People have short memories. In a democracy, this can have severe consequences.
In the debate over President Obama’s plans to “reform” our
national health care system, for example, no one is reminding the public
how much better and less expensive health care was prior to President
Health care has been improved in recent decades, no doubt, by the
strides of scientific discovery. Relatively speaking, however, the
American health care system used to be the envy of the world, and it
was accessible and affordable for most Americans. Now, in the Great
Society bequeathed us by Johnson, cost containment, the detection of
fraud and abuse, tort reform, and the burgeoning bureaucratization
of the system’s public and private wings are major problems.
Our health care is still world class, but it is much more expensive
than it used to be. The difference goes primarily to enrich larcenous
physicians, sue-happy lawyers, and insurance companies — not to mention
hospitals that need to cover the costs of caring for the uninsured
and undocumented workers. How could it be otherwise with the Medicare
and Medicaid pots o’ gold sitting out there tempting the greedy?
Giving responsibility for anything to bureaucrats almost always leads
to a pressing need to give them more. Voters react enthusiastically
to politicians promising change because they know things are a real
mess. They forget, unfortunately, that it was previous generations
of politicians promising change who caused the mess.
Our short memory affects other public issues, too. Take education.
Never in its existence has America been a country that short-changed
education. Our founding fathers were the intellectual equals of Europe’s
elites and, in retrospect, were much wiser than any of them. Teaching
was always a noble and respected profession, and it usually went hand-in-hand
with the country’s robust religious traditions. Literacy in New
England at the time of the American Revolution is estimated to have
been around 90 percent, largely because of the Puritan emphasis on
Now educators are concerned about the decline in American literacy,
with good reason. Go to the American
Literacy Council’s website
and you will find
And it is not just literacy. Virtually everything worth knowing is
readily available on the Internet. Still, large numbers of young Americans,
probably a majority, cannot name the century of our civil war. At the
higher end of our educational system, the United States used to supply
the lion’s share of the world’s Nobel laureates, especially
in the sciences. This is no longer the case.
The new Secretary of Education is Arne Duncan, who was running a
mediocre educational establishment in President Obama’s home
town of Chicago. Duncan co-captained his Harvard basketball team and
played professionally in Australia. President Obama praised his jump
shot when he announced Duncan's nomination.
Here is where the public’s short memory comes in. Our education
system did not morph into an ongoing national crisis until after Jimmy
Carter was inspired to create the U.S. Department of Education (ED)
that Duncan heads. Currently, the ED budget totals almost $70 billion.
That is not a lot by federal standards, but it still comes to more
than half a million dollars for each of the approximately 125,000 public
and private schools the ED assists. The problem with the ED, at any
rate, is not how much money it wastes but how much harm it causes with
its meddling and its mandates, most of which are unfunded headaches
for school districts around the nation.
Ultimately, we can ease our way out of our national education crisis
only by backing away from the “reforms” that caused it.
First, the system must again be decentralized, which means abolishing
the ED and returning the responsibility for educating our children
to local funding jurisdictions, school districts, and parents.
Second, the stranglehold on education by teachers unions and their
political representative, chiefly the National Education Association
(NEA), must be broken. Abolishing the ED will be a huge step in this
direction, because the department was a major player in the creation
of that stranglehold.
Finally, and most important, teacher salaries must be made commensurate
with those of other professional classes. The most talented of our
young people flock to medicine, dentistry, law, architecture, engineering,
and finance because they know success in those professions will enable
them to have their BMWs, McMansions, and, of course, good schools for
How can local funding jurisdictions afford higher salaries for teachers?
Primarily by abandoning the notion that smaller class size equates
to better education. Allowing class size to grow and weeding out poor
teachers would gradually enable the doubling of teacher salaries.
A recommendation for Secretary Duncan: Heave one from half court
by winding down the ED, benching the NEA, and attracting to our kids’ classrooms
the best talent that our society has to offer. That would be three
points and nothing but net.
The Unrepentant Traditionalist is copyright (c) 2009 by Frank
Creel and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.
All rights reserved.
Frank Creel, Ph.D., has been a columnist for the Potomac
Virginia. His op-ed articles have been published in the Northern
Virginia Journal, the Washington Examiner,
Times, and the New York City Tribune. In 1992, his A
Trilogy of Sonnets was published pseudonymously by Christendom
See a complete biographical sketch.
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