Thursday, February 26, 2004

A war on public education

Educational issues finally emerged from undercover with this week's spectacular remarks by our Secretary of Education, Rod Paige.

These remarks did not come out of a vacuum. Under increasing pressure for a number of weeks, the Department of Education (DOE) under Paige has been working hard to salvage the President's signature education bill, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Mary Ratcliff has written a wonderful big picture view of this at the Left Coaster.

Paige and his representatives recently completed a gnarly goodwill tour of the states in defense of NCLB. To say they were not well-received seems to be an understatement. Utah, despite threats from the DOE and the White House, continues the legislative process to exempt them from the unfunded portions of the law. More states are still seeking exemptions to the law. Last week, the DOE announced superficial changes to exempt non-English speaking kids from testing under NCLB, changes that look good in the headlines but do not fare well under closer scrutiny. The DOE plans to announce more changes to NCLB in the next few weeks.

So he's got a lot on his plate right now but Rod Paige's remarks, while excused as a 'joke', were upsetting, to say the least. Although he does offer an apology of sorts, these were pretty strong words. Of note, this is not the first time the NEA and others requested his resignation in response to his comments as Magpie points out. In an April 2003 interview given to a Baptist publication, Mr. Paige made a slew of comments that got him into hot water.
    Mr. Paige told the newsletter of the Southern Baptist Convention: "All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith." Now, one may take from this that Mr. Paige's personal preference is for Christian schools, which is not a firing offense but is faintly insulting given that he is the nation's lead spokesman for public schools. Or one may see it as an encouragement to public school teachers to mimic Christian values and teach children to have a strong faith, which is also odd given that the Supreme Court frowns on the practice.

    Christian schools are growing, he elaborated, because "the value system is set. That's not the case in a public school where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values." What could he mean by "kids with different kinds of values"? If this is a euphemism for kids with bad attitudes or teachers who can't discipline or failing schools, he should say that. As is, this sounds like a criticism of the diversity we've always encouraged in our public schools.
The reporter was fired, and retractions were made. The article, no longer available on the web, is now replaced with an amended transcript of the entire interview. A quick look at the contents still don't change my opinion of his views.

Sometimes, slips of the tongue can be revealing. Since I'm fascinated by differences in world views, I wonder if there might be a way of seeing the world consistent with his comments that "the NEA is a terrorist organization".

Recently Dave Neiwert posted an extremely urgent and amazing piece on the threat of theocracy on the judiciary. Within his post is a link to source article which explains the theocrats' opinion of public education (go to the subheading "A whole generation of Gary Norths"). The entire article is a must-read because it explains in detail the Christian Reconstructionist view of the world. I'm not buying the religion aspect so much as this is about power and control, using religion as a tool.

As for their war on public education, within their framework, NCLB is destined to be a failure. Even the effort to teach creationism in Georgia fits in well within this framework. And, oh yes, seeing teachers' unions as terrorists, or the milder term, 'obstructionists' makes sense in this world view. So it may all just be bunk but still I think that understanding this point of world view, however horribly uncomfortable it may be, is extremely important. And it goes to say, the more we know, the better we can counter their arguments especially in the general election.

Now, please note I don't have any proof that Mr. Paige is one of these guys. On record, Mr. Paige does support vouchers. He is a deacon in a Baptist church. He has said he publicly supports Christian schools. And he made those comments about terrorists. That's all I know. While there may be no connection between Mr. Paige and the theocrats, it goes to say that keeping an eye on this movement as well as increasing our communication to others about this will be a challenge.

With regards to education and the general election, please note on your calendars that August and September will be the release dates for more school reports about NCLB. Since it'll be close to election time, more bad news about NCLB will not be good for the Republicans so expect more attempts to mitigate problems with NCLB. I'd say since they've tackled special ed and non-English groups, they are running out of the easy options.

On the net, for more articles on what's going on with education, the American Prospect this month features a slew of articles. Around the blogs, check out recent posts on other NCLB related by progressive bloggers including: sheba, maura, Jay at Open Source Politics and this teachers' blog called Teachers Speak Out.

crossposted at The American Street