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Republicans are usually right to be confident that returning
responsibility to state and local governments is the key to undoing much
of the damage that activist and ideological government has done to the
social fabric. But relying entirely on such a power shift may not be as
wise as it looks, particularly when the rearrangement of power becomes a
substitute for a national discussion of the principles at stake in
certain issues. This is particularly true in the case of the reform of
public education.

If Republican leaders settle for dealing moderately serious blows to
the power of the federal educational bureaucracy by transferring some of
that power to the states, they will actually increase the chances that a
destructive and dangerous doctrine of education will become practically
entrenched in the schools of the nation. Real leadership on education
reform must include the vigorous promotion by Republican statesmen of a
national agreement on the nature and purpose of education. Because if we
don’t reach national agreement on this point, no momentary disciplining
of the Department of Education or transfer of authority to the states
will do much good.

GOP leaders who think serious education reform can duck the issues of
principle and solve everything with process and structure might want to
reflect on a recent poll of the governors and other state leaders on
education, conducted by a group called the Education Commission of the
States (ECS). Statehouses are no longer owned by the Democrats, and a
surprisingly large group of 35 governors answered the survey’s questions
about the purpose and future of education. Their answers sound just like
Bill Clinton’s commencement address at MIT last week, and are equally
superficial and contemptuous of Americans’ capacity for self rule.

Whether we rely on a federal education bureaucracy or a state one,
what we will get if these leaders have their way will be nothing more
than computers, therapy, and job placement. What we won’t get is real
academic standards, or respect for moral formation and development of
character as essential educational goals.

Now, I like my keyboard as much as the rest of us, maybe more. Unlike
President Clinton, who admits to being nearly illiterate in these
things, I regularly use a PC and the Internet. In fact, given the dull
semi-monopoly of the conventional press, one of the best ways I have to
communicate with my fellow citizens is through places like WorldNetDaily
and the website for my radio show.

But it is irresponsible to say, as Clinton did the other day, that
kids need keyboard literacy to learn better, while neglecting the fact
that without good hard learning they’ll have nothing in their minds to
type into their keyboards, or to look up on the web. Especially when
tests show our children lagging in the real tools of learning, the
fundamental skills of language and mathematics.

When the governors jump on board the same bandwagon we should really
begin to worry. The ECS poll showed them buying into the idea that
education is merely job preparation, that computers will be a magic
bullet, that we should be spending more and more money in the government
school structure, and that the folks from whom they expect the least
cooperation in advancing this agenda are the state legislatures.

Whoa there, how was that again? They don’t expect much from the
people’s representatives? Why not? I’ll tell you why not. Because the
people have actually raised their voices against this ‘feel good,’
‘train the little workers’ agenda, and have even managed to block a bit
of the Goals 2000 or School-to-Work scheme.

So to whom do these leaders look for support? Other educrats, and
leaders of corporations. Far be it from me, a lifelong conservative, to
speak a word against business — when it’s free and minds its own
business. But education is not business, and it is not for business.

Parents have the first responsibility to bring up their children in
the right paths, and the larger community helps them as the children
mature, because both parents and community are aiming at the good and
happy human being, the one who exercises the unalienable right to the
pursuit of happiness and who has the capacity to enjoy reasonably the
unalienable right to liberty.

It’s old fashioned to say it, but that means an enlightened mind and
a sound character. Happily, such a mind and character both fit with
success in business, and in all walks of life. Neither will be promoted
by ‘Fuzzy Math,’ phony self-esteem programs, or one-stop social service
centers passing out condoms to those who can’t control their passions,
and career tracking to those who won’t try the brisk air of freedom and
risk.

The talking heads in DC and elsewhere say that education is the big
issue this electoral cycle, and that Republicans have to spruce up their
ideas to compete with the Democrats. This is pathetic advice. We need to
do serious thinking about principle and purpose, rather than try to
market the ‘bells and whistles’ contraptions of technical and
psychological training. Because, though we are dealing with kids, it
would be a crime to give them nothing but toys.

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