Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Public education: More Than a Fiscal Problem

Nearly everybody agrees, even those within the system: Public education is a fiscal mess of epic proportions and a disastrous failure at doing what it is supposed to do--educate children. Fiscal concerns and cultural concerns about public education are inextricable intertwined.

First, the fiscal mess.

Caesar Rodney Institute’s November 8 letter outlining the state’s fiscal problems—the state is now the largest employer in Delaware—noted Delaware’s public school system has 429 school administrators and employees making more than $100,000 a year—a total of more than $42,000,000 per annum. A search on ( ) reveals that over 282 school employees have, at one time or another, earned over $100,000. ( )

But, as the site states: “Information about Delaware state employees is limited. However, you may find information here about certain teachers who at some point were paid more than $100,000 annually.”

However,the figures on the salaries of teachers are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. They don’t begin to include the growing problem of the unsustainable cost of teachers’ pensions. As Sunshine Review notes, the opacity surrounding information on Delaware’s public employees means complete information is hard to get hold of; but, according to ( states face underfunded liabilities, including Delaware. The total liabilities amount to about 332 billion dollars.

As RiShawn Biddle points out in his article “Teacher Pension Bombs,” years of lavish traditional teacher compensation bolstered by bargains struck by state and district politicians and the NEA plus the AFT have made teaching the best-compensated public sector profession.

He adds that overly inflated investment growth models, risky investment of teachers’ pension funds, coupled with loose standards for accounting for risk and rates of return have meant pensions have overstated the actual value of their portfolios while understating their deficits. Bottom line: The pension funds are underfunded and the taxpayer is on the hook.

The point of listing the above facts is that fiscal conservatives would be right in their assumptions that budget reform for public employees, including teachers, is absolutely necessary. For instance, recommendations for consolidation of administrative districts, a hard look at the number of school employees and the compensation offered, plus an assessment of the fiscal sustainability of teachers’ pensions funding are all legitimate and necessary endeavors.

But budgetary reform and numbers crunching will not solve the overarching cultural problems afflicting failing schools; nor will throwing money at schools to solve problems work, as conservatives with a broader base of reforms readily acknowledge.

Fiscal conservatives might insist the problem of public education expenditures can be solved by mere budgetary means. Conservatives who are looking at broader based cultural issues, however, do not look at education as a mere accounting problem. They look at reforming the entire educational structure, which structure they see as absolutely foundational to the entire cultural structure. Such a look necessarily has a moral component; a “should” element that pure fiscal conservatism lacks; or, rather, simply cannot address separately, as the cultural issues are intimately and inseparably interwoven with fiscal issues (a point I’ve made in Part I).

Conservatives question the establishment of an education monopoly for several reasons, one of which is that state run educational monopolies are often a herald to encroaching state tyranny. When the entity which controls the minds of children is the state, only what the state wants taught is taught. The State becomes the “nurturing” Parent, not the children’s real parents, while children themselves are deliberately weaned away from parental influence.

Conservatives believe the state monopoly on education has as firm a grip as Standard Oil or Ma Bell ever had, respectively, on oil and telephone service. They believe the monopoly should be broken up by means of alternatives such as charter schools, voucher programs which promote private education, and home schooling.

All alternatives, no matter what individual teacher's putative disagreement with their union, have been steadfastly opposed by the Teachers Union, which correctly discerns and wrongfully opposes any competition.

Secondly, conservatives would like to look at the question of just what our kids are being and should be taught, as they consider the John Dewey progressive model of education not only inadequate, but probably the best means for “dumbing down” children in the name of forced egalitarianism, a concept which, along with politically correct extremism, runs rampant throughout the public school system.

How bad is it out there in America school land?

The great Russell Kirk, in his great work Prospects for Conservatives, gives one of the best and most succinct analyses of the American system of education the reader will ever find:

“A system of education in which respect for the wisdom of our ancestors is deliberately discouraged, and an impossible future of universal beneficence taken for granted; a system in which all the wealth of myth and fable; the symbolic study of human nature, is cast aside as so much rubbish; a system in which religion is treated, at least covertly, as nothing better than exploded superstition, or at best a vague collection of moral observations; a system in which all the splendor of history is discarded in favor of amorphous ‘social studies’; a system in which the imaginative literature of twenty-eight centuries is relegated to a tiny corner of the curriculum, in favor of ‘adjustment’; a system in which the physical sciences are huddled incoherently together, as if they formed a single discipline, and then are taught as a means to power over nature and man, not as a means to wisdom; a system in which the very tools to any sort of apprehension of systematic knowledge, spelling and grammar, mathematics and geography, are despised as boring impediments to ‘socialization’—why, is it possible to conceive of a system better calculated to starve the imagination, discourage the better student and weaken reason…

"Is it any wonder that our educational administrators, to escape from the spectacle of their own failure, turn to purposeless aggrandizement, ’plant,’ doubled and tripled and quadrupled enrollments, larger staffs, larger salaries, tougher athletic teams, as a means of concealing from the public the gigantic fraud they have put upon the nation?” (Italics mine.)

Who could put it better? In fact, since Russell made his observations concerning the starvation of children’s minds and hearts, matters have only worsened.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, as an ad for an Afro-American university reminds us. Poor parents are not alone in realizing their kids’ minds (and thus their very souls) are being wasted by progressive thinking, or rather, the lack of thinking, as Russell points out. If parents did not realize, even if merely intuitively, that their children’s minds were being wasted, we would not see the pathetic sight of parents’ anguish as charter school positions were being raffled off by lottery, some kids being allowed an “education” while others are assigned to the equivalent of jail—witness the tragic toll at a school like Martin Luther King in Philadelphia, where youngsters are put through metal detectors and frisked, and where half the students can’t even read.

All of the above points out the indivisibility of cultural considerations from fiscal policy and the need for radical reform of our public schools. As Russell notes, “The conservative task must be one of assault and reconstruction, rather than simply one of defense.”

And, to conclude, fiscal conservatives must realize that the preservation of their single conservative domain (as they define it) is in jeopardy, as progressive economic and social issues, which are intrinsically anti-capitalist and anti-free market, will drown fiscal conservatism along with the rest of conservatism if our educational system is not reformed.

In brief, the US educational system, including the Delaware public system, is hatching out cadres of young progressives inimically opposed to the US capitalist and free market system as well s to traditional conservative mores. Fiscal conservatives need not delude themselves into thinking their small preservation will escape absorption and annihilation.

Conservatives cannot avoid the necessity of systematically addressing social issues along with economic issues, and must, as Russell points out, “endeavor to redeem the modern mind” by affirming the entirety of the divine human enterprise, attacking and reforming the seminal bases from which progressivism assaults the entire culture—namely, public education.

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