Friday, November 24, 2006

The education debate we're not having

My adopted state of New Hampshire may be at a crossroads. The state supreme court has commanded the legislature to find a new way of funding public schools by next summer, or else the justices will impose a solution of their own. Many people here fear that a directive from the court will require so large a funding increase that a statewide sales tax or income tax would become inevitable - a radical departure from New Hampshire's historic low-tax mentality. Democrats, naturally, are for the most part ecstatic. They would love to see New Hampshire become like neighboring states that tax their citizens through every means possible.

In response, conservative Republicans have proposed that a state constitutional amendment be passed denying the court any say in education matters. All this handwringing over the best way to pay for public schools distracts us from a far more important point: that we are dealing, first and last, with a broken system - and one that is inherently defective. Rather than patch it up with more money, we ought to try a different approach.

Few dare speak of it, particularly in political circles, but an alternative to public schools does exist. While the state, to some extent, has always had its fingers in education, its role was initially minimal. Prior to the wholesale takeover of education by government, parents typically paid about half their kids' tuitions directly, while the other half was made up in local taxes. Education was mostly a private enterprise. The tireless research of historian E.G. West shows that the earliest movements at the state level to increase education funding were meant to address only the perceived need of those living far from city and village life in small pockets of rural poverty.

It was understood even by these early interferers that the overwhelming majority of families were already providing an adequate education for their children, and at their own expense. Parents would routinely forgo creature comforts for the sake of their children's needs. One anecdote West supplies is that of a poor family living on nothing but potatoes so they could afford to send their children to school. Official education commissions in the United States and England in the early 19th century consistently found that children were being competently schooled and, of equal importance, that the number of kids in private schools was steadily growing. Growing demand fueled a boom in the education industry. Rising general income and fierce competition made school more affordable for more people. More schools opened, but that tells only half the tale. There were many different kinds of schools, with different goals, curricula, and teaching styles. Literacy levels were higher a century and a half ago than they are today.

Public-school proponents would have us believe that government took over education for the sake of the poor. The truth is, early activists - urged on by education bureaucrats - idealized the militaristic atmosphere of Prussian schools and wanted to mold the nation's children into "good citizens". Later on, great industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie wanted government schools to mold citizens for work in the factories. Today teachers and their powerful unions love the job security. Meanwhile, quality education falls by the wayside.

Such is to be expected when we relieve families of the responsibility for their children's needs and place their fate in the hands of so-called experts. At a national education summit last year, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, a huge supporter of public schooling, nevertheless told the audience that schools were "ruining" the lives of "millions" of children every year. Given the 12 years of mind-numbing, stultifying boredom and mediocrity that makes up the average student's public-school experience, it's hard to disagree with him. Sad to say, the "solution" proposed by Gates and other public-school supporters, including the New Hampshire Supreme Court, is more or "better" funding, and widespread acceptance of this cure-all leads to our present predicament.

It is at times of crisis when free people most need to return to first principles, and the founding principles of our republican government include a belief in individual initiative, importance of family, private enterprise, and personal responsibility. We've largely abandoned belief in these things, and our tragically flawed system of public schools reflects that fact. The Republicans have it half right in this debate: a constitutional amendment is in order - but one that separates school and state


Godless Dawkins challenges British schools

RICHARD DAWKINS, the Oxford University professor and campaigning atheist, is planning to take his fight against God into the classroom by flooding schools with anti-religious literature. He is setting up a charity that will subsidise books, pamphlets and DVDs attacking the "educational scandal" of theories such as creationism while promoting rational and scientific thought. The foundation will also attempt to divert donations from the hands of "missionaries" and church-based charities.

His plans are sparking criticism from academics, religious leaders and fellow scientists. The Church of England described them as "disturbing", while others complained that Dawkins's foundation bore the "whiff of a campaigning organisation" rather than a charity.

John Hall, dean of Westminster and the Church of England's chief education officer, said: "I would be very disturbed if this project was going to be widely supported because it's not based on reasoned argument."

Dawkins, Oxford's professor of the public understanding of science, is the author of various bestsellers extolling evolution, such as The Selfish Gene. His latest book, The God Delusion, is a sustained polemic against religious faith. He established his foundation in both Britain and America earlier this year and is now applying for charitable status. It was founded in response to what he calls the "organised ignorance" that is promoting creationism, the belief that the Old Testament account of the origins of man is true. Another challenge comes in the form of "intelligent design", the suggestion that life is the result of a guiding force rather than pure evolutionary natural selection.

"The enlightenment is under threat," Dawkins said. "So is reason. So is truth. We have to devote a significant proportion of our time and resources to defending it from deliberate attack from organised ignorance. We even have to go out on the attack ourselves, for the sake of reason and sanity."

Creationism is less widespread in Britain than in the US, but there is a growing movement lobbying to have it introduced as part of the national curriculum. The Emmanuel Schools Foundation, sponsored by Sir Peter Vardy, the Christian car dealer, has been criticised for featuring creationist theories in lessons in the three comprehensives it runs. A spokesman for the foundation denied the claims. However, Steve Layfield, head of science at Emmanuel College in Gateshead, is a director of Truth in Science, a Christian group campaigning to have "intelligent design" in science lessons. Truth in Science has sent DVDs and educational materials to thousands of secondary schools to encourage them to debate intelligent design. Andy McIntosh, director at the organisation and professor of thermodynamics at Leeds University, said: "We are not flat-earthers. We're just trying to encourage good scientific discussion."

Dawkins, however, describes the theory as a "bronze-age myth" and plans to send his own material to schools to counter the "subversion of science". He also plans to campaign against children being labelled with the religion of their parents. "It is immoral to brand children with religion," he said. "This is a Catholic child. That is a Muslim child. I want everyone to flinch when they hear such a phrase, just as they would if they heard that is a Marxist child."

But Hall said: "The European convention on human rights is clear that parents have the right to bring up children within the faith they hold."

Dawkins is also critical of donating money to religion-based charities, warning that pledges for disaster victims should not end up in the hands of "missionaries". His foundation will maintain a database of charities free of "church contamination".

Christian Aid, however, believes Dawkins is "tarring a lot of excellent charities with the same brush". Dominic Nutt, a spokesman, said: "Many charities give aid only on the basis of need."

Dawkins's approach has also offended fellow scientists. Steven Rose, emeritus professor of biology at the Open University, said: "I worry that Richard's view about belief is too simplistic, and so hostile that as a committed secularist myself I am uneasy about it. We need to recognise that our own science also depends on certain assumptions about the way the world is - assumptions that he and I of course share."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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