February 20, 2017


5 Pieces Of Advice For Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (Peter Lawler, FEBRUARY 20, 2017, The Federalist)

2. The Neighborhood School Can Still Be Ideal

Still, how to use public funds to educate our young should also be a local decision, and freedom of choice shouldn't always mean equal access to government resources. Another American tradition, after all, is neighborhood schools. When Trumpians imagine when America was great, they think good schools within walking distance that were community centers.

More precisely, they might imagine, as I do, both a public and a parochial school within walking distance, but with the latter managing to offer a good (often a better) product without government assistance (and very minimal government regulation). When I write my polemical history of American education, I will devote several long chapters to the mistaken political judgments that undermined our tradition of neighborhood schools.

When they can, Americans still seem to choose neighborhood schools. But it's less and less a choice available to most of us. I notice young parents herding into Decatur, Georgia, where fine neighborhood schools are still available. But they have to be able to pay premium prices for homes and steep property taxes. It's not a choice available to most Atlanta-area residents.

Often there's no simple going back to when America was great, and our memories of greatness are pretty darn selective. Still: My parochial school was very socioeconomically diverse, typically had classes taught by a nun who didn't graduate from college and had 40 to 50 students, featured disciplinary methods that are now pretty illegal, and had no art, music, gym, phys ed, and basically no playground.

But it did get the educational job done for all at a very low-cost, civilized way: Literally everyone could diagram sentences, have decent penmanship (well, I got Ds in penmanship and neatness), do all basic math in their heads, read real books, became literate in patriotic American and pious church history, and recite the answer to every question in the catechism. We were even taught to excel on standardized tests.

That was a great triumph for egalitarian social justice, and it showed that democratic education isn't all that dependent on level of funding--even less, perhaps, on the imposition of the latest methods of efficiency and productivity, even less still on the latest trends promulgated by schools of education and bureaucrats, and least of all on technology in the classroom.

3. Take Care to Respect Subsidiarity and Solidarity

My only point here is the "reform conservative" principles of solidarity and subsidiarity limit imposing abstract principles in determining what's best for students. Those principles are articulated so well by Yuval Levin and shared, in some measure, in the rhetoric of President Trump. Solidarity means some concern for the unity of citizenship that brings Americans all together, despite vast disparities of wealth, power, and everything else. Subsidiarity means making as many decisions as possible at the most intimate level of human relationships, encouraging the kind of solidarity that comes from local knowing and loving through shared privileges and responsibilities.

Returning to the republican end of educating good citizens takes on added importance as it becomes impossible to prepare kids for jobs and unnecessary to use schools as day care for working parents.
Posted by at February 20, 2017 11:06 AM