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’ piñata – 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.

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