Sunday, February 19, 2006

Increased spending reduces literacy.

COLUMN: Vin Suprynowicz

Increased school spending reduces literacy

I got a phone call last week from the head of one of the many departments in the Clark County School District which I had mentioned in my March 16 essay on elephantine school districts, headlined "Mission Creep."

"Do you even know what my department does?" demanded the fellow, whose listing in the district's administrative phone directory says only "Warranty Department."

I had no idea, I said. And, I continued, that was the whole point of the listing: The sheer number -- hundreds -- of bureaucrats being paid $60,000 and $80,000 and more per year, leeches living off taxpayer funds to do things the average taxpayer doesn't know about, doesn't understand, has never been told about, and couldn't possibly be expected to explain, justify or favor if he were asked to.

"And you think just because the taxpayers are too stupid to understand the importance of what my department does, that's a reason we should be closed down?" he asked.

Even though I had not proposed any specific department be "closed down," I wrote down his words, because I couldn't possibly have invented such a succinct summary of bureaucratic arrogance if I'd tried.

It's apparently fine to require the great unwashed masses of cud-chewing taxpayers, at gunpoint, to pay for all this bureaucratic overhead (the fellow's department apparently double-checks to make sure private contractors are building new school buildings properly). But the bureaucrats should in no way be subject to the whims of those taxpayers, should they try to stop funding functions they don't understand, which have never been explained to them, and which have never been tested against any free-market competitive model to find out if they're truly necessary, or even being done at anywhere near as low a cost as possible.

(Care to compare administrative and maintenance costs at the average private or parochial school to those at a tax-funded campus?)

"Leeches?" my supercilious caller shrieked, pretending to laugh but instead issuing forth with something more like the chattering of an African pack scavenger. "There are no guns involved," he sneered. "Taxes are paid voluntarily."

"You're telling me that if I refuse to pay the property taxes that prop up the government schools, men with uniforms and guns won't eventually come and surround my house with yellow police tape, set my belongings out on the sidewalk, and auction it off?" I asked.

"Well, of course," my caller replied. "If you don't pay your taxes you have to pay the consequences. That's the free choice you have -- to pay your taxes or to face the consequences."

That was his definition of "voluntary," as opposed to coercion. Comply or get evicted from your own home -- and if you resist that, run the risk of getting shot or burned out with incendiary grenades.

"He lost the argument right there," volunteered a visiting Arizona Baptist minister of my acquaintance, with whom I happened to have dinner the following evening. "If you're not willing to admit that taxes are mandatory, that they're collected by the coercive use of force -- even if it's only applied to the occasional protester to 'set an example' -- then there's no common moral ground on which you can continue that discussion."

My chortling caller next tried to get me to admit that building new government school buildings was necessary.

Just the opposite, I said. New York state (government) teacher of the year John Taylor Gatto, in his book "The Underground History of American Education," cites statistics from the National Adult Literacy Survey and the National Assessment of Educational Progress confirming that the literacy rate in this country in 1940 was 96 percent for whites and 80 percent for blacks, but fell over the next 60 years to 83 percent for whites and 60 percent for blacks.

"Put another way," Gatto reveals, "black illiteracy doubled; white illiteracy quadrupled," despite the fact that "We spend three or four times as much real money on schooling as we did 60 years ago."

Why this change since the 1940s? It was during the Second World War that the government schools began to abandon the old, tried-and-true, phonetic method of teaching reading, Mr. Gatto reports.

If we built fewer government schools, that would increase pressure on parents to either home-school or get their kids into private schools, which would rescue more millions of souls from the enervating government youth indoctrination camps.

My caller could respond only by alternating between snorting, chuckling and cackling his disbelief that I could actually dare to say such things. "Where would all these private schools come from?" he sputtered.

"That's the same question they used to ask in the Soviet Union when it was suggested the state get out of the food distribution business and allow the private sector to take over: 'Where would all these so-called "private grocery stores" come from?! The greedy capitalists would charge such high prices that millions would starve!' Yet it turns out the free market works just fine, as always; in America everybody gets more and better food for less."

For the rest of the story go to Las Vegas Review Journal

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal and author of the books "Send in the Waco Killers" and "The Ballad of Carl Drega."

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