Getting the Public Out of Education

The step from demagoguery to enacting real policy change can be remarkably short, and a prime example of this is on full display in Texas right now.

In 2003 state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, had this to say about the state’s obligation to provide public education for its citizens:

“Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell. And it’s cleverly disguised as having a tender heart. It’s not a tender heart. It’s ripping the heart out of this country.”

At the time, Riddle’s remarks were roundly decried as a dangerous, fringe opinion.

Fast forward to 2011, when state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, says almost the same thing, albeit in more diplomatic language. Acknowledging that the school finance plan currently under consideration does away with the longstanding guarantee that Texas schools would get enough money to provide a basic, foundational education for each student, Patrick is quoted in today’s Austin American-Statesman:

“[The school finance change in the new budget] is a true cut in an entitlement… There are no guarantees, and for a Legislature to say we can guarantee this forever is not being straightforward to the people.”

The difference between the two statements is that the former represents the opinion of a single, bitter legislator. The latter will actually become the state’s official policy, if and when the new school finance plan is passed into law. And yet Patrick’s remarks have not, as yet, provoked much of a response, much less a public outcry.

A larger question looms: when the state is no longer in the business of guaranteeing a fully funded education to its citizens, what becomes of education in Texas? A handful of lawmakers are already advancing their solution — Rep. Sid Miller’s private school voucher proposal, filed in the current special legislative session as HB 33, was assigned to the House Government Efficiency & Reform committee earlier today. A cynical person might wonder if the timing of Patrick’s comment and the filing of HB 33 is not coincidental.

“Times have changed,” Patrick went on to tell the Statesman reporter. I’m afraid they are changing right before our eyes, but not many people are paying attention.

10 thoughts on “Getting the Public Out of Education

  1. Won’t vouchers fail in court as a clear violation of the First Amendment, appropriating fund from citizens for religious education? Or would they get around First Amendment issues because they haven’t directly required that vouchers be used for religious education, even if that’s what will happen 90% of the time? (Never mind other issues, such as vouchers not being sufficient anyway.)

  2. What will these culture reactionaries do when their ammo stockpiles are eclipsed by a population of marginalized, hostile, illiterates who will come looking for those responsible for our society’s descent into desperation?

    A recently observed bumper sticker stated “An Armed Society is a Polite Society.”

    In fact, it is far more likely that an educated society will respond civilly and rationally to challenges, and less likely to resort to violence.

    Education, and public education in particular, has been a primary stabilizing element in American society, facilitating the economic ascendancy of this nation. Defunding and deconstructing public education IS the sure route to “banana republic” status often decried by the right in their fits of doublespeak. The condition of education in actual “banana republics” provides all the proof needed.

    Every conscionable Texan needs to respond forcefully to counter this assault on foundational American values by those who wish to further the disparity between citizens for the purpose of concentrating power and economic advantage in the hands of a favored few.

  3. The first American schools in the thirteen original colonies opened in the 17th century. Boston Latin School was founded in 1635 and is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States.[1] Cremin (1970) stresses that colonists tried at first to educate by the traditional English methods of family, church, community, and apprenticeship, with schools later becoming the key agent in “socialization.” At first, the rudiments of literacy and arithmetic were taught inside the family, assuming the parents had those skills. Literacy rates seem to have been much higher in New England, and much lower in the South. By the mid-19th century, the role of the schools had expanded to such an extent that many of the educational tasks traditionally handled by parents became the responsibility of the schools.[2][3]

    All the New England colonies required towns to set up schools, and many did so. In 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony made “proper” education compulsory; other New England colonies followed. Similar statutes were adopted in other colonies in the 1640s and 1650s. The schools were all male, with few facilities for girls.[4] In the 18th century, “common schools,” appeared; students of all ages were under the control of one teacher in one room. Although they were publicly supplied at the local (town) level, they were not free, and instead were supported by tuition or “rate bills.”

    The larger towns in New England opened grammar schools, the forerunner of the modern high school.[5] The most famous was the Boston Latin School, which is still in operation as a public high school. Hopkins School in New Haven, Connecticut, was another. By the 1780s, most had been replaced by private academies. By the early 19th century New England operated a network of elite private high schools, now called “prep schools,” typified by Phillips Andover Academy (1778), Phillips Exeter Academy (1781), and Deerfield Academy (1797). They became the major feeders for Ivy League colleges in the mid-19th century.[6] They became coeducational in the 1970s, and remain highly prestigious in the 21st century.[7][8]

    Wikipedia, subject: History of Education in the United States

  4. Mandatory public secular schools were the idea of European absolutist monarchs that realized that the state needed more than illiterate cannon fodder.
    A famous saying from Prussia in the late 19th century was that Prussia’s wars were won by the needle gun and the schoolteacher (the latter often an invalid soldier who was thus kept a productive member of society). In Russia public schools were (iirc) introduced by Catherine the Great, also not known to be an arch-commie. Countries that failed in introducing public schools were at a clear disadvantage.

  5. You can track the Legislative support for Texas ….and other states too….public education to the decline in membership by legislators in the Masonic Order. Probably 99% of Texas poliicians in the 19th through mid 20th Century were Masons, And the Masonic Order was the strongest force in banning state support for any religious purpose nationally from the inception of the United States. In the 1950-60s, the Masons asked for a pledge not to fund Catholic schools in any fashion while the Catholic bishops asked for a pledge for funding vouchers that could be redeemed at Catholic schools.
    Well, today, I’d guess the Catholic church is about as politically strong as it once was back then and unfortunately the Masonic Order has been in long decline. I’d wonder if even 10% of Texas legislators are members today. And you can go ahead and eliminate even checking those of the TEA Party persuasion who wouldn’t come close to being accepted in the Masonic Order.

  6. Having gone to a couple of Eruopean schools, the principal difference between US and European schools is that US schools don’t teach anything relaed to making a living until after high school. Only one in seven in Northern Europe go for what we call liberal arts., the rest learn marketablel skills.

    That’s why we either import the worker or export the work. That’s also accounts for why employers b oth public and private cut out retirement and health planes for employees so that the US can compete with “Euro-Socialist” companies that have health and retirement plans.

    Neither the Tea Party or the Left address the critical shortage of skilled workers. The usual white collar cubicle worker who shuffled numbers and retired with the Gold “Rorex” has been deleted from the economy due to automation and globalization. Skills training has been denigrated as fit only for the stupid, except that the really smart people come from the stupid class. They can pay thier bills.

    After Vietnam the services were forced to do a skills analysis which resulted in training being focused not on subject matter, but on skills, knwledge and attitudes needed in military operaitons. What is needed now is an analysis of skills, knowledge and attitudes needed to make and operate goods and services. That applies to the bright as well as the dull.

  7. “An Armed Society is a Polite Society.”

    Tell that to the people in the western mining towns in the 1800s. A statement like that shows you just how blind to actual American history these fruitcakes are.

  8. Hisotrically, those societies where the response to a perceived insult was a fast draw, or in more polite societies, an invitation to a duel, one took considerable efforts not to insult, however unintended.

    The period of Japanese historu in which the Samurail were at the top of the barking chain, lead to a language in wich the indirect and double negative a perplexing part of the Japanese language. One simply doesn’t say “no”, one says “not doing that is not good”. The art of combat in Japan includes even today, the art of the fast draw and the dinner table while sitting down. The art of unarmed defensse against a dinner table attack is likewise part of art along with flower arranging, and calligraphy.

    The concept of collective responsibility for the errors on one, once got an entire village or family sujbect to the death penalty. The Japanese are paragons of politesse.

    Dueling was outlawed in many cultures mainly as a form of government subsidy of the legal profession. Threre is little difference to a defendant or plaintiff between hiring a lawyer or a gunfighter and the costs of combat justice can be subsidized by a cut of the take.