L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 268, April 25, 2004
Special to TLE
You can't help but wonder whether Fox News' populist commentator Bill O'Reilly is qualified to speak on matters of education with his guests, let alone matters that have nothing to do with education freedom but everything to do with government centralized planning in education. After all, this is the same man who believes that a true free market is a bane to society's existence and that centralized planning of the economy and the regulated society by means of the State are a boon to our society and necessary pillars of our much beloved "democracy." All of this, as we are expected to believe from people like him, is a "necessary evil" in order to keep "shady and unscrupulous" entrepreneurs in line. O'Reilly's recent comments regarding one area of government "public" education social promotion are no exception.
In a debate with Levittown Public School Superintendent Dr. Herman Sirois on March 17, he charged that promoting children who are failing their tests and are unable to learn how to read, write, and do basic math in government "public" schools had been "a disaster." He even cited schools in Los Angeles and in New York City as examples as well.
It should come as no surprise that the debate regarding the controversial program was brought to light, thanks to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who had fired three members of his education panel for refusing to vote for his plan to end social promotion. Shortly after the firings, Bloomberg, his panel, and the city council voted to end the practice by a vote of 8-5, the objections of a few members notwithstanding.
It gets worse (or better, depending on your point of view) though. Sirois, in response to the commentator's interrogative about whether he favors the bamboozlement, asserted the following: "No, we're not for social promotion at all. We don't necessarily believe social promotion exists. That's not the issue at all." Why, that's rather funny coming from an agent of the State whose answers that he provides later on in the segment paint a very stark different picture than the one to which he wants us to be accustomed. Yet it doesn't end there.
The intellectually dishonest verbal masturbation between the two continued as if both sides engaged one another in a never-ending tennis match. O'Reilly accused the superintendent of "warehousing" the students, thus adding, "You're putting them on an assembly line." Sorois, in an attempt to defend himself, returned fire by asserting that O'Reilly was saying that the school districts were "warehousing because you're warehousing the kids if you leave them in third grade." Afterwards, he added, "Because eventually they're just going to quit."
O'Reilly, immediately figuring out where the superintendent was going with his argument, denounced the charge, stating that it was "not true" and that he did not believe that the kids were "just going to quit." In the midst of the grandstanding and showboating between the two of them, O'Reilly finally admits his support for the socialist practice of retaining kids in the classroom. "Because if you leaven them back and nobody likes to be left back. That's a stigma and it's a tough thing," he said.
At one point of the debate, Sorois denied that social promotion has been a dismal failure. In response to O'Reilly's interrogative about children graduating from high school and being unable to "read effectively" and "write a paragraph" and whether it is "effective schooling," the superintendent answers, "It's effective management of children if they can't do anything else."
I don't need to go any further with this recap. One does not need a political science degree to know that these two are clearly evading the real issue: the issue as to whether government has any business in educating these kids in the first place. Sadly enough that issue gets lost in the middle of the debate while the two challengers enjoy duking it out with each other in the debate ring, especially to the point where they ask all the wrong questions and ignore the right ones in the process. That's the heart of the tragedy there, given that these two couldn't careless about whether government "public" school kids are absorbing their real history and the real facts that support that said history.
The spectacle, as it ought to be called as such, is both hilarious and ridiculous at the same time. O'Reilly likes to wave the "Oppose Social Promotion" flag while condemning the socialism behind it, but embraces the socialism that is endemic within the government "public" schools, including the practice of retentions. Sorois, on the other hand, is the mirror image of O'Reilly, waving the "Oppose Retentions of children" flag in the school system, condemning the socialism behind it while embracing the socialism endemic within the system, including the practice of social promotion. In a nutshell, one supports one form of socialism in the school system, and the other supports another form of socialism in the system. It doesn't get much better than this.
The issue that became the hot debated topic of the day was social promotion. The fair question to ask is what is it? Social promotion, as defined by the Department of Education, is "the practice of allowing students who have failed to meet performance standards and academic requirements to pass on to the next grade with their peers instead of completing or satisfying the requirements." The idea behind this measure is that kids who are retained in their respective grades suffer from social and psychological damage to their minds. Therefore, they need to be advanced to the next grade level so they can catch up with their peers, even if they have great difficulty with grasping the material in the schools or are unable to learn how to read, write, or do basic math. If the child is retained, his confidence, as many supporters of social promotion believe, is scathed. That is the philosophy of the socialistic practice.
Many apologists for government "public" schooling insist that there is hardly enough research and statistical data on the practices of social promotion and retention. It is true that there is an inadequate amount of such data on these practices, simply because the school districts don't keep track of these practices and don't report them to the federal government, much less admit the existence of them. Since that is the case, then that is all the more reason to get the federal government out of the education business.
Nevertheless, men like O'Reilly and Sorois say that separating education from the federal government is tantamount to sheer insanity. They claim that removing education from the sphere of politics creates a void in the world of education, and that all parents in general are not up to the task of educating their kids their own way whether that means sending them to private schools, home schooling them, unschooling them, or even enrolling them in successful private learning centers. Of course this is all claptrap, because the politically correct government "public" education establishment finds itself threatened by the calls to demolish the marriage between education and the State.
If such an act were carried out, the socialist paradigm that has fused the education system with the State would no longer exist. Such an act would also signal the destruction of the government's ability to rev up its propaganda machine that spews out the view that collectivism and tribalism must dominate the mind of the individual and that individual ideas and beliefs, even when such tenets are presented and questioned, must not be allowed to exist. This gives the State a distinct advantage: to brainwash our children by means of indoctrination and stultified ideas. Because of all this, these kids never learn their real history that is, true free markets produce wealth and prosperity and governments destroy them and instead learn altered versions of their American heritage. Let's face it they don't know any better if the lies they are told are repeatedly instilled in their heads. In the end, they learn what every school child learns: that welfare is "wealth," that control is "freedom," that government regulations "saved free enterprise," and that government and the country are "one and the same."
Kids who are forcibly incarcerated ("enrolled") in these schools thanks to compulsory attendance laws are treated like criminals, especially without due process. Many of these kids are coerced into sitting next to troubled and violent kids with abusive upbringings in the classrooms, which often results in disruptions between student and teacher, thus leading to a hostile learning environment. That's exactly what happens in these schools; kids are subjected to mental and emotional abuse not only from their peers, but also from their educators as well. It's a never-ending cycle. We have the welfare state to thank for all of that.
The diatribes coming out of the mouths of O'Reilly and Sorois finally tell us something: that government is not controlling education well enough. How is this so? Sorois wants the State to continue with the practice of social promotion for the reason of "effective management of children." O'Reilly wants the schools to abandon social promotion and require their students to repeat the same grades as if that will foster improvements in the quality of classroom instruction and student performance. What they don't get is that these "reforms" will not "solve" the problems in the schools at all, all because they are band-aids to the problems; they merely evade the sole root problem that is, government subsidy and control of education. O'Reilly inquires to Sorois, "Who's looking out for the kids?" That's the wrong question to ask. Instead, the real question not asked is, "Why should the government be looking out for the kids and not the parents?"
The hilarity at the end of the debate stems from O'Reilly's assignment of blame to parents for their children's inability to read and write in the third grade. He added, "I'm not blaming the schools. I'm blaming the parents, flat out blaming them. If your kid can't read in the third grade, it's your fault." Can you believe this knucklehead? All erroneously semantic hairsplitting aside, the government schools are to blame for this mess. Yes, it is true that parents do share their portion of the blame by avoiding their moral responsibility for getting involved in their kids' education; however, that's only a side effect of the many useless "reforms" that were implemented to "save" the schools. When you have lower-class families who can't afford to employ private means of educating their kids and are coerced into sending their kids to schools with second-rate to third-rate track records, of course they're not going to get involved in their kids' education. The welfare state, the complex and convoluting federal and state tax codes, and the government "public" education system have made it possible for these problems to exist. Why else should these parents feel any different?
When all is said and done, we should identify social promotion by its real name: socialistic promotion. But make no mistake; that is only a symptom of the real disease, which is government regulation, subsidy, and control of education. The cure is a separation of education and state. The method to accomplish this is to repeal the school and property taxes that feed the statist organism we call "public education."
The tragedy is that O'Reilly's viewers won't be learning that lesson by watching him and his misguided guest. Instead, they will have to educate themselves on the principles of liberty. If they do that, they will have taken the first step to advancing education freedom for our children and generations of children to come.
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