Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Blow It All Up

They have been there since the beginning of the education debates, sometimes allied with reformsters and sometimes with the resistance. They don't necessarily share the long term goals of either group.

When Common Core showed its ugly face, reactions came in basically two flavors:

1) The Core is a foreign body attacking the basic nature of public education in this country; we need to drive it out of the system so public education can pursue its true nature again.

2) The Core is public education taking its mask off and revealing its true nature. It cannot be redeemed; it must all go.

OK GOP ed reform in actn
Among "conservative" Reformsters, there has always been a contingent that doesn't just want to turn education over to business, but wants to completely starve the beast. I've had folks tell me that schools should never have been run by the government, but should be a part of society run by The Church. Others would be happy with a voucher system in place of a public education system. For these folks, the whole mission of educating Other People's Children s wrong. If Those People want an education for their children, they can damn well provide it themselves.

I use scare quotes for "conservative," because this is not a form of conservatism I really recognize-- to me, it's not very conservative to try to dismantle one of the oldest institutions in the country. But if you doubt that such Blow It All Up people exist, come with me to Oklahoma.

One county's Republican party is calling for an end to public education, though they recognize that there will need to be a transition before "letting the public assume their rightful responsibility of self-education and not allowing it to be a part of government’s role." Your kids' education is your own damn problem, and I certainly don't want to have to help pay or it.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is high-grade dopiness. You do not live on an island (especially not in Oklahoma) and the uneducated children of today are your neighbors and fellow citizens tomorrow. The country that you live in is not enhanced by an influx of uneducated people. This attitude makes as much sense as saying, "I'm not going to pay to run the sewers to the people who live uphill from me. They can just do their business in their yards. That are uphill from me." And if you want me to expand on that analogy, then, yes, I'm saying that ignorance is a form of toxic waste. In fact, instead of our usual model of imagining that education is about putting knowledge and skills into people, maybe we should think of it as draining ignorance out. Maybe that would make it clearer that only a flipping shortsighted fool would want to deny education to fellow citizens.

It's possible that the Oklahoma GOP in question isn't that stupid; it may be they want to send a message and telegraph a tough negotiating stance to those uppity teachers who went and got themselves elected. But I don't think so. After all, Betsy DeVos appears to be a member of the Blow It All Up Club.

The Blow It All Up Club itself has different factions. Some really are afraid that the government is going to make them do things and learn things that the don't want to learn and do. Some are more concerned that they government is going to take their money and spend it on nice things for people who shouldn't get nice things, and certainly not nice things that I have to pay for.

This little OK county may be an outlier, but I think we can expect to see more emboldened legislators saying, "Let's just blow the whole thing up." Keep your eyes peeled.


  1. I would love to see this experiment play out. Staying at home with your kids is not always a walk in the park, especially if you are trying to teach them all day. Furthermore, many people are not qualified to do this. I would be very uncomfortable teaching math, for instance.

    This could be exactly the experiment needed to make people realize what public education offers. Or as G.K Chesterton said, "Don't tear down a fence until you know why it got put up".

    1. People are now opting out of public schooling in record numbers. Charter schools currently enroll roughly 6% of students-- many with lengthy waiting lists, I might add.
      Homeschoolers are harder to count, but generally it is thought they account for a little more than 3% of U.S. students. My personal observation is that this group is experiencing rapid growth.
      Add in the roughly 10% of students who attend private schools, and you get about 20% of the school-age population opting out of traditional public schools. 1/5 of families-- who certainly pay school property taxes-- are opting to foot the bill themselves, and take personal responsibility for their children's education. While that may not be a reason to blow it all up, it is certainly an indication that some pretty substantial changes need to happen.
      It is not an easy task to educate our own children, but this experiment IS playing out as we speak. Humans have educated our own, in a variety of ways throughout history. Our current model of education is relatively new, and quite rare (also, it traditionally rises and thrives in societies that have an unusual focus on war, but I digress).

      What makes an American in 2018, more well-connected and with more resources at our disposal than at any other time in history so ill-equipped to rise to the challenge of finding another way to educate our children?

    2. The "lengthy waiting list" thing is a myth, y'know. Kids who apply to multiple charter schools get on multiple lists and stay on them even if they accept a spot at a different school. Also, a lot of charters don't backfill, so that helps make their "waiting list" look even better, right? You have 100 kids leave during the year, but somehow you still have 100 kids on the waiting list - kind of odd, dontcha think?

      As for people leaving public schools, well, that's what happens when you underfund public goods to the point that they are less and less attractive options. Say there are two roads near you that go where you need to go. One is a privately owned toll road, the other a free public road. So your local government barely funds the free road until it's littered with potholes and other maintenance issues. You care enough about your car that you aren't willing to risk the potholes. Does that mean you prefer toll roads? It's a brilliant strategy, actually. Force people to "choose" privatization and then say that privatization is popular. A way to "democratically" destroy democracy. Diabolical, but brilliant.

    3. Dear Unknown,

      I have no problem with parents passing things on to their children or with homeschooling (with some qualifications). My concern is that many people are somewhat blithe about the realities of doing it day in and day out successfully. We should also know our limitations. I am a decent English teacher ( I hope), but I really am not qualified to teach many other subjects. That is humility. I can try, but I am likely not as good as the person who went to school for this particular subject. There are people even less qualified than I am, who may simply be babysitting their kids or teaching them things that are flat out wrong.

      Many charter schools claim to sell the magic beans, but in reality, they may only have good marketing, or worse, they are outright charlatans. The NYtimes has such an article out today on a school that promised success for its black students. Really quality private schools often cost big bucks. People who promise shortcuts are often glossing over difficult truths, and this is never more true than in the world of education.

  2. People fail to know the history of education in our country. Education began with the settlement of our country and existed mainly among wealthy landowners as a tool to develop literacy for participating in the church community. As former slaves and women came into the mix, education was forced to change to accommodate those needs. Remember the one room school house. Education adapted again in the decades around the new century as our country experienced two waves of immigrants and needed an educated work force to work in the factories of the industrial age. Too much of this model is still around but I digress. However, it was at this point in our country's history of education that school or education became a government function and has been ever since. Do conservatives really want to go back to church run education, or education only for the elite. They are bucking for a cultural revolution if the largest segment of society is left out. We would be smart to put civics back in the curriculum so kids can learn about what citizenship is and how our constitution really works. We have a class of elite conservatives that have not grown up in public schools and failed to have an understanding of how to preserve democracy and its not via school choice and vouchers.

  3. When public schooling became available to the masses in the early 20th century, it was sponsored and designed by the corporate interests of the day. As with anything, there were many ideas and goals in play, but to say that it was done for the public good is naive, at least. Roughly a century later, 6% of students are enrolled in charter schools (which, in addition to their enrollment have lengthy waiting lists),
    and another roughly 3% (and growing) are homeschooled.
    Another 10% or so-- I assume the "elite" mentioned above, although statistically the numbers don't hold true- attend private schools.
    Together, approximately 1/5 of school -aged children are being opted out of the public school system. While income inequality definitely plays a role here, instead of casting blame on charter schools and the 1%, perhaps those in public education would do better to ask themselves why so many (who still pay their full share of school property taxes!) Are choosing to opt out of the system.