When public school education is finally dead, will we still need a Department of Education? Will the Department of Justice appoint a special prosecutor to go after those who killed it?
Thanks to the January 8, 2014, “Dear Colleague” letter, you may as well kiss public school education goodbye…it will have been killed from an overdose of Federal involvement. I may be stretching it a bit there, but I stretch everything. If you can’t bear a stretch then you need to read something else, because, borrowing from John Paul Jones, I have not yet begun to stretch.
The leftist direction of the Obama administration is to be expected and I don’t complain about it too much, since politics is politics and it will change, but this “Dear Colleague” letter issued jointly by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education is too much for common sense to absorb, and I am out-of-hand rejecting any notion that I am too untrained or too uneducated to properly understand what is contained in the “Dear Colleague” letter….I understand it all too well. Substitute “Dear Comrade” for the salutation “Dear Colleague” and you are coming close to an Orwellian Ministry of Truth “suggestion”, made up of the frightening idea of the consolidation of the Departments of Justice, Education, and Homeland Security…a consolidation of federal government authority over more and more aspects of our personal lives.
OK. Maybe that takes it too far, but too far is exactly where the “Dear Comrade,”… Oops …I mean “Dear Colleague” letter goes. You will forgive me my excesses, please.
Of course, what alerted me to this “Dear Colleague” letter were headlines from several news outlets, and not just Fox News or The Daily Caller, where one might expect to find it, but from liberal news outlets whose editorial slant on this is also akin to, “What are they smoking in Washington and do they need to move the capital to Colorado?” I was not content with seeing excerpts of the “Dear Colleague” letter, so I set out to find the text of it in its entirety. It was harder than I thought, but persistence pays off.
There are hundreds of news articles and blogposts that reference the “Dear Colleague” letter and several of them contained links to the Department of Justice (DOJ) website. A trip to the DOJ website revealed nothing but that the information I was seeking had been moved or was no longer available for viewing. I searched their website but could not find it. The DOJ was perhaps wise in removing the letter, or moving it so that it was difficult to find. I finally found it at the Department of Education link shown below:
I did not go to the Department of Education (ED) website first, since the involvement of the DOJ seemed far more alarming than a silly letter from ED. The DOJ stamp on the letterhead is ominous.
First, let me thank former President Jimmy Carter. One of his campaign promises was to reduce, streamline, and render more efficiency in the Federal Government, citing his experience in reducing the bureaucracy in Atlanta during his term as Georgia’s governor. There was some merit to his claims there, but for some reason that didn’t translate well into the reduction of government agencies in Washington. Like a lot of things for Jimmy Carter, and other presidents, they didn’t work out like he planned, thus the existing Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was split into the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. Prior to that, Jimmy Carter had given us the Department of Energy, so the creation of two cabinet level bureaus hardly qualifies one as a champion of smaller government…rather, it identifies one as the champion of the opposite.
In keeping with the spirit of significant guidance offered in the “Dear Colleague” letter , let me assure you that I am an equal opportunity admonisher of government self-perpetuation. Ronald Reagan gave us the Department of Veterans Affairs, and George W. Bush gave us the Department of Homeland Security, and I will listen to no nonsense from Republicans or Democrats about how Homeland Security was a streamlining and consolidation of already existing conflicting departments; it was government growth. And I cannot see how the Department of Veterans Affairs has done anything to help veterans, since all that is reported to us are about how veteran’s benefits are constantly being cut, about the VA hospital system’s dismally underwhelming treatment of those whom its mission it is to serve, and how Homeland Security views and labels veterans as national security threats.
The very ground shifts under my feet as I walk. There is no synergy in government. There is only the sum of its parts. When the sum being packaged and sold is not the one I get when I add up the parts, don’t send Department of Education folks to me for a re-education, since that would be a lot like a rehabilitation, and nowadays I think that perhaps the only place where citizens are being rehabilitated is North Korea. Just look at the recent successful rehabilitation of Kim Jong Un’s uncle…no thanks. What I am being sold has a sum larger than the parts would suggest. Like all things government, there are two things going on with the “Dear Colleague” letter . . . less than meets the eye, and more than meets the eye. You will have to decide for yourself.
Since I am a white male from Mississippi, I figure I have nothing to gain by participating in any discussion or argument about racial issues in this country, though the issues do not escape my notice. I cannot come off in a positive light because of the demographic factors that would likely cause anything I have to say about racial issues to be discounted, suspected, or misinterpreted. I would likely be labeled a racist just as soon as I opened my mouth. It is better to pick my battles, and there are others that suit me better.
I was not the one to bring up race in education, though: The Departments of Justice and Education did, and it genuinely seems to me that the crux of the “Dear Colleague” letter is the accusation that racial disparities exist in school disciplinary practices, and “even-handed” approaches to student discipline are discriminatory. This accusation is applicable across that nation, not just here in the South. Read the full text of the letter and decided for yourselves. Don’t just read excerpts from it and take another opinion writer’s opinion…read it for yourself remembering that it says what it says, and observing the footnotes it contains that say that what the letter really says, and those say the letter says more than it actually says. If one looks at footnote #1, one will learn that the “Dear Colleague” letter is a “Significant Guidance Document.” Later footnotes explain Title VI of the US Code and how the “Dear Colleague” letter is merely offering “Significant Guidance” towards the proper understanding of laws that already exist under Title VI. I find the Justice Department’s sudden desire to enforce existing laws a bit perplexing, but don’t mind me.
Our DOJ has shown a wide-ranging proclivity to choose which laws it will enforce or not, as if the Executive branch, constitutionally charged with the enforcement of the nation’s laws, can arbitrarily and capriciously decide to enforce only the laws it likes. Well, the Executive has done so, and we have allowed it. The precedent has been set and will be hard to undo. Shame on we citizens for allowing it. Congress gets to debate about laws, their passing, their changing, and not without input from the Executive or Judiciary. Presidential capriciousness gets worse with every administration. When the tide turns towards a conservative presidency (and it will, mind you) conservatives will take the precedent set by Obama and build upon it, just like Obama has taken the precedents set by Bush and built upon them. The public is not served by this; in fact, we are steadily losing our individual rights to an encroaching federal intrusion.
Now, your local school boards, school administrators, and teachers are losing more tools on how they maintain order in their classrooms, and order is already difficult enough to maintain. It seems likely now that order will be impossible to maintain with the implementation of racial quotas in disciplinary procedures and further likely that students will learn less, not more. The playing field will be truly leveled and the disparate outcomes mentioned in the letter will indeed be ameliorated since students will all learn less, and more and more parents will make huge sacrifices to send their children to private schools or homeschool them, then the future avoidance of disparate educational outcomes will come to mean that private and homeschool will also come under increasing government scrutiny.
Would not the teacher in the classroom be the best gauge by which it is determined which students need to be disciplined to maintain educationally conducive order in the classroom? Would we not think that an “even-handed” approach to this would be appropriate? What is wrong with a picture that is different than the one painted by the above two questions?
The DOJ and Education in Washington, D.C., knows exactly how a teacher in a local classroom needs to discipline children to maintain a learning environment. Not! If even-handedness is not to prevail, by what standard should discipline be administered? By quota?
Let me suggest to you a scenario on how this is likely to work in a rural Mississippi classroom.
Edward James (Eddie Joe) Wilson was the sole white child in the sophomore class of rural North Kemper High School, one of Mississippi’s many failing schools in the 50th worst state-wide educational system in the country. Out of a total class of 63, Eddie Joe represented a racial ratio of 63:1. African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americdans represented 98.4% of the racial makeup of the class, the overwhelming majority of the minority makeup being African-American and Eddie Joe represented 1.6%, placing Caucasians as a definite, distinct minority among the ethnic makeup of the school.
Eddie Joe was the child of a mostly toothless obese meth-addict mother. It was a remarkable achievement to be a meth addict and obese at the same time, but Eddie Joe’s mother had somehow managed to achieved this state of remarkableness in spite of having no teeth to chew her food. Her living was primarily made up of the manufacture and local distribution of methamphetamine, the support she garnered by a long but thinning string of boyfriends that represented the only father-figures Eddie Joe had ever had in his life, and a smidgen of government support in the form of SNAP benefits which Eddie Joe’s mother promptly traded for beer and cigarettes at a local store who would secretly exchange the SNAP proceeds for the ineligible items at fifty cents on the dollar and the occasional, now rare, sexual favor. Eddie Joe was in a hard spot, but he didn’t know this because his way of life was the way he thought life was supposed to be.
Eddie Joe represented less than 2% of the class, but accounted for 80% of the class’s total discipline problems, including those that required a call to law enforcement since Eddie Joe thought just about everyone sold weed and meth and that everyone else wanted to buy it. His minor status was even a cause for his mother to encourage Eddie Joe’s entrepreneurial spirit and she consequently helped him to become one of the most popular kids in class since he always had the goods for a good time.
Under the new directive from the DOJ and Education, Eddie Joe was prohibited from being singled out or from even being treated even-handedly when it came to school discipline, and disciplinary infractions for Eddie Joe ran the gamut of class disruption, insubordination, sexually harassing students and teachers, threatening violence, possession of drugs at school, distribution of drugs at school, etc. The local school board wanted to expel Eddie Joe, which would have been a great benefit for the remaining students. They were afraid to do so because of the new directive.
One day in class, Eddie Joe was looking at porn on his smartphone, sharing the pictures with the girls seated nearby. This was observed by his teacher, who observed the embarassed faces of many of the girls, and she immediately decided to do something about it.
“She’quila,” she shouted, causing She’quila to look up from her Art Appreciation textbook in alarm, “Because Eddie Joe is misbehaving, you get up and go to the office and report to the principal for violating the school rules by using a cell phone during class time.”
She’quila was bewildered by this. She and her twin sister, Te’quila, were model students, never missing a day of class, never caused trouble, and made the honor roll every six-week period of their entire school lives.
“But why are you sending me because Eddie Joe is misbehaving?” she asked, or unusual for her, more or less demanded, causing the teacher to recoil in anger at her almost belligerent tone.
“Shall I add insubordination to the cell phone charge, too?” the teacher asked. “You know as well as me that out of every student disciplinary action, only one out of 50 can be focused at Eddie Joe. I have to spread the discipline around so that there is no discrimination.”
She’quila was aware of this, had pondered its unfairness as it had been inflicted on other students, having not yet had her turn. She despised Eddie Joe and everything he stood for, which was a personal despising, not racially motivated but motivated completely by the foul-mouthed, thuggish Eddie Joe. More than once passing in the hall he had touched her in ways that made her shudder, and she had handled the situation herself so that Eddie Joe usually gave her a wide berth, though occasionally his untoward instincts would get the best of him. After all, most of the girls in the school liked Eddie Joe…he was good looking and an outlaw, and girls like outlaws…but not She’quila and Te’quila…they had ambitions and plans which did not include the likes of Eddie Joe.
She’quila was subsequently suspended from school for three days for Eddie Joe’s misbehavior as this was the only thing that could be done because of the quotas imposed on the school by the new directive. She’quila’s teacher had attended the meeting to plead her case, as did her parents, but it was all to no avail.
As a result of She’quila’s suspension and her outraged parents, the private Kemper County Christian Academy received two new students, its own board of directors noting the increasing number of minorities represented in the school’s demographics. A failing school system and this insane new directive were driving out all the kids who could afford to attend private school and many who could not. Many local citizens, white, black, Hispanic, and Native American, helped students of all racial makeups leave the failing local public schools. It was an unexpected boon to the private schools, whose entire budget was funded by tuition and private fund-raisers.
Eventually, after a couple of violent incidents that occurred on school grounds, Eddie Joe was expelled. Everyone knew that the day was coming, including Eddie Joe’s mother, who promptly made a phone call to Mississippi’s foremost trial lawyer whose 800 number was posted on billboards all across the state…”There is no fee unless we collect for you,” the billboards all bragged. No one wanted to file any sort of lawsuit, really, they just wanted the big settlement, or the medium settlement, or any settlement that was offered to avoid the cost of a lawsuit. The school board settled with the plaintiff on the recommendations of their own counsel, and forked over a hundred thousand dollars to avoid the half-a-million dollars they were told it would cost it would cost to defend themselves in court. The famous trial lawyer got forty thousand dollars of the hundred thousand, and Billy Joe’s mother got the balance. The sixty thousand dollars lasted her about a month, after which she immediately moved to another school district and enrolled Eddie Joe in school. The school tried to refuse him, but once again the famous trial lawyer came to the rescue, forcing Eddie Joe’s enrollment, hoping for Eddie Joe’s early expulsion in yet another school district where Eddie Joe represented a significant minority. The trial lawyer began to advertise around the state at large, seeking those who may have been discriminated against, filing lawsuit after lawsuit, ignoring those that were bound to go to trial and gleefully accepting whatever settlements would be offered by terrified school boards. This would only last a while, since a few defiant school boards would likely win their cases because judges were very likely to take a dim view of an uneven-handed disciplinary policy, regardless of the racial motivations. In the meantime, the trial lawyers made out like bandits. Some of them had once been DOJ attorneys now out of government service and cashing in on the wave of settlements given to all the mothers of all the Eddie Joes who lived all over the country.
Before the insanity was stopped, the only ones served were all those trial lawyers, private schools, and the She’quilas who were able to leave public education: Neither Eddie Joe, nor his mother, nor the local schools, nor the teachers, nor the local school boards were served. In fact, no one was willing to serve on a school board any longer since several of the lawsuits named the school districts and the individual board members, as well as the school’s administrators and teachers. You know those trial lawyers…they get out their shotguns and blast away, letting the pellets wound anything in the vicinity while hoping to severely wound the entity with the deep pockets—and the two entities with deep pockets in this case…local governments and their insurers. The local school boards noted with gloom that a larger portion of their budgets were eaten up by general, professional, and ancillary liability insurance premiums.
Kemper County Christian Academy was pleased to have She’quila and Te’quila. They were model students, embraced by the school community, had no fear from any Eddie Joe types since everyone at the private school was drug tested and required to strictly adhere to the school’s rules, regardless of their race or gender. The rules were enforced even-handedly. As far as the private school was concerned, one was always free to vote with their feet or their wallet and go somewhere else if they did not like it there. While it may have been true that students have a right to an education, there was no right to receive one at Kemper County Christian Academy – – if your tuition was paid, and you studied and made the grades and obeyed the rules, then you could maintain your privilege of attending school there. Though the teachers made less money and had far less benefits than their colleagues in the public schools, experienced teachers were leaving in record numbers to seek refuge in the private school system, or leaving the profession entirely, leaving disciplinary problems and even criminal disciplinary problems far behind them. Remarkably, schools that were once established with racial motivations as a haven for white children against court ordered desegregation were becoming a haven for the children of a growing African-American middle class who made great sacrifices to provide their children with what they felt was a better education than they could get in increasingly dysfunctional pubic schools that seemed more interested in policies that were designed to provide for every eventuality other than the education of children in their care.
Is this entire scenario absurd? Yes. It is absurd. So is my fiction. So is the directive that precipitated its writing. Yet, how else could the “Dear Colleague” letter be interpreted than as demanding quotas in school disciplinary procedures? Perhaps it is because I am not a trained educator. Well, a trained educator is going to have a hard time explaining this to my satisfaction, yet we will be speaking the same language and I will understand the definition of every word they will use during their attempt.
Once we had state sanctioned “separate but equal” educational facilities, which were certainly separate but not equal. No one defends this. No one advocates this. But parents, of their own choosing and at their own expense, are choosing to abandon public schools in favor of the expense of a private education for their children, or a charter school education for their children, or to homeschool their children, and the numbers of them are accelerating. We will see more of this as teachers are required to spend more of their time dealing with increasing restrictions on how they teach until good teachers abandon the profession and choose to work in other fields.
I am glad my children are grown. Now, it’s my grandchildren I help pay to send to private school. Just like my parents helped me, I am helping my children, and in turn, helping my grandchildren, since I live in one of the poorest, most consistently failing school districts in the United States of America, one that is always a single step from being taken over by the state. I pay all the taxes associated with public education in my county and get none of the benefits. Eventually, since there is a declining tax base in this county and increasing flight from the public schools of children of all races, there will be a 1:1 ratio of teachers and administrators for every student; and what then will those administrators administer? Likely, it will be their own entire careers spent filling out paperwork that will go to the Department of Education, with copies going to the Department of Justice, and state education departments, doctoring them so that the paperwork shows that they have complied with every Federal requirement so that they are less likely to be involved in lawsuits that take money they need for education and transfer it to those simply looking for an easy payday, and to be able to continue to receive those federal funds upon which they have grown dependent. Those federal funds may provide a portion of the fiscal requirements for a girls soccer team under Title IX, but they don’t do much for their education, or prepare them for college in any meaningful way. Our local community colleges have to offer remedial courses in reading, math, and English, and even in study skills. If students need remedial education to attend community college, how will they fare in University?
Just think, Eddie Joe is one GED away from Pell Grants, student loans, and the partying life of university. They won’t put up with Eddie Joe for long there, since the demographics will not work in his favor, but just think of the damage he will do to himself and others in a couple of short semesters. I don’t have a crystal ball to be sure how life will turn out for Eddie Joe, but it doesn’t look promising to me. I suspect that Eddie Joe will see intervention from the Department of Justice in more than just his education. I don’t know what to do about Eddie Joe, but I do know that punishing She’quila on behalf of Eddie Joe is not going to help either one, nor the school that they attend. Eddie Joe started out and lived most of his young life as a victim. His victim status continued right up to the point that he turned predator.
If I were to make a list of the folks in government that dismay me the most, Eric Holder would be at the very top. He runs an unfathomable Department of Justice, and his idea of justice is skewed in a way I cannot understand. Maybe he felt like an unfair system singled him out, punishing him for the misdeeds of others or simply because he was who he was. If he is trying to correct that, he should stop and think that in spite of obstacles, he persevered through adversity to become the Attorney General of The United States of America: a noteworthy achievement.
I wish him well. I don’t even think he will survive the Obama administration. At least, the Senate will get to have a tough filibuster if the president nominates him to the Supreme court if he has the chance or unless Harry Reid precipitates a change in the rules again. I suspect that even Eric Holder knows that there is a slim or none chance of his getting nominated or confirmed to a supreme court post. In his retirement, he may elect to become a famous trial lawyer, since trial lawyers are among the most vocal proponents of wealth transfers from those who have it to those who don’t.
In the meantime, I do not envy the Kemper County School Board, or any school board in Mississippi, or any school board anywhere, as they wrestle with all the problems they face. The Kemper County School System is so overwhelmingly minority that this particular issue is most likely not going to cause them a moment’s trouble unless it is through reverse discrimination. Like most school districts everywhere, they claim that all their troubles are caused by a lack of funding. If they simply had more money, they would do a better job of educating the children.
That argument sounds a lot like what one of my employees said to me once, and never again. “Mr. Chris,” he said, “If you’ll give me a raise I’ll do a better job.” Neither one of us felt that we were getting our money’s worth. I decided I could help at least fifty percent of us feel better about the situation. I fired him on the spot. It is unlikely he ever said this to another employer. Maybe so. I hope not. If he did, then he is incapable of learning, and when one is incapable of learning, no amount of education will help them.
I titled this “Goodbye Public School Education.” Public schools aren’t going anywhere. It’s the education they provide that is retreating.
We will miss what’s still left of it when it’s finally gone.
AND….I went to public school and had some dunces for teachers…some who were not worthy of a classroom. I also had some who were challenging, mind expanding, those who showed me a bigger world and encouraged and nurtured the development of the skills I needed to be a contributing part of it. I am forever in their debt. Thank you for the many sacrifices you made on my behalf, and putting up with me and my misbehavior, for I would likely be one that would help keep the disciplinary quotas in the proper ratio. Bless each one of you! Some of them took great personal risks to help me further my education. In high school in 1970’s rural Mississippi, I was furnished reading material by teachers that would have promptly got them fired. The same teacher that first exposed me to Ayn Rand, which she has since repented of since Ayn took so well, was the same teacher who introduced me to the poetry of Allen Ginsburg and other beat generation writers. In Mississippi, either one could get you fired, since Rand, though conservative, anti-communist, and capitalist was also a determined atheist, and Ginsburg?? Well Ginsburg was Ginsburg and counter to everything that was Kosher in rural white Mississippi. I suspect she lived in terror that I would betray her with loose lips about what I was reading and where I got it. I never did. She never got fired. She will likely read this, shaking her head through much of it in stern disagreement, wondering, perhaps, how she failed me as a teacher. She didn’t fail me at all. She gave me my mind, and set it free to consider things in the most wonderful way.
A sincere and heartfelt THANK YOU is all I can offer. It is. And I do. Thank you.