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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

America’s deliverance is education

PUBLISHED: May 12, 2024 |www.baltimoresun.com


Ralph Ellison wrote “Invisible Man” 72 years ago in 1952. But there is a modern parallel: Invisible Voters.


They are the underclass that remains impoverished in drug- and crime-infested neighborhoods and schools. Election after election changes nothing, irrespective of extravagant campaign promises.


The “war on poverty” has always received minuscule funding compared with the multi-trillion-dollar military-industrial security complex. Ponder this shocking fact: We spent more than $300 million per day for 20 successive years on that fool’s errand in Afghanistan, all to return a grislier version of the Taliban to power. Those wasted $2 trillion dollars could have ended poverty in America. But sadly, we salute power and killing more than wisdom, benevolence and compassion.


The Bible teaches reverence and respect for the poor.  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20); “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). But politics is a far cry from religion. In politics, the poor and underprivileged labor under severe handicaps. They lack the resources to make handsome campaign contributions or retain $2,000 per hour lobbyists to buy access and influence in the corridors of power. They lack the networks necessary to climb professional ladders based on personal connections. They lack the celebrity needed to attract attention and unbutton ears.


But their disproportionate reliance on the government for their welfare means they are stuck, because the government seldom, if ever, delivers. Candidates routinely win elections without attracting or energizing the poor. Have you ever heard of an election lost because of underclass votes?


In 1962, Michael Harrington published “The Other America.” Since then, we have fought an ostensible war on poverty without victory.  The other America remains a blight on our democratic republic.


So what is the answer?  Our deliverance — America’s deliverance — is education, education, and more education to emancipate the poor from dependency upon unreliable government. That’s where funding should be directed, more than any other endeavor.

Education is the meal ticket to success.  As the proverb goes, give a man a fish and you give him one meal. Teach him to fish and you give him a lifetime of nourishment. Birth into poverty is not an insurmountable barrier. Frederick Douglass became a towering intellect and journalist through his own efforts — an autodidact. Abraham Lincoln lacked any formal education, yet composed the masterful Gettysburg Address that will live for the ages. Booker T. Washington was born into slavery and climbed to the top of success in founding the Tuskegee Institute, where he passed on his learning to new generations. President Barack Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review.


The Digital Age has made it vastly easier today to gain instant, costless access to the greatest thinking and discovering in the history of the world — just with a laptop. This is an opportunity for a cost-free, Ivy League-level (or come to think of it, better!) education for those willing to invest the intellectual labor. It is a matter of choice, not inheritance. As Thomas Edison advised, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”


So let’s sweat some “human capital,” the greatest national security and economic asset of any nation. Human capital will triumph on any battlefield — social and cultural, as well as military.  We should thus create generous financial incentives for education through tax credits, vouchers and scholarships. This can be done without financial stringencies by redirecting a fraction of the trillions of dollars spent on the military-industrial-security state.

We should have congressional and presidential medals of intellectual accomplishment, including one of the greatest accomplishments of all — teaching.


We should celebrate reading, writing and ‘rithmetic throughout the year. And oh yes, that fourth “r,” respect. We should respect Socrates, Aristotle, Francis Bacon — and of course, Frederick and Booker T. — over warriors like Alexander the Great, Napoleon or William the Conqueror.


Invisible voters must become both visible and vocal to spark such a revolution in education. They must vote for candidates who promise and deliver not a hand-out, but an educational helping hand. Change will take time because of fierce opposition from vested interests, like teacher’s unions and lavishly paid government administrators.


A revolutionary educational journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. The time to take the first step is now.


Armstrong Williams (awilliams@baltsun.com; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun. This column is part of a weekly series written from “The Owner’s Box.”

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