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Educators lead in a betrayal of trust

June 08, 2008|By Allan Powell

In the Old Testament is a story that, while first recorded in ancient times, is a prefiguration of the human condition for all ages. In the 25th chapter of Genesis is the pitiful account of a young hunter named Esau, who was weary and famished after a failed hunt. His brother, Jacob, had boiled a tasty kettle of pottage (a vegetable stew) and was about to enjoy his meal when Esau appeared and begged for some nourishment. Jacob induced the starving brother to swear away his birthright before he would share his food. This biblical story has been the basis of many sermons about "selling one's birthright for a bowl of pottage."

In many forms and under many varying situations human beings have repeated this ancient tragedy of squandering an important object, value or right for some immediate gratification. This overpowering pleasure is a paltry satisfaction and compensation for a birthright of a more substantial value.

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On March 10, the Washington Post made us aware of a modern re-enactment of this ancient drama. The caption read "Teachers Union Gives Backing to Slot Machine Initiative." Thus, the Maryland State Teachers Association has given its blessing to a November referendum to legalize the placement of 15,000 slot machines in five locations in Maryland. They anticipate as much as $600 million annually to help meet the needs of Maryland's schools.

For some, it will be a stretch to see how this is in any way comparable to the story in Genesis. After all, $600 million a year is not a bowl of pottage. In addition, no birthright has been exchanged in this transaction. Then comes, "Gee whiz, this is a win-win deal. Kids get all sorts of supplies, gamblers have fun and we are all happy campers." What could be better?

Those of us who have long been opposed to the policy of the state becoming involved in the gambling business now face a double horror: Educators are promoting gambling as a means to a viable school system. This is the mother of all double whammies.

Educators have usually been the first to spot a Machiavellian act in which the end justifies the means. Now, at minimum, they should have red faces for being parties to such an obvious affront to the moral requirements of a healthy democracy. Traditionally, educators were expected to be the towering strength in leading those they teach to a higher vision of the good society. To see them succumb to the sales pitch for gambling to support education is to witness a betrayal of mission and a failure of vision. They deserve all of the social rot they will incubate and we deserve as much for going along with them.

In our history books, we frequently read about the early conception of our new nation as a "city on a hill," and allusion to a virtuous community as a beacon to the rest of the world to find a safe harbor. What a put-down to arrive at the place where the revised image is a garbage pit. What is worse is the realization that we did it with our eyes open.

When educators abdicate the minimal demands of their role in a democratic society, they deserve only our disgust. When educators join the mob in promoting unworthy habits they demean their professional trust. They are contributing to the coarseness which is so typical of our sensate culture. Even if we should end up with the best schools that gambling can buy, we will still have a putrid culture in which to live. We deserve better.

Allan Powell is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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