"Nicholas astonishes Mr. Squeers and family"---drawing by Phiz, from Nicholas Nickleby, by Chales Dickens.
Thanksgiving night. We're down visiting the blonde's old homestead for the holiday. Old Mom Blonde and Old Pop Blonde are well and doing fine and say Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. Old Mom Blonde did it up grand for Thanksgiving dinner. The blonde made one of the apple pies I married her for. Everyone ate their fill and then some and now the whole gang have collapsed into a trytophanic slumber. Only I am left awake to tell the tale.
We've been here since Tuesday, so we avoided the nightmare of Thanksgiving eve travel. We were able to do this because the boys' school shut down for the long weekend at 10:45 Tuesday morning. The school district has surrendered the idea that any work gets done on that traditional half day of school on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Most places still fight the fight. My sister in law, old Sis Blonde, teaches kindergarten and her school district had a full day of school on Wednesday. But she teaches in Philadelphia. Philadelphia's school system has been ravaged by white flight and so are for the most part refuges for the poor. Philly keeps its kids in school as much as possible, for as long as possible every day, in order to get them out of their neighborhoods and into a safe place for as much of their young lives as they can.
The problems of inner city schools like Philadelphia's and Chicago's and East St Louis' and Syracuse, New York's are mostly caused by things that happen outside of the schools and so are beyond the power of the schools to fix. They can't be solved by increased government spending, higher pay for teachers, smaller class sizes, or computers in every classroom. Nor can they be solved by vouchers, charter schools, and increased privitazation. I happen to be for all of those things, because all of those things can help. Somewhat.
I know that as a good liberal I'm supposed to be against vouchers and charter schools, but I'm not. Conservatives like those things because they don't like public schools. The whole idea of public schools goes against the first commandment of conservativism these days.
Thou shalt not admit that people who are not exactly like you exist and have problems that it might be your responsibility to help solve.
They also have this vaguely articulated faith in something called "competition" as the means of improving everything. They don't want to know that schools are not like car dealerships. If Honest Bob's Buick undersells Tommy the Dealmaker's Toyotas and drives Tommy out of business, the mess left over is a lot of unsold cars. But if one private school drives another out of business, what you have left over is a bunch of kids with no school to go to. They can't go to the first private school because one of the ways the first private school succeeded was by keeping kids like them out in the first place.
But a lot of kids in public schools really have nowhere to go now. Their schools are operating as a whole lot of different public entities, including part time jail, day care center, health clinic, and a fort where parents can send their kids to hide from the hostiles who are fighting tribal wars in their neighborhoods. "School" is far down on the list of things those schools have to be.
Vouchers and charter schools and privitization are not the long term answers but they can help save some kids in the here and now. I am even glad to make the case that they help public schools.
But I am for those things only if two other things go along with them---tough governement regulation and vigilant government officials.
Vouchers, charter schools, and privatization all require that money the government formerly controlled suddenly be up for grabs, and a lot of the hands grabbing for it will belong to thieves.
Libertarians and Republicans of a certain stripe like to assure us that we know better how to spend our money than the government does. The trouble with that argument is that we might but we can't do the job the government can do of making sure that the people we hand over our money to are honest.
(At the moment we don't have a national government that cares if the people raking in our money are thieves. But most local governments do care and try to make sure it doesn't happen.)
A certain type of Republican can't stand to look at a thing---a mountain, a house, an idea, a government program---and know that no one is making any money off it. Or not as much money as they could.
Those happen to be the type running Washington right now, and that's reason enough to be extremely distrustful of Bush's plans for Social Security. The motive behind the "reform" isn't to save the system, which they don't give a good goddamn about because it violates the first commandment (see above). It's that they see this great big pile of loot sitting there inside Al Gore's famous locked box and they can't stand it that no one's getting rich off it.
That's the real point of privitization: More hands in the till.
Most of those hands will belong to a relatively honest type of sharper, the kind willing to obey the law as long as it doesn't get in his way of making a buck. I mean a buck, a very particular buck. This type will go along, honest enough, at least by his own lights, content to rake it in by the sackful, until one day out of the corner of his eye he sees a stray dollar flutter by on the breeze and suddenly he'll be seized by the desire to have it, that dollar. All his other dollars won't mean squat to him. He must have that dollar, he will have that dollar, and he will have it by hook or by crook.
Types like this, their attitude toward money is the same that some good husbands have toward women. A good husband can work for years as Hollywood producer, surrounded by starlets, or as a photographer and get the swimsuit gig for Sports Illustrated, or as a teacher at a boarding school for 18 year old Swedish flight attendants, and never even be tempted, and then one day he'll fall madly in love with a lady accountant.
Types like this are all businessmen and women, and they will have your Social Security money in their hands and some of them, some day, are going to steal it. Add that to what will be stolen by the already committed thieves.
The more steps taken toward privatizing our schools the more we will have on our hands schools that are shams, fronts for crooks, shady tax dodges, and the results of careless investors and reckless entrepeneurs out to make a fast buck and frustrated by the the drain actual pupils are exerting on their investment.
Recently here in Philadelphia the feds went after a woman who had been pocketing all kinds of dough from the government to run a charter school. The woman had figured out that she could pocket more of the money for her own use if her school did without students.
She didn't do without teachers though. She had several on her payroll. All relatives.
And then there's a charter school down in Florida which has students but found a way to turn them from overhead into assests.
Charles Dickens would have had a field day with both frauds. The system that would be created by privatization is the one he was satirizing in Nicholas Nickleby with Dotheboys Hall, the nightmarish boarding school for the children of parents who just wanted to get the kids out of their hair on the cheap, run by the villain, con artist, and professional sadist Wackford Squeers.
After some half-hour's delay, Mr Squeers reappeared, and the boys took their places and their books, of which latter commodity the average might be about one to eight learners. A few minutes having elapsed, during which Mr Squeers looked very profound, as if he had a perfect apprehension of what was inside all the books, and could say every word of their contents by heart if he only chose to take the trouble, that gentleman called up the first class.
Obedient to this summons there ranged themselves in front of the schoolmaster's desk, half-a-dozen scarecrows, out at knees and elbows, one of whom placed a torn and filthy book beneath his learned eye.
`This is the first class in English spelling and philosophy, Nickleby,' said Squeers, beckoning Nicholas to stand beside him. `We'll get up a Latin one, and hand that over to you. Now, then, where's the first boy?'
`Please, sir, he's cleaning the back-parlour window,' said the temporary head of the philosophical class.
`So he is, to be sure,' rejoined Squeers. `We go upon the practical mode of teaching, Nickleby; the regular education system. C-l-e-a-n, clean, verb active, to make bright, to scour. W-i-n, win, d-e-r, der, winder, a casement. When the boy knows this out of book, he goes and does it. It's just the same principle as the use of the globes. Where's the second boy?'
`Please, sir, he's weeding the garden,' replied a small voice.
`To be sure,' said Squeers, by no means disconcerted. `So he is. B-o-t, bot, t- i-n, tin, bottin, n-e-y, ney, bottinney, noun substantive, a knowledge of plants. When he has learned that bottinney means a knowledge of plants, he goes and knows 'em. That's our system, Nickleby: what do you think of it?'
`It's very useful one, at any rate,' answered Nicholas.
`I believe you,' rejoined Squeers, not remarking the emphasis of his usher. `Third boy, what's horse?'
`A beast, sir,' replied the boy.
`So it is,' said Squeers. `Ain't it, Nickleby?'
`I believe there is no doubt of that, sir,' answered Nicholas.
`Of course there isn't,' said Squeers. `A horse is a quadruped, and quadruped's Latin for beast, as everybody that's gone through the grammar knows, or else where's the use of having grammars at all?'
`Where, indeed!' said Nicholas abstractedly.
`As you're perfect in that,' resumed Squeers, turning to the boy, `go and look after my horse, and rub him down well, or I'll rub you down. The rest of the class go and draw water up, till somebody tells you to leave off, for it's washing-day tomorrow, and they want the coppers filled.'
So saying, he dismissed the first class to their experiments in practical philosophy, and eyed Nicholas with a look, half cunning and half doubtful, as if he were not altogether certain what he might think of him by this time.
`That's the way we do it, Nickleby,' he said, after a pause.
Nicholas shrugged his shoulders in a manner that was scarcely perceptible, and said he saw it was.
And that's why when Republicans say the word Privatization I say, Read your Dickens and hold onto your wallet.