Half Past the Month: The Chamber’s Education ‘Reform’

November 21, 2014

“THE WHOLE MODERN WORLD has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives,” C.K. Chesterton famously began. “The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes; the business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”

Holding Chesterton’s thought close, know that the mantle of education reformer is wearing thin for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Since the insipid A+ program of the 1980s, it has provided the lobbying impetus for one ineffectual education policy after another, all of them blocking genuine, systemic correction.

There is steadiness there, certainly, even an intractability. But that is not what was meant this week when the Chamber president pronounced, “We need consistency.” Rather, he was making a specious argument that the state Superintendent of Public Instruction be made an appointed post. It is a top Chamber priority for 2015, one that fits nicely into its notion that constancy is when “smart” people are running things.

In any case, this is a bad, bad idea; let us count the reasons:

  1. At a time of utter disgust with officialdom, the Chamber would withdraw a precious democratic franchise and put our fate in the hands of the political class. The hubris of this lights up another Chesterton quote: “I doubt whether the best men ever would devote themselves to politics; the best men devote themselves to pigs and babies and things like that.”
  2. The Chamber makes the astonishing assumption that the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Democrat or Republican, has something to do with public instruction, at least in the sense of classroom learning.
  3. Remember that the “rebranding” of Common Core, an earlier Chamber education priority, was a cynical attempt to go around the Indiana electorate’s expressed distrust of federally imposed curricula. The latest move is also straight out of the (MIT economist and ObamaCare adviser) Jonathan Gruber School of Political Science.
  4. If the Chamber seriously wanted to reform education, there was something it could have done: It should have worked to repeal the Indiana Collective Bargaining Act (CBA). That is a law, please know, that was passed 30 years ago when Republicans also had majorities in both houses of the legislature and a law upheld by Chamber ambivalence ever since. The legal mechanisms built into the CBA ensure that the primary function of the public-education system will always be to hire adults (union members), not to teach children — as an effective a discouragement to the next generation as could ever be devised.
  5. Finally, the Chamber president is emphatic that none of the above has anything to do with bad politics, only good policy. The Chamber, he says, has been in favor of an appointed schools chief for several decades now. So, add disingenuousness to the list.

That the Chamber, after decades of declining education quality, is okay with all of this, that it doesn’t consider reordering its priorities to correct such a historic mistake, a Republican one at that, tells the thoughtful observer all he needs to know about what “conservative” means in Indianapolis.

To quote Chesterton one last time, the Chamber offers us no real choice: “Democracy may have a right to answer questions, but it has no right to ask them. It is still the political aristocracy that asks the questions, and we shall not be unreasonably cynical if we suppose that the political aristocracy will always be rather careful what questions are asked.”

In that context, a democratically elected superintendent or, for that matter, an independent-minded one, simply won’t do.

— Craig Ladwig



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