Ruralist Lament: A Cold Reality 

Photograph Source: Jesse Budlong – CC BY 2.0

Many of the nation’s Framers were students not only of the classics and historical experiments in republican government but also of agriculture. In a country where well into the 20th century most people lived outside of cities and were raised on farms there was a certain (though limited) independence in a people that could——in a pinch——“feed their faces.”

That’s changed. Vanishingly small numbers of people still farm, and whatever relative security or independence citizens can attain is now based on the whim of fickle employers. Workers are supposed to gain “skills” which can produce profits for hedge-funders single-mindedly focused on “efficiency.” That means getting the “workforce” to do more for less.

Kids in our downwardly-mobile society are encouraged to become “employable” and even at the collegiate level the idea of exploring the world of ideas, history and philosophy——still common through the mid-20th century —— is increasingly outmoded.

Then again, despite the lofty rhetoric, “educating people above their station” has never been a priority here. Whatever strides were made were due to organizing efforts of what elites referred to as “the dangerous classes.”

Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-intellectualism in American Life won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 tracing the structural disdain for education here. Hofstadter notes, “In 1776 the Maryland Journal advertised that a ship had arrived at Baltimore….. and listed among its products for sale ‘various Irish commodities, among which are school masters, beef, pork, and potatoes.’”

Unlike much of the industrial world where “intellectual functions of education are highly valued…… All too often, in the history of the United States, the school teacher has been in no position to serve as a model for an introduction to the intellectual life…… Regardless of his (sic?) own quality, his low pay and common lack of personal freedom have caused the teacher’s role to be associated with exploitation and intimidation.”

And so, against this historical backdrop comes the brief media coverage of the South Dakota “Dash For Cash.” Staged by a mortgage lender, during half-time at a hockey game local teachers groveled and grasped for 5000 one dollar bills dumped on a center-rink blanket. The crowd hooted as the public employees stuffed George Washingtons into their clothing and hats. The teachers would use the alms to buy school supplies normally acquired with their own paychecks.

NPR reported, “One critic ….. called it ‘dystopian,’ noting that while schools and teachers struggle, the US House of Representatives just approved a new US military bill worth $768 billion. (Including)… two more destroyers than the Biden administration requested.”  Students of empire are no doubt aware that our actual annual military spending exceeds one trillion dollars—— a number that is rarely accurately reported or placed in context. But I digress.

The headline above Ross Barkan’s 12/14/21 Guardian column questioned, “Why do teachers in the US have to beg for supplies like pencils and paper?” He continued wistfully, “The teaching profession should be where the best college graduates in America go. In a number of wealthier nations around the world, where teaching is treated like an elite vocation, this is the case- —a teacher in Germany, for example, can out-earn an entry-level doctor or web developer, which would be unheard of in the United States.”

No kidding. Lately, even US doctors are being herded into vast medical corporations: becoming wage-slaves like teachers (and everybody else).

Some accounts of the Hunger Games-style Dash4Cash charity thing mentioned that Republican Governor Kristi Noem’s South Dakota ranked “among the very last in average teacher compensation.”

Though no usury-mill has yet made the news in Maine with an icy tone-deaf Theater of Teacher Debasement the notion that education should be short-funded and reliant on charity is well and toxically established. It’s as much “The Way Life Should Be” as declining lobster catches, faded Farmalls, dying dairy farms, rusty truck frames, boutique carrots, designer micro-brew beer, and green-washed subdivisions squatting on ag land. A quick search revealed that according to an outfit called “WalletHub”, when adjusted for Cost of Living, Maine actually ranks  51st, dead last in annual teacher salaries. South Dakota comes in as slightly more civilized at 47th.

Only a few days ago Gabriel Boric was elected the president of Chile. He announced, “Chile was the birthplace of neoliberalism, and it shall also be its grave.” Fans of our military coups may remember that on (The First) September 11th (1973), intervention by Nixon / Kissinger brought  Chilean General Augusto Pinochet to power. At bayonet point a new business-friendly constitution was installed with the economic/political guidance of Milton Friedman’s  “Chicago Boys.” Education, healthcare, retirement pensions, and the basics of modern society were commodified and turned over to profit-seekers. Now that “neoliberal” program has been imposed stateside. Labor is broken. Public institutions are subverted and starved.

Now we Dash4Cash.

Kinda Chile.

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: