October 1, 2009

Obama, Schools and the 50 Experiments Theorem

Dynamism. The goal of a nation and the goal of an individual (at least a driven one) is to be moving forward at all times. Complacency begets second place. And then third place, along with acceptance of the new standing. President Obama sees American education as crucial to keeping America strong. Score one for the idea of not trying to deliberately wreck the country. So far so good. Along with his notion that socialism or government run anything is better for the country than the free market (not good), he's got some other ideas. One of his ideas is about making schools better so that American students can continue to develop and compete dynamically with an emerging educated class in China and India, as well as the coming generations in other developed countries (like those in Europe). Again, so far, so good. In contrast with what I call the 50 Experiments Theorem though, the President, in classic 'liberal elite' fashion, believes he has THE answer to the problem. 

His solution, is to extend the school year. That solution on the surface of it, seems like a great idea - one even conservatives could buy into. If we educate students more, they will be better prepared to face the future and the increasingly competitive global environment. Who could argue with that? Me, for one.

Let me explain why, while prefacing my rationale with the disclaimer that my disagreement is not founded in a racist reaction to a black President. It is in fact founded in logic. [ASIDE: This brings up an interesting point about the GOP reaction to this idea.  It has to be carefully framed so as not to cause the GOP to be labelled as a reactionary party of 'NO'. If the GOP has issues with improving education, it's very easy to portray them as reactionary, racist and against improving people's lives. As both a pre-emptive effort and an experiment in driving the press and Democrats crazy, it would be worthwhile to ensure that EVERY SINGLE sound bite includes the phrase "our alternative solutions". Even if it means saying that phrase in every sentence ever uttered by a Republican in a public place.]

Fox News has reported that  there will be major impacts to other industries if the President's wishes to extend the school year are enacted. While that may be true, it misses the bigger picture. Yes, the economy is most important, but the ancillary economic effects of a school year change, while not small, are less important than American competitiveness in the long term. Graduating better quality students is key to long term competitiveness. But here's the real issue - is what the President is proposing the best way to achieve that end?

It isn't. In the case of Medicare, the President talks about gaining efficiencies to pay for the new health care government option. There has been no consideration given to doing the same thing in schools.  Why not do so prior to extending the school year? A longer school year is just another way of expanding government control over another sector of the economy, and over young, impressionable minds. Do you really want liberal teachers having an extra month or two with your child? Are they going to be teaching math, or socialist ideas or just more forms of Obama-worship? By the way, doesn't the latter violate the idea of the separation of church and state?

In any case, schools are full of field trips and movies and useless subjects that could certainly be scaled back (dramatically in some cases). There are efficiencies to be gained. The problem is not the length of the school year but that the breadth of the curriculum is too great. What the curriculum needs is depth - in math, in various sciences, in English, and to a lesser but also important extent, history, geography, civics and economics. Everything else - including music, art and physical education has to play a secondary or tertiary role. They are not unimportant but they can't exist on the same level of importance.  Anything else, like diversity training - has to go.

And how about streaming students into areas where they excel? Not everyone is going to be a bio-chemical engineer. Some people are better suited to assembly line jobs, others to brain surgery. Do we need to squander resources on unachievable expectations?

How about improving the quality of teachers?  How about letting parents choose the school their child (or children) will attend - school vouchers?  How about closing some really bad schools down and allocating funding in a smarter way to schools that are succeeding in producing great graduates?   How about streamlining state and federal education bureaucracies and directing those funds to better educational efforts?  How about an effort to improve the teacher training process?  These are just a few alternatives to Obama's idea, but nary a mention from the White House.

And finally how about NOT jumping to the standard liberal Democrat solution to everything; let's have the government fix it? Especially the federal government. There's this thing in the Inconvenient Constitution called the 10th Amendment.  There are 50 different states all with various degrees of 'experimentation' in education.  Some have tried longer school years with varying degrees of success.  Some have tried other ways to improve their educational efforts.  The point is that in such a diverse country, universal solutions typically universally are not universally good.  What works in N.Y. may be completely unsuitable in Washington.  It's what I call the 50 Experiments Theorem (check it out, it's worth a read).  Fifty different approaches have a better chance at yielding a great solution than just one approach.  It's not rocket science.  And with one or two successes, those who chose failed solutions will begin to pattern themselves after one of the winning formulas.  That's also not rocket science.  It's dynamism.

Of course if we produced a few more rocket scientists and a few less social workers, maybe more people might realize the basics and they wouldn't need to be stated here.


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  2. Well...I'd cut back on the caffeine.


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