Bill Boyl: Can education be fixed in America?
A recent headline out of Florida reads: “Three Students Die After Principal’s Hypnosis: $600K Payout Awarded.” Adds the lede paragraph, “A bizarre case involving a high school principal, three student deaths and as many as 75 students who were hypnotized has come to an end in Sarasota County.”
It is hard not to visualize a Svengali-like school principal running amok, tampering with the brain waves of impressionable students one after another to who knows what end. Truth be known, a principal in Florida did indeed “hypnotize” students — which strikes one as odd, perhaps. Maybe even weird. Certainly outside the job description. But it turns out the guy was simply trying to relax his charges before some important test taking. With an eye to maximizing school test scores, no doubt, kids were apparently subjected to some deep-breathing hocus pocus. Everyone agrees that was all there was to the hypnosis thing. We don’t know how the students fared on their exams. But we do know that two students from this hypnotic cohort subsequently committed suicide. Another died in a car crash (this across five years).
Let’s recap. A couple of teens — and for all we know these were world-weary Goths freighted with ennui — elect to opt out of life. A single lonely teenage broncin’ buck misses the levee turnoff and stacks up his pickup truck. Sad. Tragic, even. But there’s nothing to connect these isolated events with getting sleepy with Mr. Creepy during school hours. And it’s not as if teenage kids can’t find life-ending trouble all on their own, without adult coaching. Of course, the sheer lack of any nexus between hypnosis and the children’s deaths didn’t deter the Sarasota school district from opening the public purse and flinging money around like an NBA power forward at a Vegas strip club.
Continues the ABC news report: “The school district has agreed to pay out $200,000 to each of the families of three students who died after being hypnotized … While it is unclear (!) if the hypnosis played a role in the deaths, the school board was ‘just happy to put this behind them.’” No doubt. Why do we care about any of this? Because public education in this country is in the fetal position and barfing all over itself. Perplexed teachers would assert that insanity such as the Johnny can’t read, and his school is broke. But the teacher’s job is secure and her pension safe, so … Oh, and the principal’s a hypnotist.
Above is exactly what ails America’s underfunded schools: parasitic admin types frittering away scarce education dollars on matters completely unrelated to classroom instruction. Rolling over on transparently bogus legal claims “to put it behind us” is symptomatic of the sort of expensive and officious incompetence that defines school “administration” across the nation. Or so the schoolmarms might aver. Administrators, of course, see things differently. They assert that labor, not management, is the source of student learning gaps. Incompetent instructors remain in harness by dint of their protective union contracts; saintly teachers engage in disruptive wildcat strikes; labor reps lobby 24/7 to stonewall the smallest reform. Teachers’ unions, school boards know, place the welfare of students well behind the needs of the union stewardship itself, and behind salary and pension considerations for the rank-and-file.
Let’s stipulate that both houses of the American educational establishment need cleaning with a fire hose. God knows there is pox enough for both. Meanwhile, let’s not forget that lost in all this labor v. management name-calling is the fact that Johnny reads at a level that would embarrass a kangaroo (the Los Angeles Times, Sept. 9, 2015, reports that a mere 44 percent of California students score at grade level or better).
Our schools need fixin’. But don’t expect the Democratic Party to do the repair work. The Dems harvest union donations the way Idaho farmers harvest potatoes.
According to Opensecrets.com, teachers’ unions in 2012 spent $20 million buying politicians; 94 percent of that largesse went to Democrats. The unions fight change — and competition — tooth and nail, and Team Clinton isn’t about to tell the National Association of Teachers to dial it back for the good of the kids.
Which leaves us with the staid, go-along, bipartisan Republicans (OMG, as your teen might tweet). But perhaps there resides within the GOP a glimmer of hope in 2016. Maybe, just maybe, the Trumpeter swan from New York, while his campaign is still relevant, will stop giving boorishness a bad name long enough to make the collapse of American education a serious campaign topic. Maybe.
Bill Boyl lives in Nevada City.
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