George Will calls him “the Obama administration's redeeming feature”, based on changes he has proposed to the American public education system. The person in question is Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education – which is to say, secretary of a department that shouldn't exist at all. In some ways, public education is one of the last holdouts of states' rights... along with capital punishment, I guess. But in other ways, it has been enveloped and taken over by the federal bureaucratic blob, of which the Department of Education is the very heart. And is this all the fault of liberals, socialists, culture warriors, and “agents of change”? Think again. Can you say “No Child Left Behind”? Yes, as usual, whenever one party decides to expand governmental powers, the other party can't wait to latch on and distort those powers to serve their own agenda. It's an endless cycle of expansion, distortion, protest, further expansion (as opposed to extermination, which ought to be the case), further distortion, further protest, ad infinitum. And of course, there are always “special interests” involved – which means, interests other than those of the American people. Well, the special interests are Americans too (usually) – but they almost invariably are working against the interests of the majority. And this, of course, calls into question the very idea of democracy – or, at least, the extent to which true democracy can coexist with big government (my feeling is, it can't).
But let's give the secretary the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume, for example, that he really means it when he expresses concern that many Americans have given up on improving bad schools... that only four members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have dropout rates higher than America's... that American businesses are moving their operations overseas simply because “we go where the smart people are”, to quote one executive. Or more precisely, they go where the educated people are. I don't think anyone buys the notion that Americans are inherently stupid; what's more likely is that the public schools make them that way. Or at least they make them into underachievers.
But what is the federal government's role in all this? “Duncan knows that Americans are uneasy about any national education standards that might emanate from a Washington they distrust...” What a remarkable admission! And from a liberal who works for a liberal administration. You don't suppose that Americans are finally starting to get suspicious about the real agenda of the public education cartel, do you? I mean, you can only chalk up so much of the problem to incompetent teachers and greedy unions; funding levels certainly can't be the problem, since public education funding has been, to say the least, extravagant for decades. Well, what is it, then? I mean... if, say, an enemy government, like the Soviet Union of old, had secretly taken over our public education system in order to turn out ignorant, helpless serfs (but with a gigantic sense of entitlement) and thus severely compromise the United States militarily and economically... well, there would be cause for concern, wouldn't there? I mean, wouldn't the actions of any homegrown collaborators with this program have committed what amounts to treason? And yet, that's exactly what has happened in public education over the past few decades; it's not just an accident or a side effect. They really are intentionally turning out ignoramuses in order to increase the power of social change advocates, create and maintain a reliable voting bloc for the liberals/collectivists, and extend the grip of the federal bureaucracy, especially the part dealing with social welfare, on the populace. I mean, you can't have a “people's republic” without having a great, gray mass of the uneducated who depend on the government for everything. So how do you maintain the illusion of an “educated populace” while seeing to it they come out stupid and ignorant? Simply by warehousing children in public schools for 13 years (on average), and handing out diplomas for breathing. But even so, note, we have a dropout rate that is a cause for concern. (Well, it might be, or maybe the dropouts are the smart ones, who have caught on to the scam.)
In any case, Duncan is concerned, and one might ask why. In other words, if he's really with the liberal-collectivist program, he should sit back, satisfied, and see the “failed” public education system as a success. But since it would never do to admit this, those successes have to be represented as failures. Or, if he genuinely is concerned, then he's not with the program, and it's amazing that he's managed to keep his job up until now.
Is this an extreme, “paranoid” point of view on the matter? Recall, if you will, the fate of Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools system, who resigned last October. She had been, when hired, “promised wide latitude and significant authority in decision-making as well as strong mayoral support for her proposed initiatives”. But trouble arose when those initiatives included things like “seeking to purge public schools of teachers and principals whom she considered to be incompetent”... closing schools due to excess capacity... “a plan to add early-childhood programs, gifted and talented programs, art and music classes, and special education services”... seeking to “renegotiate how the school system compensates teachers”... “end(ing) teacher tenure and promot(ing) 'merit' pay”. In other words, she was a revolutionary, attacking a system as impacted and frozen in time as the Ottoman Empire. Needless to say, she ran into, let's say, a bit of opposition from the powers that be, particularly the teachers' unions. [Note: All quotes regarding Rhee are from her Wikipedia entry.]
But here was the last straw... and the one that made national headlines because it was so unbelievable: “Rhee fired 241 teachers, the vast majority of whom received poor evaluations, and put 737 additional school employees on notice.” And get this: “Of the dismissed teachers, 76 were dismissed in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act because they lacked proper teaching certification.” (Bush was right! Just kidding.) The irony being, the NCLB Act was just the sort of thing liberals claim to like – it's all “for the children”, etc. But when it comes down to cases, forget about it – it's jobs that count, not education.
So what was the bottom line to all this? “Rhee's actions... earned her applause from 'school reformers' nationwide, as well as the scorn of teacher unions and community activists." Now, notice a subtle bit of wording here. “School reformers” are on the opposite side of the issue from “community activists” -- which, I guess, means that community activists want the schools to stay just as they are – which is actually true. The reason is that the “activists” are on the side of collectivism and fostering dependency and reliable voting blocs, whereas the reformers are on the side of educating people to the point where they are able to think for themselves and be self-supporting -- a very politically-incorrect notion in this day and age. Why, it even smacks of elitism... racism... "hate"! (It would be interesting, some time, to trace the point at which those two impulses diverged, historically.)
Well, it's not hard to see how that degree of hostility, opposition, and push-back would cause a person to resign their post. It's probably a miracle that she held on as long as she did, but she strikes me as a “tiger lady” and very persistent and determined (based on a radio interview just after her resignation). In any case, she was... well, not defeated, exactly, but certainly discouraged, by the Forces of Stupid, and, I suspect, resigned in order to apply her efforts in a more fruitful direction. She had, I suspect, basically despaired of doing anything significant to improve the D.C. public schools -- the liberal heart of the liberal beast -- because she came to realize that no one cared (except her)... that everyone was perfectly satisfied with things just as they were... in other words, with a high-paying sheltered workshop for incompetents combined with a fast-track mechanism for replenishing the ignorant, dependent underclass. This – the combination of these two factors – is, in fact, the dream of all liberals. True reform is the last thing they want. Even the idealism of the old-time progressives has foundered on the rocks of collectivism and political correctness. I mean, the progressives of old, even if they were mesmerized by John Dewey, would probably not have knowingly turned out ignoramuses, doomed to a life “nasty, brutal, and short”, characterized by joblessness, violence, and addiction. Would they? I get the feeling they wouldn't -- at least not knowingly. But that was then, and this is now. The main bulwark of the liberal establishment in our time is the lumpen proletariat... so what could one expect but that they would spend as much time and money as need be perpetuating said proletariat? It makes perfect sense, given their agenda and their goals.
And as to Duncan – well, I hope he's sincere in his concerns, because that would be somewhat respectable, at least. But if so, he's working directly against the true agenda of his administration, his party, and liberalism in general. And maybe that's why they keep him around – to provide camouflage.