Children waiting in line at a food bank, Nov. 2010. (photo: mirnanda via Flickr)

I confess that I didn’t watch the State of the Union speech. I’d already seen the leaked speech, already heard the spin in advance and many critiques before the speech even aired. And I agree, President Obama failed to make note of many challenges we face; it’s as if he was talking about some other utopian place where our struggles are meager and only more education is required to solve them.

Yeah. More education, that’s the ticket. We’ll “win the future” in a zero-sum world, where we only need to worry about improvement to Gross Domestic Product and the corporate bottom line to declare ourselves triumphant over the yellow- and brown-skinned hordes of Central and East Asia, with whom we have always been in a competitive war.

What poppycock.

If this president really wants a win of some kind, it should be over the know-nothings who embrace anti-intellectualism while demanding cuts to funding for our public education system. Call them out, don’t just broadly hint about needing more education, because the know-nothings aren’t pussy-footing around. They are actively encouraging the development of a for-profit education system where their corporate buddies will pick and choose students while picking our public pockets, pretending this will both save us money and improve our education system.

If know-nothings actually knew something, they’d know better than to advocate for a system which is inherently conflicted between making a profit and providing better educational outcomes.

And if this president really wanted a win over India and China through increased education, he’d have discussed the biggest challenges which face our children right now. In short, children cannot learn if their stomachs are growling from hunger and they are worried about having a roof over their head and afraid of violence at home and in the street.  . . .

No Chinese or Indian “tiger mother” can overcome these kinds of challenges when they are structural in nature; just look at the number of Chinese and Indian parents in their respective homelands who still can’t provide enough food, shelter and security for their own children, and the deficits their countries still face because these basic needs are not met. Allowing our own country to backslide into third world status through the increasing number of hungry and homeless children is not winning, even if we are ahead of the poorest locations in India and China.

“Win the future”? Why not win our country’s present back first, by dealing with the very real fact that we are suffering unemployment at levels approaching the Great Depression, by dealing with the damaging effects of this economic uncertainty on the most defenseless among us — those Americans who actually represent the future the president wants to win. Why not make sure that their parents have jobs, they have shelter, they have enough food on the table? Why not then make sure that every child has a safe neighborhood in which to go to school?

And why not make sure that the essential American institution of public education — a part of our society since the Puritans arrived here seeking freedom, the part which made our nation great — remains public and free of the conflict of corporate interests?

Or is “winning the future” really only a corporate branding exercise to differentiate America Inc. from India Ltd. and China Corp.?