THE BLOG
01/28/2008 02:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

We Didn't Do It!

American educators are, by and large, a passive bunch. Comes the lashing over our alleged failures and we mostly take a "this too shall pass," or an "I will work harder" attitude (the latter after the horse in Animal Farm and we know what happened to him). Educators were blamed for letting the Russians get into space first (Eisenhower WANTED to do that; we had a satellite-capable rocket 862 miles in the air traveling at 13,000 miles an hours over a year prior to Sputnik, but Eisenhower nixed using it to put something into orbit); for the urban riots of the 60's; for the SAT decline (mostly due to changes in the demographics of who was taking the SAT); for letting us become threatened by "a rising tide of mediocrity" and therefore "A Nation At Risk." Lately, myriad reports have threatened us with the global economy generally and China and India specifically as nations about to eat our economic lunch

Well, right now we have a chance to blow some air-clearing reality over the fog of how education is perceived. Make a sign that sits above your head strapped comfortably around your chest or waist that proclaims some version of "We Didn't Make This Mess!" "This Mess" being the global crisis brought on by the subprime mortgage debacle whose full scope and depth even now is not yet known.

So far, no one has figured out how to lay this one on the schools although I'm sure Bush and Spellings have Karl Rove and Crazy Dick locked up in some undisclosed location charged with devising a scenario wherein blame accrues to the NEA. (The schools will likely be involved in some odd way in attempts to alleviate the problem. On Tuesday, January 22, Bush appeared with Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson and financial guru Charles Schwab to announce the formation of an advisory committee on "financial literacy." Horse gone, doors shut, but no matter).

In the meantime, when someone at a dinnerparty says, "You idiot educators have really screwed it up big time this time," you can say some or all of the following:

1. Schools didn't produce the cheap credit which financed the housing bubble. Cheap credit was available because we were borrowing $2 billion a day, mostly from the Chinese (and, boy, if they even decide to cash in their chits....).

2. Schools didn't keep the credit cheap. Greenspan kept rates low as a matter of policy and denied the existence of the bubble (just some "froth").

3. High schoolers trying to raise money for their senior class trip did not invent the unchecked financial innovations such as the shoddy, risky, murky Collateralized Debt Obligations and Structured Investment Vehicles.

4. The ratings agencies--Standard & Poor's, Moody's etc.--were asleep at the wheel. At best. They might have known all along what was happening bu looked the other way or winked in order to maintain good relations with the banks issuing the garbage noted in #3 above. Because of the ratings agencies' bogus high grades (talk about grade inflation!), not only has personal credit tightened,but banks are skittish about lending to each other because they don't know how much of an institution is financially sound and how much of it is a house of cards, ready to topple at the next cold fiscal breeze.

5. It wasn't the PTAs on the teachers unions that engaged in predatory lending. American students might be middling in math, but I bet most of them would have seen the error in this promise: Home prices will rise forever! If that were true, it wouldn't matter what the terms of the mortgage were because you were bound to make money from increasing equity and soaring prices.

Some have said the schools failed because people (many of whom did not speak English as a native language) were too stupid to understand the terms of their loans. Well, I do speak English as a native language and went as far as calculus in math but when one of these outfits offered me an interest-only-option with a 1% teaser rate for the first couple of years, it took some verrrry close reading of the fine print to see that I would be getting my self into a negative amortization agreement: The principal of my loan would grow and when the sweetheart period ended, I would owe more money than I had borrowed. No thanks.

In the meantime, the military wants to expand by 92,000 troops with an estimated annual cost of $1.2 billion per 10,000. In 2005, the Pentagon's Base Structure Report--the official government count--listed 737 bases around the world, not counting those in Kosovo, Israel, Kyrgistan, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan or Iraq (106 by itself). Some peace-loving nation, huh? Of course the report does not list the "black" sites.

So, educators, take the initiative (but don't call it being "pro-active," maybe the ugliest word in the English language). Show people that countries with high test scores are also in crisis. Remind people of something little noted at the time: In the 1990's, once the Japanese realized that the Emperor's palace and grounds were NOT worth more than the entire state of California, Japan's own bubble burst and the economy tanked--but the kids continued to ace those tests.