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Posted: April 3, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Abolish education departments

It's time to abolish the Federal Department of Education, along with the Georgia Department of Education.

Our President bemoans how American students have fallen behind the rest of the world. And it's a fact that Georgia's public schools consistently rank near the bottom of the 50 states. We could save billions of dollars by abolishing the U. S. Department of Education, and Georgia's.

The sole reason the Department of Education exists is because it has become institutionalized.

You and I own the Department of Education. Why do we allow it to operate with one of the worst performance records in America?

At the very heart of the matter is the issue of local control. The schools in Covington face problems totally different from those in Bozeman, Mont. So it's up to the citizens of each local community to operate their schools, and in a manner acceptable to that particular place, and those particular folks.

One of the early icons of public education in America, Horace Mann, once said, "schools are the mirror which reflect our society; they cannot change it." After all, the citizens of a community decide what they want their local schools to accomplish. These things are usually measured along the lines of whether local students gain admission to noteworthy universities, if the community gains fame from glory achieved by athletic teams, and how much misbehavior the community will tolerate in classrooms, on school grounds, and at school events.

So as long as children of the primary movers and shakers gain acceptance to a spiffy college, as long as a football or other athletic team manages to garner a favorable statewide headline for the community, and as long as the presence of gangs and drug use doesn't get bantered about in the town newspaper, all is well.

William A. Fischel, in his book "Making the Grade" says "...schools evolved into the current system because homeowners nationwide wanted it that way. School systems have been structured to enhance homeowner property values while facilitating the build-up of place-based social capital. The first goal, enhancing property values, explains the evolution of the school system. The second, building place-based social capital, explains the system's abiding resistance to reformers trying to change it."

So our system of public education has been institutionalized. Now it is propped up - regardless of performance - by every community's placement of school buildings in the most desirable residential areas, thus tying the economic development of the region to commercials for fine schools and upscale housing touted by various real estate, chamber of commerce, local government officials and other power brokers.

As it stands, a normal, everyday citizen who has enough to do just trying to live cannot make a dent in the institutionalized rules and regulations of state and federal departments of education. Normal people just do not have the luxury of that much time on their hands to try and change things, and when one or two finally make a little headway they are publicly excoriated by officials whose jobs would be threatened by any change to the institution.

Well, it's way past time to wipe the slate clean. First, abolish all state and federal departments of education. Let colleges and universities establish their own entrance requirements and exams, thus being more fully able to attract the kind of scholar they seek. This would free our teachers from following mindless curriculum tied to calendars manipulated by administration of standardized tests. Teachers could actually teach the disciplines to which they, themselves, are devoted. Students could actually learn lessons instead of having to regurgitate factual information tied to a master schedule of test events.

A trendy bumper sticker reads: "Think education is expensive? Try ignorance."

Well, the sad truth is that whatever the institutionalized departments of education have done, abolishing them would save the taxpaying public billions of dollars.

"Insanity," said Albert Einstein, "is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result."

It's time to wipe the slate clean.

Nat Harwell is a Covington resident. His column appears Sundays.

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