Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Lawyers and Teachers - A Marriage Made in the Bowels of Hell

Proverbs 9:1-6 (New Living Translation)

Proverbs 9

1 “Wisdom has built her spacious house with seven pillars. 2She has prepared a great banquet, mixed the wines, and set the table. 3She has sent her servants to invite everyone to come. She calls out from the heights overlooking the city. 4 “Come home with me,” she urges the simple. To those without good judgment, she says, 5”Come, eat my food, and drink the wine I have mixed. 6Leave your foolish ways behind, and begin to live; learn how to be wise.”

John Tierney wrote an interesting op-ed in today New York Times. It was a brief essay about a young man named Adrian Bushell, the Florida public school system, vouchers, and a case being heard today by the Florida Supreme Court. It seems that things are careening down hill in the sunshine state and the shame of it is that Adrian Bushell is one of many innocent passengers in this legal vehicle who stand to lose a wonderful opportunity. Adrian, unfortunately, has no say in the matter. He’s in the cross-hairs of the system. It’s all up to the lawyers right now.

What’s Adrian done to deserve becoming a target of the lawyers? Has he robbed a convenience store? Has he mugged an old woman in the street? No, all he’s done is leave the failing public school system he was in and find success and learning in a Catholic high school:

“Adrian lives with his grandmother Ramona Nickson, who wanted no part of Edison after he finished public middle school last year. For years Edison had been getting F's from the state (which uses an A-to-F rating system). As a result, Adrian was entitled to transfer to another public school or get a $4,400 voucher good at any private school willing to accept it as full tuition - which typically means a Catholic or other religious school. Adrian, an Episcopalian, used it at the Monsignor Edward Pace Catholic High School.”

“It's a whole different environment from the public schools,” Adrian said. “I was barely making a 2.0 in public school, but now it's 3.0. It's been great.” His grandmother was just as pleased.”

“There's been a complete turnaround in his grades, his focus, his discipline,” she said. “This new school is the best thing that could have happened to him. Before Pace, he never thought he wanted to go to college. Now his mind is on college.”

Those bringing the case against Florida’s voucher provision claim it’s all about protecting America from sectarianism. Well, John Tierney and millions of us around America can see right through all that crap. What the case is all about is money and the fear of competition. Tierney put it this way:

“The federal program merely guarantees students at bad schools a chance to transfer to other public schools. That prospect doesn't spur improvement in test scores, the study found, probably because it's not much of a threat to public school officials. After all, students often can't find a good public school nearby, and even if they transfer, they still remain in the public system.”

“Vouchers threaten to shrink the system - and the membership rolls of teachers' unions, which have been fighting the Florida program. In the case being heard today at the Florida Supreme Court, they're arguing that the program violates Florida's version of the Blaine amendment, a prohibition on aid to religious schools that was added to many state constitutions in the 19th century thanks to campaigns by nativist politicians against the “Catholic menace.”


The case is coming to the high court by way of appeal. In a recent case vouchers that have been a salvation to Adrian Bushell were deemed by the first battery of lawyers to have violated Florida’s state constitution:

“Nearly 700 Florida school children attending religious schools using public vouchers may someday be sent back to public schools. Last week, the full Court of Appeal of Florida, First District, ruled (8-5-1) that the voucher program violates Florida’s Constitution because it allows tax dollars to be spent at religious schools.”

“Despite calling it a “popular program with a worthy purpose,” the majority agreed with a panel of the court and a trial judge that the program violates the state Constitution’s “no-aid” provision, which the court referred to as “highly restrictive.” Florida’s Constitution mandates that “no revenue of the state … shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid … of any sectarian institution.”

I’d like to think that the high court will come up with a favorable ruling, but I doubt it. Lawyers seem to have great difficulty with that sort of thing. As I sit here thinking about them deciding the fate of Adrian and thousands of other Florida school children I’m reminded of Dick the Butcher’s advice to Cade. “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” he said to the man who would be king.

I know, of course, that we can’t take Dick’s advice in the Florida case, but it does seem tempting under the circumstances. It’s really infuriating to think that a young African-American kid like Adrian Bushell, or any American kind for that matter, would be given an opportunity to succeed in life. But the lawyers and teachers are fighting tooth and nail to see that it doesn’t happen.

Between the lawyers, the politicians, the administrators, and the teachers, education in America is a mess. Florida isn’t an isolated case in that regard. It’s a mess everywhere. Here in Kansas the state Supreme Court has mandated an additional one hundred and forty three million dollars in school funding. That’s getting seriously close to a billion, folk. That’s not chump change. Why the mandate? To fix the schools, of course. Will the money fix things? Of course not!

I’m going to make some hasty generalizations, so I want to apologize in advance to any teachers I know. This isn’t personal; it’s only business and common sense.

Generalization number one is this – teachers are alright people. They have mortgages to pay like the rest of us. They have hungry mouths to feed. I’ll even be bold enough to say that some of my friends are teachers. But, they also have one helluva’ big agenda – CONTROL! And therein lies the problem with American education.

Generalization number two is this – throwing money at the problem won’t help. I think it was about two years ago that John Peterson, a retired college professor, wrote an op-ed in the Emporia Gazette about how much he loved paying taxes, and more taxes, and even more taxes, to fix the education problems here in Kansas. I sent him a pithy little response. One of the things I told him was that the money has produced nothing but the bulk of an American generation in which all too often Johnny can’t read, Johnny can’t write, and Johnny thinks that the American Revolution began when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I don’t feel any differently today.

I believe that kids given an honest chance by way of vouchers could escape this money pit called the public school system, but I’d be willing to wager a social security check or two that the teachers would be up in arms when the flight to better the educational environment started.

Why am I so adamant about this? Because the system we have amounts to nothing more than institutional bias, bigotry, and racism. The system has dug its hooks into America’s kids and it doesn’t want to let them go.

I guess I should feel grateful for one thing. The failures are equal opportunity failures. That is, the mismanagement has been something to behold. Everywhere you look in the system you find it. It’s been, as Bob Dylan once put it, the system has been “mismanaged with great skill.”

Now they’d like us to believe that the money will improve things. They’d like us to believe that a monopoly is in everyone’s best interest. But we’ve been riding this speeding bullet for some time now and we know better. Pretty soon and it’ll be time to pay the piper.

Thomas Sowell, in his book “Inside American Education,” described what’s been happening to American education since the sixties this way:

“Much has been said about how our young people do not meet the academic standards of their peers in other countries with which we compete economically. While this is both true and important, their academic deficiencies are only half the story. All across the country, the school curriculum has been invaded by psychological-conditioning programs which not only take up time sorely needed for intellectual development, but also promote an emotionalized and anti-intellectual way of responding to the challenges facing every individual and every society. Worst of all, the psychotherapeutic curriculum systematically undermines the parent-child relationship and the shared values which make a society possible.”

Now we should be sending our kids to school to learn to think. But that’s not the case. Sowell again notes that:

“Even these data do not capture the full story of educational disaster in American public schools. Members of the educational establishment often try to downplay such evidence by dismissing the importance of mere “facts” acquired by “rote memory.” Unfortunately, as we turn from simple knowledge to more complex abilities in reasoning, the full debacle of American education becomes even more painfully clear. An international study of thirteen-year olds showed that American youngsters fell further and further behind, the more they were required to think.”

In the end I’m afraid the teachers will win out. They’ll get their money here in Kansas and I believe that the Florida Supremes will give the teachers there what they want there too. For me and Nancy it only means money out of pocket. To the folks in Florida it’s judicial business as usual. I guess we’ll have to live with that. But for Adrian Bushell and millions of other American kids it’s a tragedy in the making.

3 comments:

James Fletcher Baxter said...

Letters
Santa Maria Times
3/9/03 Published 3/10/03

My 30+ year service as a public school teacher began
in 1957. In 1970, the Los Angeles teachers' union,
UTLA, called a strike. Their attempt to close the
schools met failure in view of the largely profess-
ional viewpoint of a great majority of the L.A.
teachers at the time.

Through the following years, the several teachers'
organizations continued to represent their members
before the school board on a proportional basis of
membership as the Winton Act required. The union
continued an ongoing drumbeat to the teachers that
they would have "more clout" if they would join the
union. They had minor success.

By the late 1970's, State Senator Rhodda authored
a bill before the Senate and Assembly that would
require all teachers in every public school district
to choose a single teachers' organization to
represent them. It worked! The teachers had accepted
the union ploy of "clout." The union won and the
voice of the professional teacher was silenced -
without further representation. California public
schools went from No. 1 to No. 50, as statewide the
story was repeated. Nation-wide,the NEA and AFT
prevailed. As predicted, public school education
went into the toilet. Since the first priority of
any union is the benefit of the union and its members,
the students were given a backseat. The public-sector
blockage of education reform (Koret Foundation)continues
by the unions - private-sector agents.

Ignoring the cause, politicians, parents, and teachers
today do not have a clue as to a solution. The worker-
mentality and lack of professional identity and values
grinds on while the children of each succeeding gener-
ation suffer ongoing classic mediocrity.

Parents who care will have to lead. Meanwhile, private,
parochial, and home-schooling, are the only reliable
'student first' educational institutions available.

Jim Baxter
Santa Maria, CA

James Fletcher Baxter said...

After 30+ years in the public school classroom I am
convinced that the personal example the
teacher sets before the student is the
single most important reason learning
occurs. Example offers a behavioral
definition of character that may determine
a student's perception of his own value,
the value of others, and reciprocal rights
and responsibilities. Since emulation is
both an early and an on-going learning
method and because everyone passes through
the hands of the teacher, the example of
the teacher-leader is, I believe, funda-
mental to the successful human experience.

When standards are personalized and
manifest in teacher conduct, the student's
perception of other criteria for measuring
other values and options prior to decision-
making becomes more and more comprehensible.
Such a comprehension may be considered
critical to the student's personal ability
to anticipate consequence of choice and
ensure survival and progression.

Because decision-making is the proper
domain of the mind in the hierarchy of the
individual person (spirit/mind/body), it
is essential that enlarged opportunities
for observation and awareness be encouraged
and available. Such opportunities go far
toward raising the qualitative level of
selectivity on the part of the student.

Additionally, because selection occupies
the fulcrum point of the creative process
in the individual, it is essential that
criteria be available to the intellect of
the student in order that evaluation and
progress will occur.

We are reminded that the unique individual
person is the basic unit of value and a
prime source of social values in a free
society.

Consistent with a criteria concept and
personalized value definition, the
individual student should continually
experience high levels of challenge,
expectation, and goal orientation,
eliciting and reinforcing standards of
excellence. Such a conceptual environment
teaches, encourages, and reinforces valid
individual self-esteem.

It is thus that the teacher completes the
appropriate fulfillment of his/her role:
Enabling the student to become a self-
directed, responsible, choice-maker in
Freedom.

As we older generations depart the scene,
can we leave them in mediocrity -- and
less?

If you are a teacher and are still a member of a teachers union: Resign.

If you do not resign: You are a Traitor.

Choose...

Jim Baxter
semper fidelis

Allan said...

Phil wrote

"Johnny can’t read, Johnny can’t write, and Johnny thinks that the American Revolution began when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor"

Hoo boy, you are optimistic Phil. Mostly Johnny never heard of the American Revolution. His knowledge of Japan, if any at all exists, extends to Hondas, Nissans (he doesn't know they were once called Datsuns) and Toyotas. Pearl Harbor is a movie.