Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Broken schools???

I have complained before about the media's coverage of public schools, and there is one thing for sure--it ain't just Fox News. This week CNN is running a feature called "Broken Schools." Man, am I tired of this garbage!

I've watched two of the segments, so far. The first one I saw was about "Dropout High" in Los Angeles, a school with a 58 percent dropout rate. It was pretty clear in that one that the school was in a neighborhood that was an absolute mess, and the school was stuck with dealing with its problems. The second one was about paying students for their performance in school and paying parents for getting involved. Neither of the two reports I saw really blasted public schools themselves, but I've got to wonder what they've got is store for the rest of the series. Let's face it, the title of the series says it all; it isn't exactly something that would inspire confidence in American education.

It is clear that bad news sells, and that is why the networks do what they can to dig up any dirt they can find on anyone or anything in the public eye. A few weeks ago, bloggers like KDerosa were gloating about a study saying that the public thinks more highly of the post office than public schools. Why am I not surprised? I mean, how many times do you see featured series on news networks titled, "The Broken Post Office."

Considering the bashing that we consistently take from the national media, it should surprise no one that there is a lack of public confidence in public schools in general. Yet, as Michael Mazenko pointed out in his article "The Mis-education of Sean Hannity," "Gallup polls show seventy-five percent of Americans are 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with their children's school. An even greater percentage of Americans (85%) are satisfied with their own education." One has to wonder how much higher than 75 and 85percent those numbers would be if people weren't constantly being told by the media that public schools are lousy.

The blasting public education is taking is nothing new. Much of my next couple of paragraphs is a repeat of a post that I did a couple of years ago, but I think it bares repeating. Two years ago, CBS had a story titled All Children Left Behind in which the featured another "blue ribbon" report saying that American education was falling hopelessly behind other countries. I remember reading Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun in the early 1990s. When the book came out, the U.S. was mired in a recession and Japan’s economy was rolling along. They seemed to be able to do no wrong. Rising Sun led the reader to believe that Japan was on the verge of taking over the United States economically, and of course, one of the main culprits was our education system.

Perhaps the most famous lambasting of American public education came in 1983 when the National Commission on Excellence in Education published Nation at Risk. We were told that "if an unfriendly foreign power had imposed our schools upon us we would have regarded it as an act of war." Many people remember that, but if you think that was the beginning of reports decrying the horrible state of American education, you’d be wrong. Before that, a Life Magazine cover that breathlessly announced a series of articles on the crisis in American education. The date on that magazine: March 24, 1958.

So for at least the last fifty years we have been hearing pronouncements that our education system—especially public education—has been doing a horrible job, and these pronouncements have inevitably been accompanied by doom and gloom prophecies about what this would mean for our nation’s future. If we were to take seriously what the media has been telling us about the American education system for the last fifty years, we should have been shocked when America landed the first man on the moon, then shocked again when it became clear that we had won the Cold War. Then we should have been absolutely flabbergasted when our economy recovered and became the envy of the world for the last two-thirds of the 90s, while Japan’s went into the tank. My question is this: If our public education system has been so terrible—or failing, as so many like to say—how in the world has our nation continued to do so well?

Let me make one thing clear. I know there are problems in public education. There is no question about that. There are problems in my own school. I don't think we're as good a school as we were five years ago. Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that any student who comes to our school and wants to get a good education can get one. Our big problem is that not enough want badly enough to do that.

As I began typing this, Fox News was running a story defending John McCain's statement that despite the financial crisis our nation is experiencing, our economy is fundamentally sound. The major point of the story was that the main fundamental in our economy is the people who make up our workforce, and our workforce is the most productive in the world. By workforce, I assume they didn't just mean factory workers, but also managers, computer programmers, engineers, researchers, etc. Gee, I wonder where most of those people went to school?


Blogger mazenko said...

"Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers."

That's a pretty harsh assessment of today's youth.

Except those words were uttered by Socrates in the Fifth Century B.C.

As Diane Ravitch has noted in her book "Left Back: a Century of Failed Public School Reform," we have been criticizing our public schools as disasters. I was in middle school when A Nation at Risk was published in 1983. It seems odd that the nation went through an impressive recovery in the 1980s and the hugest economic expansion in human history during the 1990s if all the schools are failing.

As Jay Matthews of the Washington Post notes, 70% of our public schools are in great shape. However, the 30% that aren't are in really bad shape.

9/17/2008 7:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with public schools goes way beyond whether they provide an adequate education (which they don't). Public schools are funded by theft, plain and simple. Public educators benefit from that theft, which is why they refuse to take seriously any alternative to public schools. They teach their own children that it is wrong to take something that belongs to someone else, and yet they fail to recognize that their livelihood is based on violating that simple idea. It's not just teachers and public schools, of course. Most people in our society fail to make the connection between simple ethical rules of conduct and how our society should operate.

9/18/2008 6:52 AM  
Blogger mazenko said...


I'm a little confused by your assertion written in vague generalities. How are they funded by theft? What is being stolen? What is the something that doesn't belong to them - I certainly hope you're not simply referring to taxes, but I'm curious if you are.

If public education is inadequate as you assert, and a huge majority of the American people have received their education that way, then how has America survived, even thrived, especially when most Americans are very satisfied with their schools and their own education?

If you were a student in my public school class, and I were grading your argument, I would have to afford it a less-than-average grade for its lack of specific support - the kind of specific evidence that both Dennis and I used to back up our claims.

9/18/2008 7:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course I'm referring to taxes. Compulsory taxes are theft. They're using the threat of violence to take something that belongs to someone else, without that someone else's consent. This is what your livelihood depends on, mazenko. You can't see it, can you?

9/18/2008 7:49 AM  
Blogger mazenko said...


If you are equating taxes with "theft," then we are not having a rational discussion anymore. We live in a democratic republic where voters have to choice to support or oppose taxes. Incidentally, I live in Colorado which has some of the greatest restrictions in the country in terms of the government's ability to tax. TABOR, or the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, is a constitutional amendment that requires that ALL tax increases are approved by the voters.

I could oppose all taxes on the foundation that they violate my liberty and my right to choose to spend my money my way. However, while I often vote Libertarian, I have resisted requests to join the party precisely because it lacks a pragmatism necessary to run a government designed to ensure my freedoms. Case in point, the free market is not getting together to build its own roads.

Edmund Burke noted that "the revenue of the state is the state" and an underfunded government is inefficient and ineffective (NOTE: an overfunded one is a mess as well). This, the inability to collect taxes, is the precise reason for the failure of the Articles of Confederation, as well as the voter-supported income tax amendment to the Constitution.

We can argue about the extent of taxes, but even Ronald Reagan voted to raise taxes five times. Let's be pragmatic on this issue.

9/18/2008 8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're ignoring reality, mazenko, and that's my point. Something is not just or unjust simply because it was voted on, or because that's what the constitution says. Pragmatism is being used as an excuse to support an unjust system. There are other options that don't involve coercion.

9/18/2008 9:00 AM  
Blogger mazenko said...


Other options? For example?

9/18/2008 9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Example: Voluntary associations used for mutual benefit, in which no individual would be forced to fund or participate in. The only legitimate use of force is for self defense, and individuals acting in voluntary cooperation with each other are quite capable of protecting themselves from aggressors. If you need a specific example, think of private protection agencies to which individuals pay premiums, much like insurance agencies. These could replace police departments. Just one example.

9/18/2008 10:34 AM  
Blogger mazenko said...

Hypothetical examples are often interesting, but they aren't valid arguments. I was hoping you had an example of one option that has actually worked. I can’t imagine a single community in America choosing to disband its police force. Few would rationally argue that private security forces – the likes of which patrol malls and gated communities – could adequately replace police departments.

I concur there are problems with the system, but government is best at providing not-for-profit services. Fire protection is another obvious example. I support volunteer fire departments, but no private organization could or should replace tax-supported firefighters.

You might be interested in one of my blog posts that was also featured in the Rocky Mountain News after John Stossel, host of ABC News’ show 20/20, told a Denver newspaper he’d “give readers $100 if they can tell [him] one thing the government does better than the private sector.”

The most obvious answer is national defense. There is no way to argue that a private sector militia could more effectively defend the United States. In fact, I can’t think of any time in history when a privatized military force has defended a nation’s citizens. Would the private sector have been able to assemble the forces currently fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq? To quote Bill O’Reilly, “that’s ridiculous.” Not even Grover Norquist, who wants to “shrink government until it’s small enough to drown in the bathtub,” would eliminate the nation’s military. Stossel has reached the point where anti-government rhetoric becomes absurd.

These are great theoretical issues you raise, but as many neo-conservatives and libertarians are fond of noting, communism sounds great - it's just impractical.

9/18/2008 11:08 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Wow! Somebody please remind me never to get into an argument with Michael Mazenko.

9/18/2008 1:16 PM  
Blogger Roger Sweeny said...

I fear part of the reason for all the public school bashing is us in the business.

Our organizations are constantly saying, "We really, really need more money."

The rest of the country hears that as, "we're doing a crappy job because we don't get enough money."

In a strange way, Fox News and the NEA support each other. They both agree on the premise, "The public schools are much worse than they should be." They just disagree on the solution.

9/21/2008 7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry for not answering sooner, Mazenko, but I have been out of town since last Thursday afternoon. Your reply, which was about what I expected, is pretty standard for someone who can't give a moral rebuttal to the idea that taxes are in fact theft, and that just because people voted it still doesn't make it right to take something that doesn't belong to you, under the threat of violence. You just say "it can't work" without giving any justification for why it couldn't work.

9/21/2008 8:56 PM  
Blogger mazenko said...

Being an English teacher, I just can't rationally understand the use of the word "theft" in this situation. Certainly, you can prefer lower taxes, though I don't see how you can oppose all taxes. Citizens of the US pay some of the lowest taxes in the industrialized world for some of the most extensive benefits.

I think I've made valid points with specific examples; I had the same discussion with a neighbor yesterday who is the head of the Colorado Union of Taxpayers. He opposes practically all federal taxes and considers public education, FEMA, NASA, the FDA, the USDA, the Center for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health, DHS/ICE, etc. to be abominations of the Constitution. I usually concur with him about the mismanagement of some bureaucracy - we just disagree about the solution. I tend to see him ( and you, I guess) living in an ideologically impractical world.

I was just hoping you could give me an example of instances where your ideas actually work.

9/22/2008 4:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gave you an example of something that would work in the real world, and there are millions more. You just don't want to accept it. Like I said, you can't give a moral rebuttal to the fact that taxes are taking something that belongs to someone else under the threat of violence, which is wrong. Any child could see the truth in that. All you can do is assert things like "it can't work" or "let's be pragmatic" to try to overcome the moral injustice of your position. But it doesn't.

9/22/2008 12:44 PM  
Blogger mazenko said...

Well, quick clarification - I asked for something that has worked, but you only gave me an example of some generalizations that could work - hence my urge to be pragmatic. As I pointed out, my neighbor wants to get rid of the FDA (supported by my tax dollars), but knowing history as I do, I'm going to choose not go back to "The Jungle."

Any "child" can be misled through logical fallacies, which is the foundation of your manipulation of the word "theft." I don't simply assert that "it can't work," I have given specific example after specific example of where communities have agreed to pay taxes for services - from the FDA and the military down to the education of our children. Shockingly, America has survived and thrived in this draconian and oppressive system.

Having traveled extensively and lived outside the US, I have seen and experienced other systems - some with much lower tax rates and some with much higher - ultimately I chose to come back and live in the system I found to be most effective. However, nothing is keeping me here, and if I want to pay no taxes, I know plenty of places I can do it. If I want to pay more and get national health care, K-16 education, and better public transportation, I know where to get that, too.

This is clearly an ideological issue, as Americans have chosen time and again in overwhelming majorities to support the current system that has taxes. As Oliver Wendel Holmes pointed out, "taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."

This certainly is engaging though. Thanks for playing.

9/22/2008 2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone whose livelihood depends on theft would tend to see that theft as something other than what it really is. You demonstrate that very well, Mazenko. It's kind of funny, especially in light of all the whining that goes on at this website about how you are all so misunderstood and underappreciated.

9/23/2008 6:19 AM  
Blogger mazenko said...

Well, at least I actually have some credible evidence for my claims, and I'm literate enough to understand both denotation and connotation of words.

I don't know where I've seen much whining about being misunderstood and under-appreciated. In my position, I actually feel quite understood and more than appreciated. And always remember:

If you can read this, thank a teacher. :-)

PS - Dennis, thanks for providing a nice little forum for us to indulge in this battle of ideology versus reality. This was fun.

9/23/2008 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mazenko, you've offered no evidence that refutes the idea that taking something that belongs to someone else without their consent, under the threat of violence, is not theft. And taxes are taking something that belongs to someone else without their consent, under the threat of violence. All your fancy words can't overcome that.

9/23/2008 1:54 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Michael, you're welcome! I've thought of entering the fray, but you guys have been doing fine without me. But now that I'm here...

Anonymous, it bothers me that you suggest that we don't see school taxes as theft because we're teachers. There is nothing wrong with you arguing your viewpoint, but you seem to be assuming that anyone who disagrees with you must be less sincere in their beliefs than you are--that there is some ulterior motive behind their argument. The people who hold your point of view on this are a small minority. That doesn't make it wrong, but my point is that teachers aren't alone in disagreeing with it. Most people do, whether they directly benefit from those taxes or not. There are things governments do with my tax money that I don't like, but I don't view those things as "theft" either. That's the way our republican system works. And if we don't like that, we should probably consider what Winston Churchill said. We have the worst system except for all the rest of them.

I've been teaching the Constitution in my AP Government classes for the last four weeks (Stop gagging, Anonymous, I can hear you!), and the Framers were very concerned about making sure that the majority couldn't unjustly take away property from the minority. That was a major purpose of our whole checks and balances system, and I think it works quite well. Our system doesn't work by majority rule; it works by consensus. There is a consensus in the nation that providing tax supported public schools is a good thing to do. You don't like that, but there is no way that somebody isn't going to be unhappy with the way the government spends their money. That's called taxation, not theft.

9/23/2008 3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dennis, sorry if I'm picking on teachers, but if you look at my first comment I did say that it wasn't just teachers and public schools, but most of society who have lost sight of simple ethics (such as it's wrong to take what doesn't belong to you).

Our framers talked about a government that derived it's just powers from the consent of the governed, not a government by consensus. A government by consent would not mean that anyone could do whatever they wanted, of course. But it would mean that if someone lived in peace and didn't violate the rights of anyone else they had fulfilled their obligation to society. And that's the only just form of government. People can dissent, but they can't violate the rights of others. That your neighbor can join with others and vote to force you to support something you disagree with is a violation of your rights.

I don't see how you can look at the present financial situation of our government and say that the checks and balances system is working quite well. Compulsory taxation encourages those in government to use that which others earned to increase their power and prestige. The only way to correct this injustice is to allow people, not as a collective but as individuals, to refuse to pay for those things that they don't want.

9/23/2008 5:35 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Anonymous, I'm not accusing you of "picking on teachers." I am accusing you of assuming that the motives of people who disagree with you are not as pure as your own. It seems to me you've taken a rather scenic route to get to your definition of consent of the governed. Consent of the governed, to me, refers to the fact that states had to choose to be in the Union, and the fact that everyone in our government is there because they were either elected or appointed by someone we elected. It's not that complicated.

9/23/2008 6:08 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

And there is no question that the Framers set up a system that was designed to require a consensus for the government to adopt any programs. And despite the attacks it faces, there is still a strong consensus in the nation in favor of public education.

9/23/2008 6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dennis, any association requires consensus to adopt programs. But the associations I favor can't hold a gun to someone and force them to contribute to a program they don't want. They have to use voluntary persuasion to convince individuals to contribute. You favor associations that can hold a gun to someone and force them to contribute to a program they don't want. Having to use voluntary persuasion is the best system of checks and balances ever devised.

9/23/2008 6:55 PM  
Blogger mazenko said...


You have put it very well when you point out that our system works by consensus, not majority rule. My AP Language class was doing a rhetorical deconstruction of the Declaration in class the other day, and the word "consent" was integral to our discussion. Clearly, Jefferson chose his words very carefully. Most people do, in fact, concur with a taxpayer supported programs such as public education, police and fire protection, public health/public works, and the military. Usually, the discussion centers around how well-funded they, in fact should be.

Anonymous, I am still fascinated by your perspective, as I've rarely encountered such an extreme position on taxes - and I know a lot of libertarians. If all taxes are theft, then I am assuming you don't concur with any public spending of "your money." Or is some "theft" acceptable to you. If, hypothetically the system released you from all your taxes, would you then agree to stay on your private property and not use any public roads, or use any electricity sent to you on lines placed and maintained on public property, or use any water sent through public lines, or use any cell phones that operate of public satellites or towers, or use any cable that is also placed on public land?

Are you not a member or the community at all, or do you pick and choose when you want some public services? If that's the case, how do we know when you've paid your "road tax"? Or do you think the free market is going to purchase all public land and then Walmart will build a road between its store and your house?

Is there any part of the public good that you ascribe to? If all taxes are theft, then is some theft OK?

9/24/2008 4:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mazenko, if those services you mentioned were offered with the free right of acceptance or refusal, in other words you pay for what you want and you don't pay for what you don't want, then there would be no theft involved. Those would be voluntary, free market transactions. If someone wanted to stay on their own private property and not deal with anyone else, that would be their own damn business, not yours. By the way, Walmart has an incentive to have me visit their stores, just as I have an incentive to want to visit their stores. So I'm confident that something could be worked out.

I think what separates us here is that, unlike you and Dennis, I don't suffer under the illusion that I have any right to govern the lives of others or to sacrifice someone else's right to self determination for my conception of the "greater good of society."

9/24/2008 7:25 AM  
Blogger mewmewmew said...

You have put it very well when you point out that our system works by consensus, not majority rule. My AP Language class was doing a rhetorical deconstruction of the Declaration in class the other day, and the word "consent" was integral to our discussion. Clearly, Jefferson chose his words very carefully. Most people do, in fact, concur with a taxpayer supported programs such as public education, police and fire protection, public health/public works, and the military. Usually, the discussion centers around how well-funded they, in fact should be.

Sightline Payments

2/03/2011 8:12 AM  

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