How to Bridge Our Educational, Social, and Political Divides: Have a Truly Enlightened Public High School Curriculum

Our nation has three enormous divides: an educational, a social, and a political divide. It is common knowledge that the majority of non-college graduates are Trump voters, and the majority of college graduates are Biden voters. That educational divide accounts for our social and political divides. Uniting our severely, angrily divided nation requires educational uniformity, preferably of course at a high level. No logical person would argue that it is in the nation’s interest for half of our citizens to be poorly educated.

In the highly competitive and technologically advanced global economy, a nation with many poorly educated citizens will have great economic, social, and political difficulties. That is the current state of our nation, with at least half the adult population not having a college degree. To make matters worse, many of our college degrees do not signify a high level of education. Our problem is not capitalism, it is a low average level of education. To be a socially and economically prosperous nation we absolutely need to greatly elevate the average level of education. The starting point must be the public high school curriculum, which is terribly deficient in many areas, leading to many undereducated, not well-rounded citizens, including many who go on to college. An enlightened public high school curriculum would provide every citizen with a solid, well-rounded educational base, and would lead to a much higher percentage of college graduates and much better government. That is my conviction, as is all that follows here. Details are of crucial importance, hence the length of this article.

Imagine the enormous difference if the public high school curriculum included, as it should, the following courses: 1)logic and critical thinking (an antidote against falling for QAnon, cults, con men, aspiring dictators, dishonest and corrupt politicians, demagogues, liars and spinners; against believing Covid-19 is a “Democratic hoax”; againstpoliticizing public health measures such as mandatory masks during pandemics; and against half the population not having the common sense to understand that masks are very effective against spreading the virus, and being oblivious to the example set by Taiwan and Singapore) with case histories and work shops; 2) economics and investing (with annual economic forecasting and portfolio management competitions), including explaining why QE financing can often avoid the need to increase taxes or cut spending; why QE-financed tax rebates (not ultra-low interest rates) should be the standard economic stimulus tool; why long-term capital gains taxes should be eliminated, being especially unfair to homeowners but also to investors and economically counterproductive; and why many mainstream economic theories governing our economic policy are fallacies, such as those regarding budget deficits and the causes of inflation, as proved by relevant statistical history; 3) analysis of domestic and world history in great detail from 1900, focusing on the causes of World War I and II; on the causes of communism in Russia and why communism failed; on the causes of fascism in Germany and Italy; on the causes of the Great Depression; on the various causes of anti-Semitism and its culmination in the Holocaust; on the causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“land” is a simplistic explanation); and on the causes of Islamic terrorism; 4) ethics and empathy (missing all too much in our society and government, as exemplified by our having separated migrant children from their parents) with case histories and workshops; 5) the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the history of human rights violations, which would serve to totally discredit racism, sexual and religious discrimination, intolerance, and censorship; 6) introductory law and Constitutional law, including explaining why the Justice Department’s OLC rule against indicting sitting presidents (ordered by Nixon to protect himself as Watergate was unfolding) is corrupt and unconstitutional; why the presidential pardon power is constitutionally limited by conflict of interest and corruption considerations (ours is not a banana republic constitution); and why attorneys general must recuse themselves from all matters pertaining to the presidents who appointed them (this conflict of interest rule would have freed the Mueller Report indictments to be prosecuted instead of being illegally suppressed by Attorney General Barr); 7) comparative religion, pointing out major religions’ similarities and differences, and the many egregious violations of human rights in the three holy books of monotheism; 8) history of art, architecture, and design; 9) history of music; 10) the major mistakes in economic, social, and foreign policy over the past 100 years and which would have been the correct policies; 11) a four year course on psychology accompanied by indispensable “group therapy” and “good parenting” workshops, which would greatly reduce violence, crime, addiction, abusive behavior, and psychological problems. Of critical importance is to have individual assistance for students having academic or psychological problems, in order to prevent them from falling behind and dropping out. This public school reform is absolutely essential for the nation. One can safely bet that not one of our politicians has a well-rounded education, and that they all have deficient knowledge in many of the critically important topics listed above.

Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the “War on Poverty” in 1965, and we still have widespread poverty. Why? Because of a deficient public high school education. Poverty is strictly correlated with a low level of education. The question which must be answered is why we have not provided a truly excellent public school education, which means having an enlightened curriculum, strict class discipline with lots of homework/study hall, and individual assistance for students having academic or psychological difficulties. “No Child Left Behind” and its obsession with constant testing is an example of illogical thinking by policy makers, pointing to the need for a high school course in logic and critical thinking. Providing a truly excellent, enlightened public school education for every single youth must be the nation’s top priority. It is the only way to end poverty and have a socially and economically prosperous society. It is important to note that such a society would have very low taxes, and that public spending to provide a truly excellent public school education for every single youth is not socialism, rather it is enlightened capitalism. Such spending can often be financed by the Federal Reserve with QE in order to avoid raising taxes. (We have seen that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, QE is not inherently inflationary. It is inflationary only if it is excessive, not properly calibrated, resulting in excess aggregate demand.)

Of course, poverty can also be the result of misguided, incompetent economic policy leading to repeated, totally avoidable long, deep recessions and high unemployment, which is exactly what we have had for decades, due to fallacious mainstream economic theories on the effects and consequences of federal debt and budget deficits, and on the causes of inflation, leading to counterproductive restrictive fiscal and monetary policies. Economics must be taught with close examination of relevant statistical history, to see which theories are validated by statistics and which are contradicted by statistics. In both cases, logic and critical thinking must explain why there is statistical correlation or not. That approach has been missing, inexplicably.

Our economic policy makers and all too many economists have lacked an adequate level of logic and critical thinking, and they still lack a proper understanding of QE financing which often allows increased government spending without needing to raise taxes and without worrying about inflation or about national debt, or its being passed on to future generations. QE financing consists of Treasury bonds purchased by the Federal Reserve with newly printed money and held to maturity. Those bonds consist of virtual debt, not real debt, which evaporates in thin air at maturity, being cancelled or rolled over indefinitely by the Fed. Contrary to mainstream economic theory, QE financing is not inflationary, so long as it is properly calibrated and does not lead to excess aggregate demand, the situation of “too much money chasing too few goods”. We have had many trillions of dollars of QE over the past decade with no increase in inflation, precisely because with high unemployment and low capacity utilization, excess aggregate demand never developed. All those trillion dollars of QE saved us from two depressions. QE may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. Used properly, it prevents recessions and high unemployment, promotes economic growth, is not inflationary, and actually results in less private and public sector indebtedness. In the 1930’s, QE would have prevented the Depression. Why is all that not being taught, either in high school, college, or business school?

Having a well-taught logic and critical thinking course would eliminate the “gun control divide”, as the consensus would be that psychological problems lead to violence of all sorts, including gun violence and mass shootings, and that gun control measures would fail just like making addictive drugs illegal failed, given that there are always black markets. The consensus solution for gun violence and all other forms of violence would be to focus on mental health starting at a young age, with four years of psychology in every high school.

Having a well-taught logic and critical thinking course would eliminate the “illegal immigration and asylum divide”, as the consensus would be 1) to require all asylum requests to be made at U.S. consulates in the country of residence, to avoid long dangerous treks to our border with Mexico and crowds at the border; 2) to apply our asylum law (consistent with the United Nations asylum law which was prompted by the Holocaust) which requires asylum to be granted only to people persecuted by their own governments, not to people wanting to escape poverty or crime; 3) to grant immigration papers only to individuals who demonstrate a desire to fully integrate in our society, who not only pledge to respect our laws but agree with them, particularly those on democracy and human rights such as women’s equality, non-discrimination on the basis of religion, race, sexual preference, and who agree with the United States being a secular state, not a religious state, being governed by the Constitution and not the holy books monotheism; 4) to recognize every nation’s right to limit the number of annual immigrants, and that “open borders” is illogical as well as counterproductive socially and politically, leading to neo-fascist tendencies (as in Germany and here in the United States); 5) to recognize the importance of having a major Peace Corps program to help the Central American nations develop, through education and infrastructure projects.

Having a well-taught logic and critical thinking course would eliminate the “abortion divide”, as the consensus would be to focus on preventing abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies. Since most unwanted pregnancies involve high school dropouts, the solution is providing a truly excellent public high school education for every single youth, with individual assistance for students with academic or psychological problems. The consensus would also recognize that making abortions illegal would not result in abortions not being performed illegally, and that the only rational approach is preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Having a well-taught logic and critical thinking course would lead to a quick consensus on health care, bridging the “individual mandate” divide between Democrats and Republicans. The individual mandate would be eliminated and replaced by a requirement for those who refuse to obtain medical insurance to pay their own medical bills, according to a schedule based on their annual earnings: a short schedule for high income individuals, a longer one for medium income individuals, with Medicaid covering low-income individuals. (Eliminating regional boundaries for health insurance companies would greatly increase competition and quality, and lower costs.)

Having a well-taught logic and critical thinking course would lead to properly interpreting the Constitution, which could not possibly spell out and address every scenario, dot every “i” and cross every “t”. To be correctly interpreted, the basic underlying principles of the Constitution must be referred to in order to clarify any ambiguity or gap. One principle is that no one is above the law, not even the president. The fact that impeachment is specified and indictment is not, does not mean indicting a sitting president is unconstitutional. It means the possibility of indicting a sitting president was assumed to be obvious, while impeachment was an additional method of control over a president. The rationale against indicting sitting presidents is that indicting them would be too disruptive (v. the OLC rule ordered by Nixon, which can be found online). That is absurd, since indicting is no more disruptive than impeaching. Similarly, it is totally illogical to interpret the Constitution, a highly moral document, as allowing presidents to grant pardons which are tainted by corruption, conflict of interest, or self interest. Only banana republic constitutions would allow such pardons. (The Justice Department is part of the executive branch, but that does not mean it is precluded from prosecuting crimes committed by members of the executive, including the president. That is why all attorneys general and all other presidential appointees must recuse themselves from matters involving the president who appointed them.)

Having a well-taught logic and critical thinking course would prevent incredibly sloppy cyber security, and severe breaches such as the one by Edward Snowden and most recently the SolarWinds hacking by Russia. It would also prevent the election of candidates like Donald Trump, who had all too many questionable connections with Russia, apart from having a well-known past of dishonesty and fraud. It would have prevented 70 million Americans from voting to reelect him after his four years of acting as if he were a Russian agent, openly siding with Putin against his own intelligence service warnings, eliminating the cyber security leadership embedded with the NSA, and attempting to ruin the NATO alliance. What should cause outrage (even among his supporters, but does not) is Trump’s lack of expressed concern over the SolarWinds hacking, along with his denying it was by the Russians despite unanimous findings by our intelligence community.

Having a well-taught logic and critical thinking course would have prevented the absurd elimination of the one-year foreign language requirement at many of our colleges back in the mid 1960’s. The rationale was that Americans didn’t need to speak foreign languages since many foreigners spoke English! The correct decision would have been to extend the requirement to four years, while including culture, to ensure that the majority of Americans were not provincial. The fact that the great majority of Americans do not speak a foreign language fluently and ignore foreign culture is one reason our foreign policy has been a disaster.

Having a well-taught logic and critical thinking course would lead to a consensus on the urgent need for a national police academy with very high standards to train and certify all police officers, funded by the federal government since it is in the national interest to have a uniformly well-trained police force in every single locality. That is the only way to prevent abusive and incompetent police behavior, including the excessive use of force, which has been a scandalously and intolerably repeated occurrence. States’ rights? Which state or locality will not jump at the opportunity of having its police force well trained at the federal government’s expense? Which state or locality will want to advertise that it does not want its police officers to be highly trained and certified by the national police academy? Which state and locality will want to expose itself to devastating law suits in the event its non-certified police officers behave unprofessionally and violate national standards for police conduct? How many local and state voters would vote against having their police officers well trained and certified by the national academy?

Having a well-taught logic and critical thinking course would lead to a consensus that in order to prevent recidivism drastic prison reform is urgently needed, transforming prisons into strictly run “prep” boarding schools, where the dominant function is to educate and rehabilitate. Such education must be on a par with the best high schools and universities. Culture is essential for personal and professional development. Job training cannot be the sole focus.

Having a well-taught logic and critical thinking course along with an economics/investments course would end invidious class warfare movements against the wealthy who are the source of investment generally and of crucially important venture capital investment in particular, without which no society can prosper. “Soaking the rich” would lead to a much less dynamic economy, much less economic growth, and more poverty. A properly educated citizenry would understand that poverty is not caused by the wealthy, it is caused by a low level of education and bad economic policy. Some demagogic politicians with no understanding of economics/investments have been severely criticizing Amazon in total disregard of the enormous benefits to society it has brought, and have been unjustly vilifying its founder and leader, Jeff Bezos. Income inequality is a demagogic red herring, a fallacious explanation of poverty, which is only the result of deficient education and at times of incompetent economic policy, and never the result of successful businesses or wealthy individuals. Unfortunately, there is widespread misunderstanding regarding what the wealthy do with their money: in all cases, it is positive for society. There are only two ways to spend their money: 1) on personal consumption, which is positive for economic growth and employment, and 2) on investments, essential for growth.

When will common sense finally prevail so that our nation’s priority is to provide universally excellent public schools equal to the best private schools, if not even better, thanks to an enlightened high school curriculum along with strict class discipline and lots of homework (the formula of all successful private schools), and individual attention for students having academic or psychological difficulties? In addition, year-round well-organized after-school activities in the arts and sports should be offered by every public school on all weekends and vacations, including the entire summer break. All that is essential for ensuring equal opportunity, as well as a prosperous, serene, and united society with minimal political divisions. To ensure educational uniformity at a high level, we need an enlightened national core curriculum along with a prestigious national high school graduation exam, with college scholarships awarded by the federal government to those in need of financial assistance. Since a very well educated and well-adjusted citizenry is in the national interest, it would be logical to have top quality public school education everywhere financed by the federal government, not by states and cities which vary in funding capability.

What is very dangerous for a democracy is to have half the population undereducated. Inevitably, that will lead to voting for incompetent or dishonest politicians and for bad policies. That will also lead to many resentful, frustrated, angry, potentially violent citizens who find themselves fallen far behind. Those dispirited citizens can be attracted to and manipulated by malign demagogues, even aspiring dictators. Our scandalous shortcoming in not providing a universally excellent public school education with an enlightened curriculum is attributable to our very mediocre (can one fairly say “deplorable”?) political leaders of the past 50 years, who have been responsible for repeated gross failures in economic, social, and foreign policy. If we want highly competent government, we need to require all our political candidates to show they are truly qualified, i.e., capable of explaining all the major mistakes in economic, social, and foreign policy of the past 100 years, and which would have been the correct policies. By that standard, none of our presidents, senators, representatives, governors, and mayors have been truly qualified. When have we ever had any? How illogical is it to believe that just being a lawyer makes a person qualified to be president, or senator, or representative?

What should be clear is the need for a very advanced post graduate degree for all political candidates, ensuring a high degree of logic/critical thinking and a high degree of expertise in economic, social, and foreign policy. Due to unqualified political leaders, we have been paying a very high price in terms of poverty, addiction, violence, crime, racism, bitter political divisions, incompetent policy decisions, and high taxes. Today, we are even risking the destruction of our democracy at the hands of various corrupt, immoral, unqualified, incompetent, demagogic politicians backed by enormous numbers of undereducated citizens who fall for them and for absurd conspiracy theories. It’s the fault of our collective complacency and lack of common sense. Will we, as a nation, finally see the light before it’s too late? How long before truly qualified candidates with enlightened, detailed platforms are sought out and elected? How long before we finally provide a truly excellent, enlightened public school education nationwide, in order to have a very well-educated, well-rounded, well-adjusted, highly moral citizenry committed to democracy and human rights, and a serene, economically and socially prosperous nation?

© Edward Sonnino 2020

December 21, 2020

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Edward Sonnino

Born and raised in New York City. Best course in college: history of art. Profession: economic forecaster and portfolio manager. Fluent in French and Italian.