The United States of America loves going to war on ideas. Drugs was a big one, and although it has been wildly ineffective at actually, you know, keeping people from buying and using illegal drugs, it has been effective at making people a lot of money and putting people in prison.
The next big war on a concept was the War on Terror, which has been more expensive than the war on drugs, making a greater number of people a staggering amount of money, and roughly as ineffective. While some strategic gains have (probably?) been made, only a fool would argue that Afghanistan or Iraq are anything like a success. Instead they are endlessly awful quagmires, which is exactly what you'd expect when you start a war without a clearly defined strategic goal for winning. You can't wage a war on Terror because you can't make it surrender. In short, it just goes on and on, forever. I don't know about you, but I'm not a huge fan of wars that go on and on. They're expensive, for starters.
When are we going to start a war on an idea that might actually do some good? We started a war on poverty but gave up when it got too expensive. A person's willingness to aid another person is directly related to whether or not they have ever found themselves in a similar position. Post-depression era 60's there were still a lot of people that remembered being hungry. If you've never been hungry it is unlikely you will help someone who is hungry. Never been poor, no sympathy for the poverty-stricken. Also it's much easier to criticize the government for helping people than it is to help them. So: f you, poor people. It's your own fault.
Why don't we wage a war on ignorance? Because as it happens, ignorance (or lack of education) is one of the great predictors of poverty. They go hand in hand. All the hard work in the world won't help you better your lot in life if you can't get an education.
Education isn't really all that expensive, especially compared to how much money we spend on wars and our failing, soon-to-be-bankrupt health care system. So what the fuck is the problem?
The problem is that the culture of military dominance in the United States is sacred and untouchable, while the culture of wanting to help kids reach their full potential isn't. Also, there's not nearly as much money to be made in education as there is in arms. In other words: primary education needs a political action committee. (Secondary for-profit education is a whole nother can of awful mess but we'll consider that in a different post.)
The US spends more on defense than every other country in the world put together. Wouldn't it be rad if that were true of education?
Expanding on ideas outlined by Dave Eggers: Why do people gargle the balls of the American Soldier but throw the American Teacher under the bus? Why, when test scores are low, do people want to fire teachers? We don't blame the soldier in the trenches when a battle goes badly. Instead we blame the commanding officer that failed to set them up for success. As Eggers points out, if we don't like the results we're getting in the military we ask what it will take for success: more manpower? more money? more equipment? better equipment? more training? all of the above?
In education if things don't go well people blame the teacher and cut funding. All of which contributes to worse results. This is ridiculous. I know that teaching kids not to be idiots isn't sexy and doesn't capture voters like WAR and TERROR and FEAR, but still.