“All State education is a sort of dynamo machine for polarizing the popular mind; for turning and holding its lines of force in the direction supposed to be most effective for State purposes.” Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1907)
We are continually bombarded by newspaper and magazine headlines informing us of the continuing “crisis in education,” which actually is a crisis in government-operated education. Virtually all the available data reveal that the crisis is accelerating. Inner-city schools have become literal battlefields between rival gangs, between teachers and students, between administrators and increasingly vociferous faculty unions, and most important, between outraged parents and the whole system. Yet the crisis is in no way confined to inner-city schools. The suburban schools of the white middle class are burdened with the multiple plagues of student boredom, drug addiction, and rapidly increasing alcoholism. A dozen years of falling scores on the college entrance examination reveal the steady nature of the erosion, despite the acceleration of costs associated with the public schools.
Educators cannot bring themselves to admit that the crisis is anything more than a temporary aberration–an aberration from the “normal” which itself was dead long before today’s administrators were born. The theories multiply, the explanations proliferate, and the crisis gets worse. What the last decade has brought is an understanding on the part of the public and a minority of government school employees (untenured, generally) that there is no answer. Like the sinking ship which finally takes on too much water, the government education system is irretrievable. It will be useful in the future only as scrap. But what about those millions of students who will go through the system before it finally sinks? Will they too become useful only as scrap?
Parents are becoming aware of the discussion syndrome. The endless discussions in half-empty halls between a few parents and local administrators have not altered anything. The teacher conferences, the administrator conferences, the PTA conferences, and all the other conferences have proved useful only for the cataloguing of the unsolved and increasingly unsolvable problems connected with government education. Solutions have not emerged from conferences –or at least no solutions acceptable to parents, administrators, school boards, students, state legislators, and an angry group of levy-rejecting voters. If there are no solutions, why pay higher taxes? This is the reasoning of the voters. The reasoning of the school administrators is different. They only want to discover a new source of tax money that will be acceptable to the voters, or better yet, that will not be subject to public elections at all.
THE ROOT OF THE CRISIS
The problems of American public education are the problems associated with any system of government-enforced, tax-supported coercive wealth redistribution: the system of financing conflicts with the expressly stated goals of the planning agencies. This conflict between the method of financing and the stated goals of education has been with us since the days of the Puritans of New England who set up compulsory education which was to be financed, in part, by money collected by the local property tax assessor.
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