Coronavirus sheds light on country’s education problems
When the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency clearance for the Pfizer-BioNtech coronavirus vaccine in December 2020, it looked like the end of the pandemic was on the horizon. Almost nine months and full FDA approval later, the end seems more distant than before.
Immunization rates have leveled off since June 2021. Currently, only 52.6% of the country is fully immunized. This lower than normal rate is not due to a lack of supply or logistics execution. It is due to a tirade of disinformation. Fake news and pseudoscience have built a stronghold in the minds of too many Americans. Instead of trusting accredited scientists, individuals drift through Facebook-based conspiracy theories and call it “doing their own research”.
Unfortunately, this paradigm is far from unknown and continues to repeat itself due to a failing education system. When less than 3% of federal spending is on education, the result is millions of Americans struggling to differentiate scientific facts from propaganda.
However, the problems go beyond insufficient funding. Systemic inequality due to race and economic status has also spearheaded the downfall of education in this country.
The US federal budget will be estimated at $ 6 trillion for fiscal year 2022. From there, education receives a paltry $ 66.6 billion. By comparison, the UK’s national budget is £ 1 trillion and education is around £ 100 billion. The British quantitative emphasis on education exceeds the United States both relatively and absolutely.
This is a rather embarrassing statistic for the United States. The group to blame is none other than the big money lobbyists.
To demonstrate their impact, analyze this simple yet astounding fact. From 1998 to 2011, Pentagon spending rose from $ 367 billion – relative to the value of the dollar in 2010 – to nearly $ 690 billion. During the same period, defense lobbyists grew from 611 to 952. Defense contractors used their lobbyist soldiers to secure tax breaks and increased funding for the defense sector.
While there are education lobbyists as well, they do not wield roughly the same power as defense lobbyists. Simply put, the defense sector attracts more political donations from fewer clients. In 2021, defense lobbying raised nearly $ 58 million from 199 clients. Meanwhile, education lobbying amounted to $ 41 million from 581 clients.
Taking donations from the defense sector equates to more money and fewer clients to appease for politicians. It’s a sad reality that political donations dictate the academic well-being of children in the United States
Going from an economic point of view to a social point of view, the consequences of a failing education system are numerous. The most recent being the below average coronavirus vaccination figures. Of the 11 states with the lowest rates, seven – West Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Idaho, Mississippi, Tennessee – rank among the bottom 20 states for education in the country. It cannot be a coincidence.
Additionally, adults with a bachelor’s degree have a vaccination rate of around 90%, while adults without a high school diploma have a rate of 69%. These figures reaffirm the role of education in the distribution of vaccines.
And while it’s easy to blame those who refuse the vaccine as the problem, it really is the system at fault.
This system tends to oppress the middle and lower class. They often have no choice but to attend local public schools. This stems from redlining, which is the systematic denial of services such as education to specific communities often based on race. Even if a school has a low academic ranking, it doesn’t have the chance to attend a better school. They don’t have the luxury of driving 30 minutes or enrolling in expensive private education. The sad reality is that they have to face whatever they can get.
Marginalized low-income groups are unable to access higher education due to their lack of financial bandwidth. The median Hispanic household earns 74 cents for every dollar earned by the median white household. Meanwhile, the median black household earns even less at 61 cents for every dollar the median white household earns. The lack of resources and opportunities available to them is the epitome of systemic racism.
The clear solution to this problem is increased funding for the education sector. The increased spending generates more resources for education and also increases its quality. These include better quality textbooks, new technologies, improvement or launch of artistic or sports programs, etc. Each of these factors improves the student’s educational experience.
Along with increased funding, it is just as important to lead with fairness. Marginalized communities need additional resources and financial opportunities to offset centuries of oppression. As it stands, these communities attend schools with fewer books and substandard educational materials and less access to computers or laboratories. In turn, this led to higher dropout rates – 6.4% for black Americans and 8% for Hispanics compared to 4.2% for white Americans.
Not to mention the fact that this oppression has generated a plethora of mistrust of the government among these communities. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, only about 37% of black Americans and 36% of Latin Americans say they trust the current Biden administration. Surprisingly, these numbers are considerably higher than those of past years. The slight jump is mainly attributed to the exit of Donald Trump.
Additionally, about 70% of black Americans said they believe the medical system discriminates based on race and ethnicity. This mistrust manifested itself with only 40% of black Americans and 45% of Latin Americans receiving at least one dose of the vaccine compared to 57% of white adults receiving it.
At the end of the day, trust is essential. Vaccination rates would likely be higher if more Americans trusted science and government rather than pseudoscience or other forms of disinformation. Increasing accessibility to education should be the way to rebuild this shattered trust.
In addition, modernizing the program itself to meet the needs of the 21st century is equally crucial. Understanding the mass media and developing the skills to recognize disinformation is a must for the next generation. We cannot afford a reaction similar to current vaccination efforts to occur in the future.