Honestly, sometimes I’m amazed at what you can do when you put your mind to it…and bend the resources of the state to the task. Here’s a nice long piece from Vheadline.com detailing the many successes of Hugo Chavez. It seems that free education and massive state-run literacy programs are not only a hit with the people (that stands to reason; hungry minds are eager for anything that will feed them!); they’re also a further proof that socialism works and redounds to the overall good of society.
Most striking of all is how quickly Chavez has managed to virtually wipe out illiteracy in Venezuela. Here’s how he did it:
Mision Robinson I
This mission uses volunteers to teach the poor to read and write. In 2004 it had raised the literacy rate to an impressive 99% of the population having so far enrolled nearly 1.4 million people, nearly 1.3 of whom have successfully completed the program. In the Americas, only Venezuela and Cuba have virtually eliminated illiteracy. In the US, the Department of Education estimates that over 20% of the population is functionally illiterate.
Mision Robinson II
This mission was a continuation of Mision Robinson I and seeks to consolidate the literacy rates achieved as well as provide primary education in other areas. It has enrolled 1.2 million people and graduated a large majority of them with an elementary school education.
This program at nearly 29 thousand education centers around the country provides a high school education to Venezuelans of all ages enabling them to receive a high school equivalency degree. Enrollment has reached nearly 1.5 million.
This mission provides access to higher education to all Venezuelans with a high school or equivalency degree. It has enrolled nearly 275,000 people in various university level programs, and since 1999 has established 5 new universities. Unlike in the pre-Chavez era, education now is completely free through the university level and has been a boon to school enrollment.
This, out of a population of 26.6 million. For comparison, the population of the United States is more than 10 times that, at 295 million in 2005. (Source: BBC Americas pages.)
This tells us two things. One, that Chavez’s social missions, by being implemented so quickly and state-subsidized in their entirety, have worked a miracle: a virtual boom of educated people, who will eventually command higher salaries and raise the economic profile of the country considerably. And two, that the arch-capitalist, socialism-wary US, for all its boasting about “No Child Left Behind”, is in fact lagging FAR behind–and leaving children and adults functionally illiterate in its wake. Upshot of this: Lower wages, poorer products, a country headed for the dumper. If the current trend continues, the US will only end up in a vicious vortex: Lower wages means a lower tax base means less funding for social programs means a less educated and less healthy populace, leading to lower wages…etc.
Already we’re seeing the signs of BushCo’s bad policy decisions all around. Just yesterday, 12 coal miners in West Virginia died in a mine explosion. (A thirteenth remains in serious condition at this writing.) The mine was the dubious beneficiary of BushCo cuts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and a lowering of workplace safety standards. While this may have given the mine’s owners and shareholders a fatter wallet, it sure as hell didn’t trickle down to the miners.
Long story made short: “neo-liberal” economics are neo-something, but it damn sure isn’t LIBERAL. Liberality, you see, implies both generosity and freedom–two things that have been more and more absent in America of late. More workers are being shackled to ill-paid and unsafe work for life, thanks to constantly lowered wages, ever-diminishing pensions, and rampant corporate malfeasance. Lack of generosity on the part of employers is leading to a lack of freedom for the workers. Do you call THAT “liberal”?
I call that TYRANNICAL.
Coal Country is, of course, a place that’s always borne the brunt of illiberal economics and right-wing politics. Tennessee Ernie Ford‘s famous song, “Sixteen Tons”, spells out just how bad it was, not so long ago, and how bad it could soon be all over again:
You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go–
I owe my soul to the company store…
Of course, all this would not be possible unless the coal miners were of a historically under-educated class. “A mind that’s weak and a back that’s strong”, as Ford sang, were the chief requirements of the job. Miners were being paid to do grunt-work, not think. Literacy, as you can well imagine, was not deemed an asset. In fact, the bosses outright considered it a liability, for a miner who could read–and think–was often a dangerous potential agitator and union organizer. Unless, of course, you co-opted him and made him a foreman, in which case he’d be safely pitted against his grunt brethren–or, if co-opting proved impossible, you assigned him to a more dangerous part of the mine (with promises of extra pay), gambling that he’d eventually meet with an accident. (Or something that could be made to look like one, which would serve the dual purpose of making an example of him to anyone else who got an overly bright idea.)
That BushCo is failing to invest in social services all around is no coincidence. This is an administration that’s squarely in Big Business’s pocket. And Big Business doesn’t like to pay too many people too well, and certainly not to think (unless, of course, it’s about ways to further cut the payroll and so artificially increase profits in the short term.) It stands to reason, then, that they’re actively looking to deny healthcare, education and yes, safety standards to their workers. The Big Lie they’re looking to push is that “the private sector can do it better”, a.k.a. Personal Responsibility. They’re guilt-tripping everyone into the idea that they’re not working hard enough, or else they too would have the best of everything that money can buy. (The fact that they can’t, on the wages and training they’re receiving, is the dirtiest little open secret of Corporate America. But then again, they’re not being paid to think, so of course no one thinks of that. Everyone is too busy scrabbling just to survive! Who has time to think?)
Now, back to Venezuela–which is resource-rich. And until recently, for the most part its people have been dirt-poor, under-educated, neglected by the government, and highly exploited. In other words, in the exact situation the West Virginia coal miners have been in, only even more so. Venezuela’s resources are nowhere near to being played out, unlike those of Coal Country, which have been in steady decline since the 1950s. (Homer H. Hickam‘s memoir of his West Virginia boyhood, Rocket Boys, which was made into the movie October Sky, makes that painfully clear. Young Homer Hickam at least had the foresight to realize that coal is a dying industry, and set his eyes on space and rocketry instead; he eventually went to work for NASA.)
Nevertheless, Hugo Chavez has had the unique and innovative idea of putting Venezuela’s resources to work for the state, instead of just doing more of what his corrupt predecessors had done: letting private corporations suck them away and give practically nothing back to the country from which they were taken. And his idea has borne fruit: Venezuelans are now taking destiny in hand. Starting with basic literacy skills, and working right on up. It won’t be long before Venezuela l
iterally reaches the sky, with a little help from its new communication satellite, appropriately named Simon Bolivar. Venezuela’s star is rising even as the USA’s is sinking like a stone.
The signs are everywhere, America. Can’t you read them? Don’t you wonder why you can’t? And aren’t you sick of being paid not to think?