Education: Let’s Do Something Different

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by Tammy Drennan

Last updated April 9, 2007

Vouchers that would pay for parents to send their children to public or private schools are the latest in a long line of reform movements, all of which involve entitlement programs, and none of which involve independence.


We’ve become intolerant of the lax, undemanding, intellectually vapid places our public schools are today (a state of affairs that seems shocking to us only because of our ignorance of the history of state schooling, which has always been considered grossly inferior by educated people outside the public school industry).


Reform movements have come and gone, all with their noisy spokespersons. Each has done its damage — always a combination of further watering down academics with some new, untried, and silly pedagogy, and lulling us into complacency and deeper dependency with the promise that the problem has been taken care of for us. We bask in the shade of the latest reform until the leaves begin to fall from the tree and we realize we’ve been had yet again. Then we jump up and begin to cry foul — yet again. Do something, Uncle Sam! It’s a crisis, Mr. President! Help!


Some of us have selfish motives — doesn’t the state owe our children an education? After all, we’ve sacrificed them to the system. We’ve offered them up to the state. Doesn’t the state owe us some return — kids who can at least read and write, add and subtract, so we won’t have to support them forever? It’s our due. We’ve delivered the goods — we want some payback.


Others of us despair of the hard work of fostering independence and cry vouchers for the sake of the children. Too many parents don’t care or can’t care. Children are drowning. We need to save them now (hasn’t this been the cry of every reform movement?). Does that mean sacrificing future generations, luring the already independent into dependency? We refuse to believe it, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, even in light of common sense, but even if it is true, so what? Let future reformers deal with it. We’re talking rescue, not principles, not foundations, not renewal.


To achieve rescue and principles both is to ask too much of us. We’re not up to the task. Have others in history sacrificed more, worked harder, imagined better? We’re not them. This is not the Revolution, the abolition of slavery, a World War II resistance movement. That’s the stuff of legend. We’re mere mortals. We’re not up to a war of principle. It’s appeasement all the way for us. Make us some promises, slacken our chains a bit, and we’ll play the game the way it’s always been played. Add a little meat to our swill, a pinch of salt, and we’ll remain humble and passive servants.


Albert Einstein is credited with saying that if we wish to solve a problem, we cannot keep doing what it is we did in order to create the problem. We created the problem of bad schools by ceding our responsibility to the state. Now we think that we can solve the problem by making the small remnant of free students co-dependents.


If you look at it the right way — just twist a little this way then that and squint your eyes and hum a loud tune — you’ll see it’s true. Once all schools are equal, we’ll forget what excellence and independence are and we’ll feel good about ourselves. Ignorance is, after all, bliss.


The solution to improved education is to get the government out of it, not turn the rest of it over to the state. It’s time to do something other than what we did to create the problem.