Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011 | 2 a.m.
It’s about leadership.
As I sit in front of my computer Friday morning, I join millions of people around the world who await every statement, every development and every unfolding event in Egypt, where it seems the fate of the Middle East may be determined.
Not to put too fine a point on this crisis, but phrases such as “he is an SOB but he is our SOB” come to mind. Hosni Mubarak, the longtime leader of the largest and most militarily advanced Arab country, is in trouble. Many of his people don’t like him! That is no surprise.
Mubarak’s Egypt should be one of the most enlightened countries in the world by now. It isn’t. And the people in the Arab streets, many tens of thousands are in the streets as I write, realize that they have been shortchanged when it comes to opportunities — for advancement, for education, for human rights.
The question, which will most likely not be answered soon, is whither goest Egypt when the dust settles? Will Mubarak emerge still in control? Will the army take over and rule with more of an iron fist, thus making its rule a short-term affair? Will democracy take hold and the promise of liberty be met?
Or as many in the West and East, for that matter, fear, will an Iran-type religious fundamentalist regime take over, which would make Iran a sideshow in that part of the world and which, undoubtedly, would turn the Middle East upside down?
For those of us who can remember, it wasn’t that long ago when President Jimmy Carter turned his back on the United States’ longtime ally, the Shah of Iran, and his face toward the movement of democracy. The shah, who kept that part of the world safe for U.S. interests, fell immediately thereafter, and the democracy we had so naively expected would occur, came to fruition in the form of the Ayatollah. We all know
how that experiment has turned out, don’t we?
I mention all of this because at the base of this unrest, at the core of the peoples’ insurrection against tyranny, at the heart of their unhappiness is education. Yes, the more people learn about the world, the more they understand how life can be and the more they contrast that with the life they have. Whether it is people naturally yearning
for more, or other people taking advantage of the isolation and despair that results from a lack of education to create a fundamentalist dreamworld, the fact remains that having a good education is an essential ingredient for a prosperous and contented country.
It may seem a bit of a stretch because I don’t for a moment think anything like Egypt will ever happen in the United States, again, but there is a point to be made: The lack of a good education can lead otherwise decent people to do some very indecent things. And the failure of a population to educate itself will, inevitably, lead to conclusions based on fancy and not fact.
It is that second part that concerns me most about the current state of affairs in this country. If you don’t believe me, turn on the radio or cable television.
It is in this context that I want to contrast the leadership styles of two, self-professed education leaders: President Barack Obama and Gov. Brian Sandoval.
In Gov. Sandoval’s State of the State address last week, he said what many people have realized was necessary for a long time. It is his desire to end teacher tenure so that good educators can be advanced and rewarded and those who aren’t doing the job can be directed elsewhere. Merit pay, long a “duh” to those of us in the private sector, is high on the governor’s list, too. He also wants to give more authority to school districts so they can make decisions about class size if they think it appropriate.
President Obama, whose job has little to do with teacher pay and class size, was clear that this is a Sputnik moment for our country and that it is his desire to invest in subjects such as science and mathematics. With the United States falling way behind other countries in areas of innovation and discovery, the president believes that we have an opportunity and an obligation to retake the lead. And, by investment, he means spending more money to make the challenge work.
So, on the one hand, President Obama believes that educating the next generation, especially in areas such as science and math, is an essential public goal. It is crucial for job creation and necessary for Americans to keep up with their counterparts in emerging countries that desire to topple us from the perch at the top we have long held. Education, as we all know, also leads to critical thinking and analysis, something, the lack of which, we see pouring into the streets of Egyptian cities.
On the other hand is Gov. Sandoval. He mouths the right words when it comes to education. But when it comes to putting his money (read that, our money) where his mouth is, he falls short. For whatever reasons he chooses to profess, his failure to step up by investing in education is in marked contrast to his desire to be an education leader.
To illustrate the absurdity of his position, he has even suggested cutting teachers’ salaries by 5 percent!
I understand freezing salaries, bonuses and, for certain, longevity pay. That is reality. I also understand cutting salaries and overtime of highly paid workers for a time while the economy struggles to right itself. But it is impossible to lay claim to “education leader” when you are so quick to cut the salaries of teachers who are earning just a bit more than poverty-level salaries. It just doesn’t compute.
We can choose to rationalize these differences by claiming they are philosophical. One side believes in the private sector while the other believes that government is the answer. That is too simple and just plain wrong. A good education will teach us that much.
No, this is about who believes in the importance of education and who does not. Everything else aside, education leaders will promote learning and be prepared to make the investments to make that happen. Those who just talk about education will say something else.
Nevadans have a choice to make as our Legislature prepares to convene. Educating our young people requires a leader who will walk the walk. That means making changes that are necessary but also investing money where it is required.
Everything else is just talk, and real leaders do so much more than talk.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.