December 14, 2007

I Don’t See The Problem

I’m a public school teacher – and used to be a private school teacher.

I attended public schools – and also attended private schools.

I attended public universities – and one private one.

My cousin home schools her kids – and many of my top students have at least some home schooling background.

What I’m suggesting is that I see the benefits and drawbacks of different sorts of education, and the appropriateness of different types of education for different kids.

But I wonder if the “pro-education” folks in South Carolina would consider me fit to serve on – much less head – the state board of education.

Wednesday’s choice of a home-schooling educator to be the State Board of Education’s chairwoman in 2009 signals a new dynamic in the state’s crusade to fix its troubled public schools.

Kristin Maguire, of Clemson, would be the nation’s only home-schooling educator to lead a state school board if she took office this year, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Maguire lobbied intensively for legislation that created a statewide charter school system and has voiced support for Sanford allies who want the Legislature to OK financial incentives for parents who send their children to private schools or educate them at home.

Maguire says political or philosophical differences she might have with others won’t distract her from being an advocate for improving education “for all children.”

Of course, Maguire just infuriates those who support monopolistic public education.

Others see Maguire’s election as a step backward — or at the least, a distraction.

Molly Spearman, a former educator and lawmaker who heads the S.C. Association of School Administrators, said, “It’s time for public school supporters to take the election of legislators and appointments to state boards more seriously. We need people who are going to make sure we have people committed to moving public education forward.”

Spearman, of course, has it exactly wrong. What we need on the state and national level are people who are going to move EDUCATION, not PUBLIC EDUCATION, forward. And part of that involves recognizing and acting on the reality I pointed to above, namely that a traditional public school classroom is not necessarily the best option for every student. That is why I support charter schools. That is why I support private schools (both religious and non-religious). That is why I support home schooling. They each meet the educational needs and desires of a subset of students and their families better than the traditional public school classroom that I teach in. And there is no sound reason – educational, constitutional, or moral – for not providing state funding and assistance to each and every one of those sorts of educational formats. After all, we need to ensure that every child receives the opportunity for a quality education that helps develop the student to the fullest. That is a simple matter of equity, of justice, and of decency.

Not that Spearman was alone in her assessment.

Leaders from the public education establishment were displeased by her election.

Sheila Gallagher, president of the S.C. Education Association, a teachers’ group, called the vote “a missed opportunity.” Gallagher said the DuBard family is well known in the Pee Dee area as public education advocates.

“His children attend public schools, and he knows what is happening there,” Gallagher said.

Business leaders had a mixed reaction.

Jim Reynolds, a Columbia businessman active in business group activities focusing on education, said, “I don’t think it’s going to hit the radar.”
Reynolds said South Carolinians are focused on finding solutions to public education problems and not the debate about funneling state aid to support private schools.

“Those are the things that capture the attention of South Carolina and the nation rather than the selection of the position of chair of the State Board of Education,” Reynolds said.

Lee Bussell of Columbia, the 2007 state Chamber of Commerce businessman of the year, said Maguire’s election is shocking.

“It’s like having a CEO of an airline who has no experience flying,” he said. “I don’t think (home-schoolers) ought to be put in a leadership position in something as important as public education. It is the foundation for everything we need to do to improve our state. The one place we don’t need partisan politics is in our school.”

Some Democrats were quick to criticize Maguire’s selection.

“Having Kristin Maguire chair the State Board of Education is akin to Dick Cheney teaching a gun safety course,” said state Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler.

“What does a woman who home-schools her four children know about South Carolina public schools?”

Let’s notice the condescension in all of those comments. They assume that government-operated schools are the only option. They assume that those who home school are ignorant and know nothing of education generally and public schools in particular. And worst of all, they make a mockery of the notion that citizens who exercise their right to directly oversee the education of their own children should have a voice in the direction of public education, despite the fact that they are taxpayers whose tack money is being spent on public schools they are not using. Such a position is a rejection of the

And I love the juxtaposition of the statements of the Chamber of Commerce representative and the Democrat hack – one declaring that we don’t need politics in our schools, and one explicitly politicizing the selection of Maguire with partisan insults. But then again, the supporters of the status quo in education lack any real answers to the tough questions that get asked about improving education, and they lack any new solutions to the problems that have arisen doing things their way. So instead of engaging their opponents, they actively seek to “kill the messenger” when change agents like Maguire achieve a position that allows them to actually influence education policy. And that is not merely bad policy, it is also a rejection of the basic civic value of public participation in government.

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NAME: Greg
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