In a recent Salon piece, reprinted in the Strib on Sunday, Garrison Keillor bemoans the state of education, particularly reading:
And then there is the grief that old righteous people inflict on the young, such as our public schools. I'm looking at U.S. Department of Education statistics on reading achievement and see that here in Minnesota -- proud, progressive Minnesota -- on a 500-point test (average score: 225), 27 percent of fourth-graders score below basic proficiency, and black and Hispanic kids score 30-some points lower than white on average, and the 30 percent of public schoolkids who come from households in poverty (who qualify for reduced-price school lunches) score 27 points lower than those who don't come from poverty.
Reading is the key to everything. Teaching children to read is a fundamental moral obligation of the society. That 27 percent are at serious risk of crippling illiteracy is an outrageous scandal.
This is a bleak picture for an old Democrat. Face it, the schools are not run by Republican oligarchs in top hats and spats but by perfectly nice, caring, sharing people, with a smattering of yoga/raga/tofu/mojo/mantra folks like my old confreres. Nice people are failing these kids, but when they are called on it, they get very huffy. When the grand poobah Ph.D.s of education stand up and blow, they speak with great confidence about theories of teaching, and considering the test results, the bums ought to be thrown out.
But Garrison, the schools have been funded, or rather unfunded, by the "no new taxes" crowd for a long time now; a lot of them do wear top hats and spats. Maybe teachers are liberals, but they aren't miracle workers. Kids in poverty in general do worse in schools? Of course they do. Poor kids live in poor neighborhoods without much of a property tax base to fund the shortfall, growing every year, in the school aid formula. Not to mention all the other strikes that poor kids come in against them. Making the schools scapegoats for these problems is shameful, Garrison.
Liberal dogma says that each child is inherently gifted and will read if only he is read to. This was true of my grandson; it is demonstrably not true of many kids, including my sandy-haired, gap-toothed daughter. The No Child Left Behind initiative has plenty of flaws, but the Democrats who are trashing it should take another look at the Reading First program. It is morally disgusting if Democrats throw out Republican programs that are good for children. Life is not a scrimmage. Grown-ups who stick with dogma even though it condemns children to second-class lives should be put on buses and sent to North Dakota to hoe wheat for a year.
If you follow the link in Keillor's little tirade, it leads not to support for his flimsy proposition that "[l]iberal dogma says that each child is inherently gifted and will read if only he is read to," but rather just a list of recent "liberal" articles on Salon.
This is the cheesiest of straw man arguments, unworthy of Keillor, really. One has to conclude that something else is at work here. The school is an easy lightening rod when a parent is unhappy with a child's progress. Spot thinks perhaps that's what afoot here.
Oh, and it doesn't sound like Keillor likes reading to his daughter much, either.