Public Schools Are an Obstacle to Success

Right From the Start

This summer, my high school graduating class will hold its fiftieth reunion. In preparation for this event, the organizers asked that each graduate submit a biography of their life since graduation. One of those biographies struck me as important both because its proximity in time to my own submission and because of the stark contrast of our lives. And in that contrast is an important lesson.

After high school graduation I went to college, obtained a business degree and a law degree. I practiced law for a number of years and then worked my way up the corporate ladder of a major corporation. In the process we have accumulated a modest amount of wealth to the point that I have retired to pursue golf, leisure and politics. I have been happily married to my only spouse for forty years and have produced two children and now three grandchildren. The whole of our family remains close and we share holidays and visits routinely. All in all we have a wonderful life.

On the other hand, Jim (a pseudonym) left for the high country of Montana and Wyoming to hunt and fish. He worked on various farms and ranches enough to provide an income but not so much as to interfere with hunting and fishing. As populations increased in Montana and Wyoming, Jim migrated north into Canada and as far from population centers as possible. He continued working on farms and ranches, drove truck and occasionally worked as an outfitter and guide. That life has continued for fifty years – Canada, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and finally Arizona. He has married and divorced several times, has several children – he raised some and their mothers raised others. There have been bitter custody battles and bouts with alcohol and drugs along the way but he remains close to his children. And all along the way he has lived on the outskirts of cities and towns in order to pursue fishing and hunting and his love of the outdoors. Jim still works – works hard, but just enough to provide an income and not enough to interfere with his hunting and fishing.

So which one of us has been successful? For those of you who were not forced to endure an education in the Portland Public Schools, the answer is obvious – both of us. In the end success is determined by pursuing and succeeding at that which you enjoy. And here is the lesson.

In high school, we were both prepared for the lives we chose to pursue. I took the college preparatory classes and was well grounded in the academic necessities to succeed. Jim followed a vocational program that grounded him in a host of technical skills (carpentry, plumbing, electrical, diesel mechanics, equipment operation, etc.) that made him a valuable, if not consistent, worker. Our high school recognized that we were not equal. I was an honor student; Jim was not. Jim was an accomplished athlete; I was not. But each of us was given an equal opportunity to pursue our own definition of success.

Not so today in the Oregon educational system. The social engineers who seek to define our lives have concluded that we are all equal and, therefore, must have an “equal” education. They have indoctrinated us into believing that success requires a college degree – more importantly that a college degree, any college degree, is the path to success. As a result, high school is biased towards college attendance and, in fact, high schools are measured by the number of students who subsequently attend college.

In today’s world, most jobs do not require a college degree. Many college graduates acquire virtually all of their skills subsequent to college and in the narrow area of their careers. Even with advanced degrees, I had to learn management skills on the job. The whole concept of “sameness” appeals to the liberal class that dominates our schools and our government social engineering. “Sameness” avoids the explanations of success and failure – individual effort. “Sameness” fits nicely in to President Obama’s recent remarks about those who succeeded in business didn’t really do that on their own – someone else (government) did it for them. And “sameness” is the justification for redistribution of wealth.

But the re-ordering of priorities for elementary and secondary education has had some real adverse consequences – ones that should have been anticipated but were ignored in pursuit of the social engineering goals. First, not all students have the same intellectual skills – what a surprise. In order to accommodate “sameness” curricula has been “dumbed down” to insure that all can pass. The result is that public school students testing performance continues to decline when compared to other states and particularly when compared to other countries not enmeshed in such social engineering. And those students who are intellectually superior either suffer in boredom for lack of a challenge, or gravitate towards advanced class and magnet schools where possible.

Second, American industry has a huge hole due to a lack of skilled craftsmen and technicians because the requisite skills go unappreciated and unavailable in the public schools. Plumbers, electricians, computer programmers, artisans of every scope and endeavor are needed to the point where some businesses are importing workers to fill these positions. What training is available is done by our community colleges.

Third, as students enter college and find that many pursuits require academic and intellectual skills that they lack, the ranks of marginal degrees swell. Students graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree and no usable skills. Head for the coast and see the number of college graduates – some with advanced degrees- who are cleaning rooms and waiting tables because their degrees have left them bereft of marketable skills.

And finally, the public employee unions have seized upon this fascination with college degrees to negotiate the requirements for various jobs. There are any number of state and local government ministerial and clerical positions that now require a college degree as a pre-requisite to hiring. The job requirement of a college degree is then translated into a higher salary requirement. (The public employee unions always make sure that existing employees are grandfathered into position without degrees but with the increase in pay and thus, inadvertently, proving that the job does not actually require a college degree.)

We are not the same. We are not even equal. I cannot dunk a basketball, paint a picture, sing a note, comprehend software programming, or fathom quantum physics. And despite all of the social engineering in the world we never will all be equal or the same. All that is required in life and in law is an equal opportunity to succeed. When the social engineers who run our public schools define the path to success so narrowly, that opportunity for success is denied to many.