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Public Education's Grease Fire
And why more baking soda won't help
When I survey the current state of public education, I am brought back to the summer days of my youth. Where other kids went to camp or worked a paper route, I could be found committing various Geneva infractions against the ants in my driveway. I would scorch them with a plastic magnifying glass; I would pick up stragglers and fling them into spider webs; I would jump up and down like a human plate compactor on their tightly packed colonies.
When I did feel a pang of conscience, it was as I witnessed dozens of now mostly-dead ants attempting to resume their labours where they left off. “Everything is fine here,” they seemed to say, “Nothing a little elbow-grease can’t fix.”
As I listen to men like Stephen Lecce, I feel much as I did watching the futility of those mangled ants. I feel like I am watching Billy Colman trying to patch up Old Dan with mud even as his innards keep falling out and getting snagged on branches. And I was reminded again that sometimes the kindest thing you can do is let a doomed thing die. And that sometimes the next kindest thing you can do is douse it in kerosene and direct it towards the nearest brush fire.
And make no mistake: public education is a doomed thing.
The High Cost of Free Education
Writing for the Fraser Institute, Derek J. Allison notes:
The bloated education establishment in Ontario today seems increasingly unable to retain public confidence. Not only does the system consume huge amounts of public money [over 30 billion], spending continues to increase although enrollment has more or less flatlined.
The Ontario Human Rights commission also recently revealed that:
Too many Ontario students are not learning to read well. Education Quality Accountability Office (EQAO) data shows that a large proportion of Ontario students (one in four in Grade 3 and one in five in Grade 6) are failing to meet provincial reading standards.
And let’s not forget about the poor, wrung-out souls over at Reddit. Whatever else you can say about Reddit, you can’t deny it has that gritty, saloon-like atmosphere where you’re just as likely to find the truth as get your eye gouged out with a billiard cue.
Here's just a small sample:
I teach in Ontario. Just wondering if every province is experiencing the absolute s**t-show that is public education right now. Understaffed, far too many special needs and behavioral kids without support, zero consequences for any behavior, violence and trashed rooms, more work put onto teachers, and just general terribleness in the schools everyday.
Students are also getting weaker and weaker academically and there has been a long trend of needing fewer physics, chemistry, biology classes and more "easy" science courses like Earth science and science for citizens.
We . . . completely loosened the academic integrity of courses. The school board removed finals for grades 9 and 10, seriously scaled back on them for grade 11 and 12. We scaled back on tests (basically dividing them in half) and gave all students double time even on that. We were told to not expect students to do homework, and instructed to not teach all of the learning goals, don't teach the curriculum.
Of course, none of this seems to phase the Ontario Teachers Federation.1 This might be because, like most unions, they are monopolistic, heavily bureaucratic, and amazingly resilient to reality. Or it might be because — also like most unions — they're about as trustworthy as an amateur field guide to edible mushrooms.
One of the biggest problems with public systems is that they present the perfect conditions in which administrators divide and multiply. For those who don’t know, administrators are much like fertilizer; useful — even necessary — in limited amounts. Too many, however, and they have a tendancy to smother everything around them. And then blame it on the dry weather.
Many people believe public systems are a no-cost solution to otherwise expensive services, but that simply isn’t true. There is no such thing as a no-cost system. Just because parents aren’t on the hook for tuition, the assistant to the administrative support assistant’s avocado toast budget has to come from somewhere; that somewhere being the national bank of undirected taxpayer dollars.
So we now not only have a bloated and inefficient system, but a bloated and inefficient system that is mainly concerned with keeping itself alive. Never mind the cost our children pay when we exchange the privilege and responsibility of parenting for the magic beans of public “conscience.”
From the Ashes
But the greatest failure of public education is not that it is buried within nine circles of administration. It is that we, as a public, have abandon the fear of the Lord.
In Proverbs 1 we’re told that the fear of the Lord — the honouring of Christ as Creator and King — is the beginning of wisdom. It is in the fear of the Lord that we find the primus ordiri — the origin and first principle — of wisdom, without which there can be no wisdom.
It is interesting to note that even public educators themselves are now acknowledging the need to return to beginnings: writing, reading, and arithmetic. But fixing the three Rs won’t fix public education. Nor will millions more dollars or hundreds more teachers. The godless assumptions of modern education mean the entire machine is shot through with necrosis. And why would we expect that which is dead to bring life to others?
Until God humbles our nation and brings reformation, the Christian church must respond as it always has. That is to say — offensively. That is to say, with the kind of rigorous, state-excluding, Christ-exalting education that strikes fear in the hearts of tyrants and hope in the hearts of the meek. Which really is to say, with the kind of education that is good for kids, honouring to God, and healing for the nations.
Mr. Lecce may think a wave of his magic wand will cause the spectre of public education to rise and walk again. Personally, I think I’ll give Charles Bukowsky the last word:
“Let it die. Let there be a new beginning. It’s awful. Goodnight.”
“The Ontario Teachers' Federation is the professional body representing over 160,000 teachers in Ontario's publicly funded schools. It operates the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, which in 2021, was Canada's largest single-profession pension plan, with around $200 billion in managed assets.” https://www.otffeo.on.ca/en/