Originally published in the Jacksonville Observer
Education is not the business of government. This is why we have a school board separate from the county government. It is the duty of the school board to decide how the school system shall operate and what the curriculum will be. They are supposed to make the decisions, not the state, and not the federal government. They are to be influenced solely by the voters in their county who elect them.
Consequently, the school board has no business taking money of any kind from the state or from the federal government because these funds come with stipulations, and curriculum demands that take virtually all of the power to make decisions away from the school board. All funds for a school system should rightly come from local taxpayers. All you have to leave to your children are your views about life. What you believe about how life should be lived, about how government should conduct itself, and about our relationship to God. Don’t let the state steal your legacy and your children by indoctrinating them with a philosophy you do not subscribe to. We need less government assistance and interference in our school system, not more.
Education is a privilege. Most people agree that well-educated young people secure the future of our society. We condescend to be taxed in order to provide an education to those children whose parents are not rich enough to stay home and educate their own children, which is the ideal situation, or to pay for a private school which is the second best option. Remember that a public school education is always the third rate option. A public school education is a gift that we give to students who would otherwise be unable to afford one, because we wish them well.
Nevertheless, everyone should not graduate from elementary school. Most everyone has heard of the bell curve. If a teacher has taught a subject effectively and gives a test to the class that is neither too hard nor too easy, a small percentage of the class should get high grade, the majority of the class should get average grades, and a small percentage should get failing grades. If too many people fail the test then it was too hard. If too many people pass the test then it was too easy. Therefore, if everyone graduates from elementary school it may be concluded that the educational challenge was too easy and students did not receive an education that had real value. The fact is that a decent elementary school education used to be all that was necessary to render a person fit to go out and make their way in the world. I submit to you that this would still the case if only we would raise the standards of an elementary education to what they once were. Children who cannot demonstrate proficiency should be given opportunities to remediate but should not be allowed to graduate until they do.
High school should be a real achievement. Certainly the bell curve should apply there. When I was working in the admissions department at the University of North Florida I would get to see application essays written by students who were unable to write a simple sentence, a concise paragraph, or spell correctly. While remediation was available, now the students had to pay out of their own pockets for it. But how did they manage to graduate high school in the first place? High school should be an opportunity presented by the community, not a guarantee. Students who are for one reason or another unable to do the work, especially those who are unwilling or unable to behave like young ladies and gentlemen, should be given a GED brochure and shown the door. This would create the type of environment where students who were willing and able to learn could be given an education by teachers who were willing and able to teach.
Unions are not the problem. Yes, I believe in vouchers. Yes, I believe in merit pay. No, I don’t believe in tenure for elementary and high school teachers. Tenure is for college professors who need the freedom to say controversial and provocative things so that the knowledge of the world may be advanced. Elementary and High School teachers need only to implement and communicate the curriculum decided upon and approved by the local school board and parents.
But having said all that, I believe in something even more strongly. I believe in the right to freedom of association. Like all our basic rights, freedom of association precedes the formation of government. Government exists to protect it, and governments that do not protect the freedom of association should be overthrown. Freedom of association is why we can form political parties, and churches without fear. It is also the reason we form counties, and cities, and states to control our immediate environment instead of bowing to a central authority. It also the power by which people form unions to protect their rights as workers against greedy, power hungry, egomaniacal, business owners and corporations who would take advantage of them. Don’t you think there are people in Jacksonville like that? Don’t blame unions for being strong, blame management for being weak and not standing up to them. Blaming the current state of education solely on the teachers union is not fair. Teaching is a hard job, and while teachers will need to face some present realities they also need to be respected. They certainly have the right to meet and choose representatives to negotiate for them. It is up to us as citizens to regain control over our local school board and work to create an environment designed to facilitate instruction and one where students are required to strive in order to gain a quality education.
Louis William Rose is the parliamentarian of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida