Bill Murchison

A basic problem with education, one is sorry to say, is basic disparity in the talents and intellectual wattage that people bring with them to school. We all understand the problem, from intuition and experience. Admitting that understanding to the policy arena is the hard part. Democratic government -- the instrument of all the people -- can't easily acknowledge quality differences among clients. It can say all must be brought to the same level, but it can't suggest some may never get there. The protection of these from reality has become in our time the highest end of government education policy. One way is in the emphasis on college for everybody -- the university degree as the new high-school diploma. In fact, young people have different aspirations as well as abilities. The government simply can't acknowledge it.

Embedded in the CCR goal -- college- and career-ready -- is the useful suggestion that some in government understand a deep truth: That a good electrician or plumber is at least as great a blessing to society as a cellist or a specialist in asbestos law. We will have to see how much influence this appreciation gains when the budget comes together. Here, someone is on the right track.

We forget the role of homes and families in setting educational expectations. A society nation where half of children will live at some point in a single-parent family will have fewer, scanter blessings than one with an authority structure founded on the permanent presence of two parents. Yet in the very democratic interest of not disparaging people's lifestyle choices (divorce, cohabitation, etc.), the government can't consciously promote one lifestyle over the rest.

In other words, too much mealy-mouthed, pseudo-democracy is the biggest barrier to educational attainment: though, shhhhhh, we can't say it. We can rejigger spending formulas and incentive programs. We can't convincingly argue for the reconstruction of older forms of life, where society flourished because people were left generally to make their own choices. The kind of choices they made, come to think of it, concerning health care. Shhhhh -- can't talk about that either. Big Brother might be listening.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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