The challenges left unmet

September 15, 2014

The next generation will need to be prepared to confront climate change, but they won't be with the kind of education they're getting today, writes Bob Simpson.

"The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized."
-- Rachel Carson

ABOUT 70,000 years ago, humanity appears to have faced its greatest challenge up to that time. According to genetic studies, the human population, never very numerous, may have dropped to as few as 2,000 individuals worldwide. Some scientists link this population loss to the explosion of the Toba super-volcano, which they believe caused dangerous environmental changes. Others do not. But something took place that nearly wiped our species off the face of the earth.

As a species, we are not blessed with an immortality gene.

Today, our much larger human population faces another challenge when it comes to survival of our species. Modern capitalism, with its infinite drive for profit on a finite planet is fueling a massive extinction of life. Some are calling it the sixth great extinction, in reference to five earlier mass extinctions caused by catastrophic climate and environmental changes.

Education activists speak out against over-testing in Chicago
Education activists speak out against over-testing in Chicago (Bob Simpson)

Historically, corporate capitalism--and, later, its close relative, state "communism" (exemplified by Stalinist Russia and Maoist China)--have been fueled by burning coal and petroleum products which dangerously alter our atmosphere. Widespread climate and environmental changes on a scale comparable to those of the great extinctions of the past are being predicted by the end of the 21st century.

To meet these challenges will require profound socio-economic change and technological innovation. Human cooperation on a scale that has never happened before will be required. Moving toward some form of eco-socialism is the best alternative because the insatiable drive for profit that is a feature of capitalism is not sustainable.

Even some capitalists recognize that you can't profit off a dead planet.

The U.S., hobbled by its extremist form of capitalism and its expensive military empire, has thus far been unable to take a leading role in the kind of socio-economic transformation that is necessary. In fact, the U.S. usually sabotages such efforts in its drive for profit and military domination. Since the U.S. is still a major power in the world, this is bad news for the planet.

ANOTHER ACHILLES Heel for the U.S. is the increasing corporatization of U.S. education. Rather than being seen as public good, education is being viewed by Corporate U.S. as a source of short-term profit and as a human hatchery to create a docile workforce. Why else would they push their ill-conceived regimen of endless high stakes testing and its associated scripted rigid curricula that requires a minimum of human interaction?

Education has always been necessary for human survival, but just when we need as much human creativity and critical thinking as possible, powerful corporations are pushing a narrow, lockstep "career- and college-readiness" curricula designed specifically for a low wage, eco-destructive economy.

Where is the curricula for social and political engagement? Why are social studies, history, world languages and the arts being bled out of U.S. schools? Why is science under attack? Why are teachers unions being weakened and public schools being privatized? Why are schools still so racially segregated and educational resources still allocated by race and social class?

How could this malign amalgam of bad educational theory, dysfunctional economics and social pathology possibly prepare coming American generations for what lies ahead?

Corporations are totalitarian institutions which dominate our society and severely limit what democracy exists in this nation. Their vision of what constitutes learning reflects that. Corporate propaganda about the global eco-crisis is omnipresent and well financed. It finds its way into the schools with slickly produced lesson packets and multimedia presentations. Combined with the corporate stranglehold over government and the corporate debasement of popular culture, Americans are being anesthetized from even thinking about their continued existence on this planet.

This is why the work of the education justice movement to liberate the minds of young people is so important. Education for liberation stands in direct confrontation with the corporate totalitarianism that is the greatest danger the biosphere faces today.

The minds of tomorrow must be able to think clearly, deeply, creatively and cooperatively to initiate a human revolution on a scale never before seen in human history. This is what education for liberation means. The fate of all life on earth will be affected by how well we educate succeeding generations.

And it is apparent that time is not on our side.

It is our responsibility in the USA to step up the education justice efforts, not to return to a "golden age" of education that never was, not to merely push back against the corporate offensive, but to push forward with education for liberation as part of a global effort. For we are not the only nation that is having its education system eviscerated by profit seeking corporations.

The legacy of civilization should not be a mortally wounded biosphere.

"If it should turn out that we have mishandled our own lives as several civilizations before us have done, it seems a pity that we should involve the violet and the tree frog in our departure."
-- Loren Eiseley

First published at Daily Kos.

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