Thomas Sowell

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That was certainly true of a recent photo of a little 7-year-old boy holding a sign demanding more money for the schools and holding his fist in the air.

He was part of a demonstration organized by his teachers, and including parents and other students, all of whom were transported to California's state capital in Sacramento to protest budget constraints brought on by the state's huge deficit.

There was a time when taking children out of classes to fight the political battles of adults would have been considered a shameless neglect of duty. But that was long ago.

The little boy with the sign and his fist raised in the air is just one of the millions of victims of a shameless education establishment. It is not just that he is not in class learning the things he will need for his own mental development. He is out in the streets learning dangerous lessons for the future.

The most dangerous lesson of all is that he doesn't need to know what he is talking about, that what matters is venting his feelings and being an activist.

He is learning to let himself be manipulated by others, setting him up for all sorts of pied pipers he is likely to encounter in later years, who may lead him into anything from personal degeneracy to movements like the Taliban or the cult that Jim Jones led to their doom at Jonestown.

What can a 7-year-old boy know about the issues that he is carrying a sign for or shaking his fist about? Has he even heard -- much less understood -- any other side of the issue he is being used for?

Can he have read any of the many empirical studies which show that there is very little correlation between the amount of money that schools spend and the quality of the education that the children receive? Per pupil spending in Washington, D.C. schools is among the highest in the nation at $13,000 but test results are among the lowest.

American school children have more money spent on them than the children in countries that regularly finish higher on international tests than we do.

When confronted with the undeniable fact that American high school students repeatedly finish at or near the bottom on international tests, there is a standard teachers' union party line. Supposedly only the elite finish high school in other countries, the spin goes, so it is unfair to compare other countries' elite students with our average students.

If there was ever any validity to this argument, it is long past. Countries with a higher percentage of their youngsters finishing high school still have their students outperform American students.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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