By SHERMAN FREDERICK
Children are important. America’s political left and right agree on that.
But that may be all they agree on after hearing progressive MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry say some pretty outrageous things about the role of the state in rearing children.
For those who may not have heard, Ms. Harris-Perry’s controversial remarks came in a promo for the struggling cable network. Here’s the breakdown.
First, she asserts, “We have never invested as much in public education as we should have.”
That’s an unprovable statement because those who advocate more spending in public education never say how much more is enough. No school district anywhere in the history of the country has ever been funded to its full and complete satisfaction. Public schools always need more. From Arkansas to Nevada to Hawaii, the Harris-Perrys of the country tell taxpayers each and every year they need to pony up more … and more … and more.
However, for those interested in facts, it should be noted that the taxpayers of the United States spend more per student that anyone else in the world. So, we’re not exactly chopped liver when it comes to making a commitment to our children. But woe to anyone who suggests more dollars come with even modest accountability.
Second from Ms. Harris-Perry’s promo comes this gem of American progressive thought: “We’ve always had a private notion of children, your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children. So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.” This is an extension of Hillary Clinton’s book “It Takes A Village” (which was actually written by Barbara Feinman, but that’s a controversy for another day).
On the basic premise that we’re all intertwined as a community and as a nation in this public education thing, there is little disagreement. It is self-evident to conservatives and liberals that education for all — not just for the privileged — distinguishes the American experience.
The angst comes when one side attempts to turn public education into indoctrination, be it for the state, the church or the political party. Teaching 14-year-old girls to put condoms on cucumbers, as some liberals want, is no more appropriate than some conservatives teaching science students that the world was literally, and without debate, created in seven days.
Look, the goal should be to teach children, as John Adams once said, to “dare to read, think, speak and write.” Teach them the American principles of freedom and tolerance. If every school district and family in America accomplished just that, we’d instantly be a better place.
Finally, we come to the third soft-headed canard expressed by Ms. Harris-Perry: “Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s, we start making better investments.” Really? Since when has the individual American household had anything significant to do with the “investments” of the educational-industrial complex? In fact, the larger the school district, the more cloistered it becomes, wholly uninterested in engaging the wider community in anything other than a tax increase.
When Ms. Harris-Perry uses the phrase “better investments,” she means to say “more money.”
And most often it is a proposition to spend more money in an unaccountable way to feed what has become a top-to-bottom unionized machine. When school districts have unions for rank-and-file and for management, students are in trouble.
Children are important. But are they important enough for Ms. Harris-Perry to challenge the assumptions that have made public education what it is today?
I hope that’s a “yes” I hear from the hive. Because otherwise, the path progressive thinkers in America would have us take requires absorption into the status quo of sliding mediocrity. If that’s the plan, count me out.
Sherman Frederick is former editor of the Tribune-Herald and former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.