Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Bailing The Failing

Similarities between federal government “helping” the economy and “helping” public education haunt me. Government bails out failing businesses now the same way it’s been bailing out failing students and failing schools. Will Democrat Big Government fix our economy? I’ll answer that question by asking another: Has it fixed public schools? I rest my case.

Although math has always been a weakness for me, I’m fairly good at geometry. Why? Because I failed it in 10th grade. I didn’t fail because I couldn’t understand it. I failed because I goofed around in class, didn’t do my homework, and didn’t study. I had to take it again in summer school and I had to pass, so I did. I paid attention. I did my homework. I studied. Failure was good for me.

However, “Failure is not an option” has been a slogan in many public schools for a while now. If students fail courses, it’s the teacher’s fault for not doing enough to prevent it. Even if students goof around, don’t do assigned work, and don’t study, the onus is on the teacher to do more or expect less. Worse, if there’s a discrepancy between a student’s measured intelligence and his actual performance, a student can even be called “Learning Disabled,” or LD, and demand extensive government services. The LD label implies a perceptual difficulty and most lay people understand it that way, but that’s not how government defines it. That the discrepancy exists is enough, even if it’s due solely to lack of effort. There are certainly students with perceptual difficulties and it the LD label was designed for them. They work hard, but they’re forced to share expensive educational resources with the willfully ignorant who are often disruptive, but are enabled by government regulations. When government subsidizes something, we tend to get more of it.

Under our free enterprise system, we should all be free to succeed or fail. However, government is applying the “failure is not an option” philosophy to greedy individual investors who bought more house than they could afford, and to big corporations. Some are banks that squandered their capital on risky investments. Others are automobile companies that design poor vehicles, make them shoddily, and pander to bloated labor unions. They’re failing because they’re lazy, greedy, and out of touch with consumer wants and needs. They don’t like competition and they deserve to fail. What may save them is being forced to face the reasons they failed. Government bailouts only postpone that. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t solve it. Admitting failure and going into bankruptcy reorganization would force the issue.

Trouble is, union contracts would be suspended in bankruptcy court and auto workers would have to compete as individual workers the way their fellow auto workers in American Toyota plants do. Toyota makes excellent vehicles in the United States, and that’s why they outsell Ford, GM and Chrysler. Competition is good for workers, good for corporations, good for consumers. If the big three can’t compete, they should fail. We won’t run out of vehicles.

The federal government didn’t step in when big airlines were going bankrupt in the ’80s and ’90s. They couldn’t compete with newer, low-cost, low-frills airlines that started up after government deregulated the industry. Their bloated labor unions would not accept reduced pay and benefits to help their companies avoid bankruptcy and went out on strike instead. Eastern Airlines and others folded, but we can still fly wherever we want to go.

For decades, public schools have said they need more government money to fix themselves - and they’ve been getting plenty of it. See much improvement? Look around. School systems like Washington, DC that spend the most ($13,446 per student versus $9,138 per student nationally in fiscal 2006), and have the most big-government intervention, produce the poorest results. They’re beholden to bloated teachers’ unions - the biggest unions in the country - and they hate competition. Even the liberal Atlantic Monthly, says: “For decades, an establishment of Democratic politicians backed by union leaders has ruled the Washington public schools, which by almost any measure—test scores, attendance, safety—are among the worst in the country.” No wonder Barack Obama won’t send his kids there. He’ll send them to private schools, but he won’t allow less-fortunate DC residents that option because the teachers’ unions and the Democratic Party would go ballistic. For teachers’ unions, enemy number one is competition in the form of education vouchers or school choice. Obama is the most “pro-choice” politician in Washington, but not when it comes to education.

Success and failure are both good teachers and one cannot exist without the other. If we think we can eliminate failure by spending money on it that we don’t have, we’re all going to fail.


Anonymous said...

Tom is right on again. Fasten your seat belts, folks, and hang on. This country is in deep trouble and it is going to get worse in a hurry. Bail outs don't work. They just devalue our dollar and contribute to a global economic crash. Are you ready for a global money system under UN control?

Harvey in North Baldwin

Anonymous said...

I think we're seeing the chinks in the armor, very early on, in this administration which, as we all tried to point out, had little experience and was forged in the corrupt political cauldron of Illinois (read: Chicago) Politics.

The "Goose Egg" that the House delivered on the initial stimulous vote, and that Michael Steele is proud of, is a clear indication that there the old school Dems in Congress won't let Obama provide real reform.

I was heartened to watch John McCain on CSPAN, all the way until ~8pm on Monday night, sit on a panel that had 3 expert witnesses on what will truly work for the economy. If the rag-tag GOP representatives can stick to their guns and ride out the media maelstrom that will try to get Obama his first post-election victory, there just might be a chance for us all...

Anonymous said...

Thanks again Tom for a lucid and educational insight into the crazy world we're living in. You should try to get nationally syndicated; your column would be great reading nationwide. Of amp up the publicity of your blog (easier said than done) so even more people read it... Keep up the great work. I love reading your stuff. - Monroe Mann

Anonymous said...

Nice job once again Tom. You are absolutely one-hundred percent right on education.

I liked that story you linked to on The Atlantic. I am impressed by that new DC school commissioner Michelle Rhee. She offered to double teacher salaries (that means give them six-figure salaries) if they would give up the union. One need not be a rocket scientist to guess the union's answer.

I have one quibble with your column. You call The Atlantic liberal. I would call them more mainstream, middle-of-the-road, kind of like Time Magazine, except much more intellectual.

I particularly enjoy the Atlantic's blogs. You should check out young conservative Ross Douthat's blog:

Tom McLaughlin said...

I hope you're wrong, but I suspect you're going to be proven right about how bad it's going to get.

G. Deihl:
Definitely some chinks, and they'll grow into gaping holes before the first 100 days of this new government are over. The Goose Egg energized conservatives.

Thanks for the encouragement. I need to do more about publicity, but it's not as much fun as writing. Guess I need more discipline.

I've bookmarked Ross Douthat. Looks interesting so far. Your characterization of The Atlantic Monthly as moderate would have been true under Michael Kelly's tenure. Since he was killed, it's gone downhill toward liberal pandering in my opinion. That accellerated with the addition of "conservative" blogger Andrew Sullivan. I find him hard to take and I cancelled my subscription rather than look at him.

Michelle Rhee was invited to CPAC, I saw yesterday on NRO, but she hasn't accepted yet. I'm going to be there and I hope to see her. Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin have accepted. Going to be a good conference.

Anonymous said...

Many of our schools are failing to teach its students that actions have consequences. It is way to late to learn about failure when you are an adult, but sadly many of our kids are protected from failure until it is too late. I am so happy that we still have some good teachers, such as Tom. Way to go!

Anonymous said...

I agree that we cannot just "throw" money at education. We need a core of good, effective, caring teachers. We need to attract GOOD teachers. Michelle Rhee isn't wrong. In fact, if you look at her argument closely, you guys actually have more in common than first meets the eye.

I would think that, as a teacher yourself, you would be in favor of rewarding those who are successful in the classroom as opposed to those who are ineffectual. I tend to agree with the theory behind your argument, just not this particular application. Let's take a better look at the two arguments.

Don't let politics get in the way of supporting good, effective teaching. Your argument implies that competition breeds success. I don't disagree. However, the teaching profession is not competitive in this economy.

Think of the intelligent, well-spoken, hard-working "uber-American." In a capitalistic society, what motivates these people to work harder? Well, according to your argument, healthy competition. Rhee is talking about making teaching a more desirable profession in the economic realities of the job.

If you read carefully, Rhee makes it clear that she isn't talking about raising salaries of all teachers. She talking about giving good, effective teachers an incentive to continue to do the good work they're doing.

In effect, the argument you make for not bailing out failing auto makers and allowing effective corporations like Toyota to thrive is the same one that Rhee is making, only she is talking about human capital. She's talking about investing in our future, in our students, in our schools.

I agree that rewarding teachers who are not effective is like the ill-conceived auto bailout. However, if you carry that theory through, you'll find that you and Michelle Rhee actually agree.

Anonymous said...

The alleged "bail-outs" have become an epic breakthrough for the statists that now own us. They have finally figured out how to steal money that has yet to be earned, from those yet to be born. I guess that what the Manchurian messiah meant by change.