Sunday, January 24, 2010

Alaskan Earthquake -- commentary

The earthquake news coming out of Haiti stirs old memories. It was Good Friday 1964 at 5:36 p.m. My new wife and I were in our second floor, efficiency apartment in a two story, wood frame building at Fifth and G streets in Anchorage, Alaska. I was standing in the middle of the living room putting on my coat to go outside and Pearl was in the kitchen fixing dinner.

The building began to shake and I turned to Pearl, smiled and said, "Feel that? We're having a little earthquake," which was a common occurrence there.

Quickly, the quake turned violent and my thinking took a military twist, being as I was active duty Air Force. I next thought, "How did those Soviet bombers get through our Distant Early Warning system (DEW)?" The DEW line was a series of radar and missile sites built along Alaska’s coast line to guard against Soviet attacks during the cold war.

I grabbed Pearl and tried to hold her in the door way which is supposed to be the safest place in case a building collapses. However, the building was swaying back and forth so violently that I couldn't hold us there. The kitchen cupboards flew open and the contents were spilling out. Tupperware was melting on the hot stove. The curio cabinet had fallen face down, breaking its glass front and the contents.

We soon discovered that the "whole lot a shaken goin on" wasn't Jerry Lee Lewis but rather what would become known as The Great Alaskan Earthquake: the most powerful earthquake ever to be recorded on the North American continent, according to Wikipedia. The shaking went on for five minutes and registered 9.2 on the Richter scale.

When the shaking stopped, we ran down stairs to the street to see the shambles it had left. A block to the east was the year old, eight story J. C. Penny's building. The concrete slabs which formed the exterior had broken loose, smashing cars and leaving the skeleton of the building exposed.

We then walked a block north to Fourth Avenue, the street Bob Hope once described as the only bar in the world with intersections. It was lined with seedy dives that ran wide open 23 hours a day. They closed for cleaning between five and six a.m.

The fault line ran down the middle of this street and the businesses on the north side had disappeared. The marquee of Fourth Avenue Theater was now level with the sidewalk. This destruction of so many "dens of iniquity" did not go unnoticed by the town’s preachers that Easter Sunday. Of course, churches were packed out that Sunday. The “fox hole” Christians had joined the Christmas and Easter crowd for worship.

Since Pearl and I had planned to move that night, we got about our business. We had purchased an old seven by thirty foot trailer house and had parked it in one of the many tin slums around Anchorage occupied mostly by low level, underpaid enlisted military. First we went to a ham radio operator, who lived down the hall, and had him patch a “we’re okay” call through to our parents stateside. Then we put a trash can in the middle of the apartment and threw away most of what little we had. The rest we loaded into the car and moved into our tin shack.

My sister-in-law, a single school teacher, lived on the seventh floor of a fourteen story apartment building. She was in Barrow when the quake hit, but her severely damaged building was now uninhabitable and all the tenants had to move out.

She stayed with us for a few days when she got back in town, and since I was on military leave, I helped her move. The elevator could not be used, so we tied everything that was soft and unbreakable in sheets and dropped them out of the window. Everything else had to be carried down the seven flights of stairs, including a living room couch.

When that task was done, I went back to the base and received a reprimand for not having reported for duty immediately after the quake. I was assigned to a crew to clean out a warehouse that had collapsed on its contents of light bulbs.

Only 131 people were killed in the quake due to the small population of the state and the time of day. People were home from work and school, fortunately, as two very large Anchorage schools were destroyed.

Though many of my friends suffered big losses, I had nothing to lose. Instead, I carried away a lesson which was good to learn early in life: Don't get attached to your belongings. This is one of the few principles shared by both Buddhism and Christianity.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cell Phone Libel -- commentary

A few columns back I questioned whether standard American English could survive the texting craze of our youthful generation. I suggested parents not give their kids free access to this technology until they had first mastered correct use of the language. Another crucial question might be whether the family finances can survive the craze.

Recently I got in on the tail end of a news cast about libel suits becoming common place against those texting, twittering, or using other forms of social networking. Johnny may not be able to write standard American English, but he is a publisher every time he puts something on the internet. Experienced publishers are trained to avoid libel suits because they are expensive, time consuming, and can bankrupt the entity being sued. But, what about Johnny?

So, let’s talk about what constitutes libel. It is when you print something about somebody that is not true and it damages them in some way, usually in regard to their reputation. The only defense you have against libel is truth. If you can’t prove that what you published about somebody is true and they sue you for libel, you will probably lose the suit. So, your teenager, when sending out a text message or a twitter, is a publisher, and if they besmirch a classmate in some way, they are open to a libel suit. Since they are a minor, you get in on the action.

What about all the garbage the tabloids print about celebrities? Public figures fall under what is called the doctrine of fair comment and criticism. Because they are public figures, you can pretty much print what you want about them if you believe it is true and do not print it with malicious intent. However, your teenager’s classmates are probably not public figures; they are private individuals. Anything your child publishes about them must be true or it is libelous, and you are susceptible to a law suit.

I heard a lawyer friend say recently that the internet, especially the social net working sites, has become a gold mine for attorneys. In the same discussion, the manager of the local office of a national firm said she is now required by the home office to do an internet search on any applicant to see if there is anything that might embarrass the company in the future if she hires the applicant.

Be aware that we live in a litigious society, and it doesn’t take much to trigger a suit. I was once chairman of the Alaska Libertarian Party, and we often auctioned off small airplanes for fund raisers. A fellow won one of our airplanes. He had used it for about a year when it developed an expensive engine problem. It was a used airplane and we were not a commercial business.

However, he decided that since we hadn’t printed “no warranty implied or intended” on any of the information concerning the auction or the airplane, it was warranted and sued us for $10,000 to pay the repair bill. He named a half dozen of us in the suit. He knew it was a nuisance suit and that it would cost us more than $10,000 to take it to court. In that he had prepaid legal service through his membership in the Teamster Union, it cost him nothing to bring the suit. We paid him the $10,000 and the suit went away.

So, what happens if your child texts or twitters that Jane Doe is pregnant, a common piece of gossip around schools, and Jane’s parents find a hungry lawyer to sue you? You are now in a position where you must defend yourself, which means hiring a lawyer. Suddenly it is not so much fun being a publisher. The typical student excuses of “I didn’t mean it,” or “everyone was saying it,” won’t carry in court.

When you put words out for the public to see, you are taking on a grave responsibility. That is why news organizations are careful to say things like “the alleged killer.” Once the person is charged, they are an alleged killer. If the paper says “the killer” and that person named in the article is acquitted, the paper is now guilty of libel and open to a libel suit.

When your student passes on gossip about another student in print and the offended student files a suit, you had better be able to prove in a court of law that the gossip your child sent in a text message is true. If you are not concerned about the corruption excessive texting is doing to our language, you might at least want to be concerned about what it could do to your family finances.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Researched Based -- commentary

"Research based and data driven" -- these are the current buzz words among educators. Don't try to sell any programs to public schools unless you have research and data to back it up.

I must admit to being a bit skeptical about research since it has led to so many contradictory warnings over my lifetime. I'm the same with data. The troublesome part comes in how we choose to respond to the information.

Ako Kambon, featured speaker at the Arkansas School Board Association convention, presented a provocative piece of research from the University of Michigan.

The research tried to establish what in our culture has had the most influence over our children. They found five factors: home, school, church, peers and TV.

The study then listed the five influences in order of importance by decades. Kambon didn't list all the decades studied, but he listed the following with the areas of influence in their order of importance: 1950's -- home, school, church, peers, and TV; 1980's -- home, peers, TV, school, church; 1990's -- peers, TV, home/media, school (church had slipped to number 10), and by 2000, media had become number one along with its sub categories of videos (including TV and games), internet, computers, movies, and network TV.

So, there is the research, what are we going to do with it? Kambon, who is an educational consultant, told us what it all means: Students have a shorter attention span, they are accustomed to being entertained, they have a remote in their heads and will switch channels if the teacher doesn't keep their attention, they are accustomed to receiving information faster than we are accustomed to giving it and students are now visual learners. Kambon concludes, "The student we have in front of us now is a different student," and he insists we must adapt our teaching to address these realities.

I look at this research and reach a different conclusion. Listeners have always been able to receive information faster than instructors can deliver it, so good teachers already address this. Also, students have always had an internal remote. As a public school student more than 50 years ago, I could turn a teacher off in a moment, though I had never yet heard of a devise called a remote control. Good teachers already deal with this.

The short attention span has led to a style of teaching where the teacher uses mini-lessons and then puts the students to work with independent practice. A teacher may use several mini-lessons in a single period. But again, good teachers, at the public school level, have always done this.

The fact that the modern student is accustomed to being entertained and has become a visual learner is being addressed with technology in the classroom. Though I applaud this use of technology, I'm just old school enough to believe that students can be taught that life isn't all entertainment and that hard work counts when it comes to school. And, though they have become visual learners because so much information comes at them through various video devices, nothing will replace the printed page for true depth and understanding. A printed piece can be read, re-read, and thought about. Printed material can be easily browsed for critical passages, underlined, and notes made in the margins. We do students a disservice if we over indulge them in video learning with the excuse that research shows they are visual learners.

Yes, students are different, but only in superficial ways. If their attention spans have been shortened by the influence of media, then we can retrain them to have longer attention spans. So they are visual learners, the printed page is visual too, and kids can be taught to use it.

The school environment is not supposed to duplicate what the student already experiences. Let's not lose sight of the fact that we are training kids for life after school. We are training them for the work place where they will have to read boring manuals, regulations, and policies. In the work place, they will have to have attention spans longer than five minutes and they will have to behave in a civil manner. We don't do them any favors when we adapt to their superficial changes; rather, we must teach them to adapt to the expectations of their future workplaces.

The real important and real sad part of this research is the lost influence of the home and the church, and these two are related. Researchers would do well to find the causes for the loss of the influence of the home and come up with some cures. It is this lack of influence in the home that has led to so many of the discipline problems in our schools and to the decline of the influence of the church. If I were to venture a guess as to a source of that loss of influence it would be the abandoning of children to media. Too many parents fund their children's every media desire and whim and allow them to satiate their appetites unsupervised and uncontrolled. They have surrendered their influence to media: cell phones, Ipods, TV, video games, the internet, movies, and computers. But then, that's just a guess. To be confirmed it must be research based and data driven.

Military School -- commentary

The next two sentences should be read in a shouting voice. "Hup, two, three, four! Hup, two, three, four! Platoon halt! Report!"

"First platoon all present or accounted for, sir."

Is this the way the school day will begin for your child in the future? As I write this, five public schools in Chicago are now operated by the military and a sixth one will open in '09. When this happens, Chicago will be the only city in the United States to have at least one school operated by each branch of the military.

Students attend these academies by choice and according to a Nov. 2, Associate Press report, 7,500 students applied for the 500 freshman vacancies this school year. The students have to enroll in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. This means uniforms, inspections, drills and lessons in military history. These are college prep academies with an emphasis on leadership training, discipline and character-building.

The academies are built in the poorer parts of the city with large minority populations. Statistics show attendance rate at 94 per cent compared to 84 per cent for neighboring schools. One academy, created out of one of the lowest-performing schools in Chicago, saw graduation rates climb from 55 to 71 per cent in 2006. So far test results have been mixed.

However, when the Brits, who are having education woes similar to ours, sent some observers over here to look at possible solutions, they didn't come to observe our public military academies. They came to observe what some call "extreme education: 10 hour days, parental contracts and zero tolerance behavior policies in small, 200 pupil academies," according to The Guardian, a British newspaper.

The schools they visited are Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) schools. KIPP schools are small public charter schools being sponsored by the KIPP Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These schools, built in some of the most impoverished areas of our inner cities, boast of 100 per cent college acceptance, test scores to match private schools and students who play classical music like their uptown neighbors.

The KIPP school principal in Newark, America's second poorest city, told The Guardian, "We have established a school culture which is very distinct from the attitude they walk in the door with. It's a college-bound culture."

If you want your child to go to one of these schools you will have to enter into a three way contract between the principal, you, and your child, each of you agreeing to carry your weight. If your student doesn't have his/her homework in by 8 a.m., you will be called and a meeting set up. Miss the meeting and your child will be sent home and not allowed to return until you show up. Students are tested every six weeks and the school motto is "No Excuses."

Who goes to these schools? The Newark school is 85 per cent African American and 90 per cent of them get free school meals.

What do the critics of these two approaches have to say? Some say the military schools are just recruiting tools for the military and should not be allowed. I guess they figure it is better for kids to be poorly educated and spend a life in poverty than run the risk that a few of them might actually want a career in the military.

The small school movement has been accused of "undoing decades of progressive education," according to The Guardian. This puzzles me. From what I have been reading in the news for at least the last four decades, American education has been in trouble. How could a successful experiment set back progress when there seems to have been so little of it? Those who make such an argument must have some agenda other than just educating our youth.

It is my philosophy that persistent problems need radical solutions. These academies work for several reasons. They work because young people need structure, especially if internal discipline was not established in the home. They work because accountability is required from all participants, the parents, the students, and the teachers. They work because they are small. This is a topic I will address in another column, but I am a believer in small schools.

However, the most significant reason they work is because all the students are there by choice. The unmotivated and the disruptive students are not welcome. These schools demonstrate there are just as many bright kids in the poor areas as in the middle and upper class areas and they will learn if they can go to decent schools populated by others who also want to be there.

We will know in time whether either of these experiments will become widespread. The military approach can certainly provide some much needed discipline, but we are not a militaristic people. I doubt that it will succeed much beyond a few inner city neighborhoods. The KIPP program requires a tremendous amount of energy on the part of the faculty, the kind of energy that resides mostly in young idealists. For this reason, it too is a self limiting reform.

However, maybe we can learn from these experiments about the benefits that come with offering choice and with spending our energy on students who want to learn.

Major Discipline Problem -- commentary

The most prevalent discipline problem in our public schools today may surprise those of you who are not teachers. You will not read about it in the news. The problems you read about in the news rarely happen, that is why they are in the news. The most prevalent discipline problem goes on in nearly every classroom every school day and gets discussed regularly and with great frustration in faculty gatherings across the nation. It is the ever growing number of students who simply refuse to do their work. This is having a very corrosive affect on our schools. A New York police officer turned school teacher quoted in Parade magazine said, "Educational standards have been lowered to accommodate those who don't want to learn and have no desire to succeed." My experience supports this observation.

What we are talking about here is motivation. Unfortunately, motivation cannot be created by legislation, though there are some things politicians can do that might help. And though teachers can and should inspire students, they can't connect with all of them all the time. Two good sources of motivation for learning are curiosity and anxiety.

The best source of motivation is curiosity. Over the years, I have changed careers several times. Each change has been followed by a steep climb in my learning curve. I was curious about everything related to the new job and was willing to learn a tremendous amount in a short time.

As I write this, I am doing so on a smart phone using Microsoft Word. After buying this high tech gadget, my learning curve about it took a steep climb. It was driven by curiosity and my sense of a need to know. Most of my intellectual growth, as I suspect is true of others, took place after high school and college. Why? Because, real life experiences piqued my curiosity.

We have so divorced education from real living that our kids see no connection between the two. They are curious alright but not about what the school has to offer.

We need to find a way to reconnect our schooling with what kids will experience when they leave our classrooms. About a year after my son dropped out of school, he decided to give it another try, so he enrolled in a school in Anchorage called Save. One of the school's policies was that all students had to be employed a half day each day. This had much more to do with his success than anything else he experienced in school. Something of this nature should be practiced in all our schools. It creates a tie between the classroom and reality.

Anxiety will also motivate. In fact, a certain amount of anxiety is necessary if any of us are going to get anything done. We could use our laws and our courts to create a little anxiety even as they have been used to diminish anxiety among students.

Many American students see no immediate consequences to mediocrity or even failure when it comes to academic performance, and long term consequences don't motivate very well if at all. Over the past 50 years, the long term consequences of academic mediocrity have become more severe while any short term consequences have evaporated. So now, many students don't see education as an opportunity but rather something to be endured in order to participate in the social aspects of school.

This is certainly nothing new. It was the same way when I was a kid. What has changed is the means by which schools can create anxiety -- there are fewer of them. We now have anxious teachers and complacent students. Along with this, there seems be a decline in the willingness or the ability of parents to create anxiety in the children.

Because of this lack of motivation on the part of way too many students, it is foolish to increase school funding unless it directly addresses motivation, something the teachers cannot do alone. Here are some suggestions for creating motivation:
1. Reform child labor laws so unmotivated students can be placed in the labor force.
2. Eliminate compulsory education laws so schools can dismiss unmotivated students. Of course they will be allowed to return when they are ready to learn.
3. Reform welfare laws so those who squander their educational opportunities have no safety net.
4. Make classroom participation a privilege. Provide isolated, programmed learning for those who have not yet earned the right to participate in the classroom. Computers make this very feasible.

I can feel the anxiety rising already.

Those that I call educationists, the ivory tower people who tell us how it should be done, place the responsibility for motivating students on teachers and some of it does belong there. The educationists will continue to develop methods and materials that will motivate as they try to compete with TV and video games, our main competitors for kids’ attention, but it can't be done.

We have tried for decades now to make education as exciting as the many things which compete for students' time and attention, and yet student motivation continues to drop,as do the curiosity and anxiety levels. Now, too many students are willing to embrace academic mediocrity and even failure, seemingly with impunity. Yes, we do have to deal with drugs, violence and unruly behavior in our schools, but the most prevalent discipline problem day in and day out is students who simply will not do the work required of them.

For the Kids -- commentary

Some educator, probably from the Department of Education, came up with the slogan "It's all about the kids." The sentiment behind this slogan is fine, but the slogan is false and I would be happy if I never heard it again.

The "it" in this slogan refers to all the effort we put forth to educate the children of our state and nation. We don't do this for the children; we do it for the preservation of our culture. One of the things making this difficult is a generation of young people who believe it really is all about them. Let me give you a little glimpse into a world where children have come to believe it is all about them.

This event took place four or five years ago. I was reading the book Soldier Mom, by Alice Mead, to my seventh grade class. The story is about Jas, a seventh grade girl whose mother is in the U.S. Army Reserve and is recalled to active duty during the Persian Gulf War. This leaves Jas in the care of her mother's significant other and her baby brother, the child of her mother and the boy friend.

Here's the conflict that arises: The little brother must be picked up at the daycare much earlier than the boyfriend gets off work. That means Jas will have to do it, except that Jas is captain of the basketball team and as such cannot leave practice early.

If Jas would resign as captain, it would be no problem for her to pick up the little guy. Her primary objection to doing so is that she does not like the girl who would replace her and doesn't want her to be the captain.

The boyfriend tries to get her to see that the family is now in an unusually difficult time and that sacrifices are required of them all. He points out to her the additional responsibilities that have fallen his lot with her mother being gone, and that it is only fair that she too should have to sacrifice a little.

I asked the class how many thought Jas should have to sacrifice a little considering the new circumstances in which they find themselves. Not a single voice was raised in support of the boy friend. I kept on with the discussion, hoping to get even a little support for the man. I got none, not even from the church kids who should understand a little bit about sacrifice. The consensus of the entire class was that the teenager had nothing to do with the predicament and therefore should not have to make any sacrifice whatsoever. That my friend is a world in which it is all about the kids.

Now don't get me wrong. I enjoy kids. I enjoy working around them and with them. It's not the kids who spoil the kids, it's the adults.

If indeed it is all about preservation of the culture, how do you think our culture will fair with this group when it comes up against a great depression or a W.W.II? Back in 1966, Robert Paul Smith published "Where Did You Go?" "Out." "What Did You Do?" "Nothing" It was a little book about his growing up years and it was full common sense insights. One of his observations was that the problem with young people is they have no responsibilities that will make any difference to the family if they fail. In earlier times, if a boy failed to take care of the family cow and she dried up, the family had to do without milk and butter. If he failed to carry in enough wood or properly bank the fire, the family woke up to a cold house. If the kids failed to help with the gardening and canning, the family went hungry by spring.

If Smith's observation was true of young people in the 60's, how much more would it be true today? Only today you can add one more element to it. We have experienced a tremendous increase in affluence so between parents and grandparents, the average kid is given everything he wants and almost has come to think of it as a right. And, now we are going to proclaim, "It's all about the kids," to help shore up this mind set? Not me.

We pass on knowledge from generation to generation to preserve the culture. However, the kind of learning that will preserve a culture requires a sense of responsibility. If we can't inculcate that in our kids, then there is not much hope for our culture. This type of responsibility is best taught in the home, though the schools don't help by propagating such platitudes. Please, no more "It's all about the kids."

Cost to Beneficiary -- commentary

It was a strange story. Prosecutors were considering filing negligent homicide charges against a father for an automobile accident his son had had in which two people were killed.

It seems the father had bought his son a new Corvette. The son promptly totaled the car in a one vehicle accident, so the father, having more money than good sense, replaced it with another new Corvette. This time when the son totaled the car, he also killed two people in the accident.

I’m sure we could all tell at least one story of a kid who has been given a significant gift, maybe a car or a bicycle, and trashed it in short order. Why? American Revolutionary patriot Thomas Paine put it this way in The American Crisis: “…that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” The reason for this is simple enough. People who are always given things have no way to judge value because they have not traded any of their own time, talent, or energy to obtain the items.

This brings us to one of the problems with American public schooling: there is no direct cost to the beneficiary or his/her parents and so it is not appreciated and not valued. It is generally known that students in private schools do better academically. When parents put out anywhere from $4,000 to $30,000 a year to educate a child, they make sure the student invests some time, talent, and energy into the process.

All too often, I read about some scheme to pay kids for doing well at school, as if the education itself were not enough. An article in the Jan. 22, 2008, edition of the Atlanta Journal reports that, “Forty students … will be the first to try the ‘Learn and Earn’ program, where students will get paid to attend after-school tutoring programs.” The article goes on to report that these students will be given eight dollars an hour to attend class. The purpose of the program is to see if “paying students to study will improve classroom attendance, grades and test scores.” I will predict the outcome based on an often quoted statement of an economist friend: “You will always get more of what you subsidize.” Very quickly there will be more students in need of tutoring. An Oct. 22, 2007, article in the Sun reports a pay the students program to be tried in twenty-one Arkansas high schools to attract more students to advanced placement classes.

I have even been guilty of proposing such schemes. When Dr. James Best, superintendent at Westside, was expressing concern over the increase in seniors who were dropping out before graduation, I proposed we do a raffle. I suggested we get a good, used Ford Mustang and raffle it off to a member of the senior class. Tickets would be given free to seniors, and the only way to get one would to be enrolled as a senior with no more than 10 absences for the school year. The probability of winning would be much greater than in most raffles as there would only be a hundred or so tickets. As a tribute to his good sense, Best did not buy into the idea, though not long after I proposed it, I read where a Phoenix, Arizona, school was doing a take off on the same idea.

Why should we reward kids for doing something for which they are the sole beneficiary? Do they value the free gift of education so little that we have to add material value to it just to give it away? Yes, there are many who do not value it and the solution is not to add superficial value but rather make it cost the beneficiary something.

Before you start screaming about how this would deny an education to the poor, let me assure you I am not talking about charging tuition to attend public schools. The following quote from Daily Celebration, by William Barclay, states well what I mean: "In getting knowledge, the price of the journey is work. If we are not prepared to work really hard, we only get a smattering of a subject, a superficial knowledge of it, a nodding acquaintance of it …. If we are prepared to pay the fare in the coin of work, we can travel far. No one can learn without paying the fare -- in sheer hard work!"

The price to students should be hard work and if they are not willing to pay the price, they should not be allowed to attend school until they are.

This may seem harsh, but my guess is as parents begin to lose their free custodial care and students begin to lose their primary social venue, they will begin to take school work more seriously. The first year, a school might have to send several away, but once students understand they are going to work or else, the number of students being sent away would dwindle to nearly nothing, and there would be a lot more good work being produced. Students would begin to value their education because it would truly cost them something.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Outside the Box -- commentary

Success workshop gurus often admonish us to think outside the box. Just for fun, let’s think way, way outside the box. The belief that recalcitrant problems require radical solutions, and that the deficiencies in our public education have certainly proven to be recalcitrant inspires this excursion outside the box.

For some reason, we never think of our educational system for what it really is, mass media. It is a part of our system of distributing information to the masses. Public schools are a big player in this game. If schools are indeed a part of our mass media, what business does the government have owning them? Isn’t this a violation of the First Amendment which guarantees freedom of speech and of the press?

At the time the amendment was written, press had to do with printed material. As the broadcasting of words over air waves became common, the first amendment rights of free press and free speech were thought to apply to these new forms of mass media as well.

Because the airwaves are thought to be owned by everyone, there has been some minor regulation of broadcasting by the government, but basically the doctrines of free speech and free press apply. Apparently, no one thought to include the schools in these doctrines. But, if even a simple, ritualistic prayer at a school function threatens the first amendment, how much more is it threatened when government owns 95 per cent of a major mass media outlet?

What would be the public response if the government owned 95 per cent of the print and broadcast media? Yet government owns most of our schools, schools which may be the most powerful medium we have for passing on information.

Throughout much of our history, this didn’t really matter. Our schools were publically owned, but they were controlled by local school boards and as such, they reflected the communities that paid for them. Now they are overly regulated by federal and state governments and are part of a huge bureaucracy. And, they do what bureaucracies do best, produce mediocrity. Local school boards now have almost no control over their schools and the schools no longer reflect the neighborhoods that pay for them. This medium is now anything but free.

In a democracy, the government has a vested interest in its citizens achieving basic literacy so they can at least cast intelligent votes. Beyond that, education should be a private matter of those who want an education and those who want to hire educated people.

If this were so, all education beyond the eighth or ninth grade would be private and free of governmental control and thus be in compliance with the First Amendment. It would also solve other problems.

One of the big problems with public education is that it is so public. Because it is public, businessmen, school administrators, and special interest groups often have different agenda and they often conflict. In a pluralistic society, a monolithic system of education not only destroys free speech, it is often in conflict with the locale it attempts to serve. In one locale, school patrons want sex education taught. In another locale, patrons want sexual abstinence taught. Other locales want school to open with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. There are many more such problems and they lead to the suspension of free speech for one group or another. Just as a newspaper chooses what it will print or a television station chooses what it will broadcast, a privately owned school would teach the content it chooses.

I can sense the questions building. Who is going to pay for this private education? My libertarian sense tells me those who benefit from it, as long as the schools aren’t government owned. Some will argue that every child has a right to an education. If I buy that argument, does it also mean a right to a publically funded one? Does the right to a free press also include a publically funded press? If I agree that every child has a right to a publically funded education, how many years does that right entail? The state’s only valid interest is until basic literacy has been achieved.

Business is the primary beneficiary of educated people beyond basic literacy. It is also the primary complainer of the mediocre product turned out by the public schools. They managed to pass the responsibility of educating workers onto the public at large and now don’t like the product they are getting. The only thing gained by public funding has been government ownership of schools. If you insist every child has a right to a publically funded education for 12 or 13 years, don’t also insist it has to be done in a government owned school.