Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 16, 2009



You framed the disagreement as acceptance or rejection of "the premise that the [fetus] is human", in order to compare the issue to the obviously-human status of minority groups. But human in this case just reinforces an ambiguity. What you mean is "fully actual human being." A human toenail or eyelash is also human, that is, it is not canine, bovine, etc. But a fetus is something more: it is a potential human being. It is to an actual person as an acorn is to an oak tree. It would be misguided to consider oaks and acorns as being the same in the eyes of the law; and I agree with those who think it misguided to consider fetuses as having the rights of persons. But a fetus is not like a toenail, as can easily be seen from the value that it has (in most cases) to its mother (and others) -- a value that can be recognized in law, as when the punishment for a criminal assault resulting in miscarriage is greater than that for simple assault. If we granted to anti-abortionists the proposition that the fetus is (potentially) human, and thus does have a special value, it might become easier for us to grant them the reciprocal rights that you so wisely advocate. - Gabe Eisenstein


Another example of the bureaucratic mentality occurred in the USSR under Gorbachev. Some industrial branch ministry requested funding in the five-year plan to build another factory. Gorbachev asked, why can't you run two or three shifts at the existing factory. The industrial bureaucrats said, "But we don't have enough workers to run another shift!" Gorbachev's response: "Who's going to staff the new factory, the Holy Spirit?"

They wanted to build the factory because they'd have something shiny and new that increased their prestige--pure and simple. And the public school bureaucrats are exactly the same way.

A useful thought experiment: try to figure the cost for twenty or thirty parents to start a cooperative school with their own money, renting a cheap building for classroom space and hiring enough tutors for a total of 35 hours teaching time. Even with modest spending on electives and extra-curriculars, it's hard to come up with more than a couple thousand dollars per pupil, compared to the public schools' spending of 7k or more. The reason is multiple layers of administrative overhead, and the belief that nothing short of custom-designed monumental architecture on the most expensive real estate in town befits the awesome majesty of the "public." We live in an age of cost-plus markup and mandated minimum overhead, buying stuff from public and corporate bureaucracies for several times what they would cost to produce in the informal and household economy. - Kevin Carson

Public education has a lot of problems that need to be dealt with. It claims that the only issue is money, but it consumes money at a horrendous rate. Much of the increases being soaked into administration. Some states like Florida are so top heavy in administration that more than 50% of the school funds go to administration rather than teaching, physical school plant or student services.

In my own school district there was a recent attempt to build a brand new high school at an enormous cost. There were no claims that the current high school was inadequate in function. Or that the building was falling apart. That there would be more students than the building could reasonably accommodate. That maintenance costs justified a new building. No, none of these. The argument was that the students would feel better about themselves in a newer building. That a new school had been erected in a large town in the next county, and that we had to keep up, or our students would feel "less than." The bond issue for the new school was voted down, and the school administrators voiced prophecies of doom for the entire student population.

Its been 45 years since I was a student in a public school, but there were a lot of bad teachers then who shouldn't have been teaching. From the current group that I run into now and then, there are too many that are clearly not fit to teach. Bad teachers should go. They ruin students. They take the average inquisitive five year old who loves to learn new things, and turn them into sullen dullards of no value to themselves or society. - M

I used to be an education reporter and did a fair amount of reporting in New York City. Principals there spend a great deal of time trying to get rid of their bad teachers. I spent a day with one once and she was wheeling and dealing like an NBA general manager trying to move her bad teachers someplace else. (This was in Harlem; the stakes were pretty high.)

There are a lot of valid questions about assessment and the like. But bottom line, our kids shouldn't have to pay the price for teachers who can't teach, or are bored, or who no longer care if they ever did.

They do exist. It is not a right wing fantasy. The failure to acknowledge that is what gives fuel to right wing wet dreams such as vouchers. Those of us who think public institutions can work have got to be willing to do what it takes to fix them when they don't. - JR


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