9.14.2009

Do education mandates really help kids learn?

Mark Twain once said that "in the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards." I'd like to amend that slightly. I've met a lot of school board members and they're generally smart, well-meaning people who really care about their children's educations.

I'd like to replace "school boards" with politicians. The reason? The most recent bout of stupid mandates for school teachers.

Apparently Rep. Andy Jorgensen and Sen. Dave Hansen have nothing better to do than throw another mandate on state history teachers. Bills that both men are sponsoring would require all students be taught the history of organized labor and the collective bargaining process. This move is nothing more than a throw away to unions.

The state already requires our history teachers to cover Wisconsin history, Native American history, general American history and world history. For starters, it is impossible to cover Wisconsin and American history without covering the evolution of unions and organized labor. The history of the 20th century when it comes to domestic policy and economics is unmistakably intertwined with organized labor. To teach these subjects without covering the topic would be irresponsible - not to mention nearly impossible.

For this reason the legislation is unnecessary, but there is a much more important issue here. Our state's education system is based on the notion of local control. Our state has always been a leader in recognizing the importance of quality education and we have grounded our system with local school boards and administrators.

This bill would set a disturbing precedent. If we mandate labor history, what special interest group will get their own issue next? Using the logic of the proponents - that Wisconsin was a "trailblazer" in the labor movement - will we mandate the history of the Progressive Movement? What about Earth Day and the environmental movement? These issues were born in Wisconsin with Bob LaFollette, Gaylord Nelson and Aldo Leopold. How about a history of the Republican Party? Wisconsin was instrumental in its founding, so that should qualify. We could even mandate a few class periods on Wisconsin's military history - the Iron Brigade, Gen. Billy Mitchell, Stephen Ambrose, and countless other soldiers and units.

But why stop with history? English teachers could be required to do a unit solely on Wisconsin authors. Science classes could devote class time to the contributions of Wisconsin scientists and research. You can see where this type of thing could go.

All of this is stupid. It's irresponsible. This type of legislation is nothing more than micro-management of the classroom and only hurts the quality of our students' education. I'm very proud of Wisconsin's history and our contributions to society, but by dictating the curriculum we take away control of the teachers and school boards.

Does anyone really think that politicians in Madison are better qualified to decide what is and is not taught in our classrooms? I sure don't.