Sunday, September 13, 2009

I hope we can

I don't usually write about politics, but I had an experience this past week that simply could not go with expressing my thoughts. I was priviledged to be able to attend a conference of the Council for Opportunity in Education in San Antonio. The Council for Opportunity in Education is a nonprofit organization, established in 1981, dedicated to furthering the expansion of educational opportunities throughout the United States. The Council works in conjunction with colleges, universities, and agencies that host TRIO Programs to specifically help low-income students enter college and graduate. The conference is held annually and supports the federal grant funded program which I work for at Lamar University.

Typically when talking about issues related to education in the political realm, the first thought that comes to my mind is that this is a vital issue on the Democratic agenda. So naturally, I was expecting there to be speakers at the conference that were either leaning toward the left (so to speak) or extremely liberal. I was not to be disappointed. The first night, the speaker was Peter Sacks, an author, journalist, and social critic. He laid out in graphic terms the limited progress that America has made in moving towards college opportunity and the challenges we confront, but before he finished his presentation, his speech turned to the issue of healthcare. What? Who mentioned anything about healthcare? Needless to say, I did not get in line for his book signing. He was also scheduled to take questions after his speech but had difficulty hearing the questions, so basically, he didn't answer any of them.

On a positive note, I was very impressed to get to see and meet John Quinones, the host of What Would You Do? and co-anchor of ABC's Primetime. John, a native of San Antonio, shared about the challenges he faced growing up in a poor family in San Antonio and overcoming barriers to college through being a part of the Upward Bound program. His story, among many others I heard, were inspiring and challenged me to give my best for the benefits of our students. (I did stand in line for his book ... Heroes Among Us).

At some point during the conference there were speakers who were scheduled to provide the attendees with a "Washington Update". What everyone at the conference was wanting to know was "What does the future hold for Trio programs?" and "Does President Obama support continuing to fund our programs?" I did not attend the session, but the report that I received was that the consensus was that no one knows. And the reason no one knows is because the people who are the principal players have either not yet been appointed of have not been confirmed for their positions. We are talking about positions such as Dept. of Labor, Dept. of Health and Human Services, Dept. of Education ....

My response to this news was "You have got to be kidding me!" Is this the normal state of affairs when a new president takes office? I was under the impression that they had the starting line-up ready to go before the game started. What is taking so long? Is the healthcare issue the big hold up? Some suggested that there may be plans to merge some of these departments, and that could be the reason for the delay, but basically there is no one there working on our behalf. Which sounds exactly the same thing we are seeing on the daily news. Who in Washington is working on behalf of American citizens?

On Saturday morning, at the last session, again there was a speaker who is a U.S. Representative from Virginia, Bobby Scott. Another big proponent of education and Trio programs. He proceeded to tell us how he could lower the number of people in prison by increasing the budget for education. He stated that the USA has more people in the prison population than any other country in the world. (Of course we do. That's because we don't execute them or cut their hands off when they commit a crime like they do in other countries.) Of course, Mr. Scott doesn't believe in the death penalty or the Patriot Act either. So, I was grateful to have an excuse to leave and not have to listen to any more of his charts and graphs.

All in all, the main impression I got from the conference is that the people who I expected to be shouting "Yes we can! Yes we can!" gave me the impression that they are really confused right now and instead what I was hearing from them was "I hope we can. I hope we can."

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