The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." "...it is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32) akakyakakyevich@gmail.com

Sunday, April 30, 2006

A SOMEWHAT MODEST PROPOSAL: Well, I suppose this was bound to happen sooner or later, human nature being what it is, but I fear that politics has raised its ugly head here in our happy little burg and now we are not as happy as we once were. Politics seems to have that effect on people, I’ve noticed. The issue that’s getting everyone’s knickers in a twist is taxes, which I’m sure doesn’t surprise you, especially school taxes. Yes indeed, it is that time of year again, the time when the school board goes to the public an announces that they need to raise taxes yet again and if the public votes the budget down the board will have to cut programs for the kids. Without the eight percent tax hike they are asking for, the board will have to curtail art classes and music classes and many other extracurricular activities that kids and parents enjoy so much and that would be a shame.

School taxes are always a contentious issue here in our currently not so happy little burg. That’s because people pay more in school taxes than they do in property taxes and, in many cases, state and Federal income taxes. This year’s scary announcement about having to cut programs if the budget doesn’t pass is, I suspect, something of a red herring; the board of education would just as soon have everyone forget that they asked for an eight percent raise in taxes last year, and once the budget passed, promptly jacked the final figure up to 25.7%. Last year was also the year when those of us stuck in this egregious mold pit were hoping against hope that we would get a new library building, but alas and alack, as they say, the board of education announced that that final 25.7% figure a week before our building referendum, and that more or less put an end to that. So we soldier on in this dump, which, if I were to entertain my paranoid streak, and why shouldn’t I, it’s a free country, is why the school board announced their tax hike when they did; they needed someone to take the pummeling of an outraged public and we were the designated pummelee, if there is such a word.

The problem with paying school taxes, of course, is that money allegedly goes to educate children, most of whom are inherently uneducable, and are therefore best left in a state of happy ignorance, and to pay the teachers, most of whom are more than vaguely moronic. After all, having successfully gotten out of the pedagogical hellhole that is the American educational system, why would anyone in their right minds go back into it if they something better to do with their time? This, however, does not stop them from asking for more, even if their record with the more they wanted last year doesn’t really inspire a whole lot of confidence. No sirree, students may be failing from one end of this our Great Republic to the other, kids may not know what century the Civil War was fought in or that during that conflict the Germans were not fighting the Viet Cong, or even that the Middle Ages did not occur after the Second World War [no, I am not kidding; the homecoming queen, of all people, asked me that one], but the teachers want more so they can continue the great job they are doing educating American kids.

The teachers want more money and smaller class sizes, even though there is no empirical evidence that more money and smaller class sizes will help them teach the little savages, and they would like us all to forget that once upon a time in America Roman Catholic nuns taught classes with fifty to sixty students crammed into the room, and taught them well, with little more than a piece of chalk, a blackboard, and the willingness to smack me upside my head for being a smartass all the time. And they did it for no pay, too. Now, I am not advocating that teachers not get paid, of course; I am all for civil servants getting more money—being a civil servant myself I could hardly feel otherwise, I suppose. It’s just that I can’t help but wonder what it is the teachers have being doing that rates the annual pay hikes. Businesses that turn out defective products go out of business; schools that turn out defective products get more money. Go figure.

The reason for this topsy-turvy system of rewarding failure is, some folks tell me, the teachers’ unions in this country, and that if I were really smart I’d just drop this whole librarian thing I’ve been doing and go back to school for an education degree. That way I could join the union too and get the kind of benefits librarians don’t get. This is true, I guess; I don’t belong to a union, if for no other reason than I think that civil service unions are an abomination that the state ought to ban forthwith. There is something more than a little cognitively dissonant to me about people who can’t lose their jobs organizing a trade union, but you can get used to anything if you give it enough time.

In any case, since the power of this particular obscurantist union lies ultimately with its control of a government sponsored monopoly, the answer to the problem of grasping unions and ineffective education is really quite simple: eliminate the monopoly. No I don’t mean vouchers per se; I mean let’s go to the absolute root of the problem and eliminate compulsory education altogether. The public pays extortionate school taxes because we think that the schools have to educate all of the kids in a given area, but if the schools only had to educate some of the kids in that some area, there were more money to spend on those kids who actually want an education and taxes could go down. And the kids who do show up would be easier to educate, since they really want to learn. The discipline problems that couldn’t care less about school will have other things to do.

I know some of you may object to this idea. You’re no doubt thinking that if there’s no school then more kids will get into serious trouble with the police because they have nothing else to do with their time. This is true, but if they wanted to do something to do these kids could always go to school, and for the more recalcitrant, the state can always build more prisons. Other people may point out that in our postindustrial information society our nation cannot afford a large underclass of unemployed near illiterates. Well, I’ve got news for those of you who think that: we’ve already got a large underclass of unemployed near illiterates and the economy is doing just fine. Getting the ignoramuses out of the schools and into the streets will also help alleviate the problem with illegal immigration; for the first time there will be a large pool of native born Americans who will be able to compete with illegals for the crappiest available jobs.

The teachers’ unions will fight this proposal tooth and nail, of course, as they do every other educational reform that doesn’t put more money in their pockets, as they do not want to surrender their monopoly on public education. Teachers are irreplaceable, they will say, although that’s not what they teach in the education schools. Nope, you know what they say there? The tell the prospective teachers that their job is to facilitate the student’s natural desire to learn, that a child learns to read and write and do math in much the same way as they learn to walk or talk. The teacher is there to help the child learn how to learn; actually knowing something about the subject you want to teach is nice, but not really necessary. If this is so, and it must be or the education schools wouldn’t be telling new teachers this, then why bother having a teacher at all? Why not simply get somebody's mom to teach the class and then shift the excess teachers over to the IRS or the department of motor vehicles or some other equally annoying bureaucracy where they do something at least tangentially useful while irritating the taxpayers beyond endurance? That way they can annoy us no end, which they were going to do anyway, and the public can get the full measure of annoyance we paid for without the smarmy sanctimony that comes with them pretending they are annoying us for the sake of “the children.” Frankly, the children, with or without the quotation marks, can go suck eggs.
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