Tag Archives: schools

Can We Define “Liberty”–Before Someone Gets Shot?

For a bunch of lawmakers who just love to talk about liberty, the cowboys at the Indiana General Assembly seem to have embraced a very odd definition of that term. In their view, “liberty” means their right to make decisions for everyone else.

Funny, I thought that was a description of autocracy.

Case in point: A bill is proceeding through the General Assembly that will allow guns to be brought to schools and school events. The measure also says that no school board (public or private) can enact a policy forbidding legally authorized persons to have guns in their cars on school property.

The NRA must be so proud.

Ignore, for a moment, the lunacy of encouraging people to bring weapons to schools. Pretend that 26 children weren’t gunned down last year in Connecticut. Ignore the fact that gun violence is an epidemic in this city, state and country. Those arguments–while important– really are beside the point. (Although for a pointed and effective, albeit snarky, takedown of the “let’s arm the world” lunatics, you really should read this Op Ed about an Idaho bill permitting guns on campus..)

The real question is: Why in the world does the Indiana General Assembly get to tell public and private schools what safety precautions they may not choose to employ?

Municipalities have long complained about the lack of home rule in Indiana, but as the years have gone on, it has only gotten worse. The micromanaging and increasing high-handedness of the General Assembly is hard enough to stomach; the undeniable fact that campaign donors and special interests are all too often served at the expense of both sound policy and Indiana’s citizens is getting intolerable.

At what point do we ordinary Hoosiers demand some “liberty” of our own?

 

 

School Choice of Fact

Yesterday, I noted that school privatization brings with it a number of unintended–and unfortunate–incentives. In Ohio, those incentives were financial; the Ohio Superintendent forced to resign was gaming the system for money.

Today’s lesson, children, centers upon a different incentive: the opportunity for proselytization. Welcome to Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana.  

Mother Jones reports on Jindal’s sweeping voucher program, which has received glowing reports from advocates of school choice and privatization. There is no doubt that Louisiana schools are in need of dramatic reform, but as the article notes, the state is poised to spend billions of tax dollars with virtually no accountability.

The early result? Of the 119 private schools participating in the program, at least 19 teach creationism in lieu of science, and substitute religious dogma for documented history.

These schools rely on textbooks and curricula produced by Bob Jones University. (The texts are quoted and referenced in the article available at the hyperlink.) They teach bible-based “facts,” including:

Dinosaurs and humans were on earth at the same time.

God used the Trail of Tears to bring Indians to Christ.

Most slave masters “treated their slaves well.”

In some areas of the country the KKK “tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters and immoral movies.”

Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was part of a propaganda campaign to make the Depression sound worse than it was.

If rejection of science and rewritten history aren’t your thing, the schools also teach law (“Ignoring 3,500 years of Judeo-Christian civilization, religion, morality and law, the Burger Court held that an unborn child was not a living person…”) and literature (“Mark Twain’s outlook was both self-centered and ultimately hopeless”…Emily Dickenson’s poems “show a presumptuous attitude concerning her eternal destiny…she never accepted [the bible] as an inerrant guide to life.”)

Louisiana tax dollars at work.

I’d worry about this more, but global climate change is a sign that the Rapture is imminent…..

 

Solutions with Problems

It’s probably human nature to believe that solutions we propose to “fix” problems are simpler than they are. And in fact, the less we know about the complexities of our problems, the surer we are that “all we have to do is X.” (I’m sure my students get tired of hearing me say “it’s more complicated than that.”)

Education has always been an arena where simple answers flower. If we “just” imposed discipline…if we made parents sign a contract…if we administered more standardized tests…if we let parents choose their children’s schools…that would solve the problem.

The people advocating for the “school choice” solution, especially, have always seemed oblivious to the myriad of practical problems involved, from transportation, to what you do about children being raised by uncaring/absent parents, to how you insure that the parents who do care have the necessary information about their choices, etc.

I am emphatically not saying that the fact that suggested changes bring their own complexities is a reason not to try them. I am simply pointing out that change, even for the better, introduces its own challenges. Teacher accountability, for example, is important–but we need to be sure the system we use genuinely reflects the performance of the teacher–not the prejudices of a principal or the poverty of the students.

Similarly, charter schools offering public school choice can be important laboratories for new educational approaches, and they can offer parents a better “match” for their children’s specific needs. But the sponsors need to insure accountability there, too, and as we have seen in Indianapolis with the decision to close the Project School, objective evaluation often runs smack into parental emotion–and creates disruption for the children who must then be enrolled elsewhere.

A recent story from Cleveland points to a more serious problem.

Ohio has enthusiastically privatized schools, bringing in private-sector management companies to turn many of them around (“if we just ran schools in a business-like way, then we’d see improvement…”) A few days ago, the Superintendent of Ohio Schools resigned, under fire after the state’s inspector general found he’d been improperly lobbying for a private education company he planned to work for. He had also allowed the company to pay for his travel.

Does this mean that private companies should never be allowed to manage public schools? No. It does mean that a decision to hire such companies should be made very carefully; such a decision brings risks of its own and we aren’t necessarily equipped to deal with those risks. (Someone might mention that to Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett, but he doesn’t appear to listen to anyone.) There is no magic bullet, and solutions–even good solutions–usually bring their own problems.

If solving our social and political problems was as easy as some people seem to think, wouldn’t we be further along toward solving them?

Nimble We Aren’t

There is a report in this morning’s Indianapolis Starburied between breathless reports about the Colt’s new quarterback, true, but an actual story with real news in it–about efforts to address Indianapolis’ longstanding sewer problem.

When it rains, tons of raw sewage are dumped into our water supply. Citizens, which bought the water and sewer utilities last year, is beginning construction of massive tunnels beneath the city to divert that sewage and correct the problem–and not so incidentally, fulfill the City’s obligations under a 2006 consent decree with the EPA.

I was delighted to read that we are finally going to address this problem. But I couldn’t help marveling over the amount of time it has taken.

I was in City Hall from 1977-80. Indianapolis’ sewer problems were already a regular topic of conversation at cabinet meetings. The City had been in discussion with the (then new) EPA since the Lugar Administration. (I wouldnt say there was a lot of resistance to demands that the problems be fixed, but an engineer with DPW reportedly protested that it would be cheaper to clean White River than comply with federal demands.)

It took from 1975 to 2006 for Indianapolis to agree to stop dumping raw sewage into our drinking water. It took another six years to begin remediation. Of course, City leaders have been trying for almost that long to address our need for decent public transportation, and we’re nowhere close to getting that job done.

If it took us 37 years to begin fixing a problem that everyone acknowledged we had, a problem we knew how to solve–how many years do you suppose it will it take to fix public education?