Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Rather Apalling Display

This link speaks for itself. That every Democratic presidential candidate paid homage to that website (Daily Kos) and it's influence by appearing at their convention gives one pause. Keep in mind these quotes come from their site's writers, not just any old people dropping by and leaving nasty comments.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Education Degradation IV (Parts I-III start way at the bottom)

Is it smart to put 14-year old girls in closed environments with 18-year old boys?

That question, tossed around previously on WLIP, came back to me upon hearing the details of the brutal sexual assault recently perpetrated in Lincoln Park.

Everything is wrong with that incident, but it stuck out that the attackers spanned from 14 years old all the way to 17. 12th graders hanging out with 9th graders?

When Kenosha switched to the middle school model, 9th graders, who’d in my day have been "little junior high kids", found themselves in close proximity to older students with drivers licenses, money, sex drives, and occasionally gang affiliations and drug connections. They would now share the same locker rooms, go to the same dances, often attend the same parties, however they would not possess the same maturity or judgment. Not surprisingly they haven’t adapted well.

It’s jaw dropping, but would you believe that Wisconsin 9th graders have had the highest rate of drug and weapons suspensions of any grade for eight years straight? What’s more Kenosha’s 9th graders not only consistently have the highest drug and weapons suspension rate in the district, but in the last available year (‘05-‘06) their rate was 117% higher than the state average.

There’s more to this than just complaining. See the move to the middle school system jammed an extra grade into high schools not built for it. Predictably we’ve arrived at the present junction where the same people (teachers’ unions and “progressives”) who pushed for the middle school system are bemoaning the crowding it caused and demanding you pay $50-60 million to build a new high school. That’s the wrong thing to do, and it’s not just about the money.

As the previously mentioned suspension statistics illustrate, 9th graders have simply been ravaged by the move to high school. I’ve seen it firsthand and most teachers will admit as much, but there’s also comparisons to show this resulted from the move to high school and not “society”.

You see there are still a few districts in the state with traditional junior highs (7th-9th). Wisconsin Rapids, Menomenee Falls, and Manitowoc are the three I’ve found. While these districts have slightly lower drug and weapons suspension rates than the state by roughly 16%, there’s a huge difference in their 9th graders who collectively have a 69% lower suspension rate than the state average and a rate almost four times lower than Kenosha’s 9th graders! Yes, they’re ahead academically too.

Now also consider this: Elementary school students in the U.S. compete equally against other countries’ elementary students on standardized tests. When they get to middle school they lose ground, and by the time they're in high school they're testing worse than Bangladesh. Our different school environments obviously matter. So if kids do their best in the elementary format why not keep them there for 6th grade? The same logic applies to keeping 9th graders in junior high with the added behavioral benefits as a huge bonus.

Returning to the original junior high system makes a lot of sense. Firstly students do better both socially and academically that way. Secondly, it would be better to build a few smaller elementary schools than one huge high school. Elementary schools serve as anchors of their neighborhoods and don’t require hugely expensive extras like swimming pools, auditoriums, mega parking lots, athletic facilities, weight rooms, showers (what would Al Gore say about the carbon footprint?) and these days police officers.

Still, in February the teachers’ union will implore you to vote for a new high school to ease overcrowding. However as I’ve previously noted there are fewer students in the youngest four grades than the oldest four, indicating that today’s high school crowding is a temporary bottleneck not a dire emergency.

The obvious motive of the teachers’ union is clearing classroom space for the 4-year old kindergarten Jim Doyle supports and Hillary says she’ll offer nationally. “Progressive” thinkers cheer such developments, as the brave new world they envision requires socializing children their way as young as possible. Hopefully though you recognize that 4 year olds should be allowed to just be kids and that taxpayers shouldn’t pay for what I know firsthand to be indistinguishable from daycare.

So I urge you to vote against the proposed high school and talk seriously about restoring the junior high system. High school has been shown to unnecessarily strip from 9th graders a degree of both innocence and opportunity at a very crucial point in their development. The same is no doubt true for 6th graders shuttled to middle school prematurely. They’re not old enough to miss that those things yet, but as adults with the benefit of hindsight, not to mention now statistics, we have an obligation to reverse that past misstep.

Socialized Medicine-Lite in Wisconsin

'The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.' -- Winston Churchill

If only Mr. Churchill had kept that thought in mind when he advocated “universal” health-care for all British citizens. He mistakenly assumed that the disaster socialism wrought everywhere else would somehow make an exception for health-care.

Unfortunately economic realities don’t care about being fashionable, thought “compassionate”, or spoken highly of by anchors and editors. Britain’s universal health system was and is a failure in all categories except equality. The damage has been spread rather equally.

Yet some still think themselves more clever than the sum of human history. They include our local state senator Bob Wirch as well as all Democratic Presidential frontrunners.

I recently watched State Senators Wirch and Jim Erpenbach try selling their $15 billion Healthy Wisconsin plan to a Gateway audience. They gradually conceded more problems with their plan. For instance they acknowledged that big business would benefit greatly from Healthy Wisconsin while small businesses would hurt the most.

They also admitted that healthy people would be most penalized while the unhealthy would benefit the most. So for the record we have Bob Wirch advocating a competitive disadvantage for small business and lowered incentives for healthy choices. It’s a wonder that didn’t make his talking points.

Now while their plan for Wisconsin isn’t textbook socialism, it’s a huge step in that direction. Proposals on the national level though go the whole way. So how does socialized medicine match up anyway?

I’ll start off by assuming that you’ve all heard much about our “uninsured” and statistics placing the U.S. behind so many countries in life expectancy, infant mortality, etc.. They’re true, but only half of the story.

Firstly, while they exist, specifics about the uninsured are wildly exaggerated. Over 17 million of the uninsured live in households with above-average incomes. Many, like myself some years ago, simply weigh the risks and decide to chance it. Even then 45% of all uninsured at any time become insured within four months. As for life expectancy, if you were to adjust for our sky high rates of “fatal injury” (suicide, auto-deaths, and murder) our life expectancy standings greatly improve. This even leaves aside our astronomical rate of obesity related deaths for which our healthcare system bears little or no responsibility.

The superiority of our health care is best illustrated by noting survivability rates of illnesses. For instance my father is a cancer survivor. Considering the US has the highest cancer survivability rate in the western world, how would you begin convincing me to scrap our system.

Over 64% of all cancer patients in the US survive more than five years. In the UK under “universal” healthcare less than 50% survive. They largely die waiting their turn.

That’s not an exaggeration, but simple economics. Artificially lower the cost of a service and you’ll get shortages, which in health care terms translates to waiting lists. I urge every open minded person to visit (Ontario’s official health ministry site) to get a feel for just how long you’ll wait for care in a “universal” system. People simply use more when costs are indirect. Like any bureaucracy socialized systems are also terrible at translating priorities. For instance, since 1987 all of Canada (pop. 26 million) spent less money on hospital improvements than the city of Washington D.C. (pop. 618,000). And the state of Washington now has more MRIs than all of Canada. Not surprisingly the average wait for an MRI in Canada last year was over ten weeks. Here it’s a matter of days. We pay more and get more. When getting more means life or death that’s a good deal.

Still though costs could be lower in the U.S.. Back in 1940 only 10% of Americans had health insurance yet we lived to tell. What’s changed? The government got involved that’s what.

Today government directly pays for 45% of all health-care spending. That’s 45% of people who don’t shop around and 45% of the health-care industry that doesn’t need to compete. College tuition costs have risen similarly since the government got involved with student loans.

In our misguided quest for arbitrary equality via government we’ve caused all kinds of havoc. In the end if it’s equality you want the best way to achieve it is through raising others up rather than bringing everybody else down. But unfortunately envy of the successful is as much an animating factor for liberals/progressives as concern for the poor will ever be.

For those of you who are truly concerned with raising people out of poverty, then census data for the 90’s should be instructive. The ten lowest taxed states saw a greater than 10% average reduction in their poverty rates during the 90’s. The ten states with the highest taxes saw more than a 7% average increase in their poverty rates. Taxes hold the poor down and create a disincentive to ingenuity and therefore competition. Government out = prosperity in.

Considering that the $15 billion dollar tax hike for Healthy Wisconsin would make Wisconsin far and away the highest taxed state in the nation let’s hope Bob Wirch is taking note.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An "F" for the Big "D"

An "F" for the Big "D"

Michigan Democrats recently stepped in well deserved controversy by offering up a state budget that proposes supplying every child in the state with an iPod or comparable Mp3 player (See article here: ).

Now such absurdities hardly cause one to blink these days, but this instance gave me occasion to revisit a past column on "progressive" government and how it's fared in Michigan's only metropolis Detroit.

As a Wisconsinite I can certainly relate to the frustration felt by folks whose states' political landscapes are drastically altered by a single big city. Milwaukee these days has become a parody of itself. The last few years have been marked by the beating death of a man by 20 people (some as young as ten), the gang rape of an 11-year old by possibly fifteen, and the tire slashings of 20 Republican party get-out-the-vote vans on the morning of national elections (the culprits none other than the son of a past Democratic mayor and the son of Democratic congresswoman Gwen Moore).

The situation in Detroit however, a few high-profile cases aside, makes Milwaukee look rather tame . They say there’s a lot in a name, but in this case there’s also a lot in a nickname - at least a lot of irony.

Take Detroit’s most common nickname “Motor City”. It conjures up images of
the once thriving industrial city where state of the art automobiles rolled
off the lines and union bosses were the toast of the town. Today that
picture has somewhat rusted over.

Turns out that in “Motor City” today one-third of local households
can’t even afford a car. And now, to cast further gloom on an already
grim picture, Detroit automakers recently laid off tens of thousands of
workers under crippling labor costs and increased competition.

The city’s other well-known moniker “Motown”, while a play on “Motor
City”, came to be more widely associated with the uniquely styled soul
music that took its name. Yet, like “Motor City”, today “Motown” also
evokes painfully ironic comparisons with the past.

Where once Diana Ross and Co. reigned supreme, today’s most
widely recognized “musical” export is the foul, nihilistic rapper Eminem
while the public face of the city is a bejeweled 34 year-old known as the
“hip-hop mayor” in light of his thug-like entourage and penchant for
club hopping and rap music.

So what went wrong with Detroit? Perhaps a newer, less catchy
nickname for “The D” can lend some clarity to what has become of this
once proud city: “Most Liberal City in the U.S.A”.

That’s the distinction Detroit has earned according to a study of
voting patterns done by San Francisco based Bay Area Center for
Voting Research. While Detroit voters aren’t so liberal in the Howard
Dean,tinfoil hat sense, they are more likely than any other large locale to
favor governmental solutions to perceived problems. No shock
here, but Detroit has been run almost exclusively by Democrats for four
decades now.

A quick overview of their report card:

As of 2004, Detroit had the highest unemployment rate among our fifty
largest cities with 14.1% out of work. This figure was more than
double the 6.5% average of the other forty-nine. Given recent
transgressions Detroit’s figure may now threaten to climb even higher.

Reactionaries quickly jumped on the automakers, but even the liberal
media can’t overlook the fact that local union workers have long been
overly naive in their demands. As it is the average union laborer for a
Big Three manufacturer costs their employer $65 an hour, or roughly
$130,000 per year.

Even those no longer needed on the floor are still staples on the
payroll. Before the recent wave of cuts the Big Three had a combined
12,000 workers idling in job banks passing their time with community
service and crossword puzzles at over $30 an hour each.

Big unions may deliver the Democrats millions of votes, but what they sometimes
give workers are unrealistic promises that risk chasing employers
out of state, into bankruptcy, or overseas, while leaving laborers out of luck.

Surveying Detroit’s other social indicators the scene doesn’t get much
rosier. For example, Detroit today has only half the population it had
in 1950, while a quarter of all land is currently vacant or abandonded.

Strong as they claim to be regarding education decades of Democrats
have left Detroit with nearly half their adults functionally illiterate
(47%). Lest anyone reactively call for more school funding let me add
that Michigan is currently ranked as having the second highest tax
burden in the nation.

With a murder rate over five times the national average Detroit ranks
the fourth worst in the nation. The highest murder rate actually belongs
to the second most liberal city, Gary, Ind..

Survey the list of murder hot spots and the hits keep on coming. New
Orleans, recently exposed by Katrina as crime ridden and corrupt,
notches the second highest murder rate. Yet, only one in four charged
with murder in The Big Easy ever serve time. It begins to make sense
when you reflect that New Orleans has been headed by almost
exclusively Democrats for over thirty years.

Now I’m just piling on, but the third highest murder rate goes to the
fourth most liberal city, Washington D.C.. Only two words need be said
about their political discretion: Marion Barry.

It appears here that while liberal figureheads and ACLU lawyers seek
superficial civil-rights for extremely small, but well funded interest
groups they neglect the most basic of civil right government is sworn
to protect: the right to be secure in your person and property.

The examples abound, but reflection on the left remains non-existent.
With “social progress” like this it’s no wonder, as George Will points
out, that 97 of the 100 fastest growing counties in the nation voted
Republican in 2004. Results can’t be much more clear cut than that.

Who knows, maybe in a show of solidarity with their most reliable
liberal brethren we’ll see the Democrats hold their ‘08 national
convention in Detroit to showcase their handiwork. Gary 2012! I won’t
hold my breath.

For further reading see:

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

How "Free to Choose" Are You?

“Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow man”
-Milton Friedman

Recent trends suggest (as did his recent death) occasion for another look at those words from the great economist who spent most of his life reminding people they should strive to be “free to choose”.

Dr. Friedman was describing the fundamental understanding of a free society as one in which others, including the government, can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. You could say you are assured non-interference…but that’s all. Success and happiness are up to you.

You have your rights and others have theirs, so long as nobody demands anything from anybody else but non-interference. Simple enough you’d think, but in practice we’ve been all too quick to drop that understanding for personal preferences. We want to be free to choose for ourselves, but have no problem employing force when others don’t choose what we think they should.

As America’s most brilliant Longshoreman Eric Hoffer said: “We all have private ails. The troublemakers are they who need public cures for their private ails.”

So, who are these “troublemakers” anyway? Well we pretty much all are. But while folks of every political leaning are guilty, today only those of the liberal/progressive persuasion are actually proud of it. Try as you will you’d be hard pressed to find initiatives from today’s Democrats that don’t take from someone or mandate something. While Republicans have their share of liberal impulses (huge agricultural subsidies to the tune of half all farm income and a vast expansion of Medicare) they at least acknowledge the rights of people to their earnings and property.

In fact, in this sense liberalism/progressivism the world over shares the same fundamental flaw as Islamic fundamentalism: They both attempt to foster virtue through force, which of course is impossible. An act can only be virtuous when you are free to choose otherwise.

For instance some fundamentalists argue that women be made to cover themselves because modesty is a virtue. Modesty certainly is a virtue, but by making burqas mandatory they actually remove the possibility of virtue there. Only those women who freely choose it have claim to said virtue.

Back home liberals/progressives use force all the time in the name of virtue. Raising taxes is the most glaring offense, but others examples like affirmative action, minimum wage laws, campus speech codes, eminent domain land seizures, etc. abound.

Some taxes are necessary, but today the fact is that over 40% of your income will go to the government one way or another and well over half of those taxes are simply given to someone else deemed more in need. We actually spend three times as much on welfare as it would cost to raise every poor family above the poverty level. Personally giving help to someone in need is virtuous. Paying taxes with the the threat of jail if you don’t is not.

Affirmative action is doubly problematic. Not only do forced quotas effectively negate the virtue of mostly nondescriminating employers but they also needlessly cast a shadow of doubt over the virtuous achievements of so many.

Now comes Barack Obama’s call for “Universal” health care. As I pointed out before, rights are only valid if they impose no measurable burden on another person. So can we provide health care to everyone without imposing a burden on anybody else? Not a chance. If you’re healthy and your neighbor drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney, who bears a heavier burden with “Universal” health care? The answer is simply whoever makes more money. I see no virtue in that.

Not only is virtue through compulsion impossible, but often the rhetoric of those arguing for it runs in stark contrast to virtue by appealing to envy. Dr. Thomas Sowell writes “Envy was once considered to be one of the seven deadly sins before it became one of the most admired virtues under it’s new name ‘social justice’.” Charges like “tax cuts for the rich” come to mind.

Friedman also wrote” A society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither.” And he was right. When we take our eyes off of the prize (freedom) to demand superficial equality and pretend we’re virtuous we forget that our successes are all the more remarkable precisely when they aren’t guaranteed. Only when we are truly “free to choose” can our actions take on true meaning.

Education Degradation Part III

-While tragic, the recent stabbing of a 12 year old girl at a local middle school has no doubt vindicated those parents refusing to accept boundary changes quietly. In the case of some students let’s face it, those students moved will without question be put into schools that are rougher places. Will they survive? Of course. Will they be better for it? Probably not.

Parents who are concerned with their children’s school environment, pay taxes, and very well may have chosen their address on account of the neighborhood school have every right to protest this and every reason to be perturbed by the arrogant manner in which the local school board president has dismissed them.

-A local columnist recently lambasted those parents protesting TeenScreen, the proposed universal mental health screening of our local 8th graders. While he is correct in pointing out the good intentions of the program’s sponsors, he subsequently dismisses those of the parents and is sadly mistaken on almost everything else, not the least of which being that schools have any business dealing in mental health in the first place. This columnist (Bill Guida), in classic liberal elitist fashion, told parents to butt out and leave it to the experts. Unfortunately the only people who can really explain their suicides are no longer with us and the only likely result of the screening would be more money in the pockets of both psychologists and drug companies. However Mr. Guida has long made clear the low esteem in which he holds the sense of everyday people, favoring smoking bans and mandatory helmet laws for those without free will and recently claiming that folks (except him of course) are “force fed” fast food via advertising. Just listen to the experts and the gummit’ will make everything alright…

Mr. Guida being no peculiarity, contemporary liberals/progressives, forever frustrated with Americans’ fondness for rugged individualism, have always seen schools as their great opportunity for experimentation with collectivism. Every time the schools take on another unnecessary responsibility like feeding children, babysitting, sorting them by race, etc. they see a microcosm of their perfect society: the government (largely made up of them) providing for every waking need. At one time this fact wasn’t at all hidden. Those considered the founders of our public school system were nearly all avowed socialists.

These disagreements weren’t always necessary. But like so many other things, when you add the word “public” to anything it’s like putting ketchup on a steak, it can only be so good. This should come as a surprise to no one however after the track record of public housing projects, public assistance (welfare), public retirement (Social Security), public healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid). Those that weren’t immediate failures are nonetheless impending economic disasters.

I apologize for the imagery, but can any of you honestly say you prefer public toilets to your own? The tragedy of the commons is very real. Parents can forbid their child from playing with the third-grader next-door with the fowl mouth and mean streak when he drinks, but at school they’re powerless. Parents can teach that one religion, one country, one attitude is preferable, but once they get to a public school they will hear that everything under the sun is equal and the only one’s who are lesser are those that would dare to say otherwise.

School choice in the form of vouchers would do much to remedy this rift, not to mention school crowding...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Education Degradation Part II

My last column garnered surprisingly positive responses from many local school district employees who, it seems, felt I'd said something they couldn't. My hopes that they continue listening with open minds.

This time I promised to discuss ways to shift the status quo in education away from progressive exercises in self-congratulation towards renewed excellence.

Firstly let's note that there are no such things as solutions, only trade-offs of varying favorability to different people. This point could have saved us much trouble as so many of the problems in education today are the result of progressive elites comparing our past educational climate to perfection then finding it wanting. Absent perfection they demanded solutions all the while never asking if it was water or gasoline they threw on the fire only whether it was well intended.

Since I'll be discussing politics I'll mention mine. Firstly my father, many of my friends and virtually all my past co-workers are teachers. Far from harboring anti-teacher sentiments I have much respect for individuals in the profession. Only when teachers act as a group, specifically by proxy as a politicized union, do they fall from my favor. Secondly, I didn't come into to teaching as some hardened ideologue looking to reinforce preconceptions. On the contrary I generally considered myself a Democrat and in 2002 voted for (WI Governor) Jim Doyle particularly because of his opposition to school vouchers. Today I admit I'd sooner stay home than vote Democrat, but that perspective evolved only after years of observing countless progressive myths exposed.

As my last column illustrated, there's been a profound degradation of behavioral standards. Today I'd say that student (mis)behavior accounts for well over half our educational shortfall. Teachers need the power (and the will) to permanently remove disruptive, intimidating, and often violent students from the classroom, but repeatedly find themself running into the law. Unfortunately in this case teachers can be their own worst enemy.

Let me explain. Teachers' unions are hugely influential political forces with massive resources. If they put their weight behind policy empowering them to remove problem students they could have it. Republicans would sign that legislation in a heartbeat and heck, probably throw them corporal punishment to boot.The holdup? That's where the unholy alliances at work inside the Democratic Party kick in.People should not underestimate the influence wielded by special interests like trial-lawyers and well funded socialist-leaning foundations inside the party.

Now the ultimate interest of trial-lawyers and socialists for instance is a society with a forever-broadening concept of justice. More perceived victims, government dependency and relativism translates into billions of dollars and permanent employment for lawyers willing to finesse those gray areas and millions of votes for Democratic politicians selling solutions to problems they also caused. No Democrat dares stir this pot with fundamental reforms.

Certainly many dismay over this politicization of education. Luckily there's a wonderfully favorable trade-off that would largely transfer education from the hands of politicians into those of parents almost overnight: universal school vouchers.

While vouchers are a no-brainer to many, as a former voucher opponent I understand where folks go wrong. You see I was taken by the popular argument that vouchers would be unfair since private schools wouldn't be burdened by the same regulations as public ones. But if public schools are at an admitted disadvantage and we are sincerely dedicated to education it's our duty to steer away from that model. Besides, fairness doesn't pertain to institutions, only people. Institutions, like goods, are only tools to serve people until a better way emerges. Nobody would demand that people begin throwing away their DVD players out of a sense of fairness to Betamax.

Enact universal vouchers then watch bad schools and teachers sink while the good ones swim. It's real world evolution after all and we know who can't get enough evolution.

In closing: teachers must see the NEA for what it has become- a political activist group that puts ideology way ahead of its members- and rightfully shun them. Interestingly over the past 50 years the number of teachers nationwide has increased 300% while the increase in students was only 50%. So the NEA's bottom line tripled while teachers wages understandably stagnated. The NEA national headquarters alone employs more than 350 people with yearly compensations over $100,000. And some are concerned about introducing the profit motive to education?

Likewise voters concerned with education, regardless of their politics, must come to grips with the fact that no positive educational reforms -absolutely none- will come from electing progressivescontemporary liberals. Their long-term goal is a one-size-fits-all socialism where sadly all may be mired in mediocrity just so long as we're equal.Our founders, however, recognized independence and competition as the driving forces behind American exceptionalism and I hope you will consider voting in the interest of competition within education .

Education Degradation Part I

“Ad astra per aspera”, so went the motto of my late grandfather's Kenosha High School's class of '24. Translated it reads: “to the stars through difficulties”. I had to look it up, but the students of that day wouldn't need to. Back then local students received a classical education with study of Greek or Latin considered necessary for full understanding and appreciation of Western Civilization and its works. Every boy wore a tie and every girl a dress for their picture. They apparently didn't realize how politically incorrect they were.

The yearbook staff eloquently dedicated the issue to Colonel Michael Frank, Kenosha's first mayor, noting that Kenosha H.S. was the first free school west of New England. They also stated, “We, the students of the year 1924, are not unmindful of our heritage.” and hoped the yearbook would “recall the spirit of the men and women who made our early history...” So has this noble spirit endured?

Perhaps some foreshadowing can be gleaned from glancing at my father's senior yearbook 45 years later in 1969. The senior class introduction mentioned no class motto, but did say they sold buttons reading: “I Gave 69”. I sensed a shift.

Fast-forward another thirty-seven years to the present where I recently spent three days substitute teaching at my high-school alma mater. Though hardly a dream job, being a substitute in every school, grade, and subject has given me a vantage point that few commentators on current educational matters can claim. This particular three-day stint was illustrative of just how much things have changed.

On day one a student was pointed out to me by a staff member as being mentioned in the paper for throwing a female police officer into oncoming traffic during his arrest at the bus stop four days earlier. Yet he was in class. The next day, upon writing a referral for a student who walked out of my room, a teacher mentioned that the same student pulled the fire alarm only three days prior. Back already. Another teacher told me of a fight earlier that week in which a girl, in the course of assaulting another girl, picked up a hefty overhead projector and threw it at her. She showed up in my class days later bragging about it. Then on my third day a large male student was removed from my class after going toe-to-toe with and threatening to hit a girl. I saw him later that day in the halls.

Remember this was only three days, though my collective stories could fill a book. Now I know this can't be just me. There's been a profound change in what is tolerated, but no equally profound explanation why. Where once fighting was the worst imagined behavior in school now it's a multiple homicide. Nihilism continues to grow among teens as we are reminded by now five local teen suicides this year.

The usual suspects will say we don't do enough. Really? The 1924 Spy didn't list a single school counselor. In '69 there were just three dedicated guidance counselors and several teacher/counselors. Today there are numerous counselors, school psychologists, social workers, Title I liaisons, classroom aides, student helpers, full time security personnel, and a police officer on duty there. Add to that the plethora of behavior modifying medications, advanced technologies, multiplying teachers, skyrocketing school spending and one would think you're describing an educational utopia.

So what in the world happened? Parenting, bureaucracy and popular culture particularly, along with teacher's unions, students and lawyers, all bear some responsibility. But absent a clear villain let's look to the bigger picture of ideas.

Since space is short and these problems urgent, I deal in generalizations fully aware of the inevitable exceptions. The obvious answer is that we are a radically more liberal society today. There's no getting around it. Successive generations of “progressives” have insisted past standards of conduct and achievement are outmoded and “constraining”. They have sneered at tradition while offering no alternatives but intellectual fashion posing as social science and hiding behind the all powerful “It's for the kids” argument. The result? American teens score lower in standardized tests than over half of developed nations tested and occasionally some third-world countries.

Yes, most kids are good as are teachers, but that alone has proven insufficient for progress beyond - or even maintenance of - past standards, both in scholarship and civility. The problem is not that we haven't done enough it's that we've abandoned much of that which worked for that which makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. We can't turn back soon enough. Until that status quo in education is successfully challenged the news won't change. My next column will focus on how we bring that about.