Friday, January 31, 2003


Have you been following the “bureaucrat revolt” going on in Oregon now that voters have turned down a huge tax increase and units of government, especially schools, are actually going to have to . . . gasp! . . . cut spending?

After Measure 28 failed recently, the teachers’ unions were going bonkers, threatening all kinds of draconian measures – teacher layoffs, program cuts, kids stacked on top of each other like Lincoln logs in overcrowded classrooms – and indeed, the Portland School District has announced that it will end the school year in early May.

The Portland area’s Multnomah County sheriff announced the early release of 114 prisoners from jail in a move obviously designed to scare people.

I find a lot of scary parallels between what’s going on in Oregon and what’s about to go on in Nebraska – scary as well as funny.

It goes like this: some friends of mine stood slack-jawed in downtown Portland last summer as a protest march went through the street, pinning them in front of their hotel for a few minutes. The marchers were – I kid you not – senior citizen gay and lesbian nudists.

The scary and funny thing was that only the two Nebraskans were paying them any attention. As a matter of fact, as I’m sure I would have been, too, they were laughing and pointing. They couldn’t HELP themselves. I mean, that is just not the typical thing that you expect to see when you come out of your downtown hotel to go out to dinner.

All I can tell you is, they didn’t order prunes that night.

But I digress. The reason I bring it up is that that’s the kind of thing that goes on in Oregon and nobody bats an eye. Oregon has already made me laugh a number of times with regard to some of the things that have gone on there with public education. Cottage Grove, Ore., for example, is infamous in education research circles as the home of Outcome-Based Education and its evil spawn, School-to-Work. Parents there withstood years of rampant grade inflation, dumbed-down curriculum, silly graduation requirements, mounting “incompletes” and tardies for lack of any semblance of academic discipline, and the steady slide down into public schools becoming politically correct on-the-job training centers instead of hallowed halls of civilizing, empowering liberal-arts education.

Oregon is famous for being the place where Hilary Clinton’s little buddies, including Ira Magaziner and Marc Tucker, were unleashed to turn their public schools into the educational equivalent of socialized medicine. It was the first state to have goofy, nonacademic graduation requirements and politically correct learning “standards” in place.

I remember laughing out loud when I read about one high school student who successfully met the high school graduation standard for demonstrating that he understood the scientific process by making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You read that right.

Parents were tearing their hair out over the end of true academics in high schools, with the traditional diploma replaced by two Nazi-style “work paper” designations. The “certificate of initial mastery” was to be given to students who “passed” all those “rigorous” standards at what we used to call the sophomore level. That CIM gave them the right to work at jobs during their last two years of what used to be high school, and receive credit toward graduation. They would paint cars, clean motel rooms, flip burgers, deliver bedpans and do other menial entry-level work instead of sitting in French class or chemistry or history. They’d get class credit for doing this donkey work, of course. At graduation, they would be given a “certificate of advanced mastery” or CAM which was sort of like a passport into the workworld. As I recall, you couldn’t get in to college without a CAM, either.

It was the epitome of dumbing down academics into nothing more than a job training system. The student’s attitudes, values and beliefs were assessed, remediated and reassessed as if the kids were on a factory assembly conveyor belt, getting picked up and inspected, tweaked, and put back on again for a while.

Instead of calculus, they were encouraged to “study” teamwork. Instead of the metaphors in John Donne, they were tested on how well they appreciated diversity.

No wonder people in Oregon grow up to become senior citizen gay and lesbian nudists on parade! I think they are literally being driven bonkers in that state by a totally whacked-out education system . . . the poster children of what happens when the leftists get control of the schools.

Which brings us to Nebraska. Because there’s one more thing about what happened to Oregon’s schools with the institution of Outcome-Based Education and School-to-Work ideology. And that is: school spending skyrocketed.

You can’t believe the extra paperwork, personnel, training, coordination, monitoring, programming, transportation, yada yada yada that come with these nontraditional distortions of K-12 education.

And guess what? We’re seeing evidence of the same thing happening in Nebraska’s public schools as we speak.

OBE and STW are the main reasons that Oregon’s schools got into a spending crisis. Without all that social engineering and governmental interference, schools could operate on probably half as much dough. All that additional nonacademic, nonproductive expense has piled a mountain of extra salaries and health benefits and retirement costs on the backs of taxpayers.

In Oregon, it was a two-fer: they nuked their school finances, and they nuked any semblance of academic excellence in their K-12 schools.

That’s not funny. It’s scary. Here’s what is also scary: it’s starting to dovetail just like that in Nebraska.

We have a big school spending crisis, too. All across the state, we are seeing the incredible cost increases and drag on academics brought by Outcome-Based Education – all those state standards and assessments that have everyone tearing what’s left of their hair out – and School-to-Work.

It’s already entrenched, and getting more so. We're just a couple of years behind Oregon, but if we don't do something now, it's coming. And soon. Take the typical Nebraska community of York. On Wednesday, the York News-Times carried a story about how kids who get sent to the alternative learning center run by York public schools will from now on be given a job for up to four hours a day. They will receive credit for their work, and if they complete the program successfully they will receive a “certificate of mastery” along with their high school diploma.

There it is!

There’s the CIM, the crazy Oregon make-a-sandwich-and-graduate stuff!

Employers are getting sucked in by the opportunity for cheap teenage labor, and the kids are getting sucked away from their birthright – a good, complete, well-rounded, challenging liberal-arts education that will maximize their opportunity for higher education, a good career and a happy life as a solid citizen.

It’s enough to make me want to strip off my shirt and march topless in front of the Capitol in Lincoln until somebody puts a stop to this sort of thing.

With my luck, they’d arrest me for indecent exposure. And unlike any of those revolting bureaucrats in Oregon – and I do mean revolting – who ignored the nudists in downtown Portland, here in Nebraska they’d probably throw me in jail.

With my luck, they’d probably put me in the Nebraska Women’s Prison, which happens to be in . . . drum roll, please . . . York.

But then again, not to worry. Nebraska’s taxpayers have had enough, just like Oregon’s. They’re likely to ix-nay new tax increases. At least, I hope so. But then, Nebraska’s bureaucrats are just as used to living high on the hog as Oregon’s. They are likely to revolt just like Oregon’s and let loose their prisoners as a political statement. Including, I would hope, me.

So it’ll all work out in the end, somehow.

But it sure would be easier on my nerves AND the sensitivities of capital city pedestrians who don’t want to see me do what I just threatened to do, if we would just hold the line on school spending, make sensible reductions in state aid to schools, get rid of all that statewide standard and assessment stuff, and fight off OBE and STW before things get too “Oregon-y” around here.

Anybody want to toast that with a tall glass of prune juice?

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