October 16, 2007
Fear is the Missing Ingredient in Government SchoolsBy Christopher Chantrill
Everyone is properly shocked and outraged at the latest school shooting rampage. They are rounding up the usual suspects and demanding that something should be done. But why be surprised?
When we hesitate to exclude "special" students from the mainstream of schools, we should expect problems. Special students, who may be anything from the developmentally challenged to the emotionally challenged, are routinely slipped into normal classes.
The Cleveland shooter, Asa Coon, appears to have been a troubled youth with a long history of problems, according to CNN. Things got so bad with Coon that they had to send him to a special school.
The records of "special" students, according to my correspondent, are normally kept secret. The parents of the other children in school are not allowed to know of the potential danger their children face from a disturbed youngster, although it seems that people would hardly be ignorant of the history of a youth as disturbed as Asa Coon.
But why should a government university like Virginia Tech or a school district like Cleveland take the trouble to deal with disturbed youngsters? Their continued existence is hardly at risk in the aftermath of a rampage shooting. Whereas a parochial school or tony private school might be at risk of closing if it demonstrated the incompetence and inattention that a shooting rampage implies, the survival of the Cleveland schools will not be in question. In fact, they might even get additional funding to implement additional programs to cope with their "at risk" students.
We really must confront the inconvenient truth that is the "root cause" of so much failure in the public sector.
Government reinforces failure. It really doesn't matter if schools graduate illiterate students and "at risk" students don't get helped. What matters is that schools have programs that target below-grade readers and that they have programs to address the problems of "at risk" youth.
Government reinforces failure because government doesn't serve individual voters and government workers don't suffer consequences when government fails.
The excellent Minette Marrin, in discussing the failure of the British National Health Service to maintain its hospitals at elementary levels of hygiene, suggests that the answer to failing public services like health care and education might be -- fear.
It can't be that hygiene is rocket science. Florence Nightingale laid out the principles of hospital hygiene 150 years ago in Notes on Nursing.
In hospitals where patients are allowed to lie in their own excrement, she gently suggests:
The spur that makes people do their job well is the fear that there will be consequences if they don't.
The progressive movement that has dominated our politics and culture for the last century is devoted to the notion of "freedom from fear," and theirs is a noble sentiment. People should be free from fear of the company goons, police brutality, and the fear of destitution.
But you can take things too far.
Public sector workers do not fear for their jobs. And they do not fear negative outcomes. They do not worry if children cannot read or if children are violent to their peers. If children cannot read then they call for additional reading programs. If children are violent then they call for special funding for "at risk" kids.
Already the Cleveland school district is responding to the need for additional security. Says CNN:
That's nice. But it is hardly going to deliver to Cleveland parents and children a safe and effective school system.
We really shouldn't be surprised that school systems don't educate children. We shouldn't be surprised that welfare systems don't promote social welfare.
Government reinforces failure and public sector workers don't fear the consequence of failure.
Try to tell a school official: "Not with my child you don't." She will respond: "Says who?"
Because the truth is that in the land of the free children don't belong to their parents. They belong to the state.
What is to be done?
Let us start with the idea that parents ought to be allowed to send their children to the school of their choice, and that this right is a more fundamental right than the right of disturbed children to stay in school.
Let us promote the notion that if a parent doesn't like the school her child is going to then she can remove her child and send her to another school.
It's a pretty simple notion: "Not with my kid you don't."