It is Back to Dysfunctional Schools Week in the District, where lagging test scores, dwindling enrollment, dilapidated buildings and an incompetence-protecting teachers’ union have become the focus of another savior in chief, Michelle A. Rhee.
The city’s public school system has been befuddling superintendents since the 1960s, each as committed as the next to uplifting the future car jockeys of America. Now here comes Mrs. Rhee, energetic, full of ideas and ever committed to overhauling the worst darn education money can buy.
Give the city this. It prepares the future car jockeys of America as well as any municipality in the nation, with each car jockey able to identify a parking spot, point it out to seeing-impaired motorists and then guard the car for however many hours are necessary.
This valuable public service prevents automobiles from self-starting and leaving the seeing-impaired owners wheel-less after an important social engagement. Car jockeys provide this utility for a tiny fee that often ends up filling the cash register of the corner liquor store, part of which is funneled back to the city in sales tax.
It is a beautiful process in a city that common sense abandoned long ago. Mrs. Rhee is about to discover that if it takes a village to raise a child, to borrow a phrase from one of America’s leading socialists, that child is considerably less likely to become a serious student.
The family unit, where dad and mom set the standards and rules, has become an old-fashioned concept, for whatever reasons, considering the social ills that tend to gravitate to single-parent families.
Alas, the single-parent trend shows no sign of abating. A startling news item this week reveals that Denver Broncos running back Travis Henry is the father of nine children by nine different women, a level of productivity that perhaps belongs in the Guinness Book of World Records.
His attorney, presumably with his tongue planted in his cheek, says, “I know these are a lot of kids, and there might be some questions about it. But he’s a really committed father.” However committed Mr. Henry is to his nine children — and that is debatable because of various court rulings ordering him to provide child support — it is impossible to be in nine households at once.
That possibly would give pause to Bill Henrickson, the polygamist character in “Big Love.” The explosion of those born out of wedlock is the bane of society and far beyond the grasp of social tinkering. It is the village — or what many of us commonly refer to as the streets — raising all too many of these children. And the results are predictable.
Mrs. Rhee is up against both the crumbling family unit and a bureaucracy whose principal objective is to protect the incompetent, apathetic and redundant. Being a poor teacher or administrator is hardly grounds for dismissal. That would not be fair to the person, although keeping the person on the payroll is certainly not fair to the 49,390 students and the taxpayers obligated to pick up the bloated tab.
Enrollment in the public school system could shrink to half what it is now, and the teachers’ union would feel compelled to burden the bureaucracy with the same number of employees. The system has staved off genuine reform measures in the past, all the while dispensing warm and fuzzy bromides intended to satisfy the parents of the victims.
Mrs. Rhee is stoking the fires of hope with her high visibility and seemingly daily pronouncements that change is coming, like it or not. She has the unyielding support of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who has staked his term to improving the public school system that long has been impervious to good intentions and ideas.
Mrs. Rhee and Mr. Fenty are not likely to have an unqualified success because of the city’s intractable social pathologies.
But even a modest improvement in the schools would be better than business as usual.