But first . . .

GOING SOMEWHERE?

Alan Rogowsky recommends: farechase.com. It checks all the airlines real fast and presents results starting with the cheapest. Not surprisingly, this new site is frequently busy – ‘try later.’ If they don’t blow it, this site has the potential to be very popular.

Now . . .

THEIR KIDS, YOUR MONEY

M. Greger: ‘Your 1/30/01 posting greatly reminds me of your 11/15/00 posting debacle. That column, as this latest one, typifies the socialist mentality of how everything can be easily fixed if we just spend frugal people’s tax dollars. It is the classic argument of personal responsibility vs. socialist spending. The hypocrisy with the posting is that you should know better. With your supposed (maybe I am wrong) level of sophistication, you should already understand the following:

‘First, U.S. schools are not broken. I read your posting, have the courtesy to read this one by David Berliner in the Washington Post. The most telling excerpt is this: ‘In science . . . the scores of white students in the United States were exceeded by only three other nations. But black American school children were beaten by every single nation, and Hispanic kids were beaten by all but two nations. A similar pattern was true of mathematics scores.’ In a highly heterogeneous, competitive, and capitalistic society, it is only natural that we have the brightest students and unfortunately, the dumbest as well. The brightest allow all Americans (including the dummies like myself) to continue to prosper from their world-leading innovations. Inequity does happen, Andy, I was crushed when I realized I could never throw a 95 mph fastball.

‘Second, despite all of the Teachers Union rhetoric, we all know (let us all quit pretending otherwise) that the performance of the student is directly related to the involvement level of the parents, the level of respect and discipline in the classroom, and the innate ability of the student. Money cannot change these parameters. It is the personal responsibility of the parents to involve themselves in the school life of the child. Maybe you want to have a new government program called, ‘Pay a Parent to Care.’ If so, you fund it.

‘Third, why would the Teachers Union want more spending? The same reason why the fox wants to watch the henhouse. It is an instant increase in salary with no additional responsibility or accountability. And five years from now, the union will ask for more money, and the schools, despite all of the spending, will still be in supposed ‘bad shape.’ That sad cycle has been sputtering for decades now. Plus, in your world, $38,000 a year in salary (with Summer and holiday seasons off) may not seem like much money, but to a peon like me, that’s not bad. Shame on you Andy for posting such nonsense.’

☞ Leaving aside the fact that this $38,000 was for New York City – which is the equivalent of about twelve cents in most other parts of the country – part of your premise, if I read this right, seems to be that black kids are inherently stupid. But neither I nor your President buy that. We both think inner city schools can be improved, that great new teachers need to be recruited, that inner-city kids have great innate ability and can do much better.

What IS true of black kids, by and large, is that they go to inferior schools and need more help because – precisely as you say – their home lives are, so often, horrendously more difficult.

That’s where money comes in: for rehabing the schools, upgrading the facilities, decreasing classroom size, recruiting terrific teachers, and supporting after-school programs.

You are right in being frustrated with fathers who abandon their families (black or white) and mothers who, overwhelmed trying to make ends meet or poorly brought up themselves – or for whatever reason – do a poor job of raising their kids. This is a huge problem.

But you make a terrible mistake, I think, by seeing it as just their problem.

(And you are heartless, I think – unintentionally, I have no doubt – in not wanting to help the kids anyway. Even if the parent is to blame for this rotten situation, the child isn’t, is he/she?)

It’s not just their problem, it’s our problem. Because we can’t ‘fire’ these kids. These kids are going to be part of our enterprise (a country, in this case, but imagine the US as a big company) for the rest of our lives. They are your co-workers.

Either we invest in giving them the help and care they need to be productive, contributing citizens, or we pay the price when, a few short years from now, they are not. The price comes out of your pocket in so many ways: The cost of welfare, of course, and of building and staffing a huge prison system. The cost of burglaries and muggings, either directly (ever had your car stolen?) or indirectly (through your insurance premiums). The cost of a less efficient, competitive, prosperous economy.

(And what of the intangible cost of having a resentful nurse who can barely read caring for you in your old age? Wouldn’t you prefer an engaging companion to push your wheelchair around? And what of the opportunity cost of letting a truly talented kid, who could have been a great Secretary of State, fall through the cracks and become, instead, a whip-smart – albeit illiterate – young gang leader or drug dealer?)

Make no mistake: the quality of an enterprise’s employees affects the level of its success. And while you can isolate yourself from some of that – i.e., you can prosper even when the economy as a whole is not doing so well, or the dollar is weaker than it might otherwise be – we all have an easier time of it when our enterprise is thriving.

The more productive, tax-paying citizens we have, the better able we will be to shoulder the costs and challenges of the future.

So leaving aside the morality of it, it’s just great business sense to invest in kids, especially the at-risk kids.

If this isn’t a national priority, I can’t think what would be. Happily, President Bush – no socialist – calls it his first priority. The point of the Matt Miller column I excerpted was that the President has his priorities straight by putting education first, and by backing that with a call for increased federal funds. But that the amount of those funds, especially as compared to what he’d allocate to lowering taxes on America’s 2,400 wealthiest families, suggest education is more like his last priority.

All agree that money alone won’t do it. And that schools should be controlled, for the most part, locally.

But a good free-market capitalist (as Miller pointed out) recognizes that if you want to attract and motivate good people, you have to put your money where your mouth is.

Imagine yourself in a dilapidated, crumbling inner city school with no books and, say, 38 kids in your classroom – many of them, as you say, from very difficult homes. Wouldn’t you fail at teaching them the skills they need to be good, contributing citizens? Wouldn’t you be grabbing Uncle Sam by the collar, shouting, ‘Wake up! We need four times as many teachers and coaches and counselors to help these kids! We need to give them lots of one-on-one attention, lots of small-group learning experiences. And it is the best investment we can make, because the extra $25,000 or $50,000 we might spend on each kid in the formative years will pay massive dividends over the 70 years that follow.’

It would be nice to think that every local school district would just appropriate the money needed to do this right. But decades have shown they lack the funds. We can just say ‘tough,’ and build more gated communities (ours, on the water; theirs, called prisons). We can have yet more affluent neighborhoods ‘seceding’ from the city’s tax base, as Aventura and Coral Gables and others have so shamelessly done in Miami, to avoid paying taxes that would help the inner city schools.

Or we can make education our nation’s first priority, and provide the funds – and the incentives and testing and ‘consequences,’ as the President rightly insists – that will go a long way toward getting the job done.

This is not socialist, it’s good business. And it’s not government spending, it’s government investing. Please read Matt Miller’s column again.

Enjoy those great airfares . . .

 

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