Belmont Club

Hold That Tiger

Three years ago two tiger parks in India reported that while they had no tigers, they had plenty of officials to manage them. “State Minister of Forests Rajendra Shukla said that the [Panna National Park] reserve, which three years ago had 24 tigers, no longer had any … this is the second tiger reserve in India, after Sariska in Rajasthan, where numbers have dwindled to zero.” They ought to form a club with the Philppine forestry department, which has thousands of foresters and no forests left to manage either.

On second thought, the Indian park rangers ought to make common cause with educators. Despite the ever increasing amounts of money spent on educating elementary and high school students, and despite the relentless rise in the numbers of educators, the dropout rate in America is rising. Every 12 seconds, a student drops out. As an article in Education Week put it:

Every school day, more than 7,200 students fall through the cracks of America’s public high schools. Three out of every 10 members of this year’s graduating class, 1.3 million students in all, will fail to graduate with a diploma. The effects of this graduation crisis fall disproportionately on the nation’s most vulnerable youths and communities. A majority of nongraduates are members of historically disadvantaged minorities and other educationally underserved groups. They are more likely to attend school in large, urban districts. And they come disproportionately from communities challenged by severe poverty and economic hardship.

The problem, according to the artcle, is that the students are “underserved”. The solution to this problem therefore, is to increasing the size of the servings. Increase the portions.

But failing that, government can simply make it illegal for students to drop out, whether they are interested in what the educators serve up or not. NPR reports on President Obama’s proposal to require every kid to stay in school until 18.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on every state to require students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18. “When students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma,” he said.

The White House cited studies that showed how raising the compulsory schooling age helps prevent kids from leaving school.

It makes sense in way. If a student is compelled to stay in school he can’t drop out. But maybe being “in school” is not always the same as learning. The NPR article quotes a skeptic who thinks that proscribing dropping out is useless.

But according to Russell Rumberger, an education professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara and author of the book Dropping Out … all you have to do is look at the 21 states where the compulsory schooling age is already 18. In Nevada, the dropout rate is 58 percent; in Louisiana, it’s 43 percent; in California, it’s 37 percent. The other 18 states aren’t much better.

Then there are states like Kentucky, where kids can leave school as early as 16. That’s been the law since 1934, and yet in recent years, Kentucky has dramatically lowered its dropout rate by focusing on the causes.

Whatever cause Kentucky fixed, one cause that may afflict the whole edifice is that the educational system has to some extent, become about employing teachers rather than instructing students. Just as tiger reserves in India have become excuses to employ bureaucrats rather than having anything to do with tigers; just as the nonexistent forests in the Philippnes continue to require armies of foresters to manage them, so too do the hordes of dropouts require more teachers to serve them.

At least the teachers will have jobs. As the Cato Institute pointed out, “the assertions that public school employee unions seek to grow and to raise their members’ wages are entirely uncontroversial … It is also common knowledge that they consistently oppose ‘school choice’ programs that would ease parents’ access to competing nonunionized private and charter school alternatives.” It has been about jobs for a long time and nobody even denies that any more.

But once an organization’s purpose has shifted from its original mission to self-preservation the last link between logical cause and effect are severed. It becomes its own reason for existence. Cato notes that there is now no way to derail the vast public educational enterprise, whatever it does or not. Public sector unions have simply become too powerful to abolish.

In the vast majority of states, unions are free to use members’ dues for any political activity so long as the member has not submitted a formal request asking not to have their contributions used for that purpose. Not surprisingly, unions sometimes make this opting-out process difficult—such as by limiting the period during which members may opt out to just 30 days of the year, or even refusing to honor such requests unless workers file charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

Under these circumstances, the solution to every educational crisis will always be the same: throw more money — more payroll — at the problem. The AJC describes the administration’s plan to turn the dropout rate around. It quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan who says the solution is more simple. Spend more money.

“President Obama’s agenda addresses the dropout crisis with an unprecedented commitment to turn around our lowest-performing schools, including the 2,000 high schools that produce half of our nation’s dropouts and as many as three-quarters of minority dropouts. With $4 billion available for these turnarounds, we have the resources to transform these schools from dropout factories to college graduation academies. Our agenda also includes new resources to support states’ efforts to build data systems that measure whether students are on track for graduation – and how to help them if they’re not.”

Maybe President Obama’s plan will work, and just maybe increasing the number of park rangers in India will bring back the tigers. But chances are they won’t. At any rate, the tigers may move to Texas. Texas?

CBS reports that Texas ranches have now become home to “more exotic wildlife than any other place on earth”. The ranchers have turned the preservation of exotic animals into a business and have outperformed every wildlife organization on earth. There’s only one catch: the ranchers make money while doing it.

The scimitar horned oryx . . . the addax . . . the dama gazelle – three elegant desert antelope that you’d hope to see on a journey through Africa, except that their numbers are dwindling there. Which is why Lara Logan went to Texas — yes, Texas. There, on large grassland ranches, some exotic species that are endangered in the wild have been brought back in large numbers. But there’s a catch: a percentage of the herd is hunted every year by hunters who pay big money for a big catch. The ranchers say this limited “culling” gives them the money they need to care for the animals and conserve the species. But animal rights activists don’t buy that argument, claiming the hunts are “canned” and that hunting is wholly inconsistent with conservancy …

It’s thanks to trophy hunters like Paul, who come here in the thousands to hunt these animals every year, sold on the idea of an African hunting experience in Texas. It’s open season on close to 100 species of exotic game all the time here because exotic animals are considered private property. Paul allowed us to come with him as he went on this hunt if we agreed to use only his first name. …

Here, he and a guide are searching for a scimitar horned oryx for him to take home as a trophy. If they find one, it’ll cost Paul $4,500. Other animals, like this dama gazelle, cost around $10,000. And the rarest, a cape buffalo, has a $50,000 price tag. Exotic wildlife has become a billion dollar industry in Texas supporting more than 14,000 jobs.

The rancher’s scheme sounds very much like the theory of sustainable forestry. Since animals — and trees — eventually die in the wild, the idea is to cull them at about the same die they would have died anyway. It’s not a new idea. Ray Bradbury described it years ago.

It came on great oiled, resilient, striding legs. It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker’s claws close to its oily reptilian chest. Each lower leg was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, sunk in thick ropes of muscle, sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior. Each thigh was a ton of meat, ivory, and steel mesh. And from the great breathing cage of the upper body those two delicate arms dangled out front, arms with hands which might pick up and examine men like toys, while the snake neck coiled. And the head itself, a ton of sculptured stone, lifted easily upon the sky. Its mouth gaped, exposing a fence of teeth like daggers. Its eyes rolled, ostrich eggs, empty of all expression save hunger. It closed its mouth in a death grin. It ran, its pelvic bones crushing aside trees and bushes, its taloned feet clawing damp earth, leaving prints six inches deep wherever it settled its weight …

“There’s the red paint on its chest!” …

The Monster, at the first motion, lunged forward with a terrible scream. It covered one hundred yards in six seconds. The rifles jerked up and blazed fire. A windstorm from the beast’s mouth engulfed them in the stench of slime and old blood. The Monster roared, teeth glittering with sun.

The rifles cracked again, Their sound was lost in shriek and lizard thunder … Like a stone idol, like a mountain avalanche, Tyrannosaurus fell. …

Another cracking sound. Overhead, a gigantic tree branch broke from its heavy mooring, fell. It crashed upon the dead beast with finality.

“There.” Lesperance checked his watch. “Right on time. That’s the giant tree that was scheduled to fall and kill this animal originally.” He glanced at the two hunters. “You want the trophy picture?”

A little gruesome. But at least there are tyrannosaurs in Bradbury’s world, not just Indian rangers. Readers of this site will recall this almost exactly mirrors the debate I had many years ago in the Philippines with the country representative of an international environmental organization. He was opposed to growing trees commercially on the flatland near the road. I argued that growing trees commercially would destroy demand for illegally logged timber because the sustainably grown commercial wood would undercut wood that had to be trucked in from the hills. His argument was ever the same: “Yes, but how can you manage trees for profit?”  He fairly spat out the word.

Profit is the problem. Even if it saved trees. Profit is still the problem. Even if it saves tigers — or even students.

Why did the environmental organization country representative hate a solution which would obviously protect what remained of the forests? Maybe because environmentalism has long ago stopped having anything to do with the environment; and is now entirely about environmentalists. Just as the tiger parks are now all about Indian rangers; and the fictive Filipino forests are now about government foresters. It is not entirely impossible to one day have schools whose sole purpose is to warehouse the youth while the unionized teachers take home a paycheck.


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