Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sorry, Son - No Music Magnet For You. The Koch Bros Need To Pay Less Taxes.

(cross-posted at the Smirking Chimp)

 A couple of years ago, my older son got bumped out of a place at Cal State Northridge because of budget cuts. He had been accepted - recruited - into the highly-acclaimed jazz department at CSUN because of his excellence in music in high school. He was fortunate enough - and worked hard enough - to earn a place in the Hamilton Academy of Music, one of the finest public high-school music magnets in California, if not the entire country. The video I'm posting is of the award-winning performance of his Vocal Jazz group that competed in the Reno Jazz Festival, led by one of the best vocal directors I have ever heard (and, believe me, I've heard a few), R. John Hamilton.

I owe my career in music - the joy of my life - to my music directors in high school; my choir director and my band director. They saw a shy girl who never took band like all the rest of the band and choir kids, and didn't have the confidence to think of herself as a musician or a singer at all, just someone who picked around on the piano when she though no one else was watching, and they literally dragged me into choir and band. They wouldn't let anyone laugh at me because I didn't know how to read music as well as the rest of them; they encouraged me, challenged me, put me into situations that were above my level and made me rise to them. Because of their seeing something in me that I didn't see in myself, I learned how to play jazz; I learned how to sight-sing, and I ended up being one of the 20 best sight-singers in the state of Florida in All-State competition 3 years in a row, and got superiors in both piano and voice at State Contest. It wasn't because I was all that; it was because as teachers, both those directors cared enough to go out of their way to drag me into their programs.

A similar thing happened to my son. He has always been a fine tenor sax player, and he had a  wonderful director in middle school. She was a no-nonsense martinet who scared the living daylights out of the kids who didn't really care about music, but she made sure that my son had every  opportunity available to him to grow as a player - and made sure that he got into Hamilton Music Academy, where he played in the C jazz band there under the direction of new band director Jim Foschia. My son and Mr. Foschia bonded, and he stayed in that band for the next couple of years to get the leadership opportunities that Jim Foschia saw for him. He gave Sam room to lead and mentor younger students, even though his skills were good enough for the A band. His senior year, though, he moved up to the A band, and he was also recruited into the Vocal Jazz group, the elite singing group at the Academy, even though he had never sung a note in public - because John Hamilton saw something in him that he did not know was there. He did what my directors did for me - he didn't take 'no' for an answer, he challenged Sam, and in regional competition in Reno, Sam ended up winning solo awards for scat-singing. In Monterey, John Hamilton's group took first place and was invited to sing at the actual Monterey Jazz Festival. This was no accident. These are great teachers, who knew how to bring out the best in their students.

A great teacher, with a teacher's heart, is a national treasure and a gift to any student lucky enough to encounter them. They don't make more money than any other teacher; they don't get million-dollar bonuses and corporate jets - yet they contribute to society in a way that none of these lavishly-compensated corporate CEOs would or could ever do in a million years.

But after high school, when Sam had been offered scholarships by many fine schools, when he chose CSUN - he got budgeted out. Because even a couple of years ago, they started chipping away at education at the state level. So now Sam is going to community college to get his gen-eds, and working a day job as well, and hoping he can transfer to a state school.

And Sam was the lucky one.

His younger brother is in the ninth grade, in the same middle school. He is a talented percussionist and guitar player who was just chosen to be in the LA County Honors Symphonic Band, and who would have been going to Hamilton High School Music Academy next year. But it looks like he will probably not get to go there like his older brother did. LAUSD is eliminating its best magnet programs and pink-slipping those same talented and dedicated teachers from whom my older son received a priceless education - not just in music, but in dedication, discipline and excellence.

Sorry, James - no magnet for you. Those greedy public employees have just spent all that money on their pensions and big juicy paychecks, so it's time to 'trim the fat' - you know, education.

Hey, the world needs ditch-diggers, too.

There is a significant section of America that wants to get rid of public education altogether. It's an insidious chain - it starts with the multi-national corporations, Wall Street thieves and ultra-wealthy family fortunes (I'm looking at you, Koch Bros.) who have stolen the homes, jobs, pensions and health care (i.e. our lives) of the middle class and then taken that money off-shore and out of the system so as not to pay taxes on it, and instead of spending it and putting it back into the American economy, they hoard it and speculate with it instead.

Once they torpedoed the economy, they blackmail us - the victims of their thievery - into giving them our tax dollars to bail them out, which then - again - they hold onto instead of helping out those they stole from. Now that they've taken our jobs, our homes, our pensions and our health care, our tax revenue base has dwindled away to nothing. So - since we have no federal dollars left in the tax base, the money that would have otherwise gone to the states for education, etc. is no longer available.

SO - now they start howling about the states' fiscal irresponsibility, since they are mandated to balance their budgets, unlike the federal government. Now, the shortfall must be made up by cutting education and gutting public employees and their unions - and collective bargaining - all those things that they hate with a passion, trying to make THEM look like the bad guys and profligate spenders! They are trying to steal the pensions of the public employees - who PAID INTO their pension plan years in advance, having had it taken out of their paychecks in lieu of collecting Social Security.

And now, we get to the end-game - time to cut public education; 'starve the beast', as Grover Norquist would say. When you de-fund public education, and eliminate all its resources, it's the easiest thing in the world to say, "See - public education doesn't work! Look how bad the schools are!"

It's really almost beautiful in its symmetry. There is a sub-set of conservatives - many, but not all, evangelical - who are dead-set against public education, and education guaranteed for all. They are working to eliminate the Department of Education completely. They hate the idea that tax dollars are not supposed to fund religious education. They hate what they call 'government schools'. And they think that education should only go to those wealthy enough to afford it; let the rest of the riff-raff dig ditches. They really don't see education as necessary for all Americans - only those most deserving by way of their parents' wealth. They don't understand that an educated middle class workforce is what put us at the forefront of science and technology in the world. And a liberal arts education is archaic these days. Who in their right mind would waste four years on something that wasn't going to get them on the path to riches? And those lucky few who do manage to get a college education will be debt-slaves to their college loans for most of their lives.

This is the end result of what has been perpetrated on the domestic front for years - and what hasn't been stolen from us is going to fund wars and killing around the rest of the world. And in the Bush years, the money spent on war was not even included in the budget! Now that it is, all of a sudden it's the deficit that everyone's screaming about - funny that we never heard a peep about it from 2000 - 2008.

But, here's the REAL end-game. An educated middle class - with enough leisure to be able to concern itself with the luxury of a political opinion and the free time to gather and sort out the knowledge to make sense of what is going on - is the death-knell for the kleptocracy. An educated middle class stands up for itself, because it has the leisure - time and energy - to do so. A serf class - overworked to exhaustion, underpaid to the extent of its only concern being day-to-day survival - food and shelter - cannot find the wherewithal to challenge their overlords. When you work harder and harder for less and less, and your only choice for food and shelter is the 'company store' - perpetual indebtedness - the 'niceties' of art, philosophy, history, political involvement, are simply not available to you, either emotionally or physically.

It is breaking my heart. It was breaking my heart when my own children were not affected - everyone's child deserves nurturing and education and a fair chance, and yet we are under the thumb of people who would just dump them all into the wastebin so that they could have no limits on how much they could steal.

And when the crime rate skyrockets because young people have no education, no jobs, no hope, no self-esteem, no dignity, no futures - who do you think will be howling the loudest about 'law and order', 'three strikes' and making sure these kids will be locked up for as long as possible inside their 'for-profit' private prisons?

I think we all know the answer to that question - the same people who will never see the inside of a courtroom, much less a jail cell, for stealing an entire country can't wait to throw you in prison for the rest of your life for stealing a piece of pizza. 

Of course, it's easy to talk about law and order - when you order the laws like a piece of pizza.

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