The Link Between the “Occupy” Protests and Education in America

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I just read an insightful blog posting by Fareed Zakaria regarding his take about the “Occupy” protests and wanted to add my two cents to the topic of discussion. In his article, Zakaria notes that the “Occupy” protesters are frustrated by their perception of the vast inequality of circumstance in our country. As most people have heard by now, the gap between the rich and the poor in the US now stands at the widest it has been in quite a few years. While the super-rich have become increasingly wealthy, the number of poor in our country has risen. The exact reason for this predicament is under considerable debate, but I am very inclined to agree with Mr. Zakaria that it is largely due to the disturbingly poor state of our country’s public education system.

It is difficult to dispute that children who are inadequately educated have greatly diminished chances of success later in life. The more consistent and earlier a good education begins, the better chance a child will have for success. We have all heard about the problems a great many public school systems face on a daily basis: An inflexible focus on standardize testing, unchallenging curriculums, and chronic underfunding, just to name a few. In addition, most of us have heard at least some of the innumerable suggestions for fixing our public school system and restoring it to its previous status as one of the best in the world. The sticking point on most of these suggestions, however, is that they all require a large investment of both public and private funds; something most of the population, and our politicians in particular, are highly unwilling to commit in such dire economic times.

While it is understandable that we are reluctant to commit the resources necessary to fixing our public schools in the current economic climate, I would like to argue that now is the best time to invest in fixing this vital system. We are at cross-roads as a nation. While we are still an undeniable superpower, we are in danger of losing our influence in the world if our children cannot compete. If we are to pull our nation out of this slump and regain our status as a nation, we absolutely must have an educated and motivated population.

While our international status is of great importance, I argue that it would be of the greatest financial benefit to this nation if we truly invested in our children’s education. To do so, we must invest in the infrastructure that supports education (buildings, transportation, etc.), the people who provide that education (in terms of salary and higher education), and curriculums that embrace all subjects, and not just emphasize the ability to pick the correct question on a multiple choice exam. An educated populace is more able to lift itself out of poverty. A well-rounded education leads to innovation in the business world, the creation of jobs, and less dependence on social welfare. Proper education also leads to better health and wellbeing, in turn leading to less financial stress on our healthcare systems.

I will be interested to see what Fareed Zakaria has to say on his program tonight “Saving the American Dream: Fixing Education.” While the debate continues to rage about what, if anything, to do with our broken system, I am hopeful that the more emphasis the media can give to the subject, the more important it will become to our populace and our politicians.  Though many are quick to deride the “Occupy” protests, it is still important to listen to what they are really saying. We can, and must, do better for the next generation.

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