We all know the effect of a poor economy on a country’s or state’s educational system. The poorer the economy, the less money the state or nation has to spend on education. Less money means lower quality teachers, poorer quality textbooks, lower quality facilities, etc. The fact that it takes a fair amount of money to provide a high quality education is pretty much a no-brainer.
Another major factor in quality of education is the cultural attitude of the population towards education. Some countries and some states in the United States put a greater emphasis on education than others. A classic example of cultural emphasis on education is Japan. At least since the 1950s, Japanese culture has stressed the value of a high-quality education. Japanese families put a real emphasis on their children doing well in school, especially in mathematics and science. That is why Japan become a leader in the development of technology. Western European countries seem to emphasize a more classically oriented education. Eastern European countries and Russia emphasize science and mathematics, but as yet do not have the infrastructural resources to compete with countries like Japan and, to some degree, the United States.
A fairly recent development in American education, one that has been practiced in other countries for quite some time, is the use of nationally standardized testing to evaluate the performance of the American educational system. But the American educational system is not standardized at the national level as are those of Japan, Russia, and many Eurpean countries. Each of the 50 states sets the standards for the schools in that state, and those standards vary widely, which directtly influences, as you would expect, the performance level of the students in that state on nationally standardized tests.
Why does the USA not have a natinally standardized educational system? Very simple – the ongoing belief in the myth of states rights. What is states rights, you ask? States rights is the belief that the individual states in the United States are the most important political entity and they cede power to the federal government only as necessary, often grudgingly. This is why we have the electoral college – to give each state a supposedly fair vote in the election of a President. It was also one of the reasons we had our Civil War. The states in the South who supported slavery felt that the issue of slavery should be decided on a state-by-state basis, while the federal gpvernment. with support from the Northern and Western states, said slavery had to be illegal at the national level and all states had to comply.
States rights goes back to the days of the American Revolution. The first national government was a cpnfederation of the thirteen colonies. A comfederation is
A confederation is a group of empowered states or communities, usually created by treaty but often later adopting a common constitution. Confederations tend to be established for dealing with critical issues, such as defense, foreign affairs, foreign trade, and a common currency, with the central government being required to provide support for all members. A confederation, in modern political terms, is usually limited to a permanent union of sovereign states for common action in relation to other states.
The nature of the relationship between the entities constituting a confederation varies considerably. Likewise, the relationship between the member states and the central government, and the distribution of powers among them, is highly variable. Some looser confederations are similar to international organizations, while tighter confederations may resemble federations.
The Articles of Confederation were the first Constitution. They were in force from 1777 until 1789, when the thirteen states, "in order to form a more perfect union," ratified the Constitution. What the writers of the Constitution meant by "a more perfect union" was a federation.
A federatopn is:
A federation (Latin: foedus, covenant) is a union comprising a number of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central ("federal") government. In a federation, the self-governing status of the component states is typically constitutionally entrenched and may not be altered by a unilateral decision of the central government.
The form of government or constitutional structure found in a federation is known as federalism (see also federalism as a political philosophy). It can be considered the opposite of another system, the unitary state. The government of Germany with sixteen federated Länder is an example of a federation, whereas neighboring Austria and its Bundesländer is a unitary state with administrative divisions that became federated, and neighboring France is by contrast fully unitary, though its subnational entities appear similar to states of a federation government.
Federations may be multi-ethnic, or cover a large area of territory, although neither is necessarily the case. Federations are often founded on an original agreement between a number of sovereign states.
The main difference between a confederation and a federation is that a federation has a strong central government and that has been the sticking point in American history. In order to get the Constitution ratified, there had to be certain limitations ob the powers of the federal government included. Article Four defines the powers of the individual states and Article Six defines federal powers (cf. this article from Wikipedia).
It is unfortunate that this issue still divides the USA. You would think that the Civil War, the bloodiest war in US history, would have resolved the debate, but that is not the case. There are still some extreme conservatives who will use states rights to oppose anything that increases the power of the federal government. What these people do not realize is that they are depriving the people of their state of things like quality education. It is ironic that those opposed to such things as federal standards of education are from states who would benefit the most from those standards. Talk about utting off your nose yo spite your face! But then who ever said politicians were smart. Certainly not me.
The majority of the supporters of strong states rights are from Souther states – the former members of the Confederacy during the Civil War. This area is also a hotbed of Christian fundamentalism (see map above). And, as this article in the New York Times points out, among the lowest scoring states on the national standarized tests of American students. Their scores were as low as those of third-world countires. This is what I meant by these states have the most to gain from federal education standards. But these standards are opposed in these states not only on political grounds, i.e., states rights, but also on religious grounds. Fundamentalists oppose the teaching of certain accepted scientific theories because they believe those theories contradict the Scriptures as they interpret them. What they oppose and why will be the subject of the next post in this series. Until then, peace.