Field notes: car crashes into school and other educational issues.

My email crackled early the other morning, a message from a friend who
monitors the Police band on his CB*:

Police and fire department as well as Rescue squad are enroute
to the new Junior Senior school as someone did not want to be late for class
and drove into the building. Police report it as" car vs.

A few minutes later, another email, from a parent:

As I was driving my son to school this morning 3 police cars
were speeding up to the high school doing at least 45 to 50 mph around the
curves up the avenue. Thank God nobody was run over. Nothing is more important
than the safety of the people along that road. So much for the walking school
bus idea.

Ah, yes, the walking school bus. An idea that seems to be sweeping the nation, conquering the
obesity problem, saving gas-guzzling millions—not here. We’ve been discussing
it for a couple of years. I was pulled aside in the bank a couple of weeks ago.
“I heard you’re for the walking school bus,” said the woman, an African
American mother of six. It was not a question. “Don’t you know about the
perverts?” That too was not a question.

A few days later, I received an email from a local real estate broker.
It had a “busing” subject line and began “What a nasty winter afternoon!” I
could guess where this was going, but I was wrong:

As an FYI, I support kids walking to school—I walked to St.
Mary's and then used the City Trolley in High School (Which, by the way, I paid
for out of my own money, since my parents believed that if I didn't want to
walk, I had to pay.)
If you haven't already checked it out, I would encourage you to
check out the website NeighborHood Watchdog, a site I have used for housing
purposes. It was set up by John Walsh, the father whose child was abducted, and
who then went on to launch America's
Most Wanted.
Sadly, our town is chock full of Sex Offenders of all levels.
Type in any address and any route to one of the schools and then be surprised!
by how many RSOs a child would have to pass to get to their respective school.
And then of course, because society is much more complicated
than when an older kid walked me to school, there are I'm sure, liability
issues the walking school bus "operator" for lack of a better word,
would be open too.
Teasing out the zeitgeist of a
particular time and place isn’t easy—just ask Mitt.

I watch the presidential primaries these days with a new insight about
the meaning of the old saw, “You couldn’t be elected dog catcher.” Yes, the
saying suggests that the lowliest of jobs requires community support. But it
also means that that support comes from somewhere too deep for just anyone to
grasp. Teasing out the zeitgeist of a
particular time and place isn’t easy—just ask Mitt. I have watched the easiest
of questions to a community group turn complicated because of a left-field
comment—or seen a crowd’s confusion clarified by a deft turn of phrase, as was
done at a school board meeting when a grandparent whose grandson had sprained
his ankle in our school’s actual left field implored the audience to get the kids off
“this field of screams.”

Will the car stuck in the side of the school building derail the
walking school bus idea? Perhaps. But the bigger question, for policymakers, is,
Should it? Do cop cars speeding to the scene suggest a problem? What about those
Registered Sex Offenders? What should someone in the state capitol–or the nation’s
capitol–make of this?

Or the ivory tower?

The other day Jay Greene
called attention to a note that a research colleague of his had gotten from his
child’s second-grade teacher after the colleague published a study about teacher
pay. “How do you sleep at night?” the teacher wrote. As Greene points out,

The teacher was just engaged in bullying, a practice that
schools say they are trying to discourage. And part of the bullying is the not
so subtle reminder that the teacher has [the researcher’s] children all day.
Parents are (at least partially) compelled to send their children to the care
of adults who may threaten you if you say things they dislike.

Perhaps the most annoying habit of the educational institution I
experience is its arrogance. It is an arrogance of power, the source of which
may just as easily come from local bullies as distant ones.

Greene singles out “the teacher unions and their advocates, like Diane
Ravitch and Valerie Strauss, [who] encourage strident views and confrontational
tactics that make unprofessional behavior far more likely.” And he is right, as
far as he goes. The protective cocoon that shields educators from
responsibility for their educational actions—or lack thereof—can just as easily
originate in the knot of friends and family who control local elections, by
word-of-mouth, as from state and federal policymakers ruled by special interests. We
will take this conundrum up in a future post discussing an amazing Koret Task
Force proposal described by Grover Whitehurst in the new Education
(hint: “let the dollars follow the child”). How do you get authentic
democracy? Better yet: how do you get it to deliver an excellent education?

For now where I live, the big educational question is, What
do we do with that car stuck in the side of the school building?


*Update: Though the car apparently sideswiped another car in
the the parking lot, then jumped the curb and
careened across a wide sidewalk before crashing into
the teachers' lounge, no one was hurt. The vehicle
has been towed away, insurance companies
summoned, and an emergency meeting of the board
facilities committee called for Monday.  In the
meantime, another email just arrived: an angry high
schooler just kicked in a safety-glass window, but he
said it had nothing to do with school.

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