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Who Do You Trust? Obama's World Without Giving

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Let's Change the Conversation on Education

by Christopher Chantrill
April 09, 2010 at 11:51 am

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DIANE RAVITCH has given up on school choice. Her latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, tells the story of her change of heart. You can read a quickie version in The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post.

Ravitch doesn’t like charter schools because they don’t seem to make much of a difference. And testing? President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act has made things worse, encouraging “states to lower their standards and make false claims of progress.”

It is time to change course,” Ravitch writes. She recommends more credentials for teachers, “principals who are master teachers... superintendents who are experienced educators... assessments that gauge students’ understanding” rather than “guessing,” and so on.

She sounds like Arthur Call. He pushed for high schools “under the leadership of friendly and large-spirited men and women.” They would make students “socially and serviceably efficient.” In 1909.

Why in the world would anyone, then or now, think that a government high school with jobs-for-life teachers would generate friendly and large-spirited leadership, or attract master teachers?

Obviously “we” need good people to teach in our schools. The question remains in 2010 as in 1910: How? How do you organize a good educational experience? How do you correct failure?

The answer from the educated class is always the royal “we” as in:

We should” stop using the term "failing schools" to describe schools where test scores are low.

That “we should” always seems to mean another administrative government program, conceived and administered by the educated class. Again.

There was once a teacher who really made a difference. His name was Jaime Escalante.

Remember Jaime Escalante? They made a movie about him. Now he’s dead, and in The Wall Street Journal last week Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson celebrated his outstanding record at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.

Jaime Escalante showed that you could teach inner-city kids math. He also showed that the education system didn’t give a damn.

In any other field, his methods would have been widely copied. Instead, Escalante’s success was resented. And while the teachers union contract limited class sizes to 35, Escalante could not bring himself to turn students away, packing 50 or more into a room and still helping them to excel. This weakened the union’s bargaining position, so it complained.

So what did the school district do? In 1990 it “stripped him of his chairmanship” of the school math department. Escalante retired and went back to his native Bolivia.

I have a challenge for Diane Ravitch and for the Obamis teeing up for another try at education reform: Show us why things would be any different after the next round of your brilliant “we shoulds.”

The record is clear. Goverment’s interest in education has always been to produce nice conformable Kates. Condorcet, the French philosophe, wanted state education to make the rabble into good citizens that would support the Republic. The German Humboldt wanted to raise up Prussian soldiers that could beat the French. Horace Mann, the father of the “common school,” wanted centralized bureaucratic education management to cut the crime rate.

It gets worse. In his book, Market Education: The Unknown History. Cato’s Andrew Coulson showed what government education is good at. It is really good at creating conflict.

Far from bringing citizens together, the endless succession of confrontations precipitated by state-run schooling has consistently torn communities apart. Public schools, by their very nature, attempt to force consensus on many issues where it is neither possible nor even desirable—issues such as the role of religion in education or the interpretation of a nation’s history.

We saw this recently when the conservative textbook committee in Texas scandalized liberals everywhere by daring to force their conservative notions upon the textbooks purchased for Texas public schools.

It is time for conservatives to raise our game on education. Here’s a brilliant idea. Forget the conservative critique and the argument from freedom. Let’s shame liberals by critiquing their education system from a liberal perspective.

We can use the argument from equality: How can liberals support a system that has always screwed the poor?

We can used the argument from liberation: How can a system that forces every child to attend a prison-like school, complete with lock-downs and metal detectors, be a celebration of liberation from oppressive social structures?

We can use the argument from creativity: How can young people develop their creativity from a system that kicks out the really creative teachers like Jaime Escalante?

Finally, there’s the argument from postmodernism: How can a government school system do anything other than mouth the self-serving narrative of the governing elite?

Let’s exploit the disillusion of education experts like Diane Ravitch. Let’s change the conversation on education.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


Hugo on Genius

“Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois


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.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Postmodernism

A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy


Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


Conservatism

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity


US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


presented by Christopher Chantrill

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