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Life Insurance and Annuities SVICAINI lfe ‘1` Martin Elfant, CLU 4223 Richmond, Suite 213, Houston, TX 77027 Whole Earth ‘I Provision Company Nature Discovery Gifts amaze, inform, delight a Choose from our business or family gifts of lasting value, for all ages, price ranges and any occasion. Call or stop by and let us make suggestions. k 2410 San Antonio St. 4006 South Lamar Blvd. 8868 Research Blvd. JUDGE STEVE RUSSELL Re-Election Party Bee, and Nibbles Provided Cash Bar Happy Hour Prices Another Raw Deal September 15, 1985 1110 W. 6th 5:0078:00 p.m. $12.50 Donation Pd. Pol Adv. Judge Steve Russell Campalen. Pamela Giblin. ‘treasurer. 19 C011gre ,S e Austin. Texas 78’01 4ertL._ -.0,415rAiGat i .VJ;rotN0 40.4.114:11101664aetAistQW.Qtle664LfinieraCia.W.VAr ” JisAezacUP.OALY acy; that the current national and local administrations are reluctant to do anything about education but cut budgets and “raise standards” \(i.e. blame the and that the whole cultural atmosphere, not to mention the overheated economy, has made “social programs” like public education seem an unnecessary and expensive frill next to serious business like defense boondoggles in outer space and threatening small neighboring countries with extinction. Yet, in the teeth of such a withering ill wind, he insists, in all seriousness, that a national campaign for literacy is a real possibility and the only thing which will save us from ourselves. It is when Kozol turns to recommending solutions to the literacy crisis that his vision is transformed from simply utopian idealism to serious political fantasy. Since he basically no longer believes that the public schools are reformable, or even sufficiently humane institutions to be trusted with adult illiterates, he envisions armies of volunteer neighborhood organizers, recruiters, and tutors, drawn from neighborhoods and schools \(but only during offgroups in converted store fronts and abandoned housing projects, and emphasizing concepts like “anger” and “revolution” instead of textbook primers and phonetics. His models for this campaign are the explicitly revolutionary national campaign in Cuba and Nicaragua, and Paolo Freire’s work in Brazil, although he tap-dances around the political implications such parallels have for American audiences. What he does not wish to acknowledge is that the phenomenal success of such programs occurred in explicitly revolutionary conditions of grand national consensus conditions which are not remotely comparable to the present or forseeable state of the American body politic. Most major urban school systems, now the great factories of present and future illiterates, are going begging for thousands of schoolteachers for pay at admittedly risible salaries. Municipaleven more than usually disinclined to provide serious and necessary financial support to education. Does Kozol seriously believe that there is a silent and yearning multitude of volunteers with ample time on their hands, ready to do what paid professionals have not been able to do, or that the institutional funds are available for a project of this scope, to be built on activist principles? Although he insists that the number of adult illiterates could be realistically reduced by half within the next ten years, the desperate tone of his whole book belies his explicit optimism. More important, his dismissal of the school systems as incorrigible, and his blind advocacy of voluntarism as the remedial solution, strike me as inadvertent neoconservatism in an idealistically liberal guise. I do not think the “volunteers” exist for such a project, but moreover I do not think we should be asking individuals to perform the proper mission of communal, public institutions, in this case the public school systems. At all levels the American governments are in the process of dismantling and abandoning the entire system of mass public education which, whatever its faults, had for much of the century provided free access to competent schooling for the bulk of the populace We should be demanding its salvation, transformation, and reinvigoration not writing it off as a bad investment that could be replaced by storefront workshops and marginal freedom schools. Kozol laments the state of government support for education, but the thrust of his own proposals lets the politicians, and the schools, off the hook. Buried in his footnotes is a more realistic assessment by Texas literacy researcher Jim Cates: The problem of literacy is national and, as with other national funding needs, any productive solution must be federally inspired and funded . . . Left to their own devices, the local public educational systems are now contributing approximately one million incompetents annually to the national pool of functional illiterates. . . . We are hampered by a “barnraising” mentality that likens major problems to the simplistic gathering of a band of hardy pioneers coming to the assistance of a frontier neighbor in distress. The increasing sophistication of this society now requires leadership able to see beyond the first line of trees at the edge of the clearing and into the forest of national need. Cates also calls Illiterate America “the most important book of the decade,” but it seems to me thoroughly permeated with the “barn-raising” mentality he deplores. Part of the problem is no doubt Kozol’s understandable desperation the situation appears hopeless, with no institutional solutions THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19