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An education in the true meaning of power

We laugh at them for not knowing what ‘woman’ means. They laugh at us for not knowing what ‘power’ means.

“Only power arrests power.” (Montesquieu)

“In a conflict between mere law and power, it is seldom law will emerge as the victor.” (Hannah Arendt)

The state of Tennessee has laws. A law taxes its citizens and gives a hefty chunk of the proceeds to maintain a large education bureaucracy. A law compels Tennessee children to attend the schools this bureaucracy administers. A law forbids this education establishment to push critical race theory on the kids – but the education establishment is not as eager to obey this law as they are to enforce the others.

“We don’t really let anybody tell us what to do.”

The same casual contempt of the idea that laws apply to teachers, not just to parents and children, can be seen in Oklahoma. In Florida, laws force parents to pay education taxes and children to go to school from a young age, and they get enforced. But the law against teachers sexualising kindergarteners is another matter. Amber junior doesn’t feel like going to school? Amber senior doesn’t feel like paying so much tax? “Tough!”, says Amber the teacher. “You can’t break the law but I can.”

The educational establishment’s belief in its right to ignore the parents and those they vote for – its right to confine their role strictly to providing the kids and the money – is not new. They will behave this way while they have the power to do so. While the tax laws and the attendance laws provide the base for the educational establishment’s power, it will be hard to impose an external power to restrain their power. The parents may want it, but the parents have been deprived of direct power – they must pay taxes to a bureaucracy that can (and prefers to) ignore their wishes. The kids may want it, but the kids are compelled to attend school, and to treat the teachers’ narrative as fact and their doubts as ignorance. As long as all that operates, it will be hard to find the additional taxes and the additional government employees and lawyers to make a contemptuous bureaucracy obey an external power. Until the power dynamic can be changed, expect the education bureaucracy to spend much time laughing at the impotent rage of governors and the despair of parents while grooming their kids, or punishing them for teacher-defined *isms and *phobias. It will be hard work for even an unusually able and energetic governor to focus external power effectively upon them. As for parents, the bureaucrats think they have no right even to know, and ‘interpret’ the rules to impose costs on any who try.

Parents are pretty-well the only available independent resource with which to counter this power-dynamic. The idea of giving back to parents the power the bureaucrats took from them has been around for a long time. Past ‘school choice’ schemes have often offered parents only a little choice – ‘Education vouchers’ that let them choose an education-establishment-run school that is less full than others of inept teachers the teacher’s union will not let be weeded. Any legislature that wants the education laws they pass treated as facts, not jokes, needs to transfer a lot more power. Make the definition of school minimal. Give administering that definition to a small finance authority focussed on avoiding fraud, not on enforcing a narrative. Tie the tax money to the child and transfer it directly to the school they attend – and to the new school attended if the parents pull the kid from the old one. Cut the education bureaucracy out of every decision. In legal theory, the state will lose some power, but in actual reality they will lose the illusion of it; the education bureaucracy will lose the reality of it.

The education bureaucracy has a long track record of cheating to destroy voucher schemes. Everything I said about why they will nullify state law applies tenfold to a state law designed to give parents more power and them less. That’s why the handling of the money must be pulled back from the education department to an adjunct of the revenue. Revenue is everything. Taking the receipt of education revenue away from the education bureaucracy is everything. Taking the disbursement of it to schools and teachers away from the education bureaucracy is everything. Until that happens, a child’s parents may have the law on their side but the educational establishment will have the power.

11 comments to An education in the true meaning of power

  • […] An education in the true meaning of power […]

  • Stonyground

    Is it possible to establish private schools that aren’t so hideously expensive that only wealthy people can afford to put their kids into them? Or is it the law that all schools have to be under the control of the state?

  • Rob Fisher

    Stonyground: Somewhere there is some Brian Micklethwait writing about cheap private schools in India. I will try to find it.

  • bobby b

    You speak of parents getting back the power that now resides in the school admins.

    The power remains with the parents. However, school board campaigns and elections are small, boring things. We stay home, and the more savvy progressives don’t, and so their candidates win election in the role of the bosses of the schools. Our fault, not our lack of power. We have met the enemy and they is us.

    This is changing now, slowly, as more people begin to realize that it really isn’t the national presidential election that needs our attention so much as it is the small local elections. Such as for school board member.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Now private companies are doing it! The head of Disney wants to overturn a decision by the Governor of Florida! The Governor doesn’t want trans-genderism pushed down the throats of pre-teenagers. Some of Disney’s woke staff don’t think that a democratically elected Governor should do that, and their CEO wants to stop it! So the workers and the big companies both want to overthrow democracy.

  • Roué le Jour

    The only power big enough to confront the state is religion, and unfortunately it won’t be ours. I don’t know about the US, but in Europe trying to teach little Ahmed to get in touch with his inner gay will have dire consequences.

  • My post mentions two overtly-different things that woke educationalists are determined to go on doing – push critical race theory on kids and sexualise kids. While woke racism alone can motivate the first and grooming-for-pedo alone can motivate the second, this article (h/t instapundit) explains how the two forms of propaganda complement each other:

    A nice one-two punch was developed. Kids learn key concepts of Critical Race Theory, which encourage them to hate themselves and their peers because their skin color makes them complicit in systemic oppression. The kids who are marginalizing others with their mere existence are then offered the opportunity to pick new, safe identities from a batch of made-up genders and sexualities. They’re encouraged to hide this from their parents, whose bigotry won’t allow them to understand.

    So the woke power agenda can motivate the combination.

  • phwest

    Most private primary and secondary schools in the US are religious. The Catholic church has maintained a parallel school system in much of the US since the late 1800s, and urban Catholic schools are generally very good at teaching poor city kids (largely non-Catholic) at a modest cost. The system is fading now. Our local diocese has something like half the schools it had when I was growing up here (Philadelphia area) in the 70s, and enrollment in the remaining schools is one the order of half what it was then as well. The decline (IMHO) stems from a number of factors – mostly revolving around the decline of Catholicism as a distinct identity in America.

    Costs are controlled in a number of ways. Like any religious school system, it depended on teachers willing to teach for significantly less money than they could get at public schools, particularly nuns in teaching orders. My elementary school was staffed with about 50% nuns and 50% parish mothers. Admin costs are kept to a minimum by leveraging the pastor and other resources needed to run the church side of things. As with public school funding, funds are also drawn from the community as a whole to allow tuition to be broadly affordable within the community, and wealthier families are expected to step up with donations. High schools had more lay teachers, mostly professional, but still paid something like 70% of local public school salaries. Class sizes were significantly larger (even in 1st and 2nd grade I was typically in classes of 30+ kids, and in middle school they pushed 40, compared to our local public school’s current class limit of 26). And finally, instruction is relentlessly standardized and designed for average to good students (say above the 33rd percentile and below the 98th) with the expectation that kids outside that range will be directed elsewhere. Classic Pareto principle – if 20% of the kids consume 80% of the resources, then you can provide for the 80% with a fifth of the resources you need to educate everyone (not that public schools really try to educate everyone either, but they do go a lot further down the curve). No special ed and no elaborate curricula catering to unique talents or interests. And disruptive kids get expelled. Kids with those needs can go to more expensive Catholic Prep schools (more like elite private schools, although generally still cheaper) or fall back on the public system, but you simply can’t afford to spend too much on any one kid.

    Now the religious resources are much less with the decline in vocations within the Catholic community, but the avoidance of extra costs by streamlining the curricula is quite large. Special education is a huge drain on public schools (our local borough sends something like 25% of it’s tax revenue to the local county to cover services the local district doesn’t provide, which range from serious educational disabilities to vocational schooling (shop/trades) during high school. Admin costs are also much less as the schools are under much more financial constraint.

    The Philadelphia area also has a long standing network of Quaker schools that go back to the 1700s, but those are closer to elite private schools with a fairly large scholarship component.

    There has been a rise in Christian schools, generally non-denominational, here over the past 20-30 years. These are either affiliated with a particular mega-Church (not all that mainly of those in this area, unlike other parts of the country) or have grown out of smaller churches with some talented leadership. My sense is that these schools function similarly to the Catholic model, but on a much narrower base of resources. During desegregation in the 50s southern Whites created Christian schools to stay out of integrated public schools, but that was more of an attempt to recreate white only public schools on a voluntary basis, and in any event, public schooling in the South has a long history of under-funding by the standards of the rest of the country.

    You’ll notice that all of these cases share one common feature with public schools, which is that they do not rely solely on the families of current students to fund operations. There is always a commitment by the community as a whole to support the school. Now part of this is due to the fact that those families are still taxed to fund the public schools they aren’t using, but even allowing for that I still think it would be difficult to impossible to fund the education of the children of a median family solely off the resources that family could dedicate to the purpose, at least while maintaining the current approach of classroom instruction. To go beyond that you need to tap into some broader base of support. And even if you got that far, you still need some kind of backstop system to deal with the special cases, and those will be expensive.

  • phwest

    Bobby b – I lived for a while in New Jersey, where public school board elections are held as special elections in the spring. No publicity, no media coverage (NJ gets it’s media from Philly and New York City), nothing to draw the attention of anyone other than the teachers whose paychecks are at stake. Turnouts run something like 10% unless there is tremendous public outrage over something, and at best that gets you one cycle of reform minded board members, fought at every turn and ignored as much as possible, before apathy returns and the machine takes back the reins. Things are set up this way because the teachers’ unions have more or less owned the legislature for decades. To change it would take years of effort, not just to take back the elected offices at all levels but also to overhaul the courts which have been more than willing to override elected officials on behalf of teachers’ unions under the state constitution’s “right to education”.

    This is not true everywhere in the US, but there plenty of states where the only real power parents have to influence education policy is the the ability to move away (as I did once I had kids).

  • bobby b

    phwest: I should have been clearer that I was speaking of those jurisdictions where there are enough conservative voters to win elections if they actually get off their rears and vote. I’ve never been to NJ, but it doesn’t strike me as one of those places. But I have been surprised at the number of school board elections that gave fun results this last cycle in other, more balanced, places.

    In too many places, what the schools are doing is exactly what the very liberal citizenry wants them to do, and for those places, like you say, all you can do is move. If the majority of citizens do actually want woke teachers, well, that’s democracy.

    I look at places like my own Minnesota, where the urban areas are decidedly woke, while the outstate areas are conservative. In the last decade or two, the woke school board candidates in even the outstate areas have taken control, because we paid too little attention. But that trend is reversing today.

    So there is hope.

  • darthlaurel

    The only way to fix this is to abolish public education entirely. It is a failed experiment. Let’s try our own individual illiteracies for a change. It can’t be worse.