Education and Jobs - What Happened To My California?

EASTSIDER--I know I keep mentioning that I’m a third generation Californian in these columns. I do it mostly because I have at best a tenuous interest in what happens in the corridors of power back east in places like Washington, DC. Their prep school/’right college’/network of people has essentially run the country for a long time. We in California have always been relegated to acting as an ATM machine for the federal government and the DNC/RNC political establishment. I know it’s a parochial view, but I believe it to be reasonably accurate. 

So, I try to avoid thinking about the moral rot of those who govern us, but the recent displays of political discord by both the Democrats and the Republicans has made me wonder what ever happened to the State of California that I grew up in. Forget DC. I don’t much recognize the current California, and how it is sucking the economic marrow out of our children, instead of preparing them for and providing decent jobs. 

In retrospect, I was a lucky person to be educated in the California of the 50’s and 60’s.   Schools worked differently then. High School still had shop and other vocational classes to provide training for actual jobs when you graduated, and they even had decent class sizes and counselors. 

Not that the system was without flaws. There were two tracks - one for those going on to college, and the other for those going on to wherever. Of course they also had homemaking classes for girls, but they let both guys and girls into the shop classes. Hey, it was another time.   

They also had a system where the children did not automatically promote from grade to grade in high school. I remember, because I was definitely not a mainstream student, being in a Junior High school in Fullerton, where many of my peers were older kids simply marking time until they were old enough to stop having to attend school. 

I mention all this because the LAUSD of today gave up that model of education for the “College & Career Readiness Through A-G”.   As they proudly announced in their latest form, the mission statement sets requirements that ‘all students will complete the minimum course requirements for the CSU system’. Good grief. 

Funny, in the old days it was recognized that a good chunk of people were not going to go to college, and needed preparation to be able to simply get a job - not necessarily one that required a college degree. In their zeal to get away from the old two track system which did indeed discriminate against some students, we have flipped the system into unreasonable requirements that everyone, as I once quipped, is going to go to Stanford’. Horsepuckey. 

The current system has resulted in over 1/3 of entering students never making it to graduation, period, and has utterly failed to produce real jobs for real people. Instead, the LAUSD keeps on lowering the standards to graduate, as if that is going to meet their silly goal. The only thing that it has produced lately is a bunch of Charter schools under the ‘leadership’ of Monica Garcia & funded by a billionaire backed industry looking to siphon education dollars into their coffers. 

Let me give you an example. The Department of Water and Power has an acute shortage of line workers -- the ones that work on those poles and towers to provide us with reliable power. These jobs don’t need a degree, but after a few years the employees are going to be making something like $100,000/year, with a defined benefit plan thrown in. However, the DWP can’t go on high school campuses to advertise these jobs because that isn’t going to get the students into college. 

This is nuts. Our children need jobs when they graduate, not simply being thrown to the wayside to maybe work in the low paying service industries. Right now, apprenticeships are taking off because our high schools no longer provide the free education to get jobs.

Instead, we have all those ‘technical institutes’, which are simply designed to provide what high schools don’t, and laden the students with a bunch of debt whether or not they complete the course, much less get a job. 

And as for those college degrees, all too many students get is over $50,000 in student debt that will hound them for the rest of their lives, whether or not the degree leads to real jobs with anything like a career ladder. This is not cool. 

My generation had the California of Governor Brown’s Master Plan for Education, where an excellent, free education was available to all of us. You can read about it here, and weep. 

I came out of that system, through Fullerton Jr. College, Cal State Fullerton, and then UC Berkeley. Didn’t cost much, and provided an excellent education. Why we don’t provide the resources to this for our children, I utterly fail to understand.

The Takeaway

If our educational system can’t provide jobs for our children, exactly what use is it? Seems to me that we starve the educational system of money, divert a good chunk of what money is left into Charter school experiments, even as many of them fail or in some cases steal the public funds for personal gain. 

Even as we try to get rid of tenure for teachers, look forward to breaking the public sector unions, and head down the path of vouchers instead of actual education leading to jobs. Arrgh! 

I only mention all of this because I know what a good educational system can produce. And it seems to me that none of the candidates for LAUSD are going to squat about fixing these issues. Not to mention the elected officials in Sacramento and Washington. 

C’mon, if we can organize and divert money from the lobbyists with their ‘special deals’ for politicians, corporations & financial services industry sharks, back to educating our children and providing real jobs for them, we will actually be accomplishing something to be proud of. 

Too many of my friends have lost jobs and may never have regular full-time employment. They have fallen by the wayside of no longer even being counted in the unemployment numbers, like un-people. Same for many of our children who have to continue to live at home, struggling to make their economic way in the world. As a society, this is simply unacceptable, and political platitudes won’t fix anything. 

In the California I grew up in, it didn’t used to be that way. Let’s make our politicians divert our tax dollars back into providing real education and real jobs for us and our children. We know that it can be done.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)