Liam Julian

It's nice of Jesse Jackson to encourage kids to study more. Irony exists, though, when a man who has spent the better part of the last several decades blaming anything and everything for anything and everything, who has generally shirked accepting responsibility for his own foibles, of which there are so many, tells students to "accept responsibility" for their educations.

There is but one system that Jackson won't blame, of course--the entrenched, bureaucratic school system. (Surely this has nothing to do with the fact that his Rainbow PUSH Coalition receives millions from the NEA.) Jackson is vehemently opposed to educational choice. He called Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who supports vouchers, "a wolf in sheep's clothing." He called the policies of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who also supports vouchers, "racist."

Jesse Jackson says: Blame everyone else all the time. But kids, if you're not learning, it's your own fault--take some responsibility for it. Bootstraps and whatnot....

Kudos to Bill Nye the Science Guy--perhaps the nation's best-known and most effective science teacher--for putting his green lessons into action. According to yesterday's New York Times Magazine, he lives in a "retrofitted, eco-friendly, 1,300-square-foot, 1939 stucco home in Los Angeles." (And, of course, he drives a Prius and rides his bike a lot.)

This isn't a comment on the politics of environmentalism--though Fordham will be celebrating Earth Day tomorrow--but on teachers being good role models. Because it's great when history teachers love to visit historical sites; when English teachers devour the latest National Book Award winners; when drivers ed teachers don't drink and drive; when civic teachers... vote. You get the idea. Let's face it: there's almost nothing more discouraging than a gym teacher with a beer gut. So to Bill Nye, we say: this Bud's for you.

I'm looking forward to Thursday's White House "summit" on inner-city kids and faith-based schools, both because it's a really important issue and because a number of panelists (and at least one moderator) are involved with the promising projects and programs recently profiled in Fordham's Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools?

But I've also learned a thing or two about "summits" over the years. When they accomplish anything (rare), it's because tons of groundwork has been done in advance to forge near-agreement among key players on an action plan or program to be announced or inked at the summit itself. Also, they're usually small events where a few really important decision-makers meet with each other "at the summit"--i.e., somewhere above the hillsides inhabited by bureaucrats and staffers and assistant secretaries and such.

What's coming up this week is more like a conference than a summit. There will be a cast of thousands. Problems and ideas will surely be aired, perhaps brilliantly examined, but to the best of my knowledge, no action plan will be announced for none has been agreed to. I worry that the tone will be set by the President's remarks at the prayer breakfast the other day that Catholic schools need to be "saved." That's oversimplified and na??ve, at least for elected officials. (The pope and his bishops are another story.) However, helping more poor kids to attend such schools is a legitimate public policy objective toward which actual programs can be...

You gotta give it to purebred libertarians, they never let their vision of how the world ought to work be distorted by any realities about how it actually works. Nowhwere is this clearer than in K-12 education, where the CATO crowd, indistinguishable nowadays from the "separation of school and state crowd," basically doesn't believe in any form of public education. They believe in private education, purchased in the marketplace by parents who want and can afford it for their kids from schools that are not accountable to anybody for anything except keeping those tuition payments rolling in the door. The heck with everybody else's kids. The heck with an educated polity or transmitted common culture. Check out Neil McCluskey's review of my book.

Liam Julian

The New York Times reviews some handwringing about??that which??America's k-12 schools have wrought. (Checker, too, has reviewed William Damon's book; the piece is??here.)

Surely this is better than attacking a teacher, but still, not so good.

Liam Julian

I was just chatting about this after a recent and jolting visit to some of New York's Chelsea galleries--today's art is not judged by how it looks or the skill of the artist who produced it. It's all about ideology, which is a shame.

But to bring it back to k-12, the article's larger point is that writing about art has become inscrutable. An example from the Whitney Biennial:

Bove's "settings" draw on the style, and substance, of certain time-specific materials to resuscitate their referential possibilities, to pull them out of historical stasis and return them to active symbolic duty, where new adjacencies might reactivate latent meanings.

That's bad. But this tripe isn't limited to the art world; lousy writing is prevalent in all subjects because it's what students are taught (when they're taught). Just today, one finds yet another article (this one's from the U.K.) in which corporate bosses complain that their work-forces lack basic skills, including writing. Seventy-two percent are concerned about the quality of written English. A dose of Strunk & White??("Make every word tell," "Be obscure clearly") in our schools would do everyone--managers, employees,??museum patrons--a lot of good.

Liam Julian

Usually bad ideas flow from academia into our K-12 system. (Think moral relativism, the decline of the core curriculum, dubious pedagogical approaches.) But now one of public education's worst features--its hyper-unionized workforce--is finding its way into higher ed. At least that's the intent of a bill introduced yesterday by Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative George Miller (respective chairmen of their chambers' education committees) that would allow graduate students who serve as teaching or research assistants to bargain collectively. This is only likely to drive up tuition and drive down quality.

Colleges and universities: we feel your pain. But maybe this is some sort of Karmic payback for all the damage you've done to our elementary and secondary schools.

Update: The AFT says higher education is already hyper-unionized.