Paul Thomas Richards, U.S. Senate Candidate, Montana.
To survive as a nation, the United States must have an educated public. Our very democracy itself depends on an educated populace. We cannot successfully address challenges that face us in this new millennium without a well-informed public which regularly questions policy-makers and all media.
To compete in an increasingly technological and specialized world, we must continually maintain education as our top priority. We need keen, inquisitive minds to restore vital civic debate and dialogue and to ensure accountability of public officials.
Quite simply, education is part of creating a responsible adult citizenry, able to manage and improve culture and society. A well-designed, well-maintained, well-funded educational system is the engine of prosperity.
Reform and improvement of K-12 and post-secondary education must be elevated to the highest priority for funding and attention. Urgent areas include smaller teacher-student ratios; fully-funded school and community libraries open 24 hours a day; and free, readily available education for all through college and trade school. For example, we could follow the Irish model, in which any person who graduates from high school can continue in free higher education. Montana could blossom, first in education and then in its economy, just as has happened in Ireland over the past 20 years.
Montana presents a perfect opportunity for educational pilot projects, such as hands-on programs concerning local food and sustainable energy production. A Senator committed to education could facilitate grants and seed money for such programs. Montana can build on its natural advantages by becoming a laboratory for innovation; leading toward: An improved economy, more active citizens, and a healthier environment. Businesses will locate in areas which exhibit such a commitment. As a result, Montana will benefit economically from a serious and well-publicized effort at education reform.
Reformers must directly address those who fear a well-educated, competent, and informed citizenry. As a society, we must deal frankly with the problem of a concentrated corporate media which have a vested interest in producing fearful, disempowered, desperate, pliable, and obedient consumers. Independent media of all types must be established at every level of community and encouraged to improve the dialogue of citizenship.
Americans must accept the basic need for more money for education. As Senator, I will help refocus our national priorities. If we invest the money now, an improved society and healthy economy will follow.
As the United States weans itself from a fossil fuel economy, we will no longer devote almost two-thirds of the federal budget to maintaining extravagant military spending on countless “oil wars” and supporting 1,000 overseas military bases.
Our long-overdue “peace dividend,” offered by the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, has never been realized. Instead of appropriately being reduced by the complete abdication of what was considered our greatest enemy, money for war and armaments actually increased! The United States’ budget for war, expensive high-tech armaments, and killing exceeds the cumulative military budgets of every other country in the world.
Do we want to kill people or educate them? In addition to quality health care for everyone, regardless of income, the United States can make no better investment in its future than education.
The primary role of the federal government must be to provide resources necessary for quality education. In recent years, the federal government has placed more emphasis on testing than teaching. We need an increased, systematic effort to value and reward the function of teaching. Currently, we pretend to value teaching, but fail to provide the career and monetary rewards given other careers requiring similar levels of education and competence.
Within higher education, teaching must be restored to an importance at least equal to that of research and administration. University presidents, university coaches, and some school administrators are making out like bandits!
Instead of paying administrators and football coaches six- and seven-figure salaries, we need to put public money directly into public education infrastructure; teachers’ salaries; the best libraries; and the widest possible range of classes, including civic and government, consumerism, diverse languages and ethnic studies, band, orchestra, choir, speech, literature, writing, and drama; all which help students find their place at school to nurture all aspects of their personality. As they enter society, students secure in their personalities offer virtually unlimited skills, innovations, and potentials.
Montana could again become known as a place where education matters and teachers and professors are given time and resources necessary to teach. Think how good this will serve those motivated students who want a real education! These are exactly the students Montana wants to attract.
Finally, sound fiscal management for public education is crucial. To maximize public information and involvement, all local, school district, county, state, and federal need accurate up-to-date Web sites that show where school and educational funding comes from, where it goes, and exactly how it is spent to further instruction and provide necessary educational tools for scholars of all ages. With fully-funded 24-hours-a-day libraries, those without computers will still be able to stay actively informed and involved.
Educational local, school district, county, state, and federal Web sites can also offer extensive resources, contacts, and other ways for everyone to volunteer, participate, and otherwise support their students, libraries, and learning institutions; all so vital to healthy Montana communities.