TUESDAY night I was trying to figure out something to fix for dinner which wouldn't require me to wake up, which left my Poor Wife with the remote and free rein over local news. She was watching Channel 13, which is probably the most professional local newscast, in the same sense that somebody must be the most professional local purveyor of steamed hog testicles. Thirteen is rarely on if I'm in the room, because I break out in hives just looking at its stable of Talent.
I was looking in from time to time, because if I can't sit there and ruin it for her, I like to attempt the occasional commando raid, and caught the start of a story on Indianapolis Failing Public Schools. I generally remember not to talk over those.
The story was the Not Yet Storyness of IFPS going to a Year-Round Schedule (which was the Top Secret Plan my wife's principal let everyone at her school in on a couple weeks ago). It's already damned certain to, but it's too early to express it that way. So for the present the story is that there will be meetings held to discuss the possibility, to which the public will be invited, after which the decision--already made by Indianapolis Failing Public School Superintendent Dr. Eugene "Cufflinks" White--will be implemented. With tiny corrections designed to show that he listened to The Public, which are imperative if Cufflinks is to get all the credit. Not exactly an original approach, sure, but it's worked for Mitch Daniels, so what th' hell.
It's not like the man is incapable of making unilateral, hasty, and ill-considered decisions; they are, in fact, his hallmark. At least twice in his five-year tenure the Failing District has spent Untold Thousands defending in court--and losing--a snap decision which violated state law, teachers' contracts, or both. It sure ain't about democracy. It's that these massive PR, Look We're Doing Something About Our Failing Schools rollouts--the last one was the big Dress Code initiative, which has assured that Our Students Fail without droopy-ass jeans--are required to build up the artificial excitement.
So, now, we have a story which at least some insiders heard as a fait accompli at least two weeks ago being packaged as a proposal set for proofing in the Public Crucible, faithfully repeated from local teleprompters as though repetition were a charm against uncomfortable questions. (13 did mention--they, like the other locals, are nothing if not attuned to the upper-middle class perception of the world--that the change might interfere with vacation plans (Tout le ghetto is returning to the Hamptons this year!). And it's not like I'm expecting these people to do more than make a phone call or two to check on a PR release before they gargle it on air. But from there the thing turned into a pep rally, if pep rallies generally had anti-union overtones and the unmistakable waft of racism that's plagued Indianapolis education since the Klan ran things. I mean officially.
These are the same people who three weeks ago were gassing about School Starting Too Early. Now they're reporting on the benefits of school starting in July.
This isn't special pleading; my Poor Wife is actually in favor of the thing, in balance, especially the idea of a Fall Break. It's that 1) the Failing Schools Ditty is forty years old, or more; maybe we could look at that. I'm not even quite sure what schools are supposed to be failing at. Are students routinely coming out stupider than they went in? I'd be willing to believe some are, but then I'd tend to blame our running schools based on the wildly successful Privatized Penitentiary model, not Summer Vacation Amnesia and Disrespectful Pants. Nine of ten local teevee news anchors can't read a teleprompter at speed for thirty seconds without fumbling, and they're middle-aged, and most of 'em attended schools no one dares call Failing. Stop five random pedestrians on the street and ask 'em a question from first-week high school algebra. Read the attempted English of your average internets denizen. It's a damn sight more worrying that a fucking majority of Texas state legislators are butt-ignrant of American history, 19th century science, and the rudiments of epistemology than however many high school seniors it is who can't find Canada on a globe.
Y'know, I took up riding my ancient ten-speed of late, and I've nosed around some with replacement parts and vintage accessories. A couple weeks back I took a look at Brooks saddle bags. Some internet commenter objected (Brooks, to their credit, and maybe Britishness, puts customer comments right on their product page. Good and ill.) that he'd bought one recently and was disappointed to find it marked "Made in China". And the Brooks rep replied that when Brooks tried to restart its bag-making operation after many decades it tried to do so in England and Italy but found that the quality was unacceptable. They had to go to China to find quality stitching, because the trade had been allow to die in Europe. That's not a failure of education; it's the mark of abandoning markets the minute they become slightly less profitable. Write that a hundred or a thousand times over, and throw in racial and gender discrimination and intellectual poverty at home. No one says Our Failing Manufacturers haven't given the average fifteen-year-old urban kid a reason to complete his education. He might not be learned enough to pass his ISTEP test, but he knows which end is up.
2) We got the president of the teachers' union spouting the same platitudes as everyone else: "We need to try something." Maybe we do, and maybe this--unlike the last thirty or forty somethings we've tried--will be it. But in the meantime, you're the head of the teacher's union, so you may recall that two years ago you won a lawsuit because Cufflinks White unilaterally declared year-round school at a middle school, in violation of the contract and, in fact, without intending to pay teachers at all if he could've gotten away with it. I'm glad you think Teachers are primarily concerned with the well-being of their students. I know many who truly are, who work incredibly hard and do an often thankless job. But they also work for money, and not for so much that we could demand they behave as altruistically as we expect the Colts' receiver corps or the American Medical Association to, with mixed results. Teachers work for money too, lady, and you're supposed to represent that aspect of it. Why is it a dirty word for them? If you have to discount your basic tenets just to appear sincere then maybe you're in the wrong spot.
3) And all this because of the threat the Federal government will take over operation of Our Failing Public Schools based on provisions of the No Largely African-American District Left Unlooted Act of 2001, which was designed to designate them as Failing. Everybody knew this at the time, and everybody knows it now. The In-Indianapolis-But-Not-Indianapolis-Public-Schools public schools in the Townships, the White Flight of a generation ago preserved in amber, aren't faring much better, but don't routinely get Failing appended to their names. Maybe it's me, but it sure seems interesting that in a climate where every Republican and half the Democrats running for national office this fall scream about Big Gubment, no one questions whether it can come in and run a school district more effectively than locally elected officials.
I still had that taste in my mouth when the President came on, and it didn't go away. We gladly regulate our public speech lest we get too close to the truth. "We made a big fucking mistake invading Iraq, which we then compounded through hubris, greed, and a desire for cheap partisan advantage, and we're now slinking home while the Shi'a control the place sorta, but hey, USA! Greatest military inna world, am I right?" I mean, does it really require constant applications of horseshit to keep people's heads from exploding? And, considering the consequences, ain't it time we went ahead and risked it?