February 11, 2004

Problem Student

Nick Coleman knows what we need to do for public education; keep all existing, failing schools open, no matter what!

I'm going to start with a bit at the end of today's column:

Many thousands of children -- including three of mine -- have been served well by the Minneapolis public schools.
Every morning in the Southwest, shamans of the Zuni tribe rise before the sun, and begin to pray. The Zuni believe that if they don't pray for the sun to rise in the morning, it won't. Since the sun rises in the morning, the prayers obviously work.

Correlation isn't necessarily causation.

Three of Coleman's children may have gone to Minneapolis schools, and turned out OK. Well, all right! A combination of good teachers and constant parental involvement (especially by hectoring, intrusive a**hole fathers, like Nick and, incidentially, me) got some results out of the system. Good. That fact - or the fact that any students learn anything at all - doesn't mean the system works in Minneapolis, or anywhere, any more than the Zuni prayers truly bring forth the sun.

But let's not get all bogged down in petty matters like reality. The public school system - the public school system! - in Minneapolis is crumbling!

And he knows who is really to blame:

It is a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding in a district beset by ongoing budget cuts, falling enrollment and constant attacks by wolves masquerading as legislators, not to mention ideologues, talk-show morons and think-tank geniuses.
He got one of them right. Enrollments are falling. We're entering a demographic dip now - there are just fewer kids out there. Fewer kids mean we need fewer schools.

The rest? Coleman's stock in trade - facile name-calling. It's how he seems to react to all difference of opinion - as I discovered in a charming if semi-literate email from him last year, responding to a post where I complimented him, but not properly. I may have to post that soon...

But I digress.

I wish the folks who would like to eradicate public schools would visit Holland Elementary, eight blocks from the old light-bulb factory, and see if they still feel like howling in delight.
Let's stop right there.

"Howling in delight?" "Eradicate public schools?"

It's not about stretching a "Thin" budget, or even about trying to a resuscitate a school district that has, to all intents and purposes, failed. No.

It's all about fun! "We" are doing this because "we" enjoy it!

Not, of course, because two generations of ultra-left administration and theory have left the district pathetically unable to function.

Not, of course, because a big part of the enrollment drop comes from parents voting with their feet, and with their dollars, taking their kids to suburban schools under the open-enrollment laws, or voting with their hard-earned dollars nd sending them to private, parochial, charter and alternative schools.

For almost 120 years, Holland School (the current building opened in 1969) has taken immigrant kids and made them into Americans.
And for the past twenty years, Holland, like the rest of the Minneapolis Schools, has been teaching them to be nonviolent, multicultural and, when time permits, students.
Ninety-three percent of the 250 kids (kindergarten through 5th grade) come from families who live below the poverty line. Forty-one percent speak Spanish at home. Many are special-education kids with cognitive developmental problems. And over a year's time, almost a quarter of the kids move into or out of the school, making it almost impossible to teach them much, especially if their English is not up to speed.

Despite the obstacles, the school has done OK, winning awards for how well it has overcome the handicaps thrown at it by a society where the middle class is disappearing, the rich are bailing out and the poor are left to fend for themselves.

And why is that, Nick Coleman?

The middle class isn't disappearing - it's moving to Roseville and Lakeville and New Prague. Why?

If you're Nick Coleman, it's because the middle class is a bunch of racists, talk radio morons and ideologues.

If you've ever lived in Minneapolis - and I have - it's because the DFL (and Green!) bloc that runs the city has given up on trying to make the city a better place for everyone to live, and has turned to concentrating on making dysfunction appear to be the standard. Poverty is virtuous, and we must subsidize it! Non-achievement is the norm - let's penalize and demonize those who achieve! Criminals are normal (and a DFL constituency!) - we must make life safer for them by getting them out of jail sooner, hiring a string of ineffective, ass-covering east-coast political hacks to run the police department, and disarming their victim pool! Our schools don't educate - let's make inadequate, agenda-riven education the inviolate norm; heck, let's make it a virtue!

Coleman illustrates part of the problem next:

"We can't select our students," says Principal Gertrude Flowers Barwick. "We have to take anyone who comes in that door. These are not the children who go to charter schools. But our country was founded on public education. We shouldn't do anything to erode that."
Ms. Flowers - and by extension, Nick Coleman - are apparently getting very desperate.

This nation was not founded on public education. Public education as we know it today didn't come about until the late 1800s. Before that, communities and groups of people - churches, towns, neighborhoods - built schools and hired teachers.

It was nothing like the unionized, dogmatic, sclerotic system we have today. Charter schools are an attempt to return to that model - communities and small groups using their resources (a small fraction of the resources they'd spend in a public school) to do the job right.

This, of course, is intolerable to Nick Coleman. We must all fail - together!

What is happening is worse than erosion. It is a mudslide.

Public schools are under unceasing attack, tax money is being channeled to competing schools --some of which operate with laughably little oversight -- and the best and the brightest are abandoning ship.

Note the odd juxtaposition of ideas: Charter schools (and their tax money!) have "laughably little oversight" - and yet our best and brightest (and their tax money!) are joining them!

Nick! Maybe the "oversight" is the problem!

Acting Superintendent David Jennings -- the former Republican speaker of the House who doesn't buy into conservative dogma that would run schools like businesses -- is boldly slashing spending to try to give the district some breathing room and some time to turn around. But in the meantime, he knows that foes of public education are closing in.

"The public, by and large, supports public education, but a number of the policymakers do not," he says. "I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I've never been to Roswell, New Mexico [where those aliens crash-landed, in UFO mythology]. But the politicians who are beating up on us say we're failing. And, by their actions, they can set the system up to fail. Some of their decisions have done just that. That's what they have in mind."

So - it's not the system that's failing. It's the opposition's fault. The emperor is naked because we said he was.


But until defenders of public education start fighting back, the lights will continue to go out, one by one.
If Nick is talking about protecting the institution of public education for its own sake? Sure.

If he's talking about the ability to actually teach children? I'd say the "defenders" are the problem, not the solution.

More on education later this week.

Posted by Mitch at February 11, 2004 07:11 AM