Wake County Schools: Back to the Future

I’ve been away on vacation for a couple of weeks.  Upon my return, I can’t help but think I’ve stepped back in time. The ongoing – or should we say endless – debate  regarding school assignment by the Wake County School Board is not encouraging for conservatives.  Last week Board Chairman Kevin Hill said he wanted to make sure the new school assignment plan includes an emphasis on diversity and healthy schools. Sound familiar?

Despite all the protestations by Hill that we’re not going back to the same old plan, don’t believe him. If you listen long enough, you’ll hear all the key words: nodes, diversity, healthy schools and busing.  It’s a new board but the same old school assignment plan in different packaging.

Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? Not really. While most candidates played nice during last fall’s election, it was really only a matter of time before the masks came off and the major philosophical differences between the two camps were exposed.

What am I talking about?  Some of the major differences were highlighted in a recent email  Kevin Hill sent to a parent who shared his concerns about changing the school assignment plan. Although Jim Tynen has already blogged on this issue, I feel compelled to share a few thoughts.

First I’m more than a bit surprised that Hill agreed to print the quote from the Association of California School Administrators. The quote seems to be a possible administrator response to questions about family choice in schooling. That statement said,  “educating the individual is but a means to the true end of education, which is to create a viable social order to which individuals contribute and they are sustained…“Family choice’ is, therefore, basically selfish and anti-social in that it focuses on the ‘wants’ of a single family rather than on the ‘needs’ of society.”

Huh?  In light of the issues that have propelled the last two Wake County School Board elections, it’s hard to believe that anyone would use that language.

Feeling misunderstood, Hill later backed off from the statement and sought to clarify his remarks. In a later email Hill said:

In hindsight, I chose a poor example to link the birth of the common school movement and compulsory attendance laws in Massachusetts with the desire to educate all children.  “The viable social order” I think comes from the 1850s and refers to the importance of free public education and reinforces the importance of democracy and the American way of life.  Public schools are just that, public schools and they are tasked with providing the best education for all children. My comment refers more to what many people believe – That our current generation is more of a “me” generation, as opposed to generations past which were more of “we” generations.  There is no way that any assignment process will please all parents. My point is that our task as a community is to look for the most good for the most children. Hence the good of the public as a whole.”

Where do you start?  Again instead of tamping down controversy, Hill’s comments only added gas to the fire.  Dare I say that most parents think that the purpose of formal education is not to create a viable social order but to assist in the student’s intellectual, social and emotional development; development that is guided primarily by the child’s primary teacher; his or her parents.  If Mr. Hill had made similar comments last fall, few would expect that Hill would be serving on the Wake Board.

Hill’s comments and his clarifications give us a window into the muddled liberal mind. For all the aversion to definition and penchant for including multiple perspectives, the left views education in purely utilitarian terms.  Simply stated, education is a means to help form, control and contribute to the social order. And there’s the rub.  The liberal mind starts not with the value of the individual and how to realize individual freedom, but with the goal of maximizing “the good of society.”  That goal trumps all. Individual freedom is subservient to the self proclaimed “good of the public as a whole” and individuals are valued for their ability to contribute to the whole of society.

Is it possible to object to such phrases as “the good of the public as a whole” and “providing the most good for the most children”? Who defines “good” and who balances the ledger that determines the most good for the most children? In Hill’s system it’s the school board and the school system – not parents – who make that judgment. The quest for the collective good always trumps individual preference.

Hill says the public schools reinforce democracy in America and are tasked with educating all students, and providing the most good for the most children. He also says that the current generation is a “me” generation as opposed to a “we” generation.  Some interesting phrasing that raises a few pointed questions.   Does Hill really believe that any parent who chooses a school for their child is acting selfishly? Does Hill believe that private or religious schools that educate students do not also work to strengthen democracy or further the “public good?” Such thinking reflects a view of the public good that is brittle, self-serving and ignores the significant public contributions of private and religious schools.

Local conservatives are understandably frustrated by the direction of the new board and its retreat to the same failed school assignment policy of the past. However conservatives have no doubt aided this detour. For too long families have not been serious about taking responsibility for their child’s education.  Lured by government programs that aim to supplant parental roles and influence, parents have ever so slowly yielded more and more influence to the state and the staffs hired to administer educational programs. Now after years of slowly relinquishing that responsibility conservatives have been unable – or unwilling — to discern the full extent of the changes to educational systems their children attend.

Kevin Hill said he considers the issue addressed in the correspondence a closed matter.  I disagree.  Mr. Hill’s words underscore the need to remember a fundamental truth: parents – not schools — are a child’s primary teachers and are the ones most likely to have a profound impact on the success of individual students.  Until schools and families reflect those realities it will make me wonder if we learned anything from the past few years.

This article was posted in Education by Bob Luebke on July 12, 2012 at 2:03 PM.

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