Dressed like derelicts, teenagers in a public school classroom — with their teacher present — climb on top of their desks, crawl on the floor, turn their backs on the teacher and talk loudly with each other, play cards, or wander around the room. One boy even strips to the waist and “dances” during class.
Everyone who has ever cracked his head against the brick wall of the government school monopoly owes ABC’s John Stossel a vote of thanks for filming these goings-on and broadcasting the images over the nation’s airwaves.
Why? Because the American people don’t believe us when we say that public education is a failure. Even if they grant that “other schools” may be in trouble, they insist that “our schools” are all right.
Parents and taxpayers need to see these images, and Stossel has provided them. But in one 60-minute documentary (with time out for commercials), he is able to reveal only the tip of the iceberg. As bad as the schools fare under his examination, the truth is ever so much worse.
Are American Kids Stupid?
Making the film wasn’t easy. “State after state wouldn’t let us in,” Stossel said. “Washington, D.C., directed us to a few of their best schools, and New York City wouldn’t let us in at all.” In fact, the chaotic classroom described above was in “one of America’s best public schools!” Stossel said.
Why keep out the cameras? What do the schools have to hide? Plenty — but constrained by his time and format, Stossel focused sharply on the academics.
“The longer they stay in school,” he concluded, “the stupider they are.”
Stossel compared a “good” school district in suburban New Jersey to an “average” school in Belgium, administering to the students a general information test. The Belgian students answered 76% of the questions correctly; the New Jersey students, 46%.
“It has to be something with the school,” said a disappointed American child, “’cause I don’t think we’re stupider.”
A recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that only 31% of American college graduates can read a complex book with good comprehension.
How can that be? Stossel zeroed in on an 18-year-old in South Carolina who could not read, period. School administrators and “education specialists” insisted he was making progress, “doing fine,” etc. — only he still couldn’t read. His mother finally sent him to the local Sylvan Learning Center, where he learned to read in 72 hours.
“South Carolina schools, in 12 years, spent $100,000 on [his] education,” Stossel said, “and left him behind.”
Compared to students in 24 other countries, American children at the age of 10 take a standardized test and place eighth out of 25. At the age of 15, when children from 40 countries take the test, the Americans slip to 25th place. “They do worse than kids from much poorer countries, like Korea and Poland,” Stossel said.
Why are America’s schools so bad?
It’s the Monopoly, Stupid
Ask an “educator,” and he’ll surely tell you that our schools would get better if only we spent more money on them.
“They tell us, ‘There’s nothing wrong that money can’t fix,’” Stossel said. He went on to examine a Kansas City school district where $2 billion was spent on gaudy “improvements” — indoor pool, indoor track, weight rooms, computer labs, and so on. “The kids’ scores got worse, and those schools lost their accreditation.”
“You could give the public schools all the money in America, and it wouldn’t be enough,” said a frustrated reformer.
“Where does the money go?” Stossel asked. To administrative salaries, additional administrative staff, new administration buildings, “consultants,” and “experts,” he answered. Asking a few teachers how much money ought to be spent per child, per year, the teachers replied: “Oh … $10,000 per pupil … maybe $25,000 … or $30,000. The more, the better.”
The money makes no difference, Stossel said, because public education is a government monopoly — immune to competition and under no pressure whatsoever to improve.
Competition and school choice, in the form of vouchers and charter schools, would force the public schools to improve, Stossel said. Stossel is well-known for his libertarian, free-market views. Returning to Belgium, he compared that country’s choice-based school system to America’s government monopoly.
“Belgium has school choice,” he said. “The money for education is attached to the kids, not the schools, and parents have full choice. So if the schools are not good, they’re gone.
“Why should we keep kids in a school that’s not working?”
Why No Reform?
Just before Stossel finished preparing his documentary, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state’s experimental school choice program — which had already produced positive results — was unconstitutional. Earlier, school choice proposals in South Carolina, backed strongly by the governor, were killed by the state legislature.
In Florida, a public school teacher sued to abolish school choice. “Competition is not for human beings,” she said.
In South Carolina, the state teachers’ union spent millions of dollars on lobbying and television ads to keep school choice from seeing the light of day.
Reform efforts fail, Stossel said, because public school administrators and teachers’ unions do everything in their power to defeat it. To show the political face of the teachers’ unions, Stossel filmed a mass rally by the New York City teachers. “You are heroes!” the union president roared to the crowd; and the crowd roared back.
How strong are the unions? “The monopoly in my town [New York],” Stossel said, “can’t fire a teacher who sends sexual emails to a 16-year-old student.”
That teacher finally was fired, he said, but only after a five-year wrangle with the union.
In a rhetorical coup, Stossel displayed a chart showing the process that must be followed by a New York City principal seeking to fire a teacher for cause. The chart was six feet long and featured enough arrows, boxes, solid and dotted lines to make the schematic for a lunar probe look like a diagram for a balsa wood toy glider. And it’s backed up by a 200-page union contract!
What He Left Out
Unable to dissect a world-class mess in an hour-long documentary, Stossel omitted any reference to the teachers’ unions’ political and cultural agenda. The unions spend tens of millions of dollars a year to support left-wing political candidates and causes. And in most states, if you match up the names of your teachers’ union officers with those on the rosters of the leading homosexual activist groups, you’ll find many of them on both lists.
These are not the persons to whom Christian parents should entrust their children. The unions may not be doing a good job of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic; but they are teaching promiscuity, abortion, and sodomy.
Stossel also neglected to mention the only real solution to the problem — remove your children from the public schools, and either send them to Christian schools or homeschool them. This has long been Chalcedon’s position.
An evil tree can bear only evil fruit, and public education is an evil tree. R.J. Rushdoony spent decades proving this: see his 1963 book, The Messianic Character of American Education. American public schools rest on a non-Christian, aggressively secularist philosophy that rejects God’s laws and puts man and the state in His place. This is not fruit you want your children to be eating.
Stossel also found no time to explore the rising tide of violence, crime, drug use, and sexual activity in the public schools. Perhaps he will oblige us with a follow-up.
Meanwhile, if he has succeeded in jarring a few parents out of their false sense of educational security and inspiring them to seek an alternative to the public schools, he has done America a service.
 Ross House Books, Vallecito, CA: 1995 edition.
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.