Of the many valuable lessons that I’ve learned in life, one of the single most important is simply this: life is replete with turning points, points that mark significant change. In several of the pieces that I’ve produced here at America’s Right, that has been one of the main ideas that I’ve tried to drive home. Our society and culture are desperately trying to navigate, understand, and come to grips with all of the simultaneous and unsettling vagaries that are seemingly upending the daily routine of our lives that most of us have always taken for granted.
The problem is, however, that rather than help to facilitate this movement to what might be aptly termed the next phase in our development or evolution, we are apparently being thwarted at nearly every turn by our own self-ordained political establishment, aka “aristocracy”.
During the weekend of April 19-21, when I had the privilege of attending the #BlogConCLT convention in Charlotte, North Carolina along with Jeff and some of the single most influential individuals at the head of the conservative movement that is beginning to re-shape the conversation in America, I also came upon and acknowledged another turning point in my own life, in that for all that I thought I knew about the social, cultural, and political war in which this country is currently entangled, I still have a lot to learn. Namely, that there’s much, much, more going on about which I know little and that the average, everyday person who has little time to pay attention to politics could possibly fathom.
Viewed through a wide-angle lens, ironically, it all comes back to the foundation of all understanding: education, the problems with which in this country we have reached a critical stage. Much like a person limited to a 15-year-old wreck of a car, into which he must continue to pointlessly throw money merely to keep it and his daily life afloat, our federal government continues to throw millions of dollars into a failed school system more to placate its Democratic, sycophantic employees than to actually develop the quality of education delivered to the standard-bearers of our future – our young people.
Our educational system long ago passed the point of its next evolutionary stage. It’s just been ignored.
One of the speeches at the BlogCon event that truly grabbed my attention was given by Pamela Geller, a woman who so fiercely believes in the goodness of America that she literally puts her life on the line every day by willingly walking out on the front lines of the white heat of the conflict by speaking not only to friendly audiences — like our own, which would no doubt be a whole lot easier — but also to audiences that do nothing other than project at her hatred bordering on physical violence. Obviously, her speech caught my attention simply because she’s a captivating speaker; however, one nugget in particular piqued my interest, and I was fortunate enough to speak with her about it afterward.
Of the many venues at which Ms. Geller speaks, one of the more hostile is at colleges and universities, because as we all know, our system of higher education fell to the forces of the academic left in this country a long time ago. In mentioning that she was due to speak at Temple University in several days, she emphasized that the colleges are now the incubators for the collectivist mindset in our country, and while some of them begrudgingly allow her to speak consequent to her right to speak freely, generally speaking, the colleges and universities are fiercely intolerant of free speech (contrary to what they would have you believe, of course) and don’t want conservative activists within ten feet of their campuses. This led to me to thinking on an idea upon which I’ve written on a couple of occasions here at AR, in pieces entitled “Searching for Answers While We’re Waiting for Superman” and “Change You Can Count On”, both of which would be pieces that provide further understanding for this article. Further, as Jeff has mentioned on a few occasions that he’d like me to put something together on school choice, it seemed as though this might be an opportune time to explore the issue and the manner in which it currently impacts the path on which our children now blindly and unknowingly find themselves.
In any discussion of the issue of parents’ rights to choose freely the school that their children attend, one must first ask a very basic and simple question: in an allegedly free country, why is this even an issue? Why have we de-evolved to the point at which the state has decided that it’s apparently in a student’s best interest to systematically whittle down the realistic educational opportunities? For that matter, why for Heaven’s sake in America of all places, are we limited to anything in terms of the things that we choose for ourselves? Of course, discussions about issues such as the legalization of drugs and the like are certainly legitimate issues, as one can easily make the case that such libertarian freedoms put the rights of others at risk. As to my original point, however, why is the right to choose what you see as the best school for your children coming under attack from our own leaders?
The answer to that question is very simple, but one with far-reaching and very damaging consequences: allowing individuals unfettered access to quality educational opportunities is a macro-level threat to the power of the aristocracy.
Two things that oppressors always try to take from those that they’re attempting to subjugate are their guns and their access to knowledge. Why, do you think, it was illegal for slave owners in the 18th and 19th centuries to educate their slaves? Because knowledge is power.
As Keanu Reeves’ Neo adequately put it in The Matrix trilogy: “the problem is choice.”
Of course, those in our political aristocracy will claim that they’re doing no such thing. In America, parents are allowed to send their children to any school that they wish, be it public or private. Really? Just like we’re free to once again purchase the light bulbs that we wish, I suppose … if we can find any, that is.
Remember, I made it a point earlier in this piece to state the problem in terms of realistic educational opportunities. A parent may want to send his son or daughter to the private school ten miles away rather than Hometown High right down the road, but as is more often than not these days, more and more families find themselves under the ever-increasing economic and cultural weights of lack of employment, inadequate employment, broken families, rising costs in the private system, higher state and/or federal taxes, popular culture’s lack of moral values steering kids’ desires away from schools with solid academics and appropriate structure, to name only a few. As a direct result of what is now two or possibly even three generations of deterioration in the public school systems in our country, we now find ourselves in a situation that can only be termed a self-fulfilling prophecy — because a strong percentage of today’s parents were raised without being taught to truly value the meaning of an education, many of them are ill-equipped to make or care about such decisions, and, truth be told, sometimes find it a whole lot easier to let the children decide where they want to go to school. As an administrator in an extraordinarily successful Catholic all-boys’ college preparatory school, I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve heard parents say, “Well, he just won’t be happy if we send him to private school X. He wants to be with his friends.”
Put all these factors together, and you have just one of a number of ways by which Obama administration stalwart Cass Sunstein is “nudging” the American people into doing exactly what the federal government wants them to do.
What’s even more ironic about situations such as these is that we as a society seem to expect our children to go to college. On its face, that would seem to directly contradict my previous observations. Think about it, however: what parents don’t want their children to go to college? Don’t many parents begin those “college dreams” nearly as soon as their children are born? How many parents, when looking into the bright-eyed innocence of their newborn’s face, dream of his or her being a doctor?
When one considers the larger system that the political Left has gradually set up over the past four decades or so, however, these two observations really don’t contradict each other at all. What we have now in this culture are people who want all the trappings of educational success without any of the real commitment and investment that goes along with it. In fact, if this “system” weren’t so insidious and dangerous, I’d actually be inclined to give some of its architects a well-deserved pat on the back for their ingenuity.
So, in order to fully explore what has led to the moral, academic, and physical disrepair of our public schools and the manner by which this is brought to bear on our colleges and universities, we need to start with two of the most basic contributing factors: the rise of the “New Left” in the 1960′s and its now unholy alliance with public sector unions.
In many ways, the very first “Occupy” Demonstration was the several days during which thousands of young people occupied Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York. That was the signature event for a generation that could be aptly characterized as little more than petulant. Members of the Baby Boom generation and raised largely in the comforts of wealth and security by predominantly decent parents who were members of the greatest generation to which our country has ever borne witness, these young people were nonetheless angry at the system that had given them so much, and the vast majority of them, having reached the age at which most people grow up – one of the “turning points” to which I alluded at the lead of this article – simply refused to do so and cloaked their desire to avoid adult responsibilities by taking up the “noble” cause of protesting the apparent injustices of America, which, in truth, was more a protest against their parents for not letting them have their way anymore. As the late-60′s melded into the early 70′s and the fuel for the fire in their demonstrations needed to take a new form, many of them entered the teaching profession, at all levels: elementary, secondary, as well as the colleges and universities. As stated at the site History is a Weapon,
A large contingent relocated from college towns to large cities, moved into working-class neighborhoods, and took jobs in auto plants, other industrial sectors, post offices, hospitals, or public schools. Flush with optimism, they believed prospects were good for building a solid base in what seemed an increasingly restive and angry working class. There were more and harder fought strikes in 1969 and 1970 than there had been in any year since 1946. The early 1970s also saw the outbreak of rank-and-file insurgent movements in a number of major unions, with black workers, young workers, and often Vietnam vets in the forefront.
In short, many of these young adults took positions in seemingly respectable professions, playing the “middle-class America” game but simultaneously planting the seeds of organization throughout an unsuspecting populace and waiting for those seeds to bear fruit. In the case of those who were either already in or were entering the field of education, they saw the need for a new, radical approach to the education of children. Typically, whenever one social group is bent on overthrowing another from within, the destruction of the latter’s foundational element – in our case, family unit – and the re-education of the most impressionable and vulnerable – the children – are the very first targets. As is stated by two members of the New Left themselves, Susan Gushee O’Malley and Robert C. Rosen in their book, Politics of Education: Essays From Radical Teacher,
If we protested against racism and the war on the streets and in Washington, we felt, there is something that we ought to be able to do about it in school. The challenge to the society implied a challenge to our workplace.
Take a look around – it would appear that the seeds planted by the radical, New Left have, indeed, begun to bear impressive fruit. By effectively merging their politics with their profession, they were able either to place themselves in the schoolyards and talk freely with the younger children or in the college atmosphere of intellectualism, in which they would be able to effectively live out the protest life for the remainder of their working days. While there are very few, if any, common-sense people who would object to teaching children about the hope for peace in the world, the vast body of counter-cultural ideas that were also part of the ’60′s radicals’ worldview are now being forced upon our children, the parents, and entire families. Couple that with the power of unionization – a force with which theses radicals allied themselves – and the agenda takes on actual muscle that now attempts to strong-arm the free choice that is at the essence of being an American individual.
Unions as a whole in today’s American society are also very much like the aforementioned wreck of an automobile that, unfortunately, must be maintained with bandages of money, specifically by the Democratic party. Unions are arguably the cornerstone of the loosely-constructed group of alliances upon which the Democrats depend for votes, even if it means maintaining the disastrous status quo rather than breaking things down and re-inventing them with an eye toward a productive future. The unions are the foundation of the liberal Democrats’ attempts to maintain power. Any attempt to pull the reigns back on union entitlements (or what might be termed “austerity measures”, of sorts) is met with fierce resistance, because human nature is such that people living comfortable, complacent lifestyles are generally averse to surrendering any degree of what they feel should be given to them and because, as is said at the beginning of this piece, people don’t like change. Further, while the common American person may likely associate the concept of unions with “worker protection”, the unions have evolved – or, perhaps, de-evolved, depending on one’s perspective – to the point at which worker protection has little to do with their inner workings.
At the high school at which I’m an administrator, we have a handful of retired public school teachers on staff. We’re very picky in our hiring process in general, but even more so with retired public school teachers, because as recently as ten years ago or so, we’ve been burned by a few. There were several in the past who came to our school seemingly as dedicated educators, but in the end all they really saw in being hired to teach at our school is what they perceived to be the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award. Since they had put their time in on the “front lines”, so to speak, in the public sector, their work performance dictated that they saw themselves as entitled to settling into a plum sinecure and to collecting their state pensions and a healthy salary from the private educational sector to boot.
Much like the conflict that we see unfolding in our society today, it didn’t take very long for the larger portion of the faculty – many of whom are making significantly less than our public school counterparts (admittedly, by our own choice) – to begin to resent the few people on staff who not only weren’t performing their job above board but who were also nonetheless collecting not one but two paychecks. Consequently, their employment here didn’t last very long.
We do currently have on staff two retired public school teachers who are worth their weight in gold, men who come to work everyday and who bend over backwards for their students and everyone else. Both of these men have told me horror stories about their unions, the leadership of which was more often than not never around when they needed them but who always sought them out when it was time for votes on union-related issues. Sure, both men could be criticized for hypocrisy to an extent, I suppose, for taking the reasonably fat paychecks from the public sector, keeping their mouths shut, and then bad-mouthing them after the fact; however, both of them agreed that unions have become progressively worse as they’ve become more powerful over the decades. The primary interest of the unions at this point in their histories is to maintain the flow of cash, most of which goes into the pockets of union bosses and the Democratic party.
The important consideration, then, is simply this: how does all this affect the deteriorating conditions – academic, moral, physical – of our public schools? How does this all affect the freedom to choose where your children will be educated and safe?
It’s pretty obvious by now that most decent parents are onto the fact that the public schools have become little more than adolescent day care. Academic standards have been watered down to the point that they can’t even be considered “standards” anymore. Social promotion – the “outcome-based, whole-person” approach, which, interestingly enough, was the same educational methodology applied by the Nazis – is now the rule of the day, rather than achievement-based promotion, because to require the latter would, of course, apparently and irreparably harm the self-esteem of the young person, should he or she fail to succeed with anything less than flying colors. We wouldn’t want them to ingest anything as harsh as learning from one’s mistakes in order to grow more fully and to develop as a person, now would we? Perish the thought. Beyond failing standards, more and more public schools are becoming breeding grounds for violence, bullying, police presences in the hallways, metal detectors at the entrance to the schools, drugs, and physically-collapsing infrastructure. The question is – why?
Primarily, students have been indirectly taught during roughly the past four decades that there aren’t any real consequences in life for bad decisions. We therefore now have parents who feel the same way. Merely providing the general example of a teacher’s sending a student out of a classroom for poor behavior, and then having the principal return with the student in tow, essentially telling the teacher that sending him or her out of the class cannot be allowed, sends the obvious message to all students: there’s nothing that educators can do to me, nothing that educators have that I want, and by extension, there aren’t really any situations in life in which an authority figure can do anything to me that won’t be fixed by someone else. Is it any wonder, then, that this generation has zero respect for the police, agents of the law who have the unmitigated temerity to hold them accountable for their behavior?
Oh, the humanity.
Secondarily, the academic, moral, and physical deterioration in the public sector is exacerbated by, ultimately, the allocation of financial resources. Teachers automatically have “union dues” deducted from their paychecks (which is really their tithe of “tribute” to their union administration), and if they want to be “happy every two weeks”, as several of my friends in the public sector tell me, they have to tow the company line, even if they understand what’s going on and can do little about it. The high salaries must be paid, so what suffers? The list is obvious: academic resources, school improvements, athletic programs, and, in the end, a willingness on the part of the good teachers to actually want to do their job.
Some people may not like to hear all this, and yes, there are some dedicated public school teachers who persevere for the sake of the kids, despite all of the enormous roadblocks to doing one’s job effectively, but in the end, the bigger picture that I’ve painted here is the harsh truth.
So, what other educational choices do parents have for their children, and why are more not taking advantage of these opportunities? Well, while I discussed the general factors toward the beginning of this piece, the one that stands out the most is the “nudging” by the power of the unions and the federal government in an attempt to make it as difficult as possible for many parents to have any viable alternatives. The obvious choices are private schools (mostly Catholic, and schools that generally have a very high success rate in terms of students that emerge from schooling having been well-educated and disciplined, in addition to high approval ratings from parents), charter schools, a voucher system that helps tax-paying citizens to defray the cost of private schooling (thereby making “choice” far more realistic), and home schooling. Let’s take them one at a time.
Why is a school such as the one at which I teach far more successful (it’s not even close) than the public schools against which it competes? Well, rather than re-invent the wheel, allow me to provide for you what I had to say in a previous piece here at AR, “The Public and the Private”:
On several occasions during my time here at AR, I’ve commented upon the nature of the excellence at our school – an excellence that is expected on the part of not only the students but also the faculty, staff, and administration. We expect this from ourselves, and the parents – paying tuition at $11,600 a head, many with more than one son attending – certainly expect it as well. The school has been in existence since 1959, and for at least the past 25 years, it has come to one of the best – if not the best – college preparatory high school in our region. The administration demands accountability of its teachers, and the teachers push our young men toward excellence. Should anyone ever care to witness this for himself, I’d be happy to arrange a tour. In fact, a college representative from the University of Chicago (yes, that pains me a bit) happened to visit our school for a recruiting visit just recently and happened to walk in during one of our mandatory fire drills, drills that have become quasi-legendary around the state – one can hear a pin dropping while the students are lined up outside. Might be a good time and place for a Sprint commercial. In any event, after having walked into the building and being greeted by some of our students, and then having witnessed the fire drill, the gentleman commented to me, “You know, this is quite a school you have here. The boys are polite, hold doors, are dressed up….and that fire drill…I’ve been in secondary and higher education for over 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything like that.”
All of which, of course, begs the question – in the rapidly devolving morality and personal responsibility of our culture, how is this possible?
At one point during that administrative meeting, we were informed of a conversation that had taken place between our chief financial officer and the gentleman who occupies the same position for the entire Diocese, who showed him the general numbers that lay bare the essential financial conditions of all Catholic schools in the state. Obviously, it goes without saying that nearly every public school is in dire financial condition, never mind the private ones. The Diocesan employee simply said, “It makes no sense. You guys are not only in the black financially right now, but you’re solvent beyond the wildest dreams of practically anyone else in the state, private or public. In this economy and with the tuition that you charge, it makes no sense. It’s little short of a miracle.”
It really isn’t a miracle. When people are truly free to make their own decisions in life, they will almost always choose what they perceive to be the best product available. Are we perfect? Heavens, no; we have made mistakes, but we always try to learn from them. The constantly changing “future shock” of social networking comes to mind as an area in which we sometimes struggle, as the line between the rights of the private institution and the privacy of the individual become understandably blurred at times. We do, however, try our best – not in the sense of, “Ah, well, we did our best” and then proceeding to throw our hands up in the air but more like we actually strive to do our best. In the end, the current educational product and experience speaks for itself.
Charter schools, which are more frequently popping up around the country seemingly in direct proportion to the degree that people are waking up to the educational crisis that currently confronts us, are also having some difficulty getting started, because – surprise! – the unions are fighting the emergence of these private schools because of the direct threat that they represent to the political jobs’ program that the public sector gravy train has become. Charter schools are generally considered public entities, as many of them receive some form of public funding; however, they are mostly free some some of the academic constraints and burdensome union regulations that are placed upon mainstream public schools in exchange for their meeting the goals that they put forth in their own mission or charter. Do they offer a degree of choice? Yes, they do; however, the unions are not taking this threat to their power lying down. Rather than be concerned about the education of the students, they’re now beginning to try to make inroads into gradually taking them over. As is stated in a recent Washington Times article,
If you can’t beat them, take them over. That seems to be the new union strategy on charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are governed by private groups that sign a contract, or charter, with the state. The charter requires that the school meet certain standards of accountability in return for taxpayer funding, but in other areas it exempts the school from many burdensome state or local regulations. Some of the most burdensome are rules required by labor unions.
Charter school teachers usually are not required to join existing union collective-bargaining units. This means charter schools can more easily promote good teachers and fire bad ones. But, of course, this has made charter schools targets for hostile union action.
Unions correctly view charter schools as a threat to their stranglehold over public education and the tax dollars that come with it. Unions have denounced charter schools for “skimming” off the best students from the public schools, and they have sued school districts that introduce charter schools. Unions have tried to block or repeal charter school laws, and they’ve tried to limit the number of charter schools allowed by states.
But in Minnesota, the teachers unions are moving in a new direction. State officials recently have given the Minnesota Guild of Charter Schools, an organization created by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT), the right to authorize charter schools.
The political debate about families’ being granted “vouchers” – credit, essentially, to be used to defray the expenses of a costly private education for tax-paying citizens who opt not to use the resources of the public system – has been going on now for the better part of two decades. From where I stand, the only good reason to deny a family the right to credit for having paid their taxes that are used in the public system is to prevent people from having that financially-viable free choice. If several families ever discover that the quality of the education is markedly better in a certain private school, and word spreads, then more people might make the same choice. The dam will break on the proverbial slippery slope, and fewer teachers will be required in the public system, which will, in turn, result in less revenue from teacher’s dues, and finally, a loss of political power. The final choice, homeschooling, is, believe it or not, being declared illegal in more and more places. All one has to do is to is google “homeschooling illegal” to find the evidence.
Think about that – the state is forcibly telling parents that they do not have the fundamental right to educate their own children. And before anyone makes the claim that the parents “aren’t trained teachers”, I’d counter by saying that a)some of them are more than qualified to do the educational work just as well, if not more effectively, than what’s being produced in the public sector to begin with, and b) just the fact that they’d be more than just a bit invested in the education of their own child would more than make up for what’s being offered as state-run education.
It’s no wonder that there are more and more arguments about “parents’ rights” these days. Like I said – for any group working from the inside, it always begins with the children.
The school choice issue is not going away anytime soon, as is evidenced by the fact that just this past Tuesday, FreedomWorks in South Carolina held a press conference, with state senators in attendance, to help advance school choice legislation H. 4894. The link to the article can be found here: http://www.freedomworks.org/press-releases/south-carolina-freedomworks-to-hold-press-conferen?utm_source=co2hog
How about this? Twitter, in many respects, has become the public voice in today’s society. Here’s a sampling of what people are saying these days about public schools:
RT @GallagherPreach: When our schools are teaching students to pass state tests instead of teaching them skills, we have failed. #publicschool #homeschool
24 #charter #schools will open this fall in #NYC. Most charters will fill space vacated by closed #public schools. http://tinyurl.com/d7w9ual
Just realized I’ve been spelling the word hundred wrong on my checks since I was 18. #publicschools
#publicschools only place where pupils marked their fellow classmates homework and the top students work was the marking scheme
#MO House Ways & Means Committee Chair Andrew #Koenig, what exactly IS the “gay agenda” that is flooding our #publicschools? Examples? #LGBT
@MayorRTRybak wow! With this money you can triple the amount of horrible schooling you give your citizens! #publicschools #Minneapolis
Learning about weed prices and the weed market in personal finance man #publicschools #mcs
I grew w Northern Marxist communists; If I challenged the manifesto was told “U think U are so smart” #publicSchools #MarxistIndoctrination
I miss being able to eat, text, and talk in class without the teacher even looking at you. #publicschools
@rolandsmartin You can’t fix something that was born broke. #publicschools & it seems temporary to patch a faulty foundation.
Without question, getting under the hood in order to try to gut the engine of our educational system – especially the secondary and higher institutions – is, quite possibly, the single most important yet largely unspoken issue facing our nation at this point in our history. Our children need to be instructed in the principles of freedom, in addition to their reading, writing, and arithmetic. They don’t need to be non-instructed in the principles of lazy collectivism.