Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Puente de Hozho Visit--Letter #60

Dear Governor Ducey,

Today you visit my daughter's school. I would like to pretend it is because I am a gadfly in the ointment of your governorship, but I presume it is really because the principal at Puente was invited to the White House to speak about bilingual education. It may also because you made some comments about English as the official language or that bilingual schools are communist plots and now you feel badly and want to made amends. Each of those are nice ideas. I have to admit, I haven't been paying as much as attention to your governorship as I was right after the budget cuts. Maybe because if I stay quiet, you'll restore higher education budgets. Maybe because it was summer and no one was talking about schools. Maybe because one-sided conversations get old.

Either way, today you are big in my mind because you are going to my kids' school today to do your politics. I tried to convince my daughter Zoe, whose fifth grade class you are visiting, to ask you some hard-hitting questions, like why do you hate education, or why do you like prisons more than schools, or why do you hate us, Mr. Ducey? She just laughed at me and said "oh, mommy" like she did when I suggested we walk around the new Sportsman's Warehouse and run into people wearing camouflage and saying, "Oh, sorry. I didn't see you." Zoe's career as a guerrilla* activist/fool is not yet underway.

I wanted to come see you at the school since I haven't seen you since NAU's president installation, but I do not think I was invited. I imagine there will not be a lot of political protesters there. I don't think you'll take a lot of questions. I will have to wait until after band practice to find out how it went.

My hope is that you see what an excellent school this is. My hope is that you notice that the Spanish speaking kids and the English speaking kids and the Navajo kids are learning so fast and so much from each other. My son, Max, is starting Kindergarten. He has homework. Zoe has to read the homework to him because Kindergarten homework is already taxing my and Erik college-level Spanish. They say that bilingual education isn't just good for teaching people to speak many languages. Like learning math and music, it creates pathways in the brain that wouldn't be paved otherwise, leading to innovative thinking and creative problem solving and other business-buzzwords that business-as-best-model people like to use. The thinking is that bilingual students succeed in multiple arenas like math and science because they have already begun to learn to see problems as opportunities of translation and interpretation. Bilingual education has a spill-over effect.

Higher eduction has a spill over effect too. Today, in the New York Times, Adam Davidson write,
Higher education is a fascinating, complex business. Its pricing dynamics ripple throughout the rest of our economy, in effect determining who will thrive and who will fail. What’s more, the product of this particular industry is not just an end in itself. Education can have enormous personal benefits for those who acquire it, but it also has external benefits to the rest of society. Education exerts something of a multiplier effect; it transforms not only the lives of the educated but of those around them as well. Workers with more education are more productive, which makes companies more profitable and the overall economy grow faster. There are also significant noneconomic benefits. Educated populations tend to be healthier, more stable and more engaged in their civic institutions and democratic debate.
As the effects of learning Spanish spill beyond the direct benefit of speaking a second language, the effect on the well-being of the state go beyond the direct benefit of educating an individual. 

The economic thinking behind public-university cuts can be confusing. Studies have shown that cutting support for public education balances budgets only in the short term. In his book ‘‘Higher Learning, Greater Good,’’ Walter W. McMahon, emeritus professor of economics at the University of Illinois, showed that a postsecondary degree has a return on investment of roughly 15 percent a year, meaning that every $100 invested in education brings an additional $15 in income for every year of a person’s working life. This expands a state’s economy and generates enough tax revenue to more than pay back the initial outlay on education. Someone who graduates from a four-year institution earns about $1 million in additional future earnings.
It IS confusing to think that the present-moment education budget numbers do not translate to future beneficial spill over effects to you. You seem to be able to do that kind of math when you consider cutting taxes for business incentives: "If we cut taxes for them now, they will add money into our economy later." Why "if we put money into their education now, that person will repay us in tax revenue later" doesn't register into your calculus makes me question your accounting skills. Maybe if you had had the benefit of a bilingual education, you would be more successful with math.

*Side note--Usefulness of higher ed: Once, I had a student in a composition class write about the Sandanistas. I could tell she didn't do much research. She spelled "guerrilla" "gorilla." I'd like to think I helped make a difference in her life. Or at least her spelling.

1 comment:

Kathy Coffield Bryant said...

Thank you Nicole for your insightful and intelligent comments regarding higher education. After my bachelor's degree, I went back to college to study Spanish. I did this for many semesters, and then, at age 36+, it wasn't easy to learn a new language. However, eventually something clicked in my brain and I got it. Now it is easier also to study other languages. I believe you are right!