Mark Steyn's May 23 column in the Chicago Sun Times (hat tip to Instapundit) was about Iraq, not public schools. He argues for an approach that he calls "asymmetrical federalism" -- not all provinces would necessarily have the same governance structure or political powers. As he notes, this is an alien concept to Americans, but not to the British; Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England are not governed the same, nor do they all have the same political powers. But his political point is not what I want to focus on. Instead, I'd like to highlight his next to the last paragraph:
We need more of that. The best bulwark against tyranny is a population that knows the benefits of freedom, as the Iraqi Kurds do. Don't make the mistake of turning Iraq into a dysfunctional American public school, where the smart guys get held down to the low standards of the misfits and in the end they all get the same social promotion anyway. Let's get on with giving the Kurdish and Shia areas elected governors and practical sovereignty, province by province.(emphasis supplied)
He uses public schools as a metaphor for dysfunctional rewards to non-achievers without a hint of irony or apology, and with every expectation that his readers will both "get it" and agree. This is part of what those of us who want schools to improve have to fight: many opinion leaders have pigeon-holed our schools in that part of their brain labeled "examples of governmental failure." We've got to replace this image with one of work, effort, rigor, engagement, and achievement, as well as nurturance and guidance. And we've got to do it openly, publicly, and in conjunction with our communities and local politcal leadership. That's the only way to establish the ownership and pride in our schools that has to exist if they are to survive.