Plans for school consolidation follow progressive pattern

By Robert Maynard

There has been a lot written about the plans for school consolidation being considered by some of our political leaders.  The argument being made is that school consolidation will save us money and improve education at the same time.  In a previous post, TNR provided links to articles and studies which bring these assumptions into question.  The possibility that the loss of school choice resulting in consolidation might also result in the loss of parental involvement, is not even discussed by proponents of consolidation.  Could the proponents of consolidation be blinded by such possibilities by a quasi-religious like commitment to an ideology?  Comparring some statements made by some of these proponnets with those made by proponents of health care reform may suggest that the push for school consolidation follows the same ideological obsession that the push for a government take over of our health care system does.

In that TNR post, a Vermont Digger article was referenced in quoting one proponent in spilling the beans on what really is going on: “The way public schools are currently managed at the local level is outdated, lawmakers say. They believe Vermont’s 19th century governance structure is hampering educational opportunities for students, especially in rural areas.”

Compare this quote with the opinions about the problem with our curent health care system  expressed on April 27th 2011 at a forum held by the Democratic Committee of Burlington.

In part one where the speakers are laying out the case for the reform proposal, at least twice there was a reference to the fact that no one is in control of the current system. One reference was made by Dr. Deb Righter, who is a long time advocate for a single payer system. The other reference was made by State Representative Mark Larson, who is the Chair of the Healthcare Committee. Representative Larson characterized the current system as fragmented and complex with no one in charge. In part two, where the speakers are answering questions from the audience written on post cards, the matter of the accountability of the five-panel board empowered to design the system was brought up. The response was that it was important that the board be free of political pressures.

What are the implications here? First of all there is the fact that they see a problem with no one being in charge. The reality here is that there is someone in charge. Each person is in charge of making their own decisions, or at least they would be if we had a true free market based system. So the real problem for them is that a select few are not in charge with the power to impose upon society their notions of how the system should work. Second is the importance in their minds that those making the decisions not be subject to political pressures. They are to make their decisions based on their own rational judgment, rather than be swayed by the irrational impulses of the masses. What most of us see as accountability and the “consent of the governed”, they see as political pressure likely to corrupt the decision process of the few experts to be put in charge.

The insistence that the problem with our current education system is “Vermont’s 19th century governance structure,” follows the same pattern of assuming that we cannot get anything right unless we centralize our political system and put enlighten progressive thinkers in charge.  The same contempt for the average citizen that made the proponents of single payer see accountability to the voters as political pressure, cause them to be blind to the possibility that the answer to our educational concerns may be expanded parental choice.  Following John Dewey, progressive thinkers do not consider parents sophisticated enough to be the ones making decisions on our education system.  This is something to keep in mind in the discussion on what to do with our education system.  Actually, it is something to keep in mind when discussing a lot of political issues.  The trend of assuming that society is better run by enlightened political bureaucrats, from the top down, shows up in more issues than just education and health care.