There is a strain of conservatism that has grown in recent years that is both disturbing and puzzling. It’s not so much criticism of public education – anyone who cares about it wants to make it better. What I find disturbing is the vituperation, the harsh language, the foaming at the mouth hatred.
It starts with calling your neighborhood public school a “government school” as if it is being run by some shadow organization in Washington. That neighborhood school ties the community together, it is run by a board elected by local people. It is staffed by your friends and neighbors. In a lot of cases the staff teaching your child also taught you. To somehow try and identify them as “the other” or some abstract concept that has no relation to reality, is just crazy. The idea is reinforced by talk show hosts.
What goes along with government schools is the dreaded “teacher unions.” We’ve heard the stories about New York or Wisconsin where incompetent teachers cannot be replaced because of powerful union representation. In Tennessee, go down to your neighborhood school and see if it looks anything like a union hall. In the vast majority of school systems in Tennessee teachers vote Republican. Count the counties where conservative Marsha Blackburn got elected to the U.S. Senate with 60 and 70 percent of the vote.
In Tennessee, tenure laws and collective bargaining rules are so weak as to be non-existent. A new teacher has to be employed for five years before getting tenure. If school management hasn’t determined whether you are a good teacher by that time, shame on school management. If there is a school system that has incompetent teachers it is a management failure.
I suspect that most of the critics of public education have not been near a public school since they graduated from one. You won’t find the critics running the concession stand on Friday night to raise money for the school. They won’t be out selling coupon books to keep the lights on. I doubt they personally know a teacher who spends her own money to buy school supplies for her classroom. In Tennessee, railing against the abstract notion of union-corrupted government schools is a paranoid delusion.
The carping about “government schools” and “teacher unions” are precursors to the call for vouchers and diverting tax money to private schools. It is necessary to denigrate public schools to justify taking money away from them.
Scores indicate that Tennessee schools are getting better. Of the big four counties, Knox County’s schools are so far superior they are in a different category. Some Knox County schools are competing with Oak Ridge and Maryville instead of Nashville or Chattanooga.
But taking money from public schools in the form of vouchers is just philosophically wrong and I don’t understand conservatives supporting the concept. If only parents paid school taxes then you might argue that they can take their kid’s share and go to a private school. But we have decided that all of us will pay taxes to support public schools because we need an educated workforce to fill jobs and create a civilized society. And to participate in self-government. To take the money we pay in taxes and give it to a select group to spend however they choose is just wrong. It has nothing to do with whether it “improves” education.
On the other hand, private schools are also important to our society. Schools that provide religious instruction, schools that offer alternative curricula, schools that emphasize discipline. These have their place and are chosen at the discretion of private school parents. But when a private school starts taking taxpayers money it surrenders its independence and it loses a major part of why there are private schools.
If a private school takes public money then the private school should be required to use the state-approved testing program. Otherwise, how do we know the school is meeting standards? If the school is not meeting standards then how can you justify taking public money to give to it to “improve” education? Don’t you have to show that the voucher improved the child’s education?
A conservative should be wary of public money and public regulations coming to private schools. A conservative should also be wary of crony capitalism in which public money is handed over to private schools. I would urge you to spend some time on the internet examining former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his buddies who operated for-profit schools on the taxpayer’s dime.
Private schools need to remain private. Public schools need to operate on all the tax money we have authorized them to collect. And next legislative session a bill needs to be passed to repeal the voucher program legislators were bribed and coerced to pass last session.
- I heard a sports pundit recently talking about the “throw game.” I assume he was talking about the passing game in college football and not point shaving. As Barney Fife would say, we need to nip it in the bud. Nip it. Nip it. Nip it.
- I’m sure Vol Coach Jeremy Pruitt isn’t pregnant. But why does he wear maternity tops?
- Flipping channels the other night, I happened up on a major league baseball playoff game. Is that still a thing? A sport with 100 meaningless games during the summer and has its playoffs and championship series in the middle of football season? There has to be a better way to sell hot dogs and Cracker Jacks.
Frank Cagle is a retired newspaperman and the former managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.