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Phoenixalpha posted a long piece earlier this week about Columbine and her experiences in the Minneapolis and Edina school systems, which was one of the things that got my mind going on the subject of the public schools. It's not a simple subject, either, as much as some politicians and union leaders and "educators" would like us to think it is, and the longer I look at the public schools - now from the standpoint of someone who will be teaching in them in a year or so - the less I think that the problems of the big city school systems can be solved by anything short of the draconian solutions that you can't sell to enough people unless they're staring down the barrels of somebody else's ICBMs.

Possibly not even then, judging from the reforms of the early 1960s.

It's probably a truism to say that everybody sees something different when they look at the public schools. Businessmen see them as a place where kids can get enough of a basic education to function at entry-level jobs. Politicians see them as sources of patronage, votes, or as a stepping stone to higher office, depending on where they are in (or out) of the government. Union bosses see them as places for the rank and file to be employed and pay dues, the better to have clout in politics. Some teachers see the schools as a calling, while others see them as just someplace they happen to be working because the alternative of being an English major meant slopping coffee at a Starbucks after graduation. I get the impression that a lot of the latter group don't last very long if they start out in the city schools, since they wind up in the least desirable schools (thanks to union seniority rules) where the students are usually behind the curve in many areas. That's due to a lot of conditions at home, which are exacerbated by all the time-wasting, ineffective educational fads to which the public schools are prone - and did I mention the anti-intellectual culture that makes smart kids look like losers and rejects while exalting poorly-educated professional athletes and half-bright rappers? That's not just a black thing, by the way - take a look at any suburban school and see what gets more press: the football team or the forensics team. It's not even close.

So, as V.I. Lenin said once upon a time about a totally different subject, what is to be done? Onetime local radio rabblerouser Jason Lewis was fond of calling for complete abolition of the public schools, and certainly the DFL has accused Republicans of aiming for this often enough. Jason was an extreme libertarian, though, and the odds of actually firing the entire Minneapolis School District staff, handing all the parents of school-age kids a voucher and telling them to find their kids a place in one of the local private schools are only slightly better than those of my being elected Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. By the same token, I think anyone with a functioning brain would agree that the MPS now is heading into a death spiral from which they might not pull out. The numbers of children whose parents have pulled them out of the MPS and put them in either suburban schools or charter schools in Minneapolis (technically part of MPS but administered separately under a different set of rules) has increased to the point where several schools are going to be closed because there aren't enough students going there any more to keep the doors open.