Sunday, December 07, 2008

How Obama can fix education

By Jeff Jacoby

IF MONEY were the key to great education, Sasha and Malia Obama might be getting ready to transfer next month to the Francis-Stevens Education Center, the Washington, D.C., public school assigned to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., which will be the girls' new address as of Jan. 20.

The District of Columbia, after all, boasts one of the most amply funded school systems in America. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the DC public schools spend about $13,700 per pupil. That is a level of funding more lavish than in 48 states and half again as generous as the national per-pupil expenditure of $9,150.

But bigger budgets, alas, don't guarantee educational excellence. Its abundant spending notwithstanding, DC's public school system ranks among the worst in the nation. "In reading and math, the District's public school students score at the bottom among 11 major city school systems, even when poor children are compared only with other poor children," The Washington Post reported last year. According to the authoritative National Assessment of Education Progress, only one in seven fourth-graders is ranked at grade-level ("proficient") or better in reading and math. Among eighth-graders, only one in eight is proficient in reading; only one in 12 can handle eighth-grade math.

So to no one's surprise, the Obama girls will not be attending public school in Washington. Barack and Michelle Obama have decided to enroll their daughters in Sidwell Friends, the same private school that Chelsea Clinton attended when she was First Daughter.

The president-elect has taken a bit of heat for rejecting public education for Sasha and Malia. Critics point out that Obama cast himself as a staunch supporter of public schools during the presidential campaign. "We need to fix and improve our public schools," he told the NAACP convention in July, "not throw our hands up and walk away from them." When Time magazine asked the candidates whether parents should be given vouchers to enable them to send their children to better schools, his reply was adamant: "No. I believe that public education in America should foster innovation and provide students with varied, high-quality learning opportunities."

Now in fairness to the Obamas, an ideological commitment to public schools hardly obliges them to send their kids to one - especially when the local school system is as wretched as Washington, D.C.'s. The Obamas' first and deepest responsibility is to their daughters; to have enrolled the girls in the District's failing public system just to make a political point would have been appallingly irresponsible.

But in fairness to the critics, why doesn't Obama want other parents - poorer parents - to be able to do better by their children too? Candidates have been promising to "fix and improve our public schools" for decades, and for decades the schools have remained stubbornly mediocre, hefty spending increases notwithstanding. More promises won't do anything for the parents whose kids are stuck in the public schools Sasha and Malia will be spared. Vouchers, on the other hand, would.

Not every school can be a Sidwell Friends, but every school ought to have something Sidwell Friends benefits from every day. Money isn't the root of Sidwell Friends' success. Neither is the size of its classes, or its well-appointed facilities, or its loyal alumni. Sidwell Friends thrives because it has competition - and DC's public schools stagnate because they don't. Public education is essentially a monopoly, and monopolies tend to be costly, unimaginative, and indifferent to their customers' needs. Private and parochial schools, by contrast, cannot succeed if they lose the goodwill and confidence of the parents who choose them to educate their children.

The DC school system spends $13,700 per student, and most of those students can't even read or do simple math. Imagine what would happen if that money were channeled to parents instead, through vouchers that would let them freely choose their kids' schools. Imagine the energy, innovation, and diversity such competition would beget. Imagine the accountability and excellence it would lead to. Imagine the improvement in the lives of Washington's children. Imagine - 54 years after Brown v. Board of Education - achieving educational equality at last.

Public education doesn't have to be a lethargic and mediocre monopoly. Let vouchers stimulate competition, and education would be revolutionized. If that isn't change worth believing in, Mr. Obama, what is?


Letter to a Handcuffed Feminist

by Mike S. Adams

Dear Handcuffed feminist:

I want to thank you, first of all, for taking the time to attend my recent speech at Duquesne University. I don't know how you managed to handcuff yourself, gag yourself, and then place a sign across your lap saying, "Kick the feminist." I'm just glad no one in the audience accepted your invitation.

I was concerned that you would jump up and interrupt me at some point during the speech. I was surprised that you did not. I was even more surprised that, at the end of the speech, someone came up and handed me a note saying "This is from the handcuffed chick. She wanted me to give it to you."

Your note, indicating that you had to leave the speech early because you were working the late shift, was pleasant in tone. I hope you weren't offended that I did not use the e-mail address you supplied in order to e-mail you the next day per your request. There's just something about a handcuffed feminist that kind of scares me. So I decided to discard the message and go drink a few beers with a couple of chicks who came to my speech wearing black dresses (and no handcuffs).

I received your email message the day after my speech, which indicated that you agreed with the content of my speech and which offered your assistance should I ever be prevented from speaking on a college campus in the future. I noticed that you closed your note by stating that you hoped I did not mind your little protest outside the door of my speech.

I am writing to you today to let you know that I did mind your little protest outside the door of my speech. I really got nothing positive out of it. In fact, I was annoyed with it because it is part of a major problem on our college campus today; namely, the use of protest simply for the sake of protest.

It is my contention that the self-described college liberals of your generation are even more spoiled and less informed than the college liberals of the 1960s. Generally speaking, you (and your generation of liberals) are inclined to protest against things you don't understand - basing your protests on vague emotions rather than specific facts. You come to protests completely unprepared to offer any kind of solution to the problems - the same ones you fail to understand. And, finally, you are most concerned with drawing attention to yourselves at speeches - as opposed to actually drawing information from the speaker. Let me provide you with some examples I've observed at some of my speeches:

Protestors of my speech at The University of New Hampshire broke into glass cases and spray-painted swastikas on my picture. Then, when my speech was over, the protestors asked really pointed questions like "Do you want to bring back slavery?" and "Do you think it's OK to beat a gay person with a baseball bat?" Remarkably, after the liberals had vandalized my posters, one liberal asked if I could learn to be a little more civil in my discourse. He went through the line three times to ask me that same question.

Like I said, the protestors have no idea what they are protesting - the speech wasn't about legalizing slavery and the assault of gays. But the protestors do manage to draw a lot of attention. Indeed, UNH provided five armed police officers and a police escort (which I refused) to take me back to my hotel.

Protestors of my speech at Appalachian State University couldn't think of a single objection to the substance of my points so (in the middle of the Q & A) they ran out of the room after shutting off the lights in the auditorium. The audience just sat there in the dark wondering why the un-bathed protestors were angry.

We never figured out their objections to the substance of the speech but they did manage to draw attention to themselves. People just scratched their heads - sort of like they did when they saw you sitting in the handcuffs.

Protestors of my speech at The University of Oregon sat on a row and talked audibly throughout a substantial proportion of the speech. One of them, who was very obviously gay, sat knitting a sock and talking to the guy to his right. The guy was so stoned you could blindfold him with dental floss. They also laughed audibly at inappropriate times in order to distract me during the speech.

But during the Q & A I didn't get a single question from any one of them - nothing that could have helped me determine the basis of their protestations. They made no contribution to the debate. But they did draw a lot of attention to themselves. And a gay dude got himself one new sock. (Since he didn't knit two I assumed he wasn't a bi-soxual).

Protestors at my speech at The University of Massachusetts at Amherst seemed especially concerned about racism - or so I thought. During the Q & A there was a Planned Parenthood supporter arguing that the organization had no presence in the State of Mississippi. I argued that they did have a presence in all areas with high black populations. And I accused them of aiding and abetting the mass slaughter of black babies - with black abortion rates soaring high above white abortion rates nationwide.

Soon after I finished my defense of innocent black life protestors in the back of the room began screaming "Racist, sexist, anti-gay. Right wing bigots go away!" They did not seem to hear or understand the content of the speech. But they did draw attention to themselves and, eventually, they seized control of the microphone. I was escorted from the room by two undercover bodyguards as the event was ended prematurely.

A protestor at my speech at Agnes Scott College handed out literature for Amnesty International, seemingly unaware that the speech was on the rights of the unborn, not the rights of prisoners. But that didn't stop her from ruining the Q & A with completely inane and irrelevant questions like "Dr. Adams, do you love yourself?" That question would have been more relevant at one of the feminist masturbation workshops.

I finally confronted the protestor at Agnes Scott pointing out that she hadn't listened to or understood the speech. So she approached me after the speech asking for an apology for offending her. The speech, by the way, was about how feminists have started to use one imaginary constitutional right - the right to be un-offended - to keep people from trying to restrict another imaginary constitutional right - the right to murder innocent children. We never had an actual discussion about her problems with the content of my speech or any of her solutions. But she managed to get everyone in the room to focus their attention upon her. Like you, that was really her only objective.

I know that under the First Amendment you have a right to protest my speeches. But I would prefer it if you would not just protest for the sake of protesting without some sort of goal (other than just drawing attention to yourself). Even a dog can draw attention to himself by exercising his right to lick his genitals. But no one wants to watch him do it endlessly.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you for attending my speech. But I would respectfully ask you to refrain from protesting another one of my speeches until you are more informed on the subject matter, more willing to offer constructive solutions, and less in need of drawing attention to yourself. In my next column, I'm going to respectfully ask you to quit voting.



Robert said...

Regarding the so-called "rights" not to be offended, to murder innocent children, etc. referenced in "To a Handcuffed Feminist", The Mises Group has some excellent words on rights in their book "For a New Liberty" in Chapter 7:

A "right," philosophically, must be something embedded in the nature of man and reality, something that can be preserved and maintained at any time and in any age. The "right" of self-ownership, of defending one's life and property, is clearly that sort of right: it can apply to Neanderthal cavemen, in modern Calcutta, or in the contemporary United States. Such a right is independent of time or place. But a "right to a job" or to "three meals a day" or to "twelve years of schooling" cannot be so guaranteed. Suppose that such things cannot exist, as was true in Neanderthal days or in modern Calcutta? To speak of a "right" as something which can only be fulfilled in modern industrial conditions is not to speak of a human, natural right at all. Furthermore, the libertarian "right" of self-ownership does not require the coercion of one set of people to provide such a "right" for another set. Every man can enjoy the right of self-ownership, without special coercion upon anyone. But in the case of a "right" to schooling, this can only be provided if other people are coerced into fulfilling it. The "right" to schooling, to a job, three meals, etc., is then not embedded in the nature of man, but requires for its fulfillment the existence of a group of exploited people who are coerced into providing such a "right."

FuzzyRider said...

Well put, Robert- I always have trouble explaining this concept to peoplle as clearly as you have here. Thank you