School decentralization

Jun 092011

Here’s what I wrote as a comment at Front Porch Republic about the case of Nick’s Organic Farm.   Well, it’s what I would have written if I had gone back and edited my comments one more time:

Huge believer in private property rights here.  I would not support any intervention to interfere with that. I also question the question the wisdom of establishing an organic farm on leased land.

However, it was done. And what you have here is a quasi-governmental entity selling to a governmental entity. Putting public pressure on corporations like that is entirely appropriate. Local community pressure is even better. Just because it’s legal for this transaction to take place doesn’t mean people have to approve of it or accept it.

I could see myself joining in the campaign to save the farm. It reminds me that all too often, new rural schools are built not in town, not as part of the community, but out in the country on prime farm land, where the students are separated from the life of the community. Much of the reason for despoiling these vast portions of the landscape is to provide parking for buses, teachers, and students. Especially for students. We consolidate local schools into huge units, destroying family and community in the process, then take over vast expanses of countryside to build schools with huge asphalt parking lots where students can travel great distances to learn how to be critical of their parents for being poor stewards of the environment and for not supporting cap ‘n trade.

I would be glad to join in bringing public pressure to bear against those practices, too, though local pressure is better than outsider pressure.

Here’s a photo from 7 August 2005, at a place where this process was taking place.   Gull Creek used to form a pretty little valley.   I had always liked the way the valley opened up into an alluvial floodplain, good for cropland, just as it reached the Kalamazoo River valley.    But now it has been taken over by a school and parking lots.  The old school was in town; this one is out in the country.


Jun 192008

The Wall Street Journal reports on what fuel prices are doing to school transportation budgets. The yellow buses are taking money that would normally be spent on teachers, roofs, and “enrichment” programs.

Not a word is breathed about the possibility that it’s time to reverse the consolidation mania that has created these abominations. For example, the Gull Lake Community School District here in Michigan covers 100 square miles, but is not very compact in form. It has a long east-west axis and a not-so-long north-south one. There are about 2900 students. The elementary school that my youngest son attended, on the east end of the district, a blue-collar area, was recently shut down. The kids are now all transported to the more yuppity end of the district.

One improvement which would not only save transportation money but also improve educational quality would be to split the district into two. Re-open the elementary school, and perhaps even build a new, smaller high school on the east end of the district. The west end could pay reparations to help make it possible. There would then be closer ties between parents, taxpayers and schools, and kids would not so easily got lost in the cracks. And kids wouldn’t have to waste so much of their lives on those gas-guzzling, yellow monsters.

Oct 042007

The judge made a reasonable decision, I suppose, but what business do judges have in making such decisions in the first place? These are judgment calls that could reasonably be decided a number of different ways. Wouldn’t it be better for local school officials to be making them? And what would be so terrible about them not all making the same decision? Why do all the schools have to march in lock-step? So long as local principals and teachers have to watch their backs for fear of what local taxpayers and parents say, that would seem to be sufficient control, and one more robust in surviving occasional mistakes.

It’s bad enough in the United States where state boards of education make decisions for the schools in the state. That was one of the bad things about John Engler’s school finance reform in Michigan — it took a measure of control out of parents and local taxpayers’ hands, and turned it over to a state educational bureaucracy. Whatever the fiscal merits, they can hardly have been worth that cost.

Here‘s what the fuss is about:

Schools will have to issue a warning before they show pupils Al Gore’s controversial film about global warming, a judge indicated yesterday.

The move follows a High Court action by a father who accused the Government of ‘brainwashing’ children with propaganda by showing it in the classroom.

Stewart Dimmock said the former U.S. Vice-President’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, is unfit for schools because it is politically biased and contains serious scientific inaccuracies and ‘sentimental mush’.

He wants the video banned after it was distributed with four other short films to 3,500 schools in February.

Mr Justice Burton is due to deliver a ruling on the case next week, but yesterday he said he would be saying that Gore’s Oscar-winning film does promote ‘partisan political views’.

This means that teachers will have to warn pupils that there are other opinions on global warming and they should not necessarily accept the views of the film.

He said: ‘The result is I will be declaring that, with the guidance as now amended, it will not be unlawful for the film to be shown.’

Sep 292007

District 3 schoolyard

This photo is dredged up from what once was a web site of mine, circa 1995. I got it to go with an article in the Weekend Edition of the WSJ, titled “Inconvenient Youths.” Here are samples:

In households across the country, kids are going after their parents for environmental offenses, from using plastic cups to serving non-grass-fed beef at the dinner table. Many of these kids are getting more explicit messages about becoming eco-warriors at school and from popular books and movies.


Some parents object to what they see as proselytizing by their kids’ schools. Mark D. Hill, who until recently was chairman of the Republican party in Marin County, says some mothers called him upset when their children came home from Bacich Elementary School in Kentfield, Calif., with fliers stuffed in their backpacks advertising a screening of “An Inconvenient Truth.” The parents thought the public school shouldn’t promote the screening, which was paid for by a local parent, because they considered it a political statement.

Sally Peck, the principal of Bacich, disagrees. “We have a responsibility to educate our children,” she says.

Mr. Hill says the mothers worried their children would be criticized if they spoke out, so they kept their names secret. “It’s very scary for mothers,” he says. “They kind of go with the programs because they don’t want to be viewed as trouble-makers.”

It would seem that Principal Sally Peck is having trouble distinguishing indoctrination from education.   These people think it’s OK to indoctrinate kids in environmental morality, but watch what happens when you suggest that kids be taught sexual morality.

But it can’t be helped.  Some sort of morality is going to be taught.

Here’s an idea, and this is where the photo comes in.   The photo is of the old District No. 3 schoolyard in Bazile Mills, Nebraska.  It was taken a couple of hours before my first bike tour ever, in summer 1995.  The school was long gone, but I’m showing my youngest son where we used to play softball.  When I was a kid we lived in a house to the right of the church in the photo, where my father was pastor.   We usually walked to school across that field.

It was a two-room public school, and when the school consolidation movement came to Nebraska in the 1950s there was a big battle over whether the school should be closed and consolidated with the Creighton school, three miles away.   My parents were on the anti-consolidation side.   They were so unhappy with the high-handed techniques that had been used in an attempt to close the school that when it came time for me to go to high school, they didn’t send me to Creighton.  They instead sent me to a smaller school to the north at Center, on the edge of the Santee Sioux reservation.   I was fortunate to have had that experience — both the school experience and the witnessing of what my parents did to try to  preserve quality of education.

What does that have to do with our little eco-warriors?   Well, if teachers really want to teach about cutting down on greenhouse gases, they will want to teach the kids that the school districts should be broken up into small neighborhood schools — us-consolidated, if you will,  so that not so much fuel will need to be burned transporting kids to school and school activities.

One photo I didn’t find was of the area at the base of the Gull Creek valley in Kalamazoo County, MI.  That used to be the prettiest little valley in Kalamazoo County.  It reminded me of Ireland somewhat.  But when the community of Galesburg decided to build a new school, they did the same as so many others and built it out in the country where there was room for massive parking lots for all the kids who drive to school.   It destroyed the lower end of that little valley.  And who can blame kids for driving, or parents for driving their young ones, when the alternative is that abomination known as the school bus Whether children travel by bus or by car, if schools were unconsolidated it would make a huge difference in greenhouse gas emissions.

But no, just the opposite is being done.  Our Gull Lake school district recently closed a fine little elementary school in Bedford — the one my youngest son attended.    Now kids have to be transported a much greater distance to a centralized school.   Given that research has shown that smaller community schools usually provide better education, the school district isn’t going to have much credibility the next time it appeals for more money.

Of course, teachers and administrators are -not- going to advocate decentralization.  Doing so would give parents a greater say in their children’s education, which is anathema to the modern educational establishment.  Environmental issues are OK up to a point, and that is one of those points.

Sep 272007

Buckle up on buses?  The Kalamazoo Gazette asks whether Michigan should require seat belts on school buses.

A better question would be why we have such abominations as school buses in the first place?  Someday people are going to look back like we now do on child labor in factories, asking what kind of brutish people those were who could make their own children waste hundreds of hours of their childhoods on those things.

I wish I had back all the time I spent on school buses during my high school days.  (For most of my elementary school, I usually walked to school — a quick walk across a hay field in good weather, maybe a little longer if I had to go round by the road.)  I wish we had never had to put our own kids on those things.   I still remember the first day our oldest got on a bus to go to a pre-school class.  It was probably more traumatic for us than for her, but those things don’t do anyone any good.

How will kids get to school without buses?  Well, we sometimes put some extra CO2 in the atmosphere to drive our kids to school instead of making them take the bus.  But the real solution is to break up large school districts in favor of neighborhood schools closer to homes.   If we put kids on buses, the least we can do is keep the time spent there as short as possible.   It will do until an enlightened age comes that does away with them altogether.

Aug 062007

It’s not often that there is anything good to say about Julie Mack’s articles in the Kalamazoo Gazette, but here’s an opportunity: Those who study history are doomed to spend $100 million. She raises some good questions, and does it in a gracious manner, too.

It’s good that school superintendents are making waves over this sort of thing.

And it’s interesting to hear that Sen. Robert Byrd got us a federal law requiring schools to teach about the Constitution on September 17. He seems to have an interesting notion of what the Constitution is about. Maybe we could follow his example, though, and set aside September 18 as a day to honor the 1st Amendment by prohibiting anyone in schools from talking about it. The possibilities are endless.

But if Byrd really wanted to honor the Constitution, he’d dismantle the federal Department of Education and return the money that funds it to taxpayers, who then might be able to afford the next millage request that comes along.

And with extra money those schools that find the Teaching American History program to be the best way to spend their money could do so. Those that need to beef up their programs for at-risk students could do that, instead. And so on.

Jun 122007

Finally, after years of remarkably good behavior for a Democrat, Jennifer Granholm may be letting her true colors show.

The following headline is from the lead article on the front page of the Kalamazoo Gazette (Sunday June 10, 2007):

Bureaucracy or efficiency? Granholm would expand role of intermediate districts; critics say they are a waste.

That could be the article that launched a thousand blog posts, but let’s start with this paragraph.

There is general consensus that Granholm’s proposal is a move in the right direction. But educators question the idea of mandatory collaboration, saying flexibility is needed.

General consensus? Perhaps there is a lot of support for the general thrust of Granholm’s proposal, but no data were presented to support this assertion. Now I suspect that if you add up all the time that reporter/writer Julie Mack spent talking to people about this issue, you’d find that the vast majority of her time was spent talking to people who support this kind of centralization of schools. Maybe she mistook that for general consensus. (I don’t know that for sure, but I have as much data to support my statement as Julie Mack presented to support hers.)

BTW, back in Mrs. Bredberg’s English class in the 1960s, we learned that Ms. Mack’s propaganda technique is known as the bandwagon ploy.