Community Voices Peter Mathews

Published on October 28th, 2013 | by Zamná Ávila

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Education is a Human Right

Our American Declaration of Independence, written mostly by Thomas Jefferson, claims for us “… certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness–That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” In other words, not only was the American (and California) Government established to guarantee us the Rights to Life and Liberty, but also the Right to our Pursuit  of Happiness.

For great philosophers of democracy such as Aristotle and Jefferson, “Happiness” meant fulfillment; fulfillment of our “Telos” or purpose in life. This means the ability to develop our talents fully, which enables us to reach our full individual human potential. If you have the talents/abilities to become a doctor, engineer, computer scientist, teacher, nurse, sculptor, automotive technician, or aircraft mechanic, governments have been charged with the responsibility of guaranteeing us the Right and Opportunity to do so. Jefferson, in addition to others such as Horace Mann, John Dewey, Susan B. Anthony, and Harriett Tubman, was a strong proponent of American Public Education, including civic education which enables people to become active, critical thinking citizens. In this vein, Thomas Jefferson once said, “I know of no safer repository of power than the people themselves; if, on occasion, the people make the wrong decision, we must not take power away from the people, but we must inform them toward the right decision.”

These great pioneers of public education invented it and gave it to America and the world. Governor Pat Brown and University of California President Clark Kerr established the California Master Plan For Higher Education in 1960 to guarantee tuition free/affordable Higher Education to all California high school graduates. The spirit of the Master Plan flourished from 1960 to the early 1980′s. Former Governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzennegger attended UC Berkeley Law School and Santa Monica College, respectively, tuition free and only paid a small fee– at UC and Cal State the fee was less than $100 per semester, and at Santa Monica (community) College the fee was $6 per semester for all 15 units, not $6 per unit. I started teaching at Foothill College and City College of San Francisco in the 1970′s and my students paid $6 fee per semester for a full load of classes!

The bold Clark Kerr/Pat Brown plan to provide all of California’s students–rich, poor, or middle class with a high quality tuition free education, allowed each person to Pursue hers/his Happiness and full human potential. This was possible because there were no economic/financial restrictions keeping our students from becoming leaders in various scientific, technical, trade, arts, and professional fields. As a result, California experienced an economic and technological boom in many areas such as Aerospace, Silicon Valley, Alternative Energy and Transportation, and High Tech Entertainment.

On Tuesday, October 22, 2013, Long Beach City College became the first California Community College, by its Board of Trustees 4-0 vote, to implement AB 955 and its $225 per unit tuition fee for its Winter and Summer Session students. Despite the good intentions of the Board of Trustees and President (they said that charging the $225 Fee would expand access), this two- tier tuition system will create unequal opportunity for some. Despite the promises of limited financial aid for a limited number of lower income students, many moderate income and middle class students will be left out of the picture.

The best solution to ensure equal opportunity and affordability is for the California Legislature and Governor to close some of the corporate tax loopholes that are unproductive and use those billions of dollars to fully fund California Public Education from Kindergarten through technical and trade school, apprenticeship programs, and college, university, and professional schools. These corporate tax loopholes include the offshoring loophole, the stock option loophole, and the oil severance tax loophole.  Then we can invest this money in education, training, new technology, and small business and job growth, restoring the California and American Dream once again!

Peter Mathews
Political Science Professor
Cypress College

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