Anybody who cares about America’s future and about America’s children, both of which are causes of deep contemplation for thoughtful people and desperate action for active, knows that everything depends on education.
The stimulus bill famously set aside 100 billion dollars for America’s public schools. Plenty of people would argue that this is itself a desperate action by people with too much confidence in contemplation. But the present reality is that we have a public school system, that our children are compelled, under pain of law, to get something called an education, and that most of them attend these public schools.
What can be done for our schools? Purists say, shut them down. Save the $500 billion/year spent on them (equal to our federal deficit prior to this year, though not paid by the federal government) by entirely privatising schooling. The JS Mill side of me agrees. But it isn’t going to happen, so we have to look realistically at the world we actually live in rather than fuss and bother about one that will not exist for at least a century, if ever.
But what about the calls for reform. This Economist article about Arne Duncan reminds us that Bill Bennett once called the education bureaucracy “the blob” because it was so amorphous and ungovernable. Can Arne Duncan help? I’m watching anxiously.
Here’s what I want to see in the public schools, since they can’t be shut down:
- Extensive provision of tax credits for school choice, such as that provided by Pennsylvania and a few other states on a small scale. Again, this article shows the flaw in vouchers: the government still maintains dictatorial power over the provision of the money and that leads to control of schools from impersonal government agents.
- A great deal more support for charter schools, especially the classical charter schools that are doing so much good in, e.g. Colorado Springs and Fort Collins.
- Breaking of the stranglehold on innovation by the teacher’s unions.
- Breaking of the stranglehold on creativity by the accrediting agencies, especially the one that accredits the teachers colleges.
- A deep reconsideration of the Pragmatic/Progressivist philosophy that has undercut every impulse toward discipline and creativity and knowledge. Actually, I’d prefer a rejection. This is a theme of our conference this summer.
- Tremendous restoration of authority to the local communities. This is one area where I think the Economist article gets it completely wrong. They suggest that we have a problem because there are 16,000 local districts running schools.
In fact, this is one area that needs some extensive research. Education has centralized any number of functions that need to be decentralized and has decentralized some areas that might conceivably benefit from centralization.
But education has to turn from its military/industrial mentality, which is totally unsuited to its very nature, and return to more of an agrarian mentality, which is more consistent with its nature. Civilization has never been the product of armies and factories. It is the fruit of the always tenuous marriage of the farmer and the merchant. Education must restore this dynamic.
As with everything about the Obama presidency, there is reason for hope. Then let us hope with our eyes open.
Follow this link to read the Economist article: The Golden Boy and The Blob.
Three obstacles seem to hinder everything the schools do: the American history of racism, the unimaginably extensive Byzantine bureaucracy, and the fear and loathing of religion. Perhaps I’ll be able to develop each of these in later blogs.
What elements do we need to add to our platform?