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Close the Schools

By Art Robinson, PhD

At dinner recently, a friend told me that he had called Peter DeFazio’s office and asked about DeFazio’s claims that Art Robinson is anti-education. “Oh yes, he was told, “Robinson is definitely against education,” followed by remarks embellishing this.

“How can this be?” my friend asked. “Robinson’s six children all have college degrees in science and engineering. Five of the six have doctorates”

“Click.” DeFazio’s man hung up on him.

I have been an educator of K-12, college, graduate, and postgraduate students for most of my life. As a student and student-teacher at Caltech and the University of California at San Diego (UCSD); as a teacher at UCSD and Stanford, as a teacher of my own children, and in our family’s business that has provided curricula and books to more than 100,000 home-schooled and public schooled K-12 students, I have learned a lot about education. I am, however, opposed to “education” as the politicians and union bureaucrats have transformed it.

Fifty million American young people are attending schools of political, bureaucratic, and union design – such an inferior design that our nation has fallen from first in the world 50 years ago to essentially last in the developed world in educational performance.

I am also opposed to being satisfied with gradual improvements in this situation. It is unacceptable to write off the educations of millions of American young people and plan to do better in the future. Not all public schools are inferior, but the average is very low. Many dedicated teachers do manage to do well regardless of governmental impediments.

It is easy, of course, to write these words, but is there a practical action one can take?  As a congressman, I think that there is. I think I could convince Congress to pass a bill to “Close the Schools.” (This will give a thrill to DeFazio’s political advertisers.) Specifically, I propose to close the D.C. schools for the summer and reshape them into outstanding schools in three months.

What schools does Congress have authority to close? Only the schools in Washington, D.C. The 10th Amendment of the Constitution leaves education entirely to the states and the people. The U.S. government has no authority to control our nation’s schools, except those under its jurisdiction in D.C.

The 50,000 K-12 students in D.C. are 67% black and 17% Hispanic. In recent years, 40% of them did not finish high school, and those who did finish read at an average 5th grade level. Congress voted for gradual improvements which have helped a little (DeFazio voted against these improvements to please his union sponsors), but the fact remains that an entire generation of minority students in Washington D.C. is being disadvantaged for life by being deprived of a good K-12 education.

I think that, in June 2021, all D.C. K-12 schools should be closed and all personnel laid off. During the following month, only teachers who work in the classrooms should be rehired, with special emphasis on reading, writing, and mathematics. A blue-ribbon group of America’s best educators should handle this rehiring, with less able teachers not rehired and replacement teachers with top teaching records hired to replace them. The wages of all of the teachers should be increased, with the understanding that these jobs depend on performance.

During the next two months, the entire educational curriculum should be replaced, with the new curriculum containing the best techniques for teaching reading, writing, and mathematics. General courses beyond these should be added only in history, science, and other substantial subjects. Then, reopen the schools in September.

Few, if any, non-teachers should be rehired. Let the teachers do the administration, and raise their wages in recognition of this small added responsibility.

During this process and the 2021-2022 academic year, every necessary resource should be utilized to make the D.C. schools the very best in the United States. This D.C. project can then become an example for the states and localities in improving their own schools. Children learn by example; adults learn by example; and institutions also learn by example.

Simultaneously, a voucher system should be built that provides every American K-12 student in the United States with the freedom and resources to apply to any school in our nation, public or private. This will provide a competitive atmosphere that encourages all of our schools to rise in quality, and it will eliminate inequities where they exist.

I will work to help the states and localities create these voucher systems for their students. All students will have economic freedom to use these vouchers to enhance their educations. The students and their parents will become the customers of the schools, rather than the vassals of school administrators.

Taxpayers pay taxes to provide for education, but this money is not controlled by the students, parents, or teachers. It is controlled by a self-serving unionized bureaucracy. Vouchers will return control to those who have the greatest interest in quality education.

On average, American federal, state, and local taxes collect more than $10,000 per academic year for each American K-12 student. That is more than $300,000 cash for each teacher and class of 30 students for 9 months. (In Portland, Oregon it is $360,000, and in Washington, DC it is $450,000.)

If that $300,000 were given to one of our nation’s many great teachers, she (or he) could raise her own salary, hire an assistant, rent a room for a classroom, give those 30 students a great nine months of education – and have lots of money left over.

DeFazio and his corrupt friends say that they want more money for the schools. The money they want will not go to the classroom. It will go to unionized non-teaching “educators,” who in turn will help keep DeFazio and his friends in office.

To DeFazio and his union friends, the students are just an excuse for the money transfer. If they cared at all about the students, the schools would not be so inferior.

My mother and uncle were public school teachers. After serving in World War II, my uncle taught school in rural Iowa. He taught a full load of classes – and they gave him a few dollars extra to be superintendent of the schools, too. Those Iowa farmers were not then interested in paying for non-teaching employees.

And, wasted money is not the only problem. These union non-teachers (and teachers of valueless politically correct government propaganda) do not take their money and go on vacation. They stay in the schools, making life miserable for the teachers as they try to teach. Of course, many non-teaching school administrators do not fit this description, but too many do.

Today, our family provides curricula and books for about 60,000 K-12 currently home-schooled and public-schooled students. One year, our curriculum won an unprecedented seven first-place awards in the annual Practical Home Schooling parent survey poll.

DeFazio has never taught a student. He is already out in Oregon District 4 misquoting selected phrases from angry statements I have written in the past concerning such situations as the D.C. schools.

Those schools should be closed! They should be replaced with good schools. And the congressional politicos who have done this to the black and Hispanic young people of D.C. should all be fired.

Reading is not a skill that is a goal of K-12 education. It is a skill required to obtain a K-12 education. By the time a student is no more than 8 years old, the student should read with facility.

By the age of 10, the child should frequently be seen spontaneously reading books outside of classroom hours. For my generation, the Carnegie libraries scattered throughout our country facilitated this. At age 10, the student should also be writing short essays each day.

As a student reads, his vocabulary gradually expands because he spontaneously acquires a greater active vocabulary from the increasingly sophisticated books that he reads.

Knowledge is in books. Without reading skills, that knowledge is not available to the student. And, while the specific knowledge is important, more importantly the acquisition of mental skills learned by reading serves to train the student’s mind and his imagination. The student learns to think.

Progressive liberals argue that the D.C. schools do the best they can with the students they have. This is a deplorable racist excuse.

Years ago, I was teaching chemistry at the University of California at San Diego to a class of 300 science and engineering majors. In addition to lectures, assignments, and examinations, I went every weekday evening to the lecture hall and tutored all students who showed up until the last one went home. Usually, about 50 attended, and the sessions lasted about three hours. I did everything I could to aid their performance, but I made no distinctions. Unless the student learned the chemistry, he was not going to pass the course.

One evening when I was having a hamburger with several graduate students in downtown La Jolla, a formidable black man joined our table. He was a professor in the UCSD third college, which was restricted entirely to minority students.

After we listened for a while to his brand of Third-World, black-power politics, the conversation turned to education. I said that, in my course, I made no distinctions as to race, background, or other factors. All must master the chemistry, regardless of their attributes.

The black professor’s response: “You’re right! Your course is very difficult. I know because I am tutoring two students taking your course. But, you are right. Our worst enemies are these white liberals who come over to the third college and teach watered-down courses to our students – turning them into permanent second-class citizens.” (This is as close to his exact words as memory permits.)

The white liberal professors he mentioned postured as very self-important as they generously taught down to this group they considered inferior. Racism we might call it, but they acted the same way toward white colleagues who failed to share their views.

Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver would agree. At Tuskegee University, they taught excellence, not excuses.

Nationwide test results in U.S. schools have shown public-schooled white students at 57 percentile, while black and Hispanic students are at 25 percentile in academic performance. On the same tests, white, black, and Hispanic home-schooled students were all at 80 percentile. There was no racial difference.

It may seem quixotic to suggest that the national disaster in U.S. schools can be corrected very rapidly. Yet, this must be done, and it is easy to do. It is not acceptable to write off the millions of young people now in poor schools.

Turning D.C. schools into a model for our country and providing every American K-12 student with a voucher to attend any school in our nation would provide a substantial immediate improvement.

Only half of the dollars taxpayers spent for K-12 education reach the classroom. Fire the unionized deadwood, send all of the school tax money to the classrooms and teachers, and create a nationwide voucher competition. This would be a great gift to our 50 million students.

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