By Ed Willing
ANSWERING A FALSE QUESTION
Recently a community voice from Shorewood, WI asked why the political right seems so intent on ending public education? This article is a response to his own. Wisconsin is the epicenter of public sector reforms and the heaven (or hell, depending what you believe) of public education reforms. He used a misguided historical revue to support his premise. That premise: that public education (presumably as we have it now, or under his vision or reform) is what those Puritans desired. Otherwise, why would he make such a blatant endorsement of the first colonists for public education?
Clearly, he’s trying to use the Puritan arrival as a wedge to make a broader point that Conservatives are somehow contradictory in their policies and rhetoric.
He is correct. The first public school was in the home of a pastor, Philemon Poremont, near Boston in 1635. He based their entire curriculum around the Bible studies of the local church and they had a vision of hyper-local public education to increase the intellect, reasoning and understanding of the world around them. The Puritans came from among the Enlightenment, and had a profound respect for higher education.
In his historical journey, the author strangely emphasizes some of the “South’s” methods of focusing on family-based education and “personal responsibility,” and even more strangely emphasizes on only their men receiving education, and even brings up race. The clear inference is that the “political right” is more like the Southern pre-civil war-schooling methods, than they are like the Northern states, who had to drag the Southern states “kicking and screaming into the public education model of the North.”
PRESUMPTIONS WITHOUT A CASE
The problem I have with the entire rabble are the underlying presumptions within. That the fundamentals of education had to change completely, and the principles that make an educated community great (morals, respect for law, full literacy, access to higher education, academic diversity for changing economic sectors) must necessarily change into a more centralized, more expensive, more secular, less accountable system. He makes several false presumptions while making grand generalizations about “social conservatives” (That schools should preach against abortion, and promote a single religious point of view). Really?
“One of the traditions of the American education system has been non-government interference in private and religious schools.”
Actually, the “tradition,” as accurately pointed out in the beginning of the article, was non-government interference in ANY school. Notice how he conveniently changes the terminology to appeal to our common goodness. The American tradition was that the local superintendents or municipal boards that began funding them were allowed to run their schools as they saw fit. The concept of the Federal government being involved was as strange to the first 200 years of American education as Communism was to 1940’s American politics. In fact, it was seen quite the same: anathema, corrupt, a power-play, impractical.
To conclude his piece, the author states quite presumptively:
“Whether one is a social conservative, fiscal conservative or libertarian [as though they all fall into the philosophical box he subtly defined throughout the article]; the goal of ENDING public education holds the promise of ending liberal influence once and for all. [Hmmm… Way to make an argument for it!] That is the real goal of the privatization movement. [What “privatization movement?”] But, if they are successful, I don’t think they are prepared for the unintended consequences. Without a doubt, taking American education back 200 hundred years would be devastating.”
The author abruptly (and awkwardly) ends his article, and I believe it is not a mistake. Rather than explain WHY that would be devastating, or surmising what those “unintended consequences” might be, he ends the conversation with an implied “Selah” moment, as though he just said something completely true, completely devastating and completely irrefutable.
Here’s my take, and yes, I believe I speak for the VAST MAJORITY of Conservatives (social, fiscal, libertarian, or whatever other subcategories one can define) when I say public education isn’t fundamentally wrong. The status quo is what we take issue with.
Why is the political left seemingly intent on KILLING public education? Their policies do not foster economic success, so it would seem logical to deduct that they would not foster educational success. The political left has had a virtual monopoly on public education for at least 60 years, and the influence goes back well over 100 to the time of John Dewey and Horace “the state is the real sponsor/god-parent of the child” Mann. Why do I believe the political left is killing public education? Because they insist on protecting and merely adjusting the policies of the past. The recipe for death is doing the same thing over and over, and society in general shows the fruit of such policies. The “proof is in the pudding,” so to speak:
Public schools are nationalized
The testing, the curriculum, the general hiring practices, and even the food regulations are increasingly fitted to federal standards. Even the moral standards, never intended by the founders, have been nationalized. Lawyers from across the country can take a local district to court over their science curriculum.
Public schools are welfare-supported
Because of increasingly more expensive education, state- and federal-funding is a huge portion of public school revenue. This means the local district loses autonomy and must submit to the strings inevitably attached to all funding sources. The money comes from somewhere, why must it be laundered through D.C. or the state Capital first?
Public schools are protectionist
Most public schools are the only choice local parents have, and public funds are only for those neighborhood schools the government has built. About a dozen states have opened up voucher and charter programs to increase competition for students, but like any industry, protected markets become wasteful, inefficient and suffer decreasing results. Yes, it seems cold, but so is the reality of a bad education.
Public schools are unaccountable
The advent of public unions in the mid-20th century changed education for generations. Education was relatively cheap. Retirement was seen as a personal responsibility. Health care was reasonably affordable. Tax revenues were plentiful in a rapidly growing, young superpower. Today, public-sector union membership outnumbers private-sector for the first time in history. These public teacher unions make tenure, shallow-evaluation, no-merit pay, and political power more important than results.
Public schools are amoral
Local schools, possibly for reasons of practicality and scale have become more centralized, reflecting more the diversity of entire communities, rather than individual neighborhoods. Now, instead of local schools reflecting the morals and principles of the parents in the neighborhood, they are forced to be as amoral as possible. Morality is offensive because it says some things are wrong. Rather than parents working hand-in-hand with local schools and teachers in supporting universal values, the schools are forced to become gray slates where the only absolutes are math, language and science. Oh, and tenure.
The problems in education are many, and the solutions are complex. And they usually involve parents as much as systemic solutions. But parents must have a system they believe in. This is the very reason the federal government must be banned – and in some cases, state government – from ALL local education. In nearly any organization or industry, most decisions must be made as locally as possible, near the source of the problem. This is, in fact the philosophy of the “political right;” running public education like a business as much as possible means it operates better and achieves better results. The “political left” has so badly demonized that process that they cannot possibly tolerate such practices in education, their fortress of power.
But how can one argue with the results? Anyone who believes in free markets and the right of us all to enjoy life, liberty and ownership of property should be consistent and see the benefit of this in the education industry.
WE MUST REDEFINE PUBLIC EDUCATION, NOT FIGHT IT
Is public education a physical school location, or the education of the public? The answer should tell you what side of the spectrum to which you belong. Progressives have ruled the debate by mastering the language we use, and creating the meme. Conservatives believe the local community should promote the education of the public. Liberals believe the local unionized school district should educate the community. Therein lies our difference.
Education is an industry, no matter how you slice it. But is it protected industry, or competitive? The America of 200 years ago, which the author initially praised, then later reviled, was actually quite static. But it was local. Operating public education like the industry that it is, logic would lead you to believe that results would improve, quality would improve, and yes, even market share would improve. Ergo, public schools would likely grow, not end.
ARE WE ACTUALLY, THE TRULY “PROGRESSIVE ONES?”
Conservative policies are, in fact, more “progressive” than our Progressive (liberal) counterparts’ outdated ideas. Imagine that! Rather than trying to bolt the wrong tire on a different part of the car as most liberal “reforms” effectively do, Conservatives want to reinvent the car, not the wheel and make it run more efficiently. Conservatives believe in education, for all races, genders and economic tiers. Yeah, imagine that! Conservatives believe in our schools, locally-funded, locally-educating, and locally-benefiting. Reflecting the beliefs, morals and economic needs of that local community. They believe results should dictate methods and methods should drive results.
Public schools are suffering from cultural decline, yet cultural strength and the infusion of virtue was praised by liberal “reformers” as being the very purpose of the public school system.
“Let the common [public] school be expanded to its capabilities, let it be worked with the efficiency of which it is susceptible, and nine-tenths of the crimes in the penal code would become obsolete; the long catalogue of human ills would be abridged; men would walk more safely by day; every pillow would be more inviolable by night; property, life and character held by a stronger tenure; all rational hopes respecting the future, brightened.” – Horace Mann
Wow – was it arrogance or just plain ignorance? Well, we’re holding them accountable, and their grade is F, and their return on investment is one of deep debt and pending bankruptcy. We, the shareholders in our children and our communities at large want the monopoly to end!
If we want to survive as a culture, public education must succeed. It’s time for a change, and Conservatives want cities to embrace true progress, and end ancient liberalism, not public education.