1944 in listing the rights that all Americans should have in order of importance. Jobs, decent housing, medical care, and security from the “economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.” All of those came before the right to a “good education.” The fact of the matter is that while educating Americans can provide many individual with a path out of poverty (e.g., diplomas and college degrees, inner city community college programs) schooling Americans does not increase jobs available to current adults or attack structures that sustain inequalities (e.g., regressive tax policies, reduced workers’ bargaining power, low minimum wage).
Public policy, then, focusing on school improvement to solve these serious issues relies far too much on a conservative institution that mirrors society rather than one capable of spurring either economic growth or reducing inequities.