Long-form blog posts and editorials. Topics cover both personal and the world at large. 

Protesting education budget cuts is futile

In San Francisco yesterday it was raining like someone left the sprinklers on. Which mean great things for today as the weather was superbly nice (now ruined by the chronic western fog). As I did my daily browsing of news, an article came up about how yesterday was the day of protest for the budget cuts to education in California. First thought that came to mind was damn, terrible timing with the weather to be having a protest OUTSIDE. It was probably the reason I did not even hear about it until I saw it on the news because I bet a lot of people that planned to go did not because of the weather (come on, what is more important than the iPad 2 announcement?)

As graduation draws closer and closer, I am beginning to think that I am getting out at just the right time. The state of California is still a budget hell hole (come on, take my idea and secede from the Union) and public higher education is on track to suffer a major brunt of it. As if the class and teacher cuts of the pass years are not already deep enough (pretty soon there will be no lecturers left, only tenured faculty), what do you mean there will be more? Things looks super marginal as is.

But really do these people that protested yesterday actually think there will be a reversal of fortune? I am not putting down their efforts because the cause is indeed admirable, but unfortunately that effort is for naught. When you don't have money, you just don't have money. Education already consumes the biggest pie of the entire spending budget for California. So when it comes time to cut, it should come as no surprise to anyone that education will get effected (now if someone can just tell the US government that when they are doing cuts of their own to cut from the biggest consumers of the pie - entitlements and military). And when budgets are cut, programs get cut, that is just kind of how things are.

Now in order for cuts to not be so deep to affect the overall integrity of the system, naturally the institutions will have to raise fees. Like I have said before, in state students pay some of the cheapest four year university fees in the NATION! Of course I am not unsympathetic to the difficult financial situations of some people and the paradox of paying more for less is a very tough pill to swallow. But you already know what is the other option - pay the same for even less. Money is a very easy thing to figure out - it gives you choices. Less money, less choices. It is that simple.

Unfortunately K-12 simply just cannot raise fees, because there are no fees to be raised. Thus they have no chance but to simply cut, cut, and more cuts until the budget is balanced. So what I am saying is, protesting is futile. Cuts are going to happen and the entire education population will just have to weather it until things get better. One cannot possibly expect things to stay the status quo, even when cuts already have come to pass for the past five years.

And protesters are saying education is a right? No it is not. Like driving, education is a PRIVILEGE. Those that can afford it get the privilege to drive nicer cars, and unfortunately those same people can afford better education. If education is a right then the entire process would be absolutely free (K-12 is NOT free by the way, it is paid for by something called taxpayer's money). And you know what, there is education that is free and is a right - proper education from your parents (so easy a caveman can do it). Honestly I think if everybody look at education as a privilege, people will actually do better in school because they would actually take it seriously (mighty ironic that America always propagandized against communism and socialism, yet Americans feel they are entitled to so many things by the government).

But of course cuts are not okay. The deterioration of the educational system in California has been played right in front of my eyes as I have gone through it myself. Cuts will only exacerbate the already dire. How can we Americans be near last in aptitude categories like mathematics amongst all developed countries? I mean for sure we wil never beat China but man I think we should at least be in the top 5! America is home to some of the best universities yet the fruits of it are being harvested by foreign exchange students (Maid In Taiwan anyone?). Anybody else find it insulting that the requirement to pass high school is only to master the art of 8th grade Algebra and English?

I feel sorry for exchange students coming to SF State. They get absolute last pick as they cannot pick classes until they physically arrive here. By that time all the classes are all gone, but they need at least 12 units to keep the student visa. Much kudos to the teachers that takes special care to their predicament and actually tries to accommodate foreign students whenever they can. Is this the message we want to sent to the rest of the world? Come here but we don't have classes for you?

Recently I read in the New York Times an article about how the alumni association raise so much money to keep alive all the myriad of programs Lowell High has to offer to its students. While it is admirable that people like myself donates and give back to our high school that gave so much, but it should not have to be this way. I am sure plenty of other public high schools alumni associations out there don't have nearly the generosity potential as Lowell's. So then is it not unfair to the students of those high school that they are getting a lower quality education just because they don't have people donating money to them? The onus is still on California to properly fund public education and making sure it is an equal distribution for everyone. 

The whole Lowell Alumni donation thing gives me a great idea on how to save sub par performance of public education. There is a reason Asia has such high education standards (thank you Tiger mom) - part of it is because it is not FREE. Back when I still lived in China, my parents have to pay for my education, and would have had to straight through college had we not immigrated to America. And you know what? Because actually money is invested into my education, my parents made damn sure I excelled. That means nightly homework checks, "you better get 100 on that exam!", and parent teacher relations. This force to do well in school by my parents became ingrained into me as a habit. I don't take school for granted because it would greatly disappoint my parents who's hard earn money is invested into it. 

Of course this sentiment is missing in America because public K-12 education is entirely subsidized by the government (not to say it is not a noble cause). No wonder the budget cut protesters say education is a right - it has been GIVEN to them all up until college. This idea of free education thus created apathy and carelessness because the families do not have "skin in the game". Parents don't care because it does not hurt them financially (and it is always very convenient to blame the teachers and the system for their children's failures.).

So to solve the problem, is to make parents pay for their kids education. Not up to private school kind of level, but perhaps just enough of an amount to avoid cuts and keep classroom size to a average level. Meaning public schools will still be heavily subsidized by the government, but families will now have to pay a little to get in. This way the quality of education is preserved, and kids will have more tendency to excel because their parent's money is now on the line. And parents will pay more attention to their kid's learning because well, they don't want to see their money go to waste.

But what if families are too poor? Well no, that simple cannot fly because as I have said, education is a privilege, not an entitlement. My grandparents back in China was dirt poor to the core, yet they still manage to put all 5 kids through high school, and one of them through college. So no, being poor is no excuse for not choosing to provide education for your kids. Besides, the poor already get an entitlement from the government in the form of welfare - so have them use a percentage of that and pay for their kid's public education.

Like I said, it will solve the budget problem, and push the kids to do well. And subsequently it will trickle to the university system a larger pool of well educated kids, and perhaps then we can compete will the best of the world again.