My daughter and I were talking about the rumpus between Gov. Mike Pence and Supt. of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. I said that there are three problems with public schools in Indiana, as elsewhere.
The first two relate to the reasons we have public schools, going all the way back to the Land Ordinance of 1787. The first is to enable children to grow up and support themselves so they won't be a burden on society. When the supporters of Gov. Pence say that "economic policy is education policy," this is the argument they're making: poor schools not only limit the prospects of individual students, they hold the entire State back.
But the other reason for public schools is to enable all the children to understand and appreciate our liberties and our constitutional system of government; that is, to make good citizens of them, intelligent voters and public-spirited volunteers. This lands us squarely in the culture war that many "pragmatic" reformers don't want to mess with: with Common Core and textbooks that are hostile to American exceptionalism, and so on. No one is talking about this right now up at the Statehouse, but lots of people out in the hinterlands are.
And standing in the way of reform on both counts is the third problem with public schools, which is the stranglehold of the "professional professionals" in charge of the system. Now, I know lots of very good teachers, but the system we have doesn't reward good teaching; it exists to acquire and hold power, to protect poor teachers and to multiply administrators. Any attempt at reforming the schools has to get past the professional professionals like Glenda Ritz.
I think Gov. Pence is right to want to reform our schools. And I also realize, as a 19th-Century reformer said, "reform consists of taking a bone from a dog." Glenda Ritz represents the dog whose only real interest is keeping all the bones she has. So conflict is inevitable. At the same time, I can't endorse the methods Pence and the General Assembly seem to be taking. If you want to strip the Superintendent of her independent power, then amend the State Constitution. You've probably got the votes to do it. But just steamrolling her makes you look like bullies, which is poor politics. And for what? For an economics-only argument?
It's not just about jobs, important as they are. It's about civics. And the humanities. The Enlightenment. It's about the culture.
The lefty-loonies and deconstructionists and critical theorists have marched through all the institutions of our culture and impoverished us. Our children deserve better. I agree that Ritz is standing in the way of desperately needed reform, but I'm not sure Pence really knows what reform looks like. And if you engineer your takeover of the schools "by any means necessary," and then don't actually reform them,
then you're no better than the current lot of timeservers and downmarket radicals and would have been better to leave things alone.
If the only reform on offer is to get rid of one set of blunderers and replace them with another set of blunderers, then you haven't given us reform at all.