Friday, July 04, 2008

Good 'Ole Tom Paine

Well, Tom strikes again, this time with a comment to my comment which requires extensive comment here. This really could get confusing.

I wrote on Tom's blog, “I don’t believe in Socialism because I don’t think we are 'there' yet. I don’t think it’s humanly realistic. We are all too selfish to bring about the supposed Utopia Socialism can bring.”

Tom responded below. I will address his comments in reddish italics to help distinguish his comments from my comments on the comments from his blog. Did you get all that?

Tom says, "Not there yet? Well, our children may still live in a capitalist society, but most are educated within socialist institutions. Because our education system is largely owned and operated by the government, it closely follows a socialist model." While I agree that government has been too intrusive through use of standardized testing and ill-founded mandates, it has also been intrusive through its lack of funding. Public education, a centuries old, viable and mandated institution, falls to the whims of politicians who decide how much quality and quantity a school can provide. For example, if the BOCS decides developers are more important than education, we end up with too-small schools and our children in trailers. But private schools end up being either places for rich families who can support the school or they have inadequate resources and become a "poor school". For example, many private schools do not and cannot provide special education classes, and end up referring students with special needs to the public schools in addition to requiring attendance at the private school. The inequity between the systems grows until once again, we have a large social underclass and a group of the elite.

"It is only because of our republican traditions that our educational institutions have not yet gone entirely haywire. School management is still decentralized. Primary and secondary schools are managed by county school boards. Colleges and universities are run under state direction. However, the Federal Government mandates all kinds of nonsense, and every year its share of the funding pie increases." I will not bother to argue whether it is the Republican or Democratic tradition that has brought our school system to where it is now because we function under a two party system. It is impossible to determine which party has contributed to which qualities of the school system since party members are all over the map in their degrees of partisan beliefs and how they vote. Furthermore, a noted Republican, Corey Stewart, has advocated that the BOCS take over the school system and eliminate the School Board. How a group of bureaucrats could presume to manage education when they have enough difficulty managing the county budget, infrastructure, public services, and quality of life is a statement couched in hubris and illusion. Please--let business people run the business aspect of the county. Let educators run education. Let social scientists run social services. And then let's put it all together as a group. The idea of one governmental entity having all the power is frightening.

"With increasing state and federal involvement, our education system is slowly becoming an unmanagable mess. Instead of answering to their customers, parents, public school superintendents answer to a school board. In addition, they operate with funding, regulations, and mandates from the BOCS, the state, and the federal government. With such a management maze, it is a wonder that school administrators pay any attention at all to parents and students. Given that other people pay the bill and parents have so little choice, one has to wonder how much influence parents actually have with school administrators." First, parents have the choice to advocate for their children, for better or for worse, because they pay the bill. Teachers, unfortunately, take the brunt of this, and underpaid, discouraged teachers have difficulty managing parental mandates and requests. I know this because I am "one of those parents." I annoy people all the time with my constant requests for meetings and information because if I don't, I know the system is so large, my children will get lost in it. Because both of them have special learning needs, I must be particularly vigilant and persistent. Classes are simply too large to demand one teacher meet the needs of every students. On the whole, I have found schools responsive, though some need more prodding than others. If a school was not responsive and I had already gone up the ladder to get the services my children need, I would advocate for a transfer, which is also my right as a parent.

Second, school infrastructure with its layers of Vice Principals, Principals, Assistant Superintendents, Superintendent, various specialty departments and the School Board are absolute necessities in running an effective, large system such as we have in PWC. Why? Because there must be accountability, some place to go to before a parent decides to go to court, just as we discussed the lack of such a hierarchy and accountability in our conversation about higher education; there is no "School Board" per say that will help resolve student issues.

Finally, as I have come to understand, organizations like a PTO have tremendous clout with K-12 public schools because they provide fund- raising, activities, and input staff does not. Steering Committees also encourage parental involvement in schools. The more parents can participate and/or communicate with these groups, the more they feel empowered to help their children.

"Fortunately, we still have some private schools. That is where the rich and the resolute middle class send their children to get an education." Tom, are you baiting me here? Most of us cannot afford a private school, and many of us would not want to send our children there. We have the right to good public schools, and that is where government interest should be unless we want to have our children educated in a specific religious or philosophical environment.

"And these private institutions set the standard." The standard for what? Elitism? Privatization? Ignoring public schools? I don't know what you mean by this.

"Our top universities are private institutions. With less money, students attending private schools get a better education than those attending public schools." As I pointed out, this is not always the case. And I know plenty of average people who get the same quality of education in private colleges as they do less expensive public colleges. When I attended community college, for example, I had adjunct professors who also taught at Harvard and Brown. So why the need for expensive, private colleges when we can indeed have quality teachers in the public sector? I'd prefer to invest in public education than hand our right to it over to private organizations. This does not mean private and public organizations cannot work together (there are plenty of businesses and private entities that work with public schools). However, one of the biggest mistakes we can make as a society is to allow privilege to overtake education and encourage even more imbalance in our social structure.
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