American Public Education: From teaching children to sacred cow in just 40 years

April 7, 2013

In two generations public education in this country has gone from a primary mission of teaching to a bloated sacred cow lowing to but one single tune: more money, more money, more money.

 If you’re 50 or older you know exactly what I’m talking about.

 W e didn’t have all the “tech” and the “theory” but we got what far too many kids today are not: a real and practical education that is still with us today.

 No it wasn’t always “fun”. In fact, most of the time it was damn hard.

 But even after decades since we heard that last stanza of Pomp and Circumstance, we can still perform a basic sales transaction without a computer telling us the correct change, we can actually “write” a handwritten note, we still carry that dreaded “algebra” that tells us that the 3lb tub of potato salad at $2.98 is a much better buy than the 1lb at $2.28,

 Think I’m hyping?


Sacred Cow: one that is often unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition


Sacred Cow: Something which cannot be tampered with, or criticized, for fear of public outcry. A person, institution, belief system, etc. which, for no reason other than the demands of established social etiquette or popular opinion, should be accorded respect or reverence, and not touched, handled or examined too closely.

 Now tell me, do the above definitions more closely resemble the educational establishment we have today or the independent, dedicated school districts and teachers that taught us and our mothers and fathers, and their mothers and fathers, and the mothers and fathers before them?

 It all started two Sundays ago on the opinion pages of the Joplin Globe. Right there front and center replacing the regular weekly column by editor Carol Stark was an image of a grinning 30’s something white male complete with short cropped hair, rimmed glasses, and bow tie. The dateline was March 24, 2013 but that image could have been pulled straight from the Sunday, March 22 1953 edition.

 Sadly though that image was the only similarity between the author of the column and the colleagues who preceded him decades before.

 The headline read:: Kirby Newport, Income tax cut threatens profession of teaching and the topic was a controversial bill that had just passed the Missouri state Senate and was on its way for debate in the House. Known as SB26 it is a knee-jerk reaction to “compete” with Kansas’ recent reduction in income tax rates in an attempt to keep and grow small business in Missouri rather than losing them across our border to the west.

 Newport opened his column citing worse case numbers of $960 million and 34% loss of funding to Missouri schools but provided no sourcing for where those numbers came from or what group came up with them. (I’m taking bets that whatever the organization Newport pulled his numbers from if you look at it’s Board of Directors and staff you’ll find a majority of academics, activists and democrat donors.)

 He then takes the reader on a personal journey through his formative college years where in one lecture, yes ONE lecture, he learned that there were GASP: “anti-public education trends in the United States”, relays the laments of an older teacher regretting his/her career choice and dutifully hits all the standard talking points of his “profession” being “attacked” with “pension changes, budget cuts and standardized tests”

 His closing paragraph “I believe in learning. I believe in your child. I believe in public education. Please reassure me and other teachers that you do too” was straight from the national unions playbooks.

 If you don’t agree with me than you’re against teachers and yes, you hate your children as well.

 At first I let it go as just another routine plea for more money from the now so well rehearsed, so well organized education unions and their supporters. (Newport is president of the Carthage Education Association.)

 But the deeper meaning behind Newport’s column would not go away. Without even realizing it, he had just laid out in 685 words why we as a society should be more concerned now about the fate of our children’s education than ever before. And it has nothing to do with how much money is spent.

 It has everything to do with the fact that Mr. Newport is now the first generation of teachers to be fully indoctrinated by the “modern” educational system. A generation fully immersed in the “self-esteem”, “political correctness”, and the “everyone deserves a trophy” movement.

 It has to do with the fact that for all of Mr. Newport’s passionate pleading for his chosen profession, he included not one word of objective fact or logical reasoning.

 The entire piece was an emotional cry of “I want” therefore “you need” to pay. Just the “wanting” was reason enough to demand the “need” to oppose the bill.

 If the column had come from a full time union activist it could have been written off for what it was. But it did not. It came from an active teacher, an American history and government teacher no less.

 An America that includes an historical time-line of when education was more synonymous with teaching, children and graduation than with the labor contracts, tenure and political activism.

 As much as I tried, I could not let Mr. Newport’s “plea of want” just lie there as a defense of “need for more”. I knew full well taking on the sacred cow of public education would bring backlash and I was not disappointed.

 Within days of my March 26th response (Geoff Caldwell, Funding should be bsed on fact, not emotion), the defenders of the status quo came pouring forth. There was Caroline Tubbs, Honest discourse deserves more respect, Henry Morgan’s Your View: Contrast in education essays letter and even one in today’s paper (link not up on the Globe site yet) from a Kaye Smith of Pierce City declaring Ms. Tubbs her “heroine” for her off point column just before railing against pension rules.

 Local pundit and frequent commentator on this blog, Anson Burlingame got in on the action as well with his How to fix public education in America guest column.

 Yet for as lively as the opinion pages have been these past two weeks I find myself severely disappointed.

 Yes, I appreciate the private email telling me “Actually, even though you have to be the bad guy, your column prompted some really interesting letters and responses – which is what you do very well”, but I can’t shake the sadness that all but Anson’s response were just knee-jerks to me and not discussion of the issue of the day:

 That our public education system of today is in dire and desperate need of reform.

 No amount of money, no amount of words, no amount of outpouring of feelings can change that one, undeniable fact.

 2 + 2 is still 4, there are still only 26 letters in the English alphabet, and no matter how many ceremonies are held and trophies given out, there have been and always will be, winners and losers.

 This nation sent men to the moon and returned them safely to earth with slide rules and #2 pencils.

 I am of the last generation to be taught by the teachers of the “greatest” generation. I am of the last generation to graduate from a public school sans political correctness, helicopter parents, and union activism.

 Our children do not need more technology or educational theory, they just need teachers. And those teachers must be freed from the shackles of bureaucracy and red-tape. But those teachers must also want to and fight for those changes.

 Return to the basics, Restore common sense, and Revel in the achievements that will come.

2 Responses to American Public Education: From teaching children to sacred cow in just 40 years

  1. anson on April 8, 2013 at 6:46 am

    Well said, Geoff, again,
    Just the fact that the initial focus of the ensuing discussion in columns was over one bill in the MO legislature over essentially money and taxes says it all. We cannot have a serious discussion over education alone and must always get into a fight over money.
    FORGET MONEY, for just a moment and try to explain WHY public education in America today is so “bad”. Hell some won’t even engage in that discussion and will immediatly leap to all the “good they are TRYING to do” to improve education.
    Well if we don’t know WHY it is bad today, far worse than we experienced long ago, then how in the hell can we ever fix it. Solutions must be directed to fixing problems but the real sacred cow is we are not allowed to try to identify the damn problems.
    More later in my own blog on this subject, not allowed to discuss sacred cows. And yep, when I post that blog, it will contain racial issues. Stand by for the names I will be called when that one goes up!!!

  2. Geoff Caldwell on April 8, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Standing and ready. We owe it to future generations.


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