“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
The American education system is broken. People love saying that. Try it! The American education system is broken. Felt good, didn’t it? It’s one of those phrases that sounds like something intelligent, as though the person uttering it spent years completing a fact-finding mission personally commissioned by the president. And then they stepped off the tarmac Hans Blix-style and said, “I have my results. The American education system is broken.” Ooh.
Of course, the school system isn’t doing well (see I just did it!). We rank 25th in math, 17th in science, 14th in reading, and 19th in graduation rates. But if you add those numbers together, and then divide by 3 you get 25. How about that.
So what to do? We can try eugenics, child labor, or forced relocation to an island or something. Any of these wonderful traditions will get rid of the dumb kids, though if you bring it up at your local PTA meeting, they’ll yell at you. We can also blame the parents. That’s always fun. Technically speaking, you can blame parents for everything bad that’s ever happened. Not to say I’m doing that, because many of our readers are parents (hi!).
Enter charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate independently from the regulations public schools are bound by. They’re like a less pretentious version of private schools, and are free of everything you read in “The Chocolate War.” The biggest difference is that principals may customize the curriculum to the students (fat kids = every class is gym class), and hire and fire teachers at will, even for making eye contact.
Many people have a problem with charter schools, which is why the Washington initiative was previously rejected three times (I know how that feels, Sara!), first in 1996 as I-177, then in 2000 as I-729, and finally in 2004 as Referendum 55. The problem was clearly the choice of boring numbers. This time around proponents went with the sexier “Initiative 1240,” and the two teams lined up. Against it were the League of Women Voters (nothing like the Justice League), the Washington Education Association, and the NAACP (personal friend of mine). The “for” side assembled their own ragtag group of hellcats, including Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Alice Walton (of Walmart), and Jeff Bezos’ parents, Mike and Jackie. It was the billionaires vs. those groups your hippie parents started. Shirts vs. skins. Third example vs. third example.
The initiative passed, barely. Much of the debate centered on whether funding charters would hurt public schools, and whether school choice was more important than the collective. But the vote’s over, so we can toss those concerns aside (that’s how things work, right?).
The most optic part of the charter school process is the admission process. Many of the schools are catered towards at-risk youths (like my editor). When the schools reach capacity, prospective students are entered into a lottery (not like the short story), to be randomly selected for attendance. Those that are accepted go on to fame and glory, while those denied must spend their entire lives blaming every mistake and regret on not attending a charter school. Oh well.
Frankly, I want to get in on this whole charter school business, mainly because I’ve always wanted to be one of those principals who walks into a classroom and says, “Don’t mind me.” My school will have only the best teachers. Instead of hiring those with good records, I will hire actors who played lovable teachers in old movies, like Robin Williams from “Dead Poets Society,” Michelle Pfeiffer from “Dangerous Minds,” and all those actors from “Waiting for Superman.”
Since I’m spending so much on getting high quality teachers, I’ll need to have students most deserving of them. I won’t base my admissions on grades or financial situations, but will instead look for the greatest risk factor of all: how much the students resemble what I was like as a kid. If I see any similarity to me as a child, like standing in corners, reading Camus, or building a giant hockey card collection, I will throw that kid into my classroom so fast he won’t know what hit him (it was a desk).
What’s most important is that the students begin thinking about their future, as long as that future does not involve the arts. We need to do better in math and science. To accomplish this, I will employ the Scared Straight model, but instead of bringing in inmates to scare the kids, I will bring in liberal arts majors who are following their dreams and disappointing their parents because of it. The kids will meet photographers and writers and performance artists all struggling to make ends meet, and many of their speeches will end with, “Maybe you should take over your dad’s business,” and “that’s why you never get your masters.” It may sound harsh to discourage kids from going into the arts, but how else am I supposed to eliminate the future competition?
It’s yet to be seen how charter schools will affect the overall education budget, how they fare academically, and how the competition changes the entire school system. One thing, however, is certain: charter schools were a terrible choice for a comedy column. Idiot.
Follow Mr. Gordon on Twitter @chasongordon