If I were given a mulligan in child-rearing, none of my children would have ever graced the door of a public school. Why? Because public schools could care less about educating children. They care only about perpetuating their own existence, and they know that parents comprise a small minority of the constituents they need to please in order to retain their monopoly on the stream of tax funds ostensibly devoted to education but actually devoted to perpetuation of their enterprise and its monopoly.
Public schools would be bad enough by themselves. They struggle to impart societal values when the society has no values, except perhaps that money is good, sort of like Judea-Christian theology provides that God is good. Bill Gates is the world’s richest person, according to Forbes’ latest list. But is wealth measured only in dollars? St. Augustine observed a long time ago that living a life devoted to things that can’t be loved without the fear of losing (like money) is tantamount to a living death. But I get it. America exists so people can get rich. It’s been the raison d’etre for the place since the Virginia Company landed its settlers in the tidal backwaters of the James River, where they starved until the local Indians introduced them to the joys of tobacco farming and export. Then the early Americans quickly discovered the riches to be made in selling an addictive drug that takes the edge off the banality of daily existence. Kind of like Mexican drug gangs do today.
But public schools have the monkey of public-sector unionism with which to contend as well. Public sector unions exist for the same reason as does any organization or organism–churches, charities, corporations, leeches, parasites, etc. They exist to perpetuate their own existence. And public sector unions are not to be trifled with, particularly not the public sector unions representing public school workers. Ask Bradley Byrne, Republican gubernatorial candidate in Alabama, that got cross-wise with the Alabama Education Association, the union representing public school employees across the state. After a career spent bringing reform to the junior college system in Alabama and later in the administration of Governor Bob Riley, he lost in the primary to a relatively-unknown, small-town doctor when the AEA spent $750,000 on so-called “issue” advertisements blasting his views on public school reforms, which not surprisingly included a healthy roll-back of AEA influence in the classroom.
The Alabama Education Association is the single most powerful political entity in the state of Alabama. No question about it. Representing all of the several hundred thousand public school employees in the state, it leverages their money and votes and its noble cause (purportedly, education) to get whatever it wishes. Nothing of consequence gets done without the AEA having its say. In many respects, the state of Alabama exists for the sole purpose of perpetuating the continued existence and influence of the AEA.
Likewise for municipalities relative to the public schools. In many respects, they exist solely to perpetuate the existence and influence of the local school districts. Legions of administrators clog the upper reaches of the school districts–de facto, if not de jure, political appointments, one and all. Teachers slave away teaching thirty plus kids per classroom, while administrators spend their days poring over statistics on toilet paper usage. And when the toilet paper usage appears grimly too high, they send notes home with the students asking the parents to donate some paper so the kids can wipe themselves after going poopy. If instead they would fire one or more assistant secretaries to the superintendent responsible for counting toilet paper rolls, the district might be able to afford all the toilet paper the student’s tender bottoms require.
So, where do the needs of the students fit in? They don’t, except that students are a necessary evil in order to keep the money flowing. Funding is dependent on one criteria–the number of students. So as, e.g., the City of Birmingham School District consistently loses students to the burgeoning black abandonment of the inner city, it also loses money. Which means schools should close and teachers and support staff should be laid off. But it never happens without extensive wailing and gnashing of teeth, especially the termination of support staff. Paul Hubbert, the president of the AEA, got personally involved when a new superintendent of the city’s schools tried to lay off a few janitors and lunchroom workers. In failing school districts, new superintendents are rotated like managers of the New York Yankees during the days of George Steinbrenner. But nothing ever changes, except to get worse. The school district exists to perpetuate its existence, but some districts are so bad they can’t even do that, and simply become a jobs program for a declining local population, until they too, decline into oblivion.
My wife and I abandoned public schools for my daughter when she was entering the fifth grade. My son was entering eighth grade in the public middle school at the time, and left him there until I saw how the experiment with private school worked out. Though my daughter was attending the best (i.e., highest percentage of rich kids) of the grammar schools in our very, very good (i.e., highest per student expenditures in the state) school system, I got fed up with their pitiful excuse at imparting simple human values, like respect and self-control. The immediate instance culminating in her departure was when she and a friend had to personally break up a fight on the playground by pulling a classmate off another he was trying to choke to death. (Where was the teacher?) Prior to the choking episode on the playground, the murderously-violent kid had, in the year’s time he was in my daughter’s class, stolen two hundred dollars from the PTA fundraiser; thrown a chair at his teacher during class, and cursed his teacher, screaming “Fuck you” to her in front of the whole class. For all that, he was suspended for a couple of days. How could I teach my children that such things are seriously wrong when the school mostly just ignored them? But I suppose if the only value of relevance is money, the kid’s got a big future ahead of him. I’m pretty sure none of his classmates have any idea at how it feels to physically hold in their hands two hundred dollars (in small bills). Having stolen so much at such a tender age, I bet he grows up to be an investment banker one day.
When I finally decided I’d had enough of the public school nonsense, I started thinking that a Christian school might be a good place to look in the way of private education. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, it can’t be denied that devotees of Christianity (or Judaism, or occasionally, Islam) generally have a viable set of ethics for living life well. And they don’t apologize for them. We settled on one of the largest Christian schools in the area because its website brochure proudly proclaimed that “We paddle”. At least I could feel secure that kids would get more than a scolding if they cuss their teachers out. It’s gone swell. There is a discipline that comes with Christian devotion that prevents straying too far from the ethics to which you ascribe, no matter the politics. And even though my daughter’s Christian school is an organization that exists to perpetuate its own existence, like all others, its Christian foundation means there are lines it won’t cross, and its privately-funded nature means it must deliver educational value in order to retain its “customers”, i.e., the parents. And the school actually seems to understand that it works as agents of the parents. Public schools rather believe that parents are obstacles to be overcome on their way to perpetual existence.
So this is how public schools will eventually die out in America–by a million little cuts inflicted as parents abandon them. School systems and districts are beholden to public-sector unions that are necessarily more concerned with influencing the political machinery from which they derive funding than they are with educating students. Parents have different priorities–their children’s welfare and education. Parents indirectly, through the auspices of elected representatives, fund the schools. As soon as a critical mass of parents realizes that the politicians they ostensibly elect owe more allegiance to the conflicted priorities of public school unions than to them, the idea of free public education being a societal good worth paying for will diminish and fade away. A remnant of very poor and very poorly-run public schools will likely remain for quite some time afterwards, but public school unions will have effectively killed their golden goose. Kind of like private unions did with the domestic automobile manufacturers.