Mark Twain and the Fight Against “Eduperialism” in North Carolina

“We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.”
– Mark Twain

The above quote by Mark Twain was delivered on November 23, 1900 in a speech to the Public Education Association at a meeting of the Berkley Lyceum, New York. It is sometimes called his “Boxer Speech” as Twain makes reference to the Boxer Rebellion in China that was initiated in response to imperialistic influences from other countries entering China.

If one was to read the entire speech within today’s political construct (http://mrholbrookbc.weebly.com/uploads/7/7/5/2/7752425/i_am_a_boxer.pdf), one might fall victim to the nationalistic, patriotic, anti-foreign gloss that may shine on the surface of the speech and automatically relate it to the rhetoric that came from the xenophobic verbiage of the past presidential election.

That is not what Twain is saying. What he is saying is that a country should be free to be its own without outside influences controlling it for profit. He was making a statement on imperialism.

twain

At the turn of the 20th century, the imperialistic endeavors by many advanced countries through places like Africa, India, and the Far East were violent ventures in capitalistic greed: seizing the resources of a defenseless but asset-rich country and selling manufactured products to boost your country’s economy at the expense of the violated country. Some countries sent in missionaries to “convert” the natives first with organized religion, then they conquered, enslaved, and raped the land.

Read Achebe. Read Conrad. That history is not that long ago.

And Twain said a lot about organized religion. He certainly said a lot about slavery.

Just read Twain.

But imperialism still is happening today, even within our own country – even within our own public services.

Take for instance, public education.

At least in the state of North Carolina (and I am sure in most other states), the top expenditure is the public education system, whether just K-12 or public university system or both. All of that tax payer money going to allow for an educated citizenry that will then make decisions through a democratic process in a representative republic for the advancement of our country.

Sounds great. Sounds fundamental. Sounds American. It’s even in the state constitution of North Carolina and most every state constitution I have read through.

However, the resources that public education has, mainly funds, have become targets for many people who want to capitalize from those ventures: privatizers, “re-formers”, advocates for choice, charter school advocates, voucher supporters, etc.

Maybe they could be called “eduperialists” who practice “eduperialism.”

“Ed u pe ri al ism” – the policy of extending the rule or authority of a lawmaking body or private entity over public funds set aside for public education to promote privatization of education for a select few.

Think of vouchers. That’s public money being used to allow for people to send students to private schools and religious schools that can alter their admissions policies to ensure that all who may want to attend may not have that opportunity. Eduperialists in North Carolina even call their vouchers the “Opportunity Grants.”

Think of unregulated charter school growth. Especially in rural areas, public money that could be used to strengthen the very public schools for the local students is being used to help fund charter schools that will serve a fraction of the students but without the regulatory constructions placed upon traditional public schools.

Think of the Achievement School Districts. The one in North Carolina is about to start and it is being run by a “foreign” entity.

Someone is making a profit in all of those ventures with public resources.

And what’s happening in North Carolina is by far not the only example in the country. Michigan with the work of Betsy DeVos already displayed, Ohio with its charter school debacle, and Tennessee with its ASD troubles just begin the list.

Just like the old imperialistic handbook states, people with power came in and took away local control, dehumanized the system, and placed in authority puppets to prolong the partisan policy. Here in North Carolina, they put in nearly impossible accountability measures, school performance grade protocols, took away teacher due process and other benefits, and then egregiously placed incredible amounts of power in the hands of a new political ally elected as a state superintendent in a rather contentious election season.

Sounds about right.

Now that is not to say that all ventures in charter schools are bad. Originally, they were constructed as experimental labs to help instruct students not serviced well in traditional schools, but they would than share those methods and styles with traditional public schools to help bring more pedagogical diversity to public schooling. Those do exist. Some are very good.

Some students need financial help to attend very specialized schools if they happen to have developmental delays, learning disabilities, or physical impairments. But when “school choice” and vouchers are being touted as measures to help low income families maybe government needs to look more at how neighborhood schools can be helped to help low income families.

Maybe state governments like North Carolina’s can look more at helping communities where low income families live. With nearly 25% of NC school children living in poverty, efforts to take public money for vouchers, unregulated charter schools, and other privatization efforts simply take more away from those in need.

Later in his speech Twain exclaims,

“It is curious to reflect how history repeats itself the world over. Why, I remember the same thing was done when I was a boy on the Mississippi River. There was a proposition in a township there to discontinue public schools because they were too expensive. An old farmer spoke up and said if they stopped the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built.”

And again, history is repeating history. It also makes a case for the liberal arts.

“It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. He’ll never get fat. I believe it is better to support schools than jails.”

I wonder what Twain would say today.

Probably not much different.

Especially here in North Carolina.

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