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What other institution can fail one-third of the time and survive?

Issue: "Meltdown," April 22, 2006

If any pharmaceutical company in America were discovered to be regularly marketing a product that a full third of the time killed those who ingested it, it's hard to know who would be the first to camp out on that company's doorstep: Morley Safer and an investigative team from 60 Minutes, New York prosecutor Elliott Spitzer, or an ominous cadre of agents from the Food & Drug Administration.

Or if some hospital system in America were discovered to be inflicting an incurable disease on a third of its patients, look for the same gaggle of visitors to show up very soon-maybe even by tonight.

Well, with a cover story indictment from Time magazine now a matter of record, you'd think that Safer, Spitzer, & FDA would swing into action. Time reported last week that only two out of every three young people who enter America's high schools complete enough of their work to graduate. The other third just disappear into society's wasteland.

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Time uses words like "astonishing" and "corrupting" to describe the scandal-and in this case WORLD agrees with Time.

On the other hand, some very alert WORLD readers may sense an opportunity to call my bluff: If the public schools of America are as bad as WORLD regularly makes them out to be, why would we consider it a tragedy if a third of those schools' students drop out every four years? Isn't the nation conceivably better off as a result of such a phenomenon? It's a point worth considering.

America's public schools have come to be for the education of our society's children what the United Nations is to peace among the nations of the world. Both are noble ideas, occasionally driven by good-minded people-but hopelessly mired in secularist ideology and maladministered by bureaucrats of the most unreformable character.

We've been saying that for all of the 20 years WORLD has been published, and with a growing crescendo in our voice. We've angered even some of our own loyal readers with what they think is too great a fixation on the subject. Yet nothing we have said in all our focus on this topic has approached the ugliness of what Time's report portrays. The only conclusion you can draw from the magazine's evaluation is that the people in charge don't know what they're doing anymore. Their assignment is way beyond them. And it's time for them to quit and give the job to someone else.

This is true partly because of the incompetence that has now been so thoroughly documented. It is also true because that incompetence has been packaged in dishonesty. The very establishment that has failed to deliver has pretended all the time that it knew what it was doing, that it had expertise in what the nation was asking it to do. Now we know that the establishment is good at only one art, and that is the art of pretending.

No private school, of course, could sustain such a record. If it failed a third of its students every four years, it would be deserted by its clientele-and should be. But most families can't afford to desert the public school system. For their pocketbooks, it's the only game in town. Dishonest politicians and careerists have seen to it that there will be little, if any, competition.

In fact, the educational crisis described by Time's editors represents an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual raping of our nation's young that will last the entire lifetimes of the boys and girls who have been so shortchanged.

If the educational crisis can be compared in magnitude to Hurricane Katrina or 9/11, this one isn't going away; it is only getting worse. Enron executives are in court right now; other perpetrators of corporate dishonesty know their day is coming. Masterminds of terror are on trial in Baghdad and Alexandria, Va. Somehow, though, the big headquarters of the National Education Association in Washington stays sacrosanct. 60 Minutes seems to be saying, again: "No story there." Government watchdogs don't sniff at what's going on, much less head down the trail to check things out.

So yes, we're covering this story again. Thanks, Time magazine, for adding to our credibility by confirming what we've been saying. And because the stakes are so high, we'll probably talk about it again. Shaping the hearts of the next generation is far and away the most important assignment any society ever gets.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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