Thursday, March 26, 2015


It appears that I’ve opened the door to conversation about public education. That’s a good thing.

In his response to my original piece, Douglas Epp mounted a spirited defense of our current way of doing things. I expected it would be the case. The two primary tasks of most bureaucracies are to defend and enlarge themselves.

It didn’t surprise me that our resident experts are trying to shift the blame. It’s the Koch brothers’ fault. It’s the poor, being cleverly disguised as a “demographic” problem. It’s the Hispanics and the need for English as a second language programs.

But, there was one thing I didn’t expect. I didn’t think that our leaders would be in such a celebratory frame of mind. We’ve fallen behind in the international race and they’re all but popping the corks and sipping the bubbly. Mr. Epps put it this way. “We are consistently getting good value for our educational dollar here in the state of Kansas.” If what he says is really true, then God help us. As Frankie Schaeffer put it a few years ago, we’re becoming “addicted to mediocrity.”

It’s clear. We have some very important differences in our respective approaches. 

First, I believe we’re shortchanging our children, particularly when we blame a significant number of them for the problems.

Early on, Mr. Epps wrote “One thing Mr. Dillon seems to ignore is poverty really does matter.”

Should poverty prevent us from providing a good, solid education? Of course not! The overwhelming majority of Emporia’s poor are decent, hardworking folks, making do on a workingman’s wages. They do most of the hard work in this town. They tote our garbage; they shingle our roofs; they mow our lawns; they flip our burgers. They have children who are very bright. They’re quite capable of learning. They’re not the reason our education system is failing.

The PISA studies seem to agree with me. Among their findings was this“The share of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the United States is about average.” 

Next, there’s the “English as a second language” crutch. I’m going to say this as plainly as I can. Emporia’s Hispanics are perfectly capable of mastering two languages. Emporia’s young Hispanics are intelligent, resourceful, and willing to learn. They’re not the reason our international test scores are so low. 

According to the most recent international reports, the Danes, whose mother tongue is Danish, are “very highly proficient” in the use of the English language. The Swiss, who communicate in German, French, and Italian, are highly proficient in the use of English. In all, there are thirty-one countries on the list that range from very highly proficient to moderately proficient in English. Many of them score better than us on the PISA tests and spend less per student on education. 

Then, there’s the progressives’ piƱata – The Koch brothers. They aren’t the only people who have the power to influence academia. When I attended Ohio State University, I registered for a class in Chinese literature. On the first day of class, the professor told us that a pornographic Chinese novel titled Rou Pu Tuan would be required reading. I didn’t complain. I just dropped the course. In another class, I was required to read excerpts from Mein Kampf. I didn’t like it, but I read them. At the campus library I could get “Das Kapital” or the “Communist Manifesto” in English, French, German, or Spanish. If reading Chinese pornography, twisted political philosophy like Mein Kampf, or totalitarian ideology is okay,  I doubt that a small dose of supply side or free market economics would so thoroughly corrupt our youth that they couldn’t function as the model citizens we want them to be.

Mr. Epps asked if I supported early childhood education. Of course I do. I support the four components outlined by our Department of Education, particularly the finished product, which is “successful children.”  I also support some of the aims outlined in the 2014 Kansas Supreme Court decision on education, including ensuring that our graduating students have “sufficient oral and written communication skills to enable students to function in a complex and rapidly changing civilization.” I also agree with the court’s assertion thattotal spending is not the touchstone for adequacy.

While money isn’t the only consideration, I’d still pay top dollar for a product that would put us where we rightly belong – number one!

I’d wager that every school board member ran for office claiming to be the go to person, the man or woman who could fix everything. They might have even claimed they could walk across Wooster Lake for all I know. Enough of us believed them to get them elected. I think it’s time for them to produce results in keeping with their stump speeches.

This is my bottom line. I want to pay for education, not bureaucracies.  I expect our system to make us number one in the world. I hope that Mr. Epps will agree with me on that. If he does, I assure him that I’ll do my part to ensure that our kids get the resources THEY need to make that happen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


I read this morning that “in politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” I’m not sure who said it. Some people attribute it Napoleon Bonaparte. Whoever it was knew a lot about politics.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking at some of the proposed legislation coming out of Topeka. Reading it has led me to believe that stupidity may even be a requirement for some Kansas legislators.

Even when the intentions are good, the stupidity at the heart of some of the proposals is palpable. On February 17th, the Topeka Capitol Journal ran an investigative report on the death of four year old Mekhi Patrick Dean Boone, who died from what state officials described as the “worst case of child abuse they have seen.” According to the log at Children’s Mercy Hospital, “There is not a 2 inch part of his body that doesn’t have bruises. He was beat to death.”

Mekhi Boone died needlessly, at the hands of his father. But there’s more to the story. Mekhi’s mother has filed a civil lawsuit claiming that “outrageous conduct of the state of Kansas and one of its contractors (T.F.I. Family Services) caused the death.”

The litigation is slowly working its way through the system. In a recent response to Mekhi’s mother’s claim that the state and T.F.I. violated Mekhi’s due process rights, the state made the following counter-claim – “These answering Defendants affirmatively assert that the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not require these answering Defendants to protect its citizens from private violence.”

The response was stunning. It reeked of callousness, indifference, and bureaucratic nonsense.

It’s clear. The entire system failed Mekhi Boone.

The child welfare system is in desperate need of a fix, not only in Kansas but all around the country. The Los Angeles Times, for example, filed a report on February 28th that outlined the egregious failures in the California system. Many Los Angeles foster parents have given up on getting support from the system. In one case cited, a foster parent told the agencies, “Take me off your list. I gave up on you guys.” When he was asked why, he replied, “I could never get the social worker to call me back.”

It had the ring of tragic familiarity.

Here in Kansas, Senator Forrest Knox from Altoona offered a “remedy,” in the form of Senate Bill 158, which would prohibit any potential foster parent from either smoking cigarettes or having alcoholic beverages in the home. The senator’s intent was noble, but his solution to the foster care problem in Kansas was patently stupid. Few, if any, Kansans could ever become foster parents under those guidelines. 

The root of our foster care problem is the bureaucracy. That’s what needs to be bulldozed, not potentially good foster parents.

Representative Virgil Peck took stupidity to an even higher level when he championed HB2234, which would make it illegal for a college professor to use his or her title in a newspaper column or op-ed when the opinion concerns a legislator or a candidate for public office. In a fit of generosity, Representative Peck did leave room in the legislation for professors to use their credentials in opinions about newspaper editors, garbage collectors, carpenters, dentists, day laborers, media magnates, and other assorted serfs.

Finally, proving that stupidity can be limitless, someone in the legislature has proposed an amendment to K.S.A. 25-306(B). The proposed change would prohibit any candidate for political office from withdrawing from the ballot after a primary. The only exception allowed would be death.

Of course, we all know the reason for the proposal. Its champion should have called it the Chad Taylor amendment.

I’ve given the matter some thought and I’ve decided we need to amend the proposed amendment. Let’s just leave deceased candidates on the ballot. Really! Corpses couldn’t do any worse than some of our current crop of living, breathing elected officials. In fact, corpses might even do better.

Dead candidates might even add a bit of spice to our interminably dull political campaigns. The clever marketing strategies would be endless… “Dead Man Running,” for example. If the corpse’s opponent happened to be a guy named Ted, we could see yard signs that read, “VOTE DEAD, NOT TED.” If a corpse were to get elected, we could have it embalmed, stuff it full of straw, dress it up in a Brooks Brothers suit, and prop it up at one of those legislative desks at the capitol. 

For those who think my idea isn’t workable, I have question. Do you think a corpse could do a better job than Virgil Peck and his cohorts?

I rest my case.

Will Rogers once asked, “If stupidity got us in this mess, how come it can't get us out.” I think he actually knew that subsidizing stupidity in politics can only make things worse, but left it up to us to figure it out.

Apparently, we Kansans haven’t learned that lesson yet.