April 2, 2011

The legacy of Woody Guthrie

I have been a fan of Mark Erelli since Zalm first pointed me to his work. We have seen him perform locally twice, and will easily go the next time he is town. Great voice and he even plays the same model mandolin as me. Heh.

Anyway, you can hear the protest refrain in much of his music, including several songs that are clearly anti-war. Today, I read his newsletter and saw that he is also animated by the attacks on unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere:
As the son of two teachers, I have seen firsthand the hours of "off the clock" time and personal money some teachers invest to improve classrooms and curricula for their students. I have seen firsthand the second jobs some teachers take to supplement their income, which often isn't so high that they can afford to live in the communities where they teach. I take it a bit personally when I see talking heads on Fox News or read anonymous online commentaries belittling the teaching profession. This kind of invective strikes at the very heart of the American Dream that you can gain a better life for you and your family through hard work, persistence and education.

Indeed, the American Dream has taken quite a hit in recent years. We have "American Idol," but there's no popular TV show called "American Expert." We deride the educated as "elites," preferring instead the sexier narrative that one event or contest could pluck anyone from obscurity and set them on a pedestal to be revered and worshiped. We subscribe wholeheartedly to the "lottery myth"--that one sudden, transformational event can deliver us from obscurity or poverty overnight simply by buying a ticket. In a bit of twisted irony, we often use our lottery proceeds to fund our educational systems, which aren't valued enough to be shielded from budgetary jeopardy in the first place. What would our country look like if we truly valued education as much as we profess?
I read this after seeing that our local university just agreed to pay our next basketball coach a huge salary to lure him from Nevada--all while cutting funding for graduate students, denying raises to hardworking faculty and staff, and actually undermining the educational mission of the university. I fear that most universities are run like this, however, and they actually mirror the broader divide in American society--with the very top few doing very well and the bottom of the pyramid told to suck it.

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