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In Washington, there are public relations victories and then there
are real, substantive victories. Congressional Republicans have an
opportunity to score victories in both areas if they will divide the
House Committee On Education And The Workforce into two committees. One
would deal with labor issues and the other would focus only on
education.

During the campaign, George W. Bush and the congressional leadership
did their best to convince the American public that they would take a
second-seat to no one in terms of being “pro-education.” Here’s a
chance to make good on that promise.

The name of this committee, the House Committee On Education And The
Workforce, tells us something about how Congress sees education.
However that committee got its name, the idea that labor and education
go inextricably together may be important to the teachers unions, but it
sends the wrong message about education to everyone else.

When education stands alone, children come first. When children come
first, the emphasis is on the individual development of each student.
When labor and education are joined, as they are now, unions and
politics come first.

We have all benefited tremendously from the individual achievement of
our fellow citizens. This is not only true with visionary inventors
like Thomas Edison, towering solitary political figures like Abraham
Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, and incomparable athletes like Tiger Woods.
It’s true of our own local leaders. Our tradition of the effective
individual is so strong; its almost surprising Republicans haven’t
already established a House committee to focus solely on education.

As it’s configured now, the House Committee On Education And The
Workforce might remind us of the animated movie Antz. Little ant
Z, voiced by Woody Allen, is a neurotic ant that wants to be
individually distinctive but learns he has no hope of finding himself.
He must submit to the needs of the collective ant colony instead.
Politics and unions come first.

And in one scene, baby ants are assigned their future roles as
workers or soldiers before they have an opportunity to demonstrate their
abilities or discover their natural tendencies to one vocation or
another. We are not this unreasonable with our school children (yet),
but the name of the committee springs from a philosophy of education
that tends in that direction.

President-elect Bush has skillfully argued, “No child should be left
behind.” One way to ensure that children are not forgotten is to get
them out of the shadow of big labor and into their own committee where
the focus can be uniquely on the interests of children.

As the party of free market principles, Republicans should seize the
opportunity to re-emphasize a foundational American belief: Outstanding
individual achievement brings societal progress.

Structure in education has a great deal to do with success in
education. As educational bureaucracies have grown, educational success
has plummeted. The most academically successful form of education –
home schooling — has the least bureaucracy.

Most parents don’t home school their children. But most Americans
are convinced that our public schools have left their highest calling.
They believe our schools should return to emphasizing much more
demanding achievement in math, excellent reading comprehension and
top-notch writing abilities. Parents are crying out for their
individual children to reach higher academic performance levels — and
their concern for their children should not have to compete for
attention with unions.

I dream of a day when education decisions are made uniquely by the
people who actually see the children on a day-to-day basis. These are
the teachers, principals and parents. State boards of education are not
that helpful, much less a federal Department of Education. But the
reality is that, for now, there is a federal role in education and it is
up to the Republicans to manage it well by moving both decision-making
and dollars back to the classroom as much as is politically possible.

That kind of substantive innovation will never occur in the
environment when education policy is dominated by labor issues. By
separating education from labor, the Republicans can send a huge message
to America — public schools are to be operated for the benefit of each
individual child, not for the political or economic benefit of unions.

It is a message Republicans need to repeat and repeat until it
penetrates the national consciousness. Education is for each child. We
need a laser-beam focus on the individual child if we truly want to do
our best in education. That laser-beam focus can start by letting
education stand alone in the United States House of Representatives.

Unions and politics should not be more important than children.


Michael Farris is president of

Patrick Henry College,
chairman and general counsel for the

Home School
Legal Defense Association.

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