Saturday, June 14, 2003

Why is no one pissed off about this? Maybe because nobody told us about it.

My frustration with the television media increased that much more yesterday when my boss informed me of a shocking news story from Washington, one that I never once caught on local or national TV or on the front page of a paper. (I even had to look pretty hard to find it on the internet.)

Head Start is a pre-school program that gives children from largely low-income families the opportunity to begin their educational experience in their most fomative years: those before the age of five. It is 80% federally funded, with the balance coming from state funds. George W. Bush and his administration want to overhaul the federal control of the program and insead give that power to the states. The big problem with this decision, critics contend, is that it is the strong federal standards that keep the program strong. Furthermore, as written in the SF Gate, "nonprofit groups that run the programs are closest to Head Start, but they could lose their centers if the Bush plan goes through and states are free to contract with whomever they choose."

In short, Bush and many Republican Congresspeople are abandoning their administrative support for a program that has proven to be effective in, appropriately enough, giving its participants a head start in education. Poor students involved in Head Start perform better than their economic peers, though not as well as children from more well-off homes. Indisputably, however, Head Start offers this nation's poor a better chance to succeed in school and consequently adult life. Everybdy wins.

But Bush's lack of legislative support for Head Start, though very discouraging and indeed very indicitave of his lack of genuine support for education in general, is not the most disturbing part of the story. The shocking, sickening aspect of this mess is that Bush has stifled the First Amendment rights of American citizens in order to protect himself. Soon after Bush and Rep. Mike Castle announced their new plan for the program, and teachers and parents and school administrators began voicing public opposition to this decision, a governmental Head Start official informed the complainers that they were not allowed to openly criticize the Bush legislation. The argument is that rules in the program do not allow members to use federal resources to participate in political activity. Too bad only 80% of the money they receive is federal, and the rest can be used to be as political as they please. Consequently the Head Start leaders are filing charges against the Bush administration for violating their Constitutional rights. I've grown to expect nasty, unsavory political activity from this administration, but I'm so sad and shocked to see that they feel like they can tell citizens what and what not to say. It's disturbing to see a man who feels so comfortable playing off his constituents' sence of national pride and patriotism take an action so distinctly un-American.

The third tier of disturbance for me is that this violation of First Amendment rights (not to mention the legislative overhaul of Head Start) did not make big news. Is it that Americans simply don't care? Is it that media outlets don't like to make big news out of stories that challenge us or reveal what a gaggle of schmucks George Bush and his cronies are? Either the public inherently cares that much more about dirt on CEOs than dirt on the Commander in Chief, or (and I think this is the more likely option) the media have decided that the public will care more about business scandal than (non-sexual) presidential scandal. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, and I'm not generally a suspicious person, but I genuinely believe that the media decides for us which stories we will find interesting. I genuinely believe that newspapers and TV and radio stations withold the (again, non-sexual) stories about politically scandalous conservatives because these media outlets are run by people who benefit from conservative administrations.

I never thought I'd turn into "one of those people," but I think I'm going to start being a self-important, rudely intellectual, wine-sipping NPR listener. Otherwise I'm stuck with more news on Laci Peterson and Lotto winners. Also catch Harry Shearer's "Le Show" on our local NPR station (KAWL 91.7) on Sundays at noon.

For more neato information on thie Head Start story, check out NPR or the SF Gate.


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