August 10, 2006

Long Gone the Schools of Lore

Justin Katz

A comment from Norman to Andrew's "Cross-Examination" post in the Laffey/Chafee series caught my eye:

... we can't patch a quick fix on to our education problems. Chafee is right that we have to reinvest in the public schools that made America great. If we send money to private institutions we will further marginalize the poorest and most disadvantaged Americans. Steve Laffey should remember his roots and support the schools that got him out of the middle class and made him a millionaire.

The noteworthy aspect of such arguments is that they present education essentially as a two-dimensional issue: dimension one being public versus private, and (the more substantial) dimension two being money. Take a moment to actually imagine the differences between today's public schools and the "schools that got" Mayor Laffey out of the middle class — the schools "that made America great" — and it is simply impossible to take the class-warfare rhetoric and the appeals for money seriously.

I'd be surprised, for one thing, to learn that 20th century teachers received anywhere near the employment packages that modern teachers boast. I'm not surprised, however, that mainstream discussion of the "education problem" so studiously avoids mention of the feminization, sterilization, secularization, and deramification that our education system has undergone since America became great.

(N.B. — From my admittedly limited experience as a private-school teacher, I'd suggest that Norman layer some qualifications on his insistence that funding private schools doesn't benefit "the poorest and most disadvantaged Americans." At least at the Catholic grade school in which I taught, both disadvantaged and poor children were often placed in classrooms that had no room for them, but in which room was made for the reason that they had nowhere else to go. Perhaps more importantly, the school is clearly understood among locals as a means of escaping the stain and sting of poverty that the often-dangerous halls of the public schools perpetuate.)

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The problem with "public" anything is the lack of real competition, and that is why the public schools need a serious overhaul.

A voucher system would make things very competitive, and that's the very reason the union bosses don't want it.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at August 10, 2006 9:30 PM

That's a valid point, Joe, and one with which I largely agree. But it isn't enough. Obviously, if competition will force improvement, there's something that can be changed to answer that requirement, and it is that something that seems frequently to be ignored in the mainstream discussions — perhaps, one gets the feeling, because we all have a sense of what needs to be done, so the debate is redirected.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 10, 2006 10:05 PM

Though not the only “answer” to recreating a “good” (if not “great”) “public” education system – but one which is so critical that without it the other “answers” are rendered moot – is to eliminate the teachers unions.

The teachers unions (as is their role) protect their existing members. In turn, that membership is dominated by under-qualified and under-motivated mediocrities (am I being redundant?). As long as the teachers unions remain they will protect and enforce mediocrity (or worse) on behalf of their members, rendering moot any efforts at real education reform or advancement.

There is no “constitutional” or inherent “right” enabling teachers to unionize – they were granted PERMISSION to by the General Assembly in 1966. That permission can be withdrawn.

Our forty-year experiment in teacher unionization has been an abysmal failure, rendering only declining quality, higher costs, strikes, work-to-rule, etc. It’s long past time to send the NEA and AFT back to Washington, D.C. – they’ve been allowed to darken our state for far too long already.

Posted by: Tom W at August 11, 2006 12:04 AM

I'm with Laffey one this one ... shouldn't the goal be to educate our children, not just cater to the special interests that control "public" (government run) education monopoly? We need to put the focus back on educating the children and on results, not on wasting more money. Whoever can educate the children best, should be the one's doing it.

Laffey brought up a great point about himself being the only candidate to have attended public schools. The point was that Chafee (who with the exception of apparently the 7th grade -- woo-hoo!) attended exclusive private schools his entire life, wants to deprive kids without rich parents, the option of attending them, too. Maybe he doesn't want his children mixing with the riff-raff.

Posted by: Will at August 11, 2006 12:38 AM

Let's put Chafee's defense of the public school system, and opposition to choice, in context. Suppose he had been proposing a U.S. National Health Service (dominated by the US NHS union), and opposing the use of tax money to enable the free choice of health care providers. What would you think of that? Come to think of it, if Chafee is intellectually consistent in his views, would he actually support that approach? And if not, what's the difference between the two?

Posted by: John at August 11, 2006 7:09 AM

>>And if not, what's the difference between the two?

Uh, the first one is "for the children"? ;)

Posted by: Tom W at August 11, 2006 12:19 PM