Category: Politics

by Richard R. Tryon and others

Liberals and the leaders of one of the nation's most militant labor unions- the NEA- are certain that they can do a better job at teaching the children of the nation if only they can build more schools, hire more teachers, and control the curriculum in Washington.

The power base in politics that comes from this combination is formidable. The appeal to young idealistic liberals is strong. How can compassionate conservatives show that they appreciate the value of education as the foundation upon which our nation will rise or fall; while at the same time stick to the position that shows that diversity in education requires independent efforts to build programs at the local level and motivation to match in the minds of the students.
Neither of these critical factors can be invented or directed by a monolithic industrial union or a Washington based Department of Education that must use federal funds to control education first, trying to improve it has to be second.

Compassionate Conservatism and Education
by Richard R. Tryon

In the liberal quest for ways to help mankind, one must give high marks when it comes to the apparent aspirations for public education! Unfortunately, the thinking that works its way into the equation at the federal level of such thinking is frightening. It is not to say, however, that Compassionate Conservatives are against improving the levels of literacy, math skills and motivation of students to learn no matter where they live or from whatever defined sociopolitical- cultural or any other named group that is associated with them.

No Americans appreciate the value and importance of education more than do compassionate conservatives. It is for this reason that we get very concerned when we try to arrange for massive federal programs aimed at achieving high sounding goals by using uniform means and methods that are self defeating.

Just as no government can organize and run a competitive business and avoid excessive and debilitating costs, so too, is it impossible for governments to join with a labor union approach to education and expect to achieve positive results. We can not achieve morality by legislative fiat! Nor can we create motivated students by just spending money constructing buildings to be filled with teachers that are manufactured by government sponsored and controlled programs aimed at providing nothing but a fine uniform product!

The management problems of spending the public’s money require a level of accountability that immediately makes it impossible to get action in a timely fashion. No bureaucrat can understand that timeliness is what makes any business work! Running an educational program is not a static action that just gets set in stone and repeats forever without change. The skill required to spark motivation in students is not one that is manufactured. It is a gift that some have and that makes them great teachers.

It is most unfortunate that these teachers have been saddled with a need to conform not only to an endless stream of rules and regulations aimed at protecting all children from the teachers, but they also must conform to methods and curriculum provided by higher authority, regulated by both the administrators and the union officials. Is it any wonder then that we find that our national level of performance is declining. We read lots of stories aimed at showing that today’s young people are doing quite well in all kinds of tests. Yet, we do not know that the tests are requiring the same skills to achieve the results indicated. Nor do we know that the skills being tested are the ones now needed!

We do know that the requirements for successful living today are more stringent than those of the grandparents of current students, who came out of WWII and were able to handle manufacturing jobs that did not require great skill. With industrial unions forcing the U.S. wage far above that of other countries, these people lived reasonably well in an economic sense. Their grandchildren need to be far more literate and able to compute in ways that their grandparents never knew existed! Yet, 20% of our H.S. graduates today are functionally illiterate and unable to take a meaningful place in society.

In industrial parlance, we would expect the educational system to reorganize or reengineer itself in order to be more competitive. Because our public schools are in the hands of the teachers unions and administrators, and are driven not by common sense and experience but by legal manuals of gargantuan size and endless modification, we must recognize that they have their hands tied to the point of being part of the problem. That means that they are not able to be a part of the solution!

The compassionate conservative would like to take actions to free up the skills of the real teachers and work to weed out the ones that do not belong in the profession. But, the civil service is an easy opponent compared to the NEA! This leaves us with only an alternative type of education that has to be created under an umbrella of a competing cause. So we invent the idea of alternative schools called “charter schools” and we justify their existence by using the same logic that brought us such special educational schools as the so-called “magnet Schools”. We are able to justify such alternative schools because the public schools have done so in special education as well.

One other factor helps. We do allow that parents are entitled to assume the educational responsibility at home, if they can prove that their children are learning! So, charter schools are now being supported as a way of augmenting the private education system that has always included Parochial schools (mostly but not always sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church). Combined with so-called “country day schools, and perhaps such as the Montessori schools now moving to cover all K-12 years, we are entering an age when the Public School system is seeing meaningful competition and their monopoly, like that of the Post Office has been broken by such competitors as UPS, Fed-X and a dozen others.

Of course, the big political fight is to find ways to pay ‘lip-service’ to the charter school idea, but orchestrate the legislation in ways that protect the public schools except in extreme cases. For example, a Michigan State Representative of four districts informed me that the referendum on the Nov., 2000 ballot is aimed at permitting ‘vouchers’ as the vehicle to pay for alternative education with public funds is called, to be allowed only in schools where fewer than 80% of the students graduate. He reports that 90% of all students that do graduate go on to college in his district. However, one school gets a lot of temporary students who are the children of seasonal farm laborers that pick cherries and other fruit. These students count in the numbers of all students and when they depart the area they leave that school with a statistical aberration that makes it possible for the parents in it to have vouchers to send their children to schools that can enjoy a better performance rating! His point is clear. The idea has been subjected to so much compromise that it can’t work, but the legislators will report to the voters that they passed the law to make vouchers possible! Voting for it will not really make much change in this man’s district.

He allows that in places like Detroit, where the performance of the general population has been poor, it may be that some of the parents will use vouchers to send their children to better schools. If so, compassionate conservatives will cheer that this idea will have a chance to work an improvement because the money will not be spent in huge government sponsored, conceived, and managed programs. Smaller programs in individual schools can be tailored to the needs of the local population far more readily than can any general purpose program prepared in a central or federal facility.

So, the conclusion is that the Compassionate Conservative would like to see the public schools be locally run, with some hands off fiscal support for the poorer districts, but they do not want to run the risk of a uniform federal program where all districts will be equally unable to produce a good product! We prefer the diversity of thousands of school districts, each with the chance to make good and bad decisions locally. That way they can’t all be doing he wrong thing at the same time!

One further word on the subject should be recorded here. Although we can tell that today we have a shortage of good teachers, we know that we can not create them by legislative fiat. We can’t just raise taxes and pay more and expect to solve the problems of quantity and quality in the teaching profession. We just don’t have the base of talent to recruit, so we must invent ways of using computer technology to help students learn more without the need for close attention from a teacher.

As this is being written several modern attempts are under way to train a computer to be able to work one on one with students to teach such basics as reading and math. It is taking a lot of innovation with artificial intelligence as part of the product, to be able to get a computer to interact with a student in much the same way that a good teacher does, when afforded the opportunity to work one on one! Perhaps one day we will have, as a result, enough qualified teachers to allow more to be employed. But, then, if we are doing well why divert such talent, if it can be employed in higher education activity at all grade levels.

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