Vanishing Point

The dirty secret of education reform.

The scorched earth education policy has its apologists all across the political spectrum, starting on the right with Charles Murray and the genes-are-destiny crowd and continuing to the multiculturalist academics who believe race pride and resegregated schools are a fine substitute for resources and opportunities. Meanwhile the number of education reform schemes multiplies annually in inverse relation to the dwindling commitment of federal and state governments. You can barely count them: vouchers, open enrollment, charter schools, magnet schools, privately managed schools, neighborhood schools. What all the reformers have in common, from the grubbiest of entrepreneurs to the most earnest small-d democrats, is that they face problems they don't have the resources to solve. Even the best of their plans amount to triage: deciding who can be kept alive the longest and how to mount the least bloody retreat.

It's disgusting to watch. Public schools, despite their many faults, were the very best of American democracy and its main bulwark. They were the place where the average person was most likely to experience close encounters with other races and classes and values. If one was going to catch any real passion for democratic ideals, to acquire any feeling of common humanity and common destiny, it was likely going to happen there. Or not at all. The passing of the common school stands to make "democracy" even emptier than money and privilege have yet managed to render it.

IT'S BEEN ENTERTAINING to watch stalwarts of the Republican right dance round the prospect of a Powell candidacy. A few weeks back on This Week With David Brinkley, Bill Bennett and the Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed waxed coy, deftly evading questions about how they could possibly refrain from denouncing a baby-killer such as the general. The opportunists on the party's cultural right recognize that however unpopular Bill Clinton might be, the GOP is hard-pressed to come up with anyone besides Powell who is not more unpopular. If he'll run they'll take him; the Bible-swallowers at the grassroots wouldn't like it, but they're soft on Dole, too. I doubt they would cost Powell the election, but they may dissuade him from running. So in the end Clinton may prevail because a bunch of zealots who believe end time is near don't think a four-star general is god-and-country enough to suit their tastes. All in all, quite a testament to the vitality of two-party politics.

AN INTERESTING FOOTNOTE from Kip Sullivan of the Health Care Coalition of Minnesota: In a recent issue of the HCCM newsletter, he traces the deals brokered by Gingrich to make sure there would be no opposition to the Republican Medicare/Medicaid plan. The AMA was bought off with the promise of malpractice caps; the American Hospital Association got an assurance of anti-trust exemptions for hospital chains and provider-run networks; the nursing home lobby got a complete repeal of Title 19 federal regulations ("unless the states do anything to regulate," notes Sullivan, "we will go back to the days of the warehouse nursing homes"); and the AARP was co-opted with a compromise that shifted much of the burden of rising costs from seniors to providers.

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