Can Public Education Be Saved?
In 1812 a man named Redheffer showed up in PhiladelphiaPA along the banks of the Schuylkill River he claimed to have discovered the secret of perpetual motion and indeed he did have a machine that appeared to continuously operate with out an external power supply. He was seeking funds from the city to build a full scale version of his model. A sharp eyed city engineer noticed that the gears to the machine were worn in the wrong direction indicating that the machine was being powered by something rather than powering its own gears. The city built its own model of the machine that was even more cleverly disguised than Redheffer’s and after seeing it Redheffer fled Philadelphia with his machine. He later showed up in New-York where to his misfortune he and his machine ran into the famous Robert Fulton. Fulton offered to reveal the machine’s source of power and he even garanteed that he would pay any damages he caused Redheffer if he failed. Redheffer unfortunately agreed and after examining the machine Fulton removed a couple of boards from the wall behind the machine and revealed a catgut thread that was traced to an upstairs room. When the door to the room was open there sat a rotund man munching on a loaf of bread and turning a hand crank to which the thread belt was affixed. Redheffer’s machine was destroyed by an angry mob of spectators and Redheffer barely made it out without personal damage to himself. It is amazing how many things seem plausible in theory, but in practice they require nothing short of slight of hand to even appear successful.
In many ways the dream of a successful public education program is much like the dream of perpetual motion, in theory it seems plausible, but in reality it can only be made to appear successful by manipulation of data, and/or definitions. Public education, after all, is run by a bureaucracy and that alone is enough to doom it to failure. Like Redheffer, those invested in public education are constantly prodding the little fat man upstairs to crank harder because if he stops the whole hoax will be exposed.
To be sure there are those involved in public education who will drink the kool-aid with firm conviction, put on blinders and adhere to very narrow definitions of what education is and what success is and this so far has kept the rivers of dollars flowing, the bureaucrats happy, and the peasants cowed.
You Get What You Pay For
Public education for all practical purposes ignores what parents want and in many cases is hostile toward them. Parents for the most part have abandoned any hope of influencing their children’s education and have left what is best for their children up to bureaucrats often intent on building monuments to themselves. This is a major failing; education should be a family concern. You accept anything for free you have little choice in what you get, like food left on the stoop for the dog he gets what is left out for him.
Ignore the man behind the curtain.
Meanwhile the handlers of public education perform the most amazing contortions to achieve the illusion of progress. They have readers to read the tests questions to those they have failed to teach reading, writers to write answers for students to whom they have failed to teach writing. And now they are creating modified tests for those to whom they have failed to teach. In their infinite wisdom they will not fail failing students, but instead waste energy on creating illusions. It is nothing but a sham.
Successful students are successful in spite of public education and not because of it. Copious amounts of time are spent fitting square, round, triangular and every other shape peg into round holes. Public education shouts about differentiation while demanding a one size fits all approach to teaching. The latest fads are handed down from on high and any teacher willing to ignore the professional development fad will face bleak prospects in their evaluations.
Along with parents, teacher’s expertise is ignored except when it can be used to further the official agenda. Other than that teacher’s are mere technicians that serve at the pleasure of the bureaucracy blindly administering instruction not according to what they know their students need, but according to the latest fad the bureaucracy is intoxicated with. Well trained public school teachers have long ago lost any faith in their own judgment and have lost any sense of independent thought.
What about vouchers?
Through all of this there are faithful administrators and teachers who brave their own versions of Fahrenheit 451 each day to deliver what they know their students need; however, public education as a whole can’t be fixed. Vouchers would only spread the poison to any institution that made the mistake of taking the government's money. The government expects control with its money and vouchers would only have an adverse effect on private education. The hope that public education could reform itself is a fantasy especially when it would require giving up power and money. To be sure, there are ways to improve public education, but I am afraid it is a bridge too far for a system peopled with its own product and sold on the parenthood of Uncle Sam.
The solution to education must come from the same place all great American solutions come from. We the people. If we want choice and good education for our children we must earn the money and pay for it. We must not look to the government to do anything for us. History shows us that for the most part the government only makes matters worse, restricts our liberties and wreaks havoc on achievement. Parents who care deeply about their children’s education and demand excellence from their schools are the answer and I would submit that those type of parents will usually involve private education.
When parents can extend the consequences of misbehaviour and poor performance into the child's home life by removing privileges etc. Then the schools and homes will flourish.