Monday, June 13, 2005

Memo to the Gazette

Proverbs 16:21-23 (King James Version)

21 “The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.
22Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly.
23The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.”

Memo to the Emporia Gazette. Would someone in the vicinity of Patrick Kelley give him a good swift kick in the ‘arse for me?

In this weekend’s edition of our local rag he chided Kansas lawmakers who are now balking at the state Supreme Court’s decision to heap on an additional one hundred and forty three million simoleons to “fix” the education “problem” in this state. As always, in his inimitable way, he gave all of us who object to the idea of throwing money at a serious problem a scathing lecture:

“Somehow, the image of House Speaker Doug Mays decked out with a musket and powder horn, leading a House rabble across 10th Street to seize the offending justices does not inspire feelings of patriotism.”

And, as almost always, he missed the real point of the raging debate. It’s this. The reason many of us object, including all of us who will not be able to vote on whether or not we should be taxed to produce the funding necessary to make this scheme work, is that the money simply will not produce the desired result.

It’s all a bit reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s 1992 electioneering. I don’t have an accurate count of how often he faced audiences of young people and promised them a “free” education. “It’s free,” he often said. “It’s free.” While those words seemed mighty comforting to America’s youth there was more than a little bit of extortion in the fine print. What was free to them was going to cost the rest of us plenty.

That’s what Patrick Kelley and the Kansas Supreme Court are now engaged in. It’s a somewhat polite, very legal form of extortion.

Now am I against education? Absolutely not! If I believed that a hundred and forty three million bucks would fix the problem I’d be glad to pay my fair share.

For the life of me I cannot understand why Kelley and the Court cannot see why the money won’t fix the problem. The only answer that I can come up with is that I’m subsidizing stupidity when I pay for my subscription to the Gazette and pay my tax bill to keep the “Supremes” gainfully employed.

Thomas Sowell said it all much better than I ever could:

“The most important thing to re-organize about education is our own thinking about it. Our purpose cannot be to project yet another Utopia as to what teaching methods are best, what education goals are the loftiest, or what kind of end-product would represent the student of our dreams. We need to begin instead by facing up to the debacle in which we find ourselves, so as to understand not only the institutional and attitudinal factors behind the failures of the educational system, but also the factors behind its successes in thwarting repeated attempts at fundamental reform. We need to face the harsh reality of the kind of people we are dealing with, the kind of bitter fight we can expect from them if we try to disturb their turf and perks – and the bleak future of our children if we don’t.”

“Despite the lofty rhetoric which is as much a part of the educational world as the cap and gown, we must face up to what educators have actually done, as distinguished from what they have said:”

“They have taken our money, betrayed our trust, failed our children, and then lied about the failures with inflated grades and pretty words.”

“They have proclaimed their dedication to freedom of ideas and the quest for truth, while turning educational institutions into bastions of dogma and the most intolerant institutions in American society.”

“All this says something, not only about educators, but also about the rest of us, who let them get away with such things. At the very least, it says something which protects misfeasance and malfeasance from detection and correction.”

Here in Kansas Patrick Kelley and the Supreme Court are sounding much like those late night preachers who grace the airwaves. I can hear them shouting now as I write - “Hundala kundala, send more money.” As I listen it seems to sound the same, but there’s a really big difference between the two groups of hucksters. I don’t have to give money to the preacher men. But as sure as I’m sitting here I’ll have to give it to the educational money pit.

I’m going to use a three pieces of anecdotal evidence now and be done with it.

The first came in the form of an e-mail from a young Moldovan woman, Corina Nour. Corina came to the United States and lived with Nancy and me almost two years ago as an exchange student. Her year here was an absolute delight for Nancy and me. She came from a country that was, and is, very poor when compared to the United States. That was as things appeared on the surface. But once we got below that surface we found in Corina a wealth of personal and national resources. In the year she attended our local high school she became one of the top students. Her English skills were better than well over half the American students attending. Her math skills were superior. Her knowledge of American government was exemplary. She was a skilled debater. Toward the end of her year here we had her take both the SAT and ACT exams. The results mirrored not so much what she had learned here, but what here entire life of learning had given her. She was in the top ten percent in math and the top fourth in English and biology.

Now I could go on, but I think you get the point. It wasn’t Moldovan money that made Corina such a success. I believe it was a combination of personal and family values and a system that, while financially much poorer than ours, made room for her excellence to shine through.

A got an e-mail from her a few days ago. She’s in the throes of taking her final exams after completing her high school education. There are several that she is required to take and each one is very, very demanding. Read the following description from Corina and compare that to what our kids in Kansas, and elsewhere in the United States, are getting:

“But besides that, I’ve gone through a really hard time, as I was constantly busy. I'm in the middle of those serious, major exams of graduating school I was once telling you about, that are called “baccalaureate” here. That’s why I had to prepare a lot and study really-really hard. You might not believe it, but I was so into studying that I didn't even realize how time went by soooo fast. I already had my Literature and Romanian language exam, which were Ok, not too difficult. The math one was really harsh, though. It was like 3 hours of torture. It was super-extra complicated, too voluminous, I didn't really manage to write everything properly, like it should be, with explanations, you know. I just solved everything, got the right answers though, but if I had like 15-20 min more I would be more content with it. Here the exams are nothing like the ones in US. You don't get any multiple choice or matching at all. You have to write everything on your own, explain, analyse, etc...And the tasks are complicated and the test covers everything you learned during all the years spent at school, so it's not on a specific topic or something. It's sooo broad. You've gotta’ know everything!”

“I'm sorry I'm telling you so much about this, you might not be interested, but it's the most important thing for me right now. I've got to graduate from school, you know, I don't wanna’ remain for another year...Well, of course I'm kidding, this won't happen for sure. I am smart enough to pass them. Plus I've prepared well.”

Can you see the two things converging? Put them together and they’re like a circle of excellence and commitment. I can assure you that this was something that money didn’t buy. Moldova simply does not have a hundred and forty three million dollars to throw at education. Knowing that, Moldovan families and their system find other ways to ensure that their young people are entering the new world of free trade and commerce. Students like Corina from Moldova see the opportunity that this new world of ideas is making available to them and they are treating it as an open door. And so is their educational system. And what is our educational system here in Kansas doing? “They’re mandating, most loudly, “Hundala kundala, send more money!”

The second example comes from, of all things, the media. Nancy and I watched 60 Minutes this evening. The second segment was about Beatrice Biira, a young woman from Uganda. She grew up in abject poverty. Her family had no money to send her to school. It seemed like her dream of getting an education was impossible. Then something miraculous happened:

“And yet, despite going hungry and not having much hope for the future, she later found herself on the campus of an exclusive American prep school. Last year, she was a student at Northfield Mt. Hermon, in northern Massachusetts.”
"How did she get there? How did she manage to pull off such an improbable journey? 60 Minutes traveled a long way to find out
"The equator runs right across the country road that leads to Beatrice's home. You can stand in both hemispheres. Beatrice's life has become something like that in the last few years. She's had one foot in the African bush, and the other in New England -- all because of a goat.”
"It is through selling the goat's milk that I was able to [go to school],”says Beatrice, who owes her good fortune to a goat and a charity in Little Rock, Ark., called Heifer International.”
"Heifer International is known for its work distributing livestock to poor families all over the world.”
"In 1991, Heifer introduced 12 goats to 12 families in Kisinga. Beatrice’s family was lucky enough to be among them.”

“Along with the goats, Heifer sent a cameraman to Kisinga to shoot film of young Beatrice’s life. At 9, she was performing adult chores, and yearning desperately to attend school. But her family, one of the poorest in Kisinga, just couldn't afford it.”

“It seemed as though Beatrice would always be on the outside looking in. But she says she kept bugging her parents: “I was very impassioned. Want to go to school. I really wanted to go to school.(my emphasis added)”
“Enter her goat. The Heifer goats are bred to produce prodigious amounts of milk. After struggling for years just to feed her kids, Beatrice’s mother was able to sell enough goat’s milk to finally send Beatrice, then 10, to the local school.”
“From there, she won a scholarship to a high school in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Then, she went on to prep school in New England, where it turns out, her biggest adjustment was winter.”

Did those goats cost millions and millions of dollars? No! But they were actually worth a lot more. They provided this young woman who yearned to learn with the opportunity she needed. Was the high school in Kampala she attended full of computers and all the 21st century accoutrements that American schools “must have?” Again, the answer is no. And yet Beatrice is going to succeed in life and it had little to do with lots of money. All it took was one goat!.

One more anecdote and I’ll be close to being done. I attended Judson College from 1972 to 1975. It’s a fine school. Academically, it was demanding, and in the area that matters most, there was an administration expectation that the education provided would be excellent. I wish I could say the same for some of the students who attended at the same time I did. I recall a chapel forum (chapel was required three times a week) in which microphones were placed strategically around Herrick Chapel so that students could let the faculty and administration know what they were thinking. On this particular morning a group of male students who had earlier formed a “free beer” movement got up, en masse, and strode to one of the microphones. Their spokesman, or ringleader, leaned over. “We want free beer,” he demanded. The assembly responded with laughter. I guess I should have seen it as funny myself, but somehow I couldn’t. I’d just spent eight years in the military, with my last tour having been Vietnam and had come to a place where a good education was something I really valued. I decided to respond. I went to the microphone closest to me and answered their plea. “I know how you can get your free beer.” The audience erupted in applause. The “committee” leader looked over at me from the other side of the chapel. “How?” he asked.
“Just join the VFW.”
“That’s all?”
“Well, there is a bit more to it. You’ll need to join the military, then go over to Southeast Asia and plunk your butt down in a rice paddy for a year. If you make it home without having to be shipped back in a body bag you’ll get your free beer. You can go over there and the United States can send someone back over here to Judson who really wants an education. It’ll be a fair exchange, those who want free beer for those who want an education” With those words I sat back down. The audience groaned. I’m not sure to this day whether it was because they were on my side or because they weren’t going to get their free beer.

By the way, the ringleader and his committee never took up my offer.

I think of all the money being thrown into our educational system and I think of Patrick Kelley and the Kansas Supreme Court now wanting to extort even more from the good citizens of Kansas and it makes my blood boil. So, to keep my blood pressure low and to ensure that their demands are met I have a couple of suggestions that would, if adopted, improve education in Kansas immeasurably. First, if we must keep throwing money at the problem, let’s throw it in the right direction. Send some of it to Moldova and some if it to Uganda, to young people like Corina and Beatrice who really want to get an education. Better yet, let’s set up an exchange program of sorts. We can send them our goats, so to speak, the kids who want the free beer, and they’ll send us the kids who really value an education. I suspect if the exchange is made and they come they’ll even be able to overcome the deficiencies in our current system. And, who knows, they, the students, may be able to teach the teachers, administrators, lawyers, and journalists of America something as well.

I guess I’m done. The only thing I can think of that I might be worried about missing now is being there to record it all if someone plants a size fifteen triple E brogan in Patrick Kelley’s hindmost parts. The sight of that might be something that’s really worth a hundred and forty three million!


James Fletcher Baxter said...

Since the 1970's, California has had a large number of Patrick Kelleys doing the verbal dirty work for the National Education Association NEA and the American Federation of Teachers AFT, i.e., belaboring the parents and taxpayers for money money money "if you love your children."

As private sector organizations, unions have no more Right to own the public sector schools than the auto workers would to control General Motors -- but they do!

The Koret Foundation research found the unions to be the greatest "blockage" preventing the reformation of public schools.

Thus, the classic mediocrity of our childrens' public school education continues through generations to come, while the only 'Student First' learning institutions available are private, parochial, and home schooling.

Mr. Kelley is a willful fool without the usual excuse of 'ignorance.' Parents and taxpayers need not join him.


James Fletcher Baxter said...

"...choice-based reform has shown promise and is in great demand, as is shown by the growth of the charter school movement, the rise in home-schooling, and parental and commnity support for scholarship and voucher programs."

"Choice-based reforms have not had a fair test."

"By 'choice' we mean that parental decisions rather than bureaucratic regulation should drive the educational enterprise. Open competition among ideas and methods, with people free to abandon weak schools for stronger ones, is the surest way to make major progress."

"Choice brings freedom, diversity, and innovation to how education is provided , and what options are available to families."

-- from
Our Schools and Our Future
...Are We Still at Risk?
Findings and Recommendations of The Koret Task Force on K-12 Education February 2003

James Fletcher Baxter said...

The missing element in every human 'solution' is an
accurate definition of the creature. The way we define
'human' determines our view of self, others, relationships,
institutions, life, and future. Important? Only the Creator
who made us in His own image is qualified to define us
accurately. Choose wisely...there are results.

Many problems in human experience are the result of false
and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised in man-
made religions and humanistic philosophies.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by nature
and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of Criteria.
Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive characteristic
is, and of Right ought to be, the natural foundation of his
environments, institutions, and respectful relations to his
fellow-man. Thus, he is oriented to a Freedom whose roots
are in the Order of the universe.

An NEA/AFT & Kelley IQ Test?

web_loafer said...

Phil, I can attest to the Judge in Kansas making blood boil....mine is and I feel so helpless to do anything about it. Just shut up and pay the extra taxes, really doesn't appeal to this loudmouth. Hope you are doing good, and the ladies are off having fun. Later.