Thursday, January 10, 2008

School Daze

If we stopped and thought about it, we'd realize we could, would and should throw out the public [mis]education system

Let's kick off the new year with some out-of-the-box thinking. What if we didn't have public education here in Fairfield County? What if we separated school and state and let education be entirely a private matter? If you hadn't resolved to be more open-minded this year, you might have dismissed this as foolishness. After all, everybody knows without government we would all be illiterate bums. Privatizing education? Come on. It can't be done, people wouldn't do it even if they could, and it shouldn't be done even if people would.

It can't be done? Consider Sundays. As far as I know, every single public school at all grade levels is closed on Sundays. Neither the State of Connecticut, nor any of the 23 municipalities in Fairfield County regularly contributes educational information to anybody on each of the 52 Sundays throughout each year. Yet kids still learn. They go to Sunday school at church. They go to Hebrew school in a synagogue. They go to Chinese school or Russian school. What's more, it's not a cookie-cutter curriculum; they learn what their parents want them to learn.

Marshall Fritz, director of the Separation of School and State Alliance, puts it succinctly: "Two centuries ago, Americans ended government undermining of parents by removing government involvement in Sunday school. Now we need to do the same with Monday school, Tuesday school, Wednesday school, etc." And remember, there is no summer semester for most public school students. Yet kids don't seem to get lost. Parents send them to camps and retreats and are somehow magically able to fill the time they would have spent trapped behind brick.

Fine, sure, the cynic says. It can in principle be done, but people wouldn't do it. It's too much hassle and it's too expensive. Really? Consider martial arts. There is a dojo of some sort on almost every street. You can choose from tae kwon do, judo, karate, and more. Consider piano lessons. Or guitar. Or saxophone. Pick any musical instrument, stroll into your local grocery store, and pick your teacher from the bulletin board. Instructors provide these services precisely because parents want them. Imagine the same with history or English or math.

It's less hassle because there is more accountability. You can't fire your kid's English teacher even if they tell your son or daughter that candy canes are shaped like the letter J for Jesus-as some teachers have been caught doing-and your family is Jewish or Hindu, or just don't want your kid, and other kids, being taught Christianity with your tax dollars. (Besides, the letter-J claim is false; candy canes were bent to represent a shepherd's staff.) Imagine you could switch private instructors for any reason or for no reason at all. And it's less expensive because there is more competition for your dollar.

Still, the cynic scoffs, even though it can be done, and even though people would do it, or at least would have the choice, it still shouldn't be done, because then poor people wouldn't be able to afford an education, or parents would make their kids work instead of learn, and that's just not fair. Talk about fairness. Is it fair to force kids to attend school even if a gifted student could learn the material and pass the final exam after the first class? Is it fair to tax childless adults to pay for a service they do not need?

And consider the poor. Is it fair to force them to do what you want them to do, rather than what they would prefer? Suppose they could move to a nicer apartment with the money that's being paid for their kids' school. Suppose one of the parents could quit a minimum wage job and homeschool the kids. Is it fair that you won't even give them that choice?

A year of education for a child in a Fairfield County public school costs about $13,000. A year of full-time minimum wage is $16,000 in income-before taxes. If the parents simply received the $13,000 as cash, they could work part-time, homeschool their kids, teach them the values they believe, and still come out thousands of dollars ahead.

Consider the children, the concerned cynic sings. If parents fail to have them taught the basic knowledge that public schools provide then they will be unemployable as adults.

In other words, we are putting children through a mandatory 12-year program to make them better workers. Is that really what education is supposed to be about? Is that what the children would choose to spend the money on? At $13,000 per year times 12 years, each high school graduate has received education that cost about $150,000. How many of them would have preferred, as adults, in retrospect, to have maybe received only $10,000, enough to pay a tutor to teach them basic reading and arithmetic, and spend the rest of the money on cars, houses, seed capital for a business, or just tons of candy canes? Is it fair that they should have no choice in the matter?

Public education has mandatory attendance, is funded by mandatory taxes, and is provided by a mandatory monopoly by the government. Perhaps some of these restrictions could be relaxed. This new year, let's resolve to think for ourselves.


Wow! A school with standards

Four Texas teens have been suspended from school for refusing to get their hair cut over the Christmas break. The students had been warned that the district was cracking down on dress code violators after they repeatedly let their locks loose on school grounds. "Our policy states that the hair (on male students) cannot extend beyond the collar in the back,'' said Kevin Stanford, superintendent of the Kerens Independent School District.

"What we were doing is allowing the students to bind their hair, but there was very inconsistent compliance.'' After several complaints from parents in the small rural town south of Dallas, school officials decided to eliminate the hair-binding loophole. Students were told to go to the barber over the break or face the consequences.

"I don't know exactly what the students are going to - the ball's in their court,'' Mr Stanford said. "Persistent insubordination could go as far as a disciplinary alternative school placement. That's the worst case.''

Strict dress codes were common in Texas, Mr Stanford said, and had been upheld by challenges which went as far as the Texas Supreme Court. Students at Kerens high school are also prohibited from wearing sleeveless shirts, excessively tight or baggy pants, mismatched socks, "disruptive hair styles'' and "unnatural'' hair colours, according to an 86-page student handbook. "The Kerens ISD dress code promotes the effective personal presentation skills which contribute significantly to successful living in adult society,'' the handbook explained. "The district's dress code is established to teach hygiene, instill discipline, prevent disruption, avoid safety hazards, and teach respect for authority.''


No comments: