Local blogger, Duane Graham, “The Erstwhile Conservative”, recently posted on government involvement in education, raising interesting points that deserve a public conversation.
While I do not believe that unionization is good for the education profession, teachers have my full sympathy. I don’t blame any individual teacher for wanting to belong to a union. I would too. A union enables things like tenure and benefits to make up for salaries that are low relative to their education level. But the result has been a failure.
Part of the problem is that permissive American culture and lock-step, boring curricula have created crop after crop of pampered, undisciplined “Sweathogs”. No way would I want to be in their teachers’ shoes. This description has been confirmed in the general press and by
the e-mails and posts of Anson Burlingame, another Joplin blogger and former nuclear-submarine Captain, who tried to enforce discipline as a teacher in the R-VIII system and was effectively fired for his trouble.
Education in America is a conundrum. I do not believe that federal or state government should be involved in education, except for providing the bricks, mortar and nutrition. In a free country the intellectual content of schools should be free-ranging. Bureaucratic involvement with the information content leads to sanitizing information of all controversy and homogenizing the remainder. But to surrender information content to “local control” seems tantamount to religious control, and that potentially disenfranchises all those outside the religion in charge.
I would like to see us try an education system with these elements:
- Hire good teachers at a high salary, subject to a probationary period of several years during which they can be fired without stated cause by the School Superintendent, who is held responsible for the quality of teaching.
- Base teaching quality only on annual ACT-style tests from independent companies and college or trade-school acceptance data.
- Forbid tenure for teachers, but provide excellent 401k-style contributions by the District.
- Restrict government involvement to brick, mortar and nutrition.
- Encourage individual initiative by teachers, including complete freedom to build the curriculum and choose textbooks for each class.
- Make grades mean something again. Shunt failing students to alternate curricula appropriate to their talents and interests, such as technical classes, when they don’t make the grade in the college prep classes.
- Eliminate lock-step curricula. Allow students to progress at their own rate, year to year. Skip grades or repeat as necessary.
- Recognize that every kid is not college material, but provide routes to re-entry to advanced curricula if motivation improves.
- Embrace tough love. Require parents to recognize in writing the school’s authority to exercise discipline over their child.
Government education is a failure and so, through no fault of the teachers collectively, are teachers’ unions,. I am willing to pay for an experiment like the one described. Go ahead, raise my property tax. Bring it on.