The Atlanta Cheating Scandal, the Broken System, and Redefining Good

“It is our character that supports the promise of our future – far more than particular government programs or policies” – William Bennett

A few posts ago we picked up a discussion of education and potential savings in Wisconsin; a discussion that really was trending toward the broader subject of knowing what “good” looks like in an education system. News today affords us just the right opportunity to get to that point.

Reports are out that a massive cheating scandal has unfolded in Atlanta, with some 178 teachers implicated. Naturally the “No Child Left Behind Act” is taking the blame, but I think there are broader considerations here. Sure, NCLB propped up the notion of “the test is the only thing that matters” – which lends itself to cheating – but the system was broken before NCLB came along and will still be broken if we scrap it all.

At issue, I believe, is a fundamental definition of “good” as far as education goes, and a fundamental misunderstanding of ownership and responsibility.

Parents still care about their children’s education. They care a great deal. Now, they might care differently about different aspects of that education, placing different values on different subjects. This basically sums up the basis for what I would call the appropriate definition of good: parents care about their children’s education and they have their own opinions about what’s important.

In such a world, the system is working well when the parents’ desires are being met. They have control over the content, the direction, the intentionality of the education system in which their children are enrolled.

This is a dire contrast from what the education system current is. In our current system, parents (whose tax dollars are spent lavishly on the education system) find themselves all-too-often fighting against the system trying to salvage an education. They are an afterthought. No, it is the all-knowing, wise government bureaucrats who dictate what a good education entails. They hand down guidelines and subject matter and standardized tests. They take greater power with things like NCLB to control the education system (a controlled crash, if you will).

Why is it like this? Why is it the case that the parents, who have the primary responsibility to the children and who fund the system, find themselves utterly not in control? This is absurd.

No, the system will be “good” when parents have choice, when they direct the funds that they put in to the maximum extent, and use them to promote the education they want for their own children.

The bureaucrats and rank-and-file liberals will respond that parents cannot be trusted to make these decisions, lacking the wisdom of the elites. Further, there would be a severe social cost to having an education system that is out of line with the overall goals of the nation itself. (If you’re cringing just a bit, it’s because [a] it sounds like an apt description and [b] it sounds just like national-socialism … err, fascism.)

This brings us right back to the issue of ownership. Who owns your children? Who has responsibility and authority for their education? If the kids belong to the state, and should be educated for the good of the whole, then the current system makes perfect sense. (Ed Kilgore, if you’re out there, phrases like “the good of the whole” and “belong to the state” are in fact phrases with hidden meaning … [wink, wink, nod, nod] … they stand for “communism”. Wow, one post and we’ve already labeled the current system communist and fascist. I’m pulling no punches today.)

If your kids are your responsibility and you hold authority in their lives (this would be the Biblical view, by they way) then the current system is fatally flawed. Disassembling the Department of Education and moving back to local control would be a good start. Total school choice would be a good next step. I could name a few more, but the notion that we shouldn’t have public funding for education at all seems too radical to bring up now.

As for Atlanta, mayor Kasim Reed says “Today is a dark day for the Atlanta Public School system.” I would ask “why?” – is it a dark day because you finally realized that the nationalized education system is fundamentally flawed, or because you’ve realized that people will do exactly what they’re incentivized to do? Is it a dark day because you finally realize how wrong the whole system is and are struggling to cope? Or is it a dark day because you thought people could be trusted to do the right thing even though they were being bribed by the very same system to do the wrong thing?

One suspects it may just be a dark day because the mayor is getting attention for the wrong reasons, which is enough to depress any politician. Darn those pesky elections! (Don’t worry Kasim, liberal politicians in liberal cities are rarely punished for failure to fix the education system.)

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2 Responses to The Atlanta Cheating Scandal, the Broken System, and Redefining Good

  1. “… The notion that we shouldn’t have public funding for education at all seems too radical to bring up now.”

    Why is this too radical? I know that we have talked about this before, and I am curious as to why this seems “too radical.” Radical positions on other issues are certainly not off the table in this forum, so why go halfway here? Because stopping short certainly seems inconsistent with the idea of eliminating government involvement in anything that does not directly violate the “big three” of life, liberty, or property. For example, if we are not willing to pay for publicly funded medical care, why are we willing to pay for publicly funded education?

    The in-between position of “public funding, but private choice” doesn’t wash. Medical care again seems completely analogous, so why is this different? To make the point extreme, consider it from my godless heathen perspective: why would I want to pay taxes to support parents’ individual decisions to teach their kids the pseudo-science of creation?

    These questions aren’t rhetorical. I actually think there is a reasonable argument for eliminating public funding of education altogether. (Or at least, I am a utilitarian with no kids, so I am in the comfortable position of being clinically curious and willing to conduct the experiment, even if the result is a collectively dumber America, which I think would be the result.) For example, the creation/evolution issue is a real one, I think: the problem is that science is not determined by majority of opinion (as creationists almost always misunderstand), but by weight of evidence… but the collective decision of a single curriculum that we are all willing to pay for *is* determined by majority of opinion.

    • nomasir says:

      I concur.

      It was a literary device – mentioning without mentioning. Much like Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon”: “the art of fighting without fighting”. Perhaps we can chalk it up to “rhetorical flourish”.

      Yes, I fully support ending all public funding of education. As much as the narrative has formed up that “in America, everybody has a shot at a decent education” – the notion of capturing the productive measures of one person to pay for the education of another is rabidly immoral. People are absolutely free to pay for education of the less-fortunate if they so choose, but to force it upon them is a theocratic notion.

      That said, I can allow for some pragmatism if need be. Moving from public funding of one particular educational process to public funding of a process of your choice is at least a step in the right direction. After that, we just need to start paring back the public funding.

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