Saturday afternoon after a quiet sabbath at home, I found myself talking about the spate of educational bond measures, now defeated in the polls. One was what I considered a “construction boondoggle”—for Vista, Berkeley’s community college, to build brand-new facilities with state-of-the-art new equipment. Why shouldn’t the community college continue its already established relationship with UC Berkeley, sharing the facilities and equipment of the UC Berkeley campus?
The other educational bond was to provide pre-schools for all children. Proponents of the bond said that children who attend pre-school do better in school than children who don’t.
In my opinion, the pre-school proponents, by not presenting a broad range of social and economic reforms, in effect left the burden of overcoming the effects of our social problems squarely in the laps of the state’s four-year-olds.
No one proposed middle-class incomes for ghetto families—perhaps by juggling the pay scales of everyone on the payroll of the state’s businesses: CEOS now pulling $10 million to $500 million; management now pulling $100,000; office workers now pulling $30,000 and blue-collar workers now pulling wages below the poverty line could all agree to earn exactly the same wage for their work—a modest middle-class salary.
Instead of a redistribution of wages, legislators left intact the economics of wealth and poverty. How the babies of the ghetto overcome poverty after exiting the schools is up to them—there’s no social structure for such an escape except the old “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” And maybe they would if they didn’t fall victim to the gang violence that rules their neighborhoods.
No one proposed ways to end the reign of drugs and gun violence that terrorize the residents of the ghetto neighborhoods. No money for rehabilitation programs for the drug addicted, the pushers, the violent. No measures for gun control. Not even any rules in our local schools to protect youth from violence. No laws against the culture that creates violence and drug-abuse. We don’t penalize Hollywood for dominating the cultural output of the country with films, books, TV shows, radio programs and so forth which glorify violence, gangs, drugs. Is that against Free Speech? Try writing a law that the glorification of violence, gangs, drugs, crime and hate cannot be sold for profit. They can make and distribute it—and not earn a cent. That would end that problem, I think.
No one is creating educational and support programs for teaching and helping ghetto parents to nurture their children, and raise them with love, care, self-respect, confidence, a sense of civics, a sense of freedom, a sense of ethics. The best our legislators could do was propose taking four-year olds out of the family environment for the day.
No one is proposing to end the welfare system’s notorious broken-home policy. If you don’t know it already, that means that women cannot receive government aid unless they have no man in the house. That means that fathers in the ghetto, unable to provide for their families, are forced to desert them altogether. The result—apparent by this generation—is that many ghetto youth think they have no responsibility for the babies they make, no responsibility to the women (or girls) they made them with. It has led to cases of serial desertion: wherein a youth becomes a father, deserts the mother and the child, and then becomes the father of another woman’s child and deserts her too. Is it fair to lay all the blame on the deserter, when the state made the policy?
No one has proposed legislation to help replace the hundreds of liquor stores in ghetto neighborhoods with inexpensive healthy produce-and-basic foods markets.
No one has proposed to establish more free community services in ghetto neighborhoods, such as libraries stocked with the works of the heroes and heroines of liberation movements, spiritual leaders, ethicists, race and class historians, literary, artistic, dramatic and musical lights. No one has proposed free schools for youth and adults where local people can teach or learn what they want to teach and learn. No one has proposed safe and healthy places for kids of all ages to play. Nor are the ghettos going to acquire neighborhood arts venues or spaces for activists, where locals could pursue such goals as the restoration of democracy, civil and human rights which have been eroded so drastically under the last few Administrations.
All this is what I would like to see instead of more four-year-olds in public school. I don’t doubt that the proponents of that legislation are decent people—I’m sure they wanted to help children—but they lack vision. They weren’t in touch with the economic and social barriers to success in this country, where wealth propagates wealth and poverty reproduces poverty, where ghettoization fosters drugs and violence, ignorance and powerlessness—and where wealth fosters power, education for power, mass violence for power.
Jacqueline Sokolinsky is a Berkeley