A strange complaint about public schools
Yesterday morning I sitting at my desk working, and I had The Journal Editorial Report on the TV. It isn't unusual for someone on their esteemed panel to take a shot at American education during the show, and sure enough, as they were about to close, Jason Riley threw out a little blurb about people not realizing how much they are spending on public education. Paul Gigot then responded with what was the weirdest complaint I've ever heard about public schools.
Jason, on your point, another thing you see in polls is that most Americans think that their public schools are actually doing very, very well. It is everybody else's public schools that are really rotten. And that's also one reason you just can't get a lot of support for education reform.
Sometimes the written word doesn't convey the exact message that comes across when you actually see the person say it, and this is one of those cases. The feeling I got while watching Gigot say this was that he thinks the people who think their public schools are "doing very, very well," are really stupid.
There are two points this brings to mind. The first one is that I have said a number of times that, despite the scorn of the elite, public schools are basically giving the public what it wants. Obviously, no school will make every single parent happy, but public schools across the nation are basically doing what their particular publics want them to. Whether Gigot likes it or not, and whether many teachers like it or not, academic excellence is not high on the list of goals that most parents have for their children.
My second point is that I wonder if there is any institution in America that is doing a worse job than the American press. They have succeeded in turning us into a negative, cynical people. Why is it that almost all institutions in America that get any amount of coverage by the press have poor public approval ratings? The president has a horrible public approval rating. Congress has an even worse public approval rating even though most people think their own particular congressmen are very good. Public education has a low public approval rating, even though people are happy with their own schools--much to the chagrin of snobs like Gigot.
What all of these institutions have in common is that the American public gets their information about them from the press. Is it possible that the problem here is that the information we get about all these institutions is unfairly negative? I don't want to see any of our public institutions whitewashed, but I would like to see them covered in a fair enough way so that people can make reasonable judgments about them. Quite frankly, I think our press is doing a lousy job of that. Maybe we need journalistic reform.