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by Christopher Chantrill
August 23, 2008 at 8:23 pm
AT A GREENWICH, Conn. elementary school recently the principal was suspended for a little juggle-ology with the school student handbook. Seems that he told a parent that birthday cupcakes needed to be left at the office. See, he said a little later, its right here in the rules. Only it turned out that the principal had doctored the handbook, to provide, as Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else, once said, a little corroborative detail intended to provide artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.
Its good that the schools in Greenwich are so good that parents only need to worry about the cupcake rules. In the rest of America things are not so good. Twelve to fourteen percent of adults rate below basic in literacy, and only 13 percent are rated proficient in the National Assessment of Adult Literacy.
Now, its in the nature of the beast that government programs gradually run down. They have a life cycle just like everything else. They start in a fury of indignation, a lust for change, and a millennial hope.
It was that over 200 years ago the Enlightenment philosophe Condorcet submitted a plan to the French Legislative Assembly that called for universal state education to educate the people out of their prejudice and superstition. Although a government program the system would, of course, be free of political control.
It was that over 160 years ago Horace Mann, the father of US public education, urged a rationalization and centralization of the disorganized schools in Massachusetts under a State Board of Education. Apart from anything else, he confidently predicted just before the crime wave of the 1840s, his program would cut the crime rate by 90 percent. Then he went off to Prussia to see its universal state education system for himself.
It was that over 80 years ago John Dewey, the father of progressive education, proposed a system to teach children problem solving and critical thinking skills rather than training and drilling in basic skills. Of course, there is nothing quite like entrusting a project of flexible, progressive education to a bureaucracy of state employees privileged with lifetime job tenure.
Today, 215 years after Condorcet, 160 years after Horace Mann, and 80 years after John Dewey the schools have run down. Today about half the students entering college are unprepared, according to the New York Times.
Yet 180 years ago when the economist J.S. Mill, father of John Stuart Mill, traveled around Britain making an anecdotal survey of educationat a time when the government actively discouraged education for its revolutionary potentialhe found a rage for education:
We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.
You can see why those nineteenth century parents sacrificed so much for their children. It didnt take a rocket scientist back then to see that a basic education in literacy and numeracy was the best way to avoid sending a child down the pit or into the textile mill.
Of course, that was in the bad old days, before the age of universal government education. Yet even today, as James Tooley has written, there remain unmet needs in the education sector. How else could it be that unregulated private schools thrive in the slums of Hyderabad and outperform the government schools, and low-cost for-profit schools for the poor are growing in Lima, Peru?
Here in the United States you cant listen to the radio for an hour without hearing an ad for franchised educational tutoring from Sylvan Learning Center or Mathnasium. Its pretty odd, all things considered, that parents elect to pay for such extra tutoring when the governments at all levels in 2008 are expected to spend $837.7 billion, according to usgovernmentspending.com. Using the US Census 2000 number of 80 million Americans between 5 and 24, thats about $10,500 per young American.
Its good to know that the rich can get what they want out of the public schools in Greenwich. We wouldnt want them to go without. But the reason for government education is not to regulate the handling of birthday cupcakes. The purpose is to lift up the poor. And that is exactly what the current system too often fails to do in a nation with 14 percent of adults testing below basic in literacy.
As our children return to school this fall, most of them will do just fine. But many poor and inner-city children will not. Yet we know how to fix the inner-city schools. We have known for decades.
And now in Sweden, of all places, school choice is transforming the education system.
Some day the American mothers are going to have the right that Swedish mothers enjoy. It is the right to wave farewell to the local government school and say: You just dont care about kids.
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,
Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values
Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America