Well, if it isn’t, it should be, and I’ll happily take credit for inventing it if credit is available. And having (possibly) invented it, I get to define it: hyperbolism is blowing things out of all proportion to the point of being ridiculous.
Let’s take school choice, for example, a subject on which I have a fairly mainstream opinion within the conservative community. To hear Dr. Bill Smith tell it, this makes me a malign person hell-bent on destroying public schools, and hiding my malign purpose behind false notions such as parental rights and that evergreen nostrum, freedom. But what’s really behind it is that, at heart, I’m a white nationalist and closet racist. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is hyperbolism in action.
Oh, what better place to hide than in plain sight! All I have to do is not dress or act the part of a lunatic, and I can get away with helping whatever shadowy group it is that’s trying to undermine the republic by destroying public education through my insane, if oh-so-well-worded, rantings in the newspaper. It’s a good life.
Well, facts are stubborn things, so let’s confine ourselves to facts. It’s interesting that, by Dr. Smith’s own account, in the recent gubernatorial debate in Kingsport that the Democratic candidate, Karl Dean, said that charter schools (an important part of the school choice movement) have “a role in an urban system”. And he would say this, since, in Nashville, of which he was until recently the mayor, the city school system has been shutting down public schools and turning the buildings over to charter schools.
And it’s a fact that Nashville’s charters have, for the most part, been doing quite well — in almost all cases, as well as the publicly-operated schools. In fact, most of them are doing better, and in a few cases, spectacularly better. There have been a few failures, and those have closed — which is exactly what should happen to failures. (Speaking of which, when was the last time a failed public school was closed?)
It’s also worth noting that almost all of these schools serve majority-black communities, and they all admit their students by lottery, which prevents “cherry-picking.” The lotteries are almost always heavily oversubscribed, which means that a great many mostly-minority students whose families are desperate to get their kids out of failing public schools are left disappointed. All of the schools exist on public funding and are not allowed to charge tuition or fees in excess of what their public counterparts do. You may check these facts at the website of the Tennessee Charter School Center.
I find it very interesting that gubernatorial candidate and former mayor Karl Dean and retired educator Dr. Smith have concluded that what’s good and acceptable for the poor, black kids of Nashville is not good and acceptable for the kids in other communities around the state. And that the parents of those kids shouldn’t have a say in the matter. I guess this is why I’m a white nationalist and closet racist.
It’s a fact that Dr. Smith, like so many other zealous supporters of public schools, confuses inputs with outputs. It’s not how much money is pumped into the school that counts, or even how that money is spent, it’s how well and how much — and what — its students actually learn. I really don’t care if a school advertises, or how much it pays its administrators or faculty, as long as its students perform well on their end-of-term exams. Governments routinely contract for all sorts of services that they can’t or don’t want to perform, from garbage disposal to road building to information technology, and only expect that the services will be provided as specified. If a company makes a bundle satisfactorily giving the government what it wants and needs, at a competitively-determined price that it’s willing to pay, is this a bad thing? And if not, why would education be any different?
I repeat my previous assertion that public schools are nothing more than a means to the end of educating our kids, not holy institutions that can’t be questioned or criticized. Or replaced if the best interests of our children would be better served by doing so. And there is the apparently-malign purpose to which I am dedicated — the best interests of our children, as determined not by experts like Dr. Smith, but by the people who love and care for them most, their parents.
There is much more to this argument, but personal disparagement and insults have no part in it. The absolutism of the public-school zealots, and the “hyperbolism” which is their modus operandi, are not helping resolve it, or helping our kids, one bit.
Kenneth D. Gough of Elizabethton is a semi-retired businessman.