The Garden of Earthly Delights

Hieronymus Bosch  (Click image to up-rez.)

Hieronymus Bosch (Click image to up-rez.)

The Dutch company Parastone’s main claim to fame is its line of resin reproductions of characters depicted in famous paintings. Here, for example, are a few characters from “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch. Granted, they’re not to everyone’s taste.

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Before she suspended her campaign, then presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said, “I would go over to the Department of Education, I’d turn off the lights, I would lock the door and I would send all the money back to the states and localities.”

The quote caught my eye because Ron Paul has said that he’d eliminate the Department of Education, too. So has Rick Perry. Although Gingrich voted to create the department in 1979, he now says that he’d make it a “research and reporting overview agency” and “restore decision-making powers to states and communities.” Rick Santorum believes that, while the department “might serve some useful purposes,” it needs to be “substantially smaller” than it is. Romney, who once advocated closing the department, has backed off from that position somewhat, allowing that the department might be useful in “holding down the interest of the teachers’ unions.”

The entire Republican field, then, advocates eliminating or severely restricting the Department of Education. I was curious to know what my public school educator and administrator friend thinks about the department, so I asked him. Here’s some of what he said …

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SC State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum took over Allendale County Schools in 1999. Four years later, Tenenbaum locked horns with the school board chairman there, refusing to relinquish control of the district so long as he remained. Four years after that, when control of the district was returned to the local board, test scores remained at 1999 levels.

SC State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum took over Allendale County Schools in 1999. Four years later, Tenenbaum locked horns with the school board chairman there, refusing to relinquish control of the district so long as he remained. Four years after that, when control of the district was returned to the local board, test scores remained at 1999 levels.

There are, as you seem to have noticed, three governing bodies for school districts: the federal, the state, and the local school board.
The federal government grew stronger and more influential during the 60’s and 70’s, bolstered by the civil rights movement. If it hadn’t, we might not now have fully integrated schools in all states, particularly South Carolina. You need some oversight by the fed to make sure that children in Mississippi are getting something kind of close to what is happening in California.

The same thing holds true when you move from the states’ departments of education in overseeing the local school districts.  I have seen the work of several local school boards up close and sometimes it is a very ugly sight indeed. Local demagogues  using their power to show off or to get even with a perceived enemy (a principal who suspended their child, or a superintendent who fired their cousin, the drunken janitor).

There really does need to be some oversight, but how much? That’s the $64 question. At one time, my position would have been close to Gingrich’s. Let the fed and the individual state departments of education issue tests and data, publish the accomplishments or lack thereof in local newspapers, and let the local schools live or die with the school boards they’ve elected.

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(My friend goes on to tell the tale of a South Carolina superintendent who colluded with a district employee to misappropriate a small fortune in district funds. The school board’s response was less than exemplary.)

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This scenario is repeated day in and day out, throughout the state of South Carolina at the local level. Today, tomorrow, now and forever. In this instance, I don’t think any children were hurt, but it’s not always like that.

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(Then the story of another South Carolina school district taken over by the State Department of Education in 1999. When the Department released control of the district eight years later, the district’s test scores were exactly what they’d been before the takeover.  If anything of real benefit was accomplished, my friend says, it was to inspire other districts, for fear of being taken over themselves, to clean up their acts.)

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Look at the budgets for these departments on the state and federal level, then go in and evaluate what is being done by their employees. Many, many directors of this, and advisors for that with two secretaries each, and custodians to clean their restrooms, etc., etc. I’ve seen these people, at least at the state level, and there is a LOT of waste.  It is NOT worth the money we spend.  I’m sure it’s the same at the federal level, probably much worse.

So there’s my long answer.

Here’s my short answer: I just friggin’ don’t know. It’s too big for me to assess.  Further, I don’t believe that any of the Republican candidates know any more than I do. They’re just blowing it right out their asses in the direction they think will garner the most votes.