Friday, February 14, 2014

On Public Education

I have a theory that people who love the Constitution enough to carry it in their breast pocket sometimes fail to read it all.  Likewise, those that thump the Bible and parade their Christianity before the public for political reasons probably have never read the Bible from cover to cover.  Whether you are religious or not, the Bible contains a great deal of good advice and wisdom.  Proverbs 29:18 says in part, “Where there is no vision the people perish...”  Unfortunately, it seems to me there is a good deal of shortage of vision among our current legislature.  The most glaring example is failure of our entire system to look forward to the next two to three generations of Texas schoolchildren with regard to an educated population.

A recent editorial by Bill King, syndicated columnist in The Houston Chronicle, reminded me of the problem with blurred vision as it relates to education.

While I was serving on the Perot Committee in preparation for our major overhaul of public education in the 1980's, we took a look at other systems throughout the world.  Most Asian countries are beating the socks off of American students, particularly  in math and science.  As a matter of fact, American students do not even rank in the top 10 worldwide in academic achievement.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that part of the problem is that every developed nation of the world, except us, devotes considerably more time to schooling its children.  As Bill King pointed out in his recent article, the Texas system of education, along with many other states, grew up when America was an agrarian, farm-oriented country.  Children were needed, particularly at harvest time, to help bring in the crops and provide a living for the family.  In the 1800's Texas legislators were very mindful of this and patterned the requirement for free public education around this agrarian system.  The reason for the system has long since departed, but other special interest factors are causing us to cling to a shorter school year than most any other nation. 

The old adage that money talks could never be truer than in the area of public education in Texas.  Disneyland and “Camp Wahoo” have consistently, since I was in the Legislature, won out when the argument arises about why we should devote more time to teaching our children.  Every time there is an effort to increase the school year from 180 days to something more, those people with special interests who run fancy camps throughout Texas and the travel industry come out of the woodwork to oppose the measure with their army of lobbyists.  Thus far, it’s been a one-sided battle with the money folks winning out over a vision for an educated population. 

The sad part of it all is that every logical factor speaks loudly in favor of shortening summer vacation and increasing the school year for learning.  First of all, research has shown that with a long summer vacation children forget a lot they were taught at the beginning of the school year.  Secondly, it does not make sense to have a multi-billion dollar investment in school buildings throughout the state of Texas sit idle for almost 1/4 of the year.  I suspect also that teachers would fare better with their quest for better pay should they take away the argument that teachers only work 9 months of the year--which of course is false, and the accusation is particularly rich coming from a part-time biennial legislature. 

When my conservative friends get through with my recommended Bible reading--which in full reads "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."-- I strongly further suggest they read again the provision in the Texas Constitution that’s been there for almost 150 years.  It says, “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to thepreservation of liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of theLegislature of the state to establish and make suitable provisions for thesupport and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”  Anyone who believes our current system of public education in Texas is an efficient system of free public schools may be dreaming--but without vision, and without the benefit of compliance with the law.

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