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We Support Our GOP Troops. Then What? The Illusion of a "Neat-and-Tidy" World

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The March of Educational Folly

by Christopher Chantrill
November 05, 2006 at 4:55 pm

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THIS YEAR THE liberals have done a masterful job building a narrative about the Bush folly in Iraq. Maybe it will get them control of Congress on Tuesday.

It recalls Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly. Written in the aftermath of the Vietnam War it reminded us of the tragic importance down the ages of human folly similar in scope to the folly of the late Vietnam War.

How right she was. It took a holy fool (or “amiable dunce” in the modern argot) like Ronald Reagan to end the folly of the Soviet Union.

But it is liberal follies not Bush follies that really threaten us.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the failed government program of universal, compulsory, free education. Back in the nineteenth century before government schooling began literacy in the US stood at 75 to 90 percent. Now, according to the government’s National Assessment of Adult Literacy, about 13 percent of Americans rate “below basic” and only 15 percent rate “proficient.”

That’s only because the current system doesn’t provide true equal opportunity, they say. But if all children were equally schooled, James Tooley points out in Reclaiming Education, the advantage in life would obtain to the children of parents that enriched their children’s experience outside of school. To stop that you would have to take children away from their parents completely.

In the real world, the middle class corrupts the government education system to benefit themselves, and the poor get screwed, as reporter Elissa Gootman innocently revealed in The New York Times last week.

You see, there’s this special school in the Lower East Side of Manhattan called New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math, or NEST-M for short. It’s a selective public school that provides a competitive and enriched educational experience K-12. You can get more details about the school here. Pretty cool! Some kids from the Upper East Side show up to school in cabs. But there’s a problem.

With its exceptional students, multitude of field trips and fund-raising parents, the New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math school is widely admired as an oasis in the New York City school system, more like an elite private school than the public school it is.

But the Department of Education says that is precisely the problem, at least when it comes to admissions.

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said the school’s practices were a “stark and different” example of the kind of favoritism that he has been trying to eliminate from the city’s array of coveted schools and gifted programs.

It is OK, apparently, to select kids by test scores, but not by parent interviews. That is unacceptable. “Education Department officials say parents’ qualities should not have been considered at all.”

But doesn’t that miss the point? How can we have a universal system of education that gives all children an equal opportunity if special schools like NEST-M let the children of the affluent escape from the valuable socialization of mainstream schools, never mind how they are selected?

In Reclaiming Education Professor Tooley argues that government systems always result in rampant inequity because, as the public choice economists show, the middle class always manages to “muscle in” and muscle the poor to the margins. And of course, their kids get into the special schools for the talented and the gifted like NEXT-M not just because they ace the test. Their kids get in because, as Gootman relates: “Mom has a great vision,” as opposed to another mom who “is pregnant with number 3, [and] did not feel she could juggle her life for our vision.”

There is a way to deliver good public services to the poor, according to Tooley. But it uses a paradigm rather different from the universal, compulsory model of the government school that the middle class learns to game to its advantage. Let us call it the Edu-Mart paradigm. Imagine a nationwide system of Edu-Marts offering education at Always Low Prices, Always. Liberals wouldn’t be seen dead in such a place, so the poor wouldn’t get muscled out.

Forget about “failed” Edu-Marts. Just like any of a hundred other national brands, Edu-Mart quality would be the same everywhere. Then we could get back to levels of literacy that obtained before government schooling dragged them down.

Meanwhile generation after generation of poor children gets thrown in the dumpster. Why should anyone care while liberal journalists get to build careers writing stories about educational conflict and liberal parents get to manipulate their children into good schools like NEST-M?

But some say that it’s part of a system that makes the west uniquely vulnerable to Islamicist aggression, for it seems that only westerners that are religious, married, and fecund are really serious about the War on Terror.

Don’t liberals understand that it is their way of life that is most at risk from the advance of Islamofascism? Talk about The March of Folly.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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