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Bold new vision of the same old thing: Bush's education program repeats past failures

Marshall Fritz
January 14, 2002

Fresno, Calif. ? Every year, Lucy would convince Charlie Brown that this time she'd let him kick the football. After a bit of cajoling, good ol' Charlie Brown would try again and "AAARGH!!", our hero lies flat on his back.

So it is with "education reform." The politician says once again, "Trust me. This time we're going to get it right!"

On January 8, President Bush signed into law the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001." On its web site, the U.S. Department of Education calls it "the most sweeping reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since ESEA was enacted in 1965."

A more apt name would be "Bold New Vision of the Same Old Thing," or perhaps Golden Gate University economics professor Joseph Fuhrig says it best, "another attempt to fine-tune socialism."

The President's plan is a messy knot of contradictions. It will be as self-defeating as his father's America 2000 and his predecessor's Goals 2000. Exactly none of the goals of either program were achieved.

An example of the contradictions that beset the act is the expectation that all children can meet high academic standards. It would be easy to see fallacy in this pollyannaish thinking if the politicians had proposed such egalitarian nonsense for sports, music, or dance. We would hoot at them if they asserted that all children can run a marathon in less than four hours, play Chopin's Minute Waltz at Carnegie Hall, and dance the lead in the Nutcracker. We see through this sort of contradiction quite easily in non-academic fields.

But worse than the contradictions is the premise underlying the plan that government is responsible for educating children. The Department of Education laments, in reaction to the dismal performance of many public schools, that "some have decided that there should be no federal involvement in education. Others suggest we merely add new programs into the old system. Surely, there must be another way ? a way that points to a more effective federal role." (

I disagree. We don't expect an "effective federal role" in churching, why should we in schooling? Isn't it possible that we made a big mistake 160 years ago, allowing government at any level to get involved in education?

The idea that government should be the controlling party in education entered the American consciousness in the 1840s, about 70 years after the American Revolution was accomplished on the back of private and home education. In education began the "entitlement virus," which spreads by coating itself in sweet slogans such as "every child has a right to an education." It has reached so many areas of American life that we have turned Uncle Sam into Nanny Samantha.

But like children who do not examine the consequences of their acts, we grownups fail to complete the sentence with the rest of the story, "...with tax dollars taken from our neighbors." Put this way, one begins to see that this so-called "right" is really just a cover-up for taking our neighbor's money for our children's tuition. What happened to "Thou shalt not covet"?

Like President Bush, I want better education for every child in America. But it's time to admit that politics and education don't mix. The solution to improving education is to release schools from politics by separating school and state. We don't allow state, local, or federal governments to operate our churches, newspapers, or farms. The result is religious harmony, a free press, and surplus food that we export to countries whose governments do run the farms.

Americans need to rethink who should make the decisions concerning education: a child's parents or the neighbors via the politicians. You can clarify your own view by answering five questions on the World's Shortest Education Survey" (

Every year when it was time for Charlie Brown to kick the football, a nation ached for him to say at last "Not this time, Lucy." Until we re-examine our underlying premise of who is responsible for a child's education ? parents or government ? we will continue playing Charlie Brown to a Bush or a Clinton, trusting that "this time" their five-year plan will work.

Marshall Fritz is President of the Alliance for the Separation of School & State. He can be reached at , or , or 1071 N. Fulton Ave., Fresno, CA 93728.

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