Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Passion For Equality

Raising Men or Leveling the Mountain

I am a subscriber to an excellent newsletter: TIA Daily. If you don't read this newsletter, you are missing out.

After yesterday's post about "hands up and not hand outs", I received my daily news letter in my email and there, the quote of the day, seemed to mirror what I was trying to say.

Quote of the Day:

"If there were such a thing as a passion for equality (not equality de jure, but de facto), it would be obvious to its exponents that there are only two ways to achieve it: either by raising all men to the mountaintop--or by razing the mountains. The first method is impossible because it is the faculty of volition that determines a man's stature and actions.... The second method is impossible because, if mankind were leveled down to the common denominator of its least competent members, it would not be able to survive (and its best would not choose to survive on such terms). Yet it is the second method that the altruist-egalitarians are pursuing. The greater the evidence of their policy's consequences, i.e., the greater the spread of misery, of injustice, of vicious inequality throughout the world, the more frantic their pursuit--which is one demonstration of the fact that there is no such thing as a benevolent passion for equality and that the claim to it is only a rationa!
lization to cover a passionate hatred of the good for being the good."

Ayn Rand, "The Age of Envy"
Now, for a little armchair psychology.

In this world there are three types of people in my mind:

  1. The eternal victim
  2. Those that constantly struggle to achieve
  3. Those that achieve

It is always our choice of which we will be. It should be obvious of which we should always choose to be, either number 2 or number 3. It should be just as obvious that the eternal victim should not be allowed to hinder the rest of mankind. But it isn't.

Why do we always look at the eternal victim? Why do we always struggle to bring those along? Because, we are human. Because, we have hope. Because, in our eternal optimism, we believe that eternal victims might just be someone who is constantly struggling to achieve and only needs that next hand up to make it.

We think that we can change them. As much as we have been schooled in Darwinian theories of the survival of the fittest, we still want to believe that there is something worth rescuing in every human being. And, there is.

But, how do you rescue your fellows? Do you throw them a rope, tie it firm to the highest place and pull them up to where you are? Or do you climb to the top of the mountain with a load of dynamite and blow that mountain top off so that the climb isn't too high? And once you have leveled that mountain and you and your fellows have reached the plateau, you might look around to find that next mountain to climb. But, sometimes, your companions are content to rest on the plateau, never aspiring to climb higher.

As you make ready to climb the next mountain, you exhort them to come with you. Climb it. If only for the sheer joy of trying to conquer the next mountain. Some follow, all be it reluctantly, behind you. Complaining at each hindrance, but still climbing. Some stay below. Complaining that the next mountain is too high. Too far away. Too risky to climb.

Even if you were to level that next mountain, make it's plateau even with the previous mountain, those resting on the first plateau will be divided even further. Those that would take the time to walk across to the next plateau, barely breaking a sweat and those that would stay content, resting on the first plateau.

That is the nature of men. From the first chromagnum who dared to walk upright. Who dared to leave the hunting grounds that had been hunted to extinction, there have always been those that would stay behind.

And we have always grieved for them.

This is my problem with our school system. We have paid so much. Offered so much to those willing to climb a little. Leveled the mountain so that they did not have to climb. In a sense, denigrating the efforts of those that were willing to climb up.

Sometimes we have have paid too much and offered too little. When we level the mountain instead of offering a rope, we have offered too little.

Even the most liberal minded among us would agree that we should offer a hand up. Offer a rope to climb. But the argument often is proceeded by the premise that first, we should level the mountaint. Just a little. Or a lot. Make that first step easier to climb. By then, you have already taken away that first necessary incentive. I will never be for leveling the mountain.

Other arguments are about the content of the rope. What materials should it be made of? How long should the rope be? Should we just give these fellows the materials to make the rope and leave them to figure that out first before they start the climb?

Today, those three issues remain:

  1. Level the mountain
  2. Content of the rope
  3. How much rope

Whenever the government is involved, whenever bureacracy takes over the decision making, whenever it is the "legislative premis" in discussing these issues, we always get the first: level the mountain. Make it "fair".

Such as the discussion over funding of schools. Whenever it is the federal government involved, in order to be perceived as not being prejudiced against one group or another, it must first achieve a "level" playing field. Often at the expense of those that are achievers. Have struggled to make it. Yet we have inside of ourselves, always the sense that we must "play fair" so we are torn about whether this is appropriate.

So, is there something in between? I say yes. The first and foremost must be that it is not the federal governments place to regulate school systems and budgets. It is the responsibility of the citizens that live in the area to insure that their school meets the requirements necessary to educate their young. Offer the rope for the climb. The hand up. Arguments can be made regarding the financial status of the community. It's ability to fund such achievements. It is in our national interest to insure that our population is educated, motivated and achievers, lest we fall as a nation beneath all those we seek to lead.

In this regard, we have created federal funds to be distributed to these schools, to help that attract teachers, buy supplies, refurbish as necessary. Do we then need the government to manage these funds? Create the bureacracy that drains away from the total funds to be distributed? I say no. These funds must be managed by the individual school districts. Not even by the state. By incorporating the state into this fund management, you have created another level of management, of middle men to drain away from the funds. Leaving less for the school districts. Another group trying to decide how to apply the funds fairly.

This is the government in it's worst version of trickle down economics. Yet, we cannot endlessly funnel money into these systems. Like funneling money into a losing business. The business, and that is what it must be treated as, a business with an expected end product, with an expected gain, must work, must succeed or it must be considered bankrupt, closed.

What? Close a school in a community? That is perposterous. Not so. But first, let's consider how we will determine if the business, the school, is bankrupt. In business, you must be able to measure your success against the value of the funds you invest. You must offer an incentive to those that would succeed. You must offer consequences for those that fail.

The current administration has offered this program in it's most acceptable format. Testing the students. Testing the school to see if it meets it's expected outcome. And when these tests show a failing system, the system is given time and funds to improve and then tested again. Any system that continues to fail must be abandoned. Those that will show improvement can continue to receive funds. Those that are a success should receive funds.

Whose fault is it if a school is failing, if it cannot produce an educated child, ready to meet the demands of our world? There are those that will point to the federal government. To it's funding techniques. To it's programs. Not sufficient they say. Not enough.

They are the first type of people on the climb, the eternal victims. Who is at fault for the failing school system? Is it the teachers? Maybe. Maybe they have no incentive to achieve. The unionization of teachers may be the worst palsy ever inflicted on our society. In an attempt to level the mountain, to be able to attract the teachers of the best quality to any school district, we have attempted to level their pay and benefits, so that it would be plausible to tempt the best teachers to an inner school district. What did we get? Not the desired effect. Instead, we still see mediocre or even worse teachers teaching in the schools that are undeniably in need of the best. And we keep those teachers because, through their unionization, they can barely be reprimanded much less fired. No incentive.

Further, the best teachers, without additional incentive, still remain in the suburbs, in the more affluent areas. Why? That is a foolish question. It is safety. It is the undeniable fact that those students will achieve. It is a comfort zone.

I think back to the days when schools were nothing more than one room, with children of all ages, with one teacher. How did we get so far? Why were those teachers able to achieve the education necessary to allow their students to learn? Because the community who hired them insisted on it. Because they wanted that for their children. They wanted the best.

Who else should we blame? Is it the principle? It is undeniable, in every quest for a successful business, it is the leadership that helps provide the culture, the direction for success. Yet, in most schools, they are barely an administrator, a friend, a "favorite" to some on the board of education. Often without the real qualifications of a leader. Sometimes, they are what is called in business "super users". Super users are people that know how to do their main job and do it well. However, they are often not promotable because they cannot achieve the next step, leadership.

Who else? The board of education for the school district? Surely they are culpable. They manage the budget, the school, the decisions on who will be the principle. They are elected from the community. Yet these schoolboards are often less than focused on the issues of the school then they are stepping stones to other political accumens. Less focused on achievement than internal politics. Look at any school district, any inner city school and you will find this to be true. And while they argue, the students are left on the sidelines. Waiting for that first glimpse of the hope that education brings. The first rope on the climb up the mountain to success.

These people are surely to blame for a part of the condition of these school districts. But there are ones who share the greatest blame, the greatest culpability: we in our communities. Those that would stand back and do nothing. Those that will not demand excellence from their schools. Those that will not get involved. Those that would sit back and take the excuses of the teachers, the principle, the school board as they point to the federal government, the "lack of funds" as the reason that they cannot achieve.

In today's society, there is an ever decreasing interaction between the schools, the teachers, the administrators and the community. The community has become apathetic, eager to lay blame, but never willing to look in the mirror, make that extra effort. In these school districts that are failing, you will see a similar decline in attendance of parent teacher conferences. It is the communities that are involved in their schools, where parents demand excellence of their schools, of their children, where the greatest achievements are made. The best students. And these are the communities that continue to grow.

And when these communities do not demand excellence in their schools, do not require the appropriate outcomes, the government has been forced to take their place and demand this excellence from them. Demand that they show they are capable of being schools. Place a monitoring system, the test of viability. And when it does, is there thanks? Does the community rally behind such a cause? No. Instead there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Cries of unfair treatment that success is required to be proven. Cries that the government is trying to crush the NEA. The union.

Which just shows where the fault lies. In communities that are achieving or are struggling to achieve, barely a whisper of outrage. Because they are already secure in the knowledge that they have demanded such excellence from themselves.

And there are excellent teachers. I did not attend a AAA school district, yet I remember some of the best teachers I ever had:

Mrs. Klein - Kindergarten: I do remember who. Vague though it is. Sitting with us at our table as we learned to color in the lines, the alphabet, to write our names for the first time with big clunky pencils and wide line "big chief" notebooks.

Mrs. Anderson - Second Grade: I remember learning the names of the planets for the first time. Seeing pictures of the universe, with it's vast number of stars. She always had pictures of the universe up in the classroom. The first inkling that the universe was a marvelous place to explore.

Mrs. Winters - 5th Grade: I was behind in reading when I came from another school district. She showed me the power of books. The power of dreams. She gave me my first taste of freedom inside the cover of a book.

Mr. Johnson - 6th Grade: Math. I was always mediocre in math. He would bring ice cream bars, bought with his own money, to give to us when we passed the test with 95% or better. In his class, I excelled and took advanced algebra. I learned to figure complex equations. Why X plus 3 = Y. If you don't think that algebra ever served you, look in your check book. Every time you enter a debit or credit and measure it against the original balance to know your current balance, you are performing algebra.

Mr. Andrews - 9th -1oth grade: Social Studies and advanced Western Civilization History. He taught us about Locke and Paine. Jefferson, Adams, Monroe Doctrine. The first taste of Plato's Republic. He took us on field trips to see the local architecture of our city. Put it into context of history. Federal style buildngs. Neo classic. Art Deco. Compare to baroque and renaissance style buildings. He gave me my taste for civil war history.

Mrs. Engels - 11th grade: Literature and composition. She taught us about content and purpose of sentence structures (which I occasionally forget in my passion for blogging). I became passionate about Greek Mythology. I read the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare on my own after she introduced us to Ceasar and the Gentelman of Verona. I loved the sarcastic witty insults of the Taming of the Shrew and the bizarreness of jealousy in a Mid Summer's Night's Dream.

Mr. Fugate Science, he took us on field trips in the woods behind the school and showed us first hand the workings of plants and insects. I remember having to disect a fetal pig in his class. That was probably the first time I realized that I would never be a doctor. Mr. Garcia taught us Spanish by playing Spanish rock songs and ballads. We sang and went to contests. Our group won first prize at the Spanish language festival. Mrs. Jones in drama that gave me my confidence to stand in front of large crowds and speak. Mrs. Collins (we called her the alligator wrestler, big arms) who taught me geometry. I can now figure the volume of a space, the number of square yards and a few other factors that come in handy when figuring household projects.

I could go on and on and on. There were people behind me, too. My parents who had finished 9th and 11th grade respectively wanted more for me and my brothers. They pushed us. They were on the PTA. They went to parent teacher conferences. They took us to after school activities like band, Spanish club, etc. They demanded excellence.

Hillary Clinton once spoke a cliche: "It takes a village to raise a child."

She spoke the truth. The problem is that she and others have cast their net too wide in proclaiming "the village". The village is the community in which the child lives. It is first and foremost their responsibility to insure the child's welfare. Once they take that responsibility, the first step up the mountain is achieved.

We cannot raise the child by leveling the mountain. We can give them the rope and tie it firm in a high place. We can show them the path. Show them where the loose gravel and falling rocks are a danger. We can occasionally haul them up with brute strength (see school testing and special funds). But we cannot allow our children to be stagnant, stopped at a plateau for the sake of others.

Close schools? Bus children to better schools? This prompted a cry of outrage in the '70s of discrimination when in fact it was a plausible solution to the decripit and continuing decripit schools we see now. If the communities require local schools then they should require them to perform and provide the education for which it is funded.

In the 5th grade, I lived in a farming community. We rode the bus an hour to school and an hour back again. We rode with students of all ages. I remember it fondly because it gave me the time to read all the books that Mrs. Winters showed me. Probably the reason that I read when traveling now. It surely did not kill me nor stunt my emotional growth or education. Maybe, I am the exception to the rule, but I look around and say that this rule is the rule to be broken.

Vouchers may be the answer. Tax credits. Some believe that this will only benefit the more affluent as they will be able to afford to send their children to better schools and not fund the local community schools. I have my concerns of the same.

In my mind, there are things that will improve our school systems better than simply throwing money at them as has been done for the last 30 years.

  1. Demand excellence through testing
  2. Attach incentives to outcomes
  3. Provide additional funding to those schools that are below the grade but show improvement
  4. Improve community involvement. Communities must stop whining about the government and start acting on behalf of their children
  5. Parents must get involved at every level of the school programs, starting with improved parent teacher relations
  6. Parents must take responsibility for their children. Discipline and the desire to achieve are first taught in the home.
  7. Non-profit or charitable organizations should be developed and involved in helping communities create school improvement organizations.
  8. Communities need to be re-energized to achieve these goals. When a community becomes active in it's school programs, the community becomes involved in security, contruction and commerce. All things that will bring people back to or retain them within the community and thereby increase the funds to the schools and continue to demand excellence.
  9. Schools, teachers, principles and school boards that do not perform must be closed or fired and viable entities put in place or existing schools with better records used.
  10. Bus the children there if necessary. It is their interest that must be served, not the community's desire for cohesion. It is improved schools that will attract and retain a communities cohesion. Not the other way around.

It is time to stop dilly-dallying around with our children's future. The industrial revolution has come and gone. We can see that in the decrease of manufacturing jobs in the US. The new revolution is upon us and we are ill prepared. It is the revolution of technology and science, well underway for the last 50 years. Yet many refuse to acknowledge it's importance.

Oabama Barack (D) Illinois asks us if we are our brother's keeper. I am. But I refuse to leave my one brother stranded on the mountainside while my other brother fret's and moans about the climb at the bottom. I refuse to level the mountain and bring my brother down so that my other brother can walk across without struggle. I demand that the people behind my dawdling brother at the bottom, who are desirous of climbing the mountain, grab my brother by the arms and legs and force him to start climbing or throw him out of the way so that they may climb with me.

I am my brother's keeper. I will look back often to insure that my brother is climbing with me, but I will not stop. If my brother falters, I will reach my hand out to him and pull him up with me. But, I will not climb back down the mountain so that my brother that refuses to climb can have my miserable company.

It is time to raise men up, not level the mountain. There is no rescue team on this mountain. We cannot and should not look to the government for a safety net. It is you and I, we the community, that must raise up our schools and start our children on the climb to success. To do less is criminal. It is the indictment of our community. The tale of our failure.

We can and we must do this. Open your eyes. Find the rope and start climbing.


Robert said...

"It takes a village", whereas I am fond of saying "It takes two parents."

As for vouchers, if it is mandatory to pay taxes for school, then I would prefer if parents can allocate the vast majority of those funds wherever they would like.

The truth is that private Catholic schools make due with half as much funds as public schools, and they do better than them. Funding has never been the problem. (Not to the ridiculous heights they want to raise it now, at least.)

As a side note, the Islamists are mountain levelers as well.

Kat said...

Robert...that was an excellent point. Islamists are mountain levelers, too. That is actually a double entendre. (I think)