Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Big Government Fixes

Looks like we’re in for more federal government and that can’t be good. Democrats have convinced most of us that our economic distress results from lack of regulation rather than too much. Whether that’s true or not (and it isn’t) doesn’t matter. That’s how people perceive it and in politics, perception is reality. Political reality won’t change until perception changes and that could take a long time - years, or decades even. That our economic mess is, at bottom, a subprime mortgage crisis - caused by our federal government forcing banks to lend money to people who couldn’t pay it back - doesn’t matter. People believe it was Wall Street business tycoons who caused it all, so government will step in and control them - and continue to lend money to people they shouldn’t.

Big government is the most inefficient way to do anything. That’s why Jefferson said: “That government is best which governs least.” It used to be the mantra of the Republican Party - until the George W. Bush Administration. Under him, government grew faster than it had in any Democrat administration and it’s one of the biggest reasons Republicans got clobbered so badly in the last two elections. Now President Obama wants to be the new FDR and take control of the economy. My professional career has been in public education during a time in which the federal government took control of it, and the results have been dismal.

There weren’t many openings for history teachers in May of 1975 when I finished undergraduate school. A week before school started in September I found a job teaching juvenile delinquents in Lowell, Massachusetts where there were lots of them. Federal special education law had just kicked in though, and delinquents were reclassified as emotionally-disturbed adolescents. Many were no doubt disturbed, but most were junior con men. That ilk I understood, having grown up with many, but federal regulations dictated that we treat them as if they were handicapped. Once the junior cons realized this, they used it to their advantage of course, and lots of the federal taxpayer’s money was spent for little or no gain. A strong case could be made that juvenile delinquency in Massachusetts actually got worse. Federal programs didn’t work because people followed regulations instead of their common sense.

Trained as a history teacher, I wasn’t certified in Special Ed, so I had to take courses - so many that just a few more earned a master’s degree. So I got one, then moved north to take a job running the federally-funded Special Ed and Title I Programs in Maine School Administrative District 72. Our district spent this federal program money to hire ed techs who gave students individual attention. Our superintendent was a WWII US Army vet very familiar with federal regs. When state and federal checkers visited, I’d tell each ed tech whether they were Title I or Special Ed for that day. After showing the checkers around in the morning, our superintendent showed them local trout streams in the afternoon and they went away happy. No federal tax money was wasted.

Regulations and paperwork multiplied however, and I spent most of my time with telephones, filing cabinets and meetings, none of which provided job satisfaction. A new superintendent came in who was picky about paperwork, so when a job teaching history opened up, I took it along with a cut in pay. I’ve liked my job since because I’m left alone in my classroom. Meanwhile, I’ve observed with dismay the increasing union and central government control of public education.

I’m still involved in special education the way every teacher is: I go to lots of meetings and see lots more money spent. Few would begrudge spending for the mentally retarded, physically handicapped, or those with sight, hearing, dyslexia, or other issues. However, some who would have been coded as Educable Mentally Retarded (EMR) thirty years ago, are now classified “low-normal” and dropped from services. Meanwhile, special ed staff spend increasing amounts of time cultivating what some of us call “learned helplessness” in students whose biggest problem is an unwillingness to apply themselves. Schools must abide by federal statutes and ignore their better judgement about which students are served and how. Personnel may be used only with certain students and not others who don’t fit the regs, even though their needs are plainly very great. This waste of resources is worst when power and decision-making is centralized in Washington instead of in local schools. It’s been maddening to watch this trend increase year after year.

Now that Democrats are firmly in control our entire federal government again, and are beholden more to teachers’ unions than any other constituency, we’re going to see more of the same at an accelerated pace. We can look for similar developments in the economy, or in any other area the federal government wants to “regulate.”


Anonymous said...

Right on as usual, Tom. I would not have a child in government re-education centers (public schools) today. They would either be home schooled or in a good private, Christian school. I was a Naval Instructor for several years during my Navy career. I had ways to motivate students that can not be used in public schools. I don't know how you can stand what you have to put up with. My hat is off to you. Keep up the good work.

Harvey in North Baldwin

Anonymous said...

You're such a self-aggrandizing idiot. Listen to talk radio much?

Jenn said...

C'mon Tom, it's Christmastime! Please don't paint such a somber picture. It's true though, sad but true, and the picture that adorns this blog post is quite accurate to describe where the country and public schooling is going to go over the next several years. My son doesn't enter school for another couple of years... hopefully I can find a way to invest in private education by then.

By the way, to the spineless nameless ninny who posted above... could you possibly show an ounce of intelligence and debate the issues rather than resort to drive-by posts of juvenile name-calling on each blog entry? Well, perhaps it's not possible, as you're most likely a dropout of the special education system.

Well, I'm off to work to fund the handouts!

Anonymous said...

How do we thank our body politic for all they have done. We have become the piggy-bank for the ingrates from all the third-world hell holes in the UN, and a public toilet for the rest of the world. The problem seems to be that a proper thank you for what they have done would involve a felony.

Anonymous said...


It has been awhile since I posted a comment but I do applaud you in your astute assessment of our country's economic tail spin beginning in Sept 2008. It is amazing how Barny Frank and Chris Dodd have mastered the art of window dressing as if the blame originated any where else and let us not omit Chuck Schumer. Larry Arnn president of Hillsdale College in his commentary of Imprimis quoted: " The Constitution of the United States is a document full of safeguards. It sets out to do two things: first, to build a powerful government, competent to defend our rights against oppressors both foreign and domestic; second, to limit that government, and to arrange its powers, so as to render it, itself, harmless to the liberties of those it governs. That is why we have the key devices of the Constitution: separation of powers; federalism, which requires a federal government of enumerated and not unlimited powers; bicameralism; the Bill of Rights.What is fundamental is the purpose and function of our political system. Either we shall have limited government, in which a few vital things are tended to with a careful eye and strong but limited powers, or else we shall attempt to allocate the labor and capital of the nation by force of law. This second will make a disaster of a kind not seen in this country from its first days." Being a believer in American Patriotism and not a globalist I share and believe his views for America to be all it has been for it's citizens. Now we see a tarnished pre-elect president standing in he winds of change that will make the Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days. Lord help us, we have taken you, God, out of our schools, our public places, and out of our government...without God's Devinne Providence over our country we are a ship at sea without a rudder. Thanks Thom, may we continue to pick up the torch of those that have fought the good fight and now it is our time to continue their cause.

Greg Johns
Moultonboro NH

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. McLaughlin,
This is one of your students. I always read your articles in the Conway Daily Sun and look forward to it each week. I was curious of your other works so I came here. While I may be a hardcore liberal I do however agree with you on many issues, mostly on the terrorist issue.


Tom McLaughlin said...

Good to hear from you in this venue, and I'm glad you enjoy my writing. I've heard you're a good writer yourself, and I hope to see more of your contributions here.