Roger L. Simon

Villaraigosa's School Days

My hometown of Los Angeles – that well-known epicenter of hypocrisy – is a place where the vast majority of its traditionally liberal upper middle class ritually supports the State Teachers Union at the polls, but wouldn’t dream of sending their children to the public schools where its members teach. Everyone knows those schools (with a few exceptions) are wretched, yet hardly anyone seems willing to break with tradition, even though private school tuitions are rapidly heading north of thirty thousand per annum, leaving all but the extremely wealthy in their wakes. Soon enough the best schools will be havens of the mega-rich, with students in two hundred dollar designer jeans, arriving in Porsches, etc., leavened only by a handful of scholarship-students-of-color chosen, literally and figuratively, for face.

Shame on us – but that’s the least of it. Shame on our country whose educational scores lag behind practically every industrialized nation in the Western and Eastern worlds.

Of course this is a situation that, like the weather, everybody talks about it but nobody does a thing about. So LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – once a member of the LA school board himself- is to be applauded for wanting to take on this problem. Or he was to be applauded – because, according to the LAT, he is now busy compromising with the very teachers union he was originally going to take on in serious battle. And this union, like so many bureaucracies, has become a serious part of the problem it was originally intended to solve. It is the kind of organization that complains – correctly or incorrectly… I am suspicious — that the problem of our schools is too little money while spending an astonishing seventy million dollars (according to the same LAT article) between 2000 and 2004 to get its point across. How many classrooms could that have built?

But the problem is so much more than money and classrooms. At least in part it is the rise of a pseudo-professional class with entrenched values and needs straight out of Milovan Djilas. I wonder if in places like Singapore (where test scores dwarf ours) very much attention is paid to such matters as educational theories or whether there is a professional class of these “educators” replete with degrees from graduate departments of education. I rather doubt it. I strongly suspect they are too busy teaching particle physics and calculus for that.

I am not, however, implying we should turn into Singapore or anything like it. I am just saying it is time for all of us to look out of the educational box – way out. And that “all” includes the highly-paid union bureaucrats so loathe to give up power to elected officials.