The Legislative Assembly shall provide by law for the establishment of a uniform, and general system of Common schools. -- Constitution of Oregon, Article VIII, Section 3

Friday, August 27, 2010


Greetings, and welcome to the latest addition to the EngineerScotty blogging empire.  This blog is the unpolished apple.  The subject?  Education, in particular, public primary and secondary education--in the Portland metropolitan area, in the state of Oregon, in the United States, and elsewhere in the world.

Public school resumes in less than two weeks, so this seemed to be a good time to start an education-themed blog.

Who am I?  I'm a software engineer, transportation nerd, and dad who lives in the Portland metro area.  I have three children now in the public school system (or will when school starts); one 4th grader, and two twins in kindergarten.  The oldest is a TAG student, and the twins are also quite bright.  And I have, along with my wife (and probably will continue to do so) butted heads several times with local school officials concerning the quality of the education my kids are receiving.
What is this blog about?  In a word, education.  Some of you reading this will have come here by following links from my other blog, the Dead Horse Times, which covers transportation issues in particular, with the occasional foray into more generic politics (and the occasional bit of snark).  This blog will be more focused, and probably updated less frequently.  The viewpoint of this blog is that of Morgan Freeman's final line in the film 7even:
The world is a wonderful place, and worth fighting for.  I believe the second part.
That is how I feel about our schools:  They are flawed, but important.  They need serious improvement, but doing so is a vital project.  They are like an unpolished apple--far from ideal, but still nourishing.

A few notes--while I will frequently discuss dealings with our local public school and school district, I will avoid naming names.  This is to a) protect my own privacy and that of my family, and b) to avoid making this blog about X elementary school or Y school district--it's not.

the great education debate

Public education has long been a source of acrimonious debate in the US, and during the current financial situation (which sees the size of the pie shrinking), the appropriate role and amount of funding for our schools is expected to become even more controversial.  There are many interesting ideas for how to improve public schools (or other sources of education, including private schools, home schooling, etc.); and I believe there is much to learn from abroad.

One of the biggest challenges facing public schools going forward is the existence of two hostile entrenched camps in our body politic.  One one side of the debate, you have a group which considers the public school system writ large to be a colossal failure, and advocate massive restructuring (or abolishment of public education altogether).   This group includes many who don't consider public education (as traditionally understood) important to begin with--libertarians opposed to public anything, folks who simply don't like paying taxes, religious fundamentalists (mainly Christians) opposed to secular education (or seeking public finance of religious instruction), and anti-labor forces seeking to bust teachers' unions.  This groups also includes many whose own educational experiences are with school districts which are incompetent and corrupt, and who think the educational apple, rather than being unpolished, is rotten to the core.

On the other side, you have the educational establishment--the NEA, the AFT, and other public employee unions, other parts of the educational industry, as well as many groups who don't benefit from the current system but consider robust public education of critical importance--and react to alleged right-wing attempts to throw the baby out with the bathwater (after drowning it first) by forming alliances with the establishment.  Many in this group act as though nothing is wrong, or the things that are wrong are all things which can be solved with more money.   The two groups each are aligned with one of the two major political parties in the US, and thoroughly distrust each other.  Discussions of educational reform frequently turn into shouting matches, as one group gets accused of wanting to destroy the public schools, and the other gets accused of having no interest in education other than purely selfish ones.

entering switzerland
Swiss flag image courtesy Wikipedia

In this war, I am Switzerland.  I am not in either camp.  In some ways, I may be in both.  I believe publicly funded education, including (though not necessarily limited to) public schools owned and operated by we the people, are of vital importance.  I do not carry water for the teachers' unions, and I do not carry water for religious groups, anti-tax organizations, or the private sector education industry.

I have family members in both camps.  One of my sisters is a public school teacher in Washington State, and a strong defender of the current system.  My wife, a Chinese immigrant, is frequently aghast at what she sees here--and like me, has no fealty to either group (though her political leanings are more conservative than mine).  I have other family members who are consider the public school system a Bolshevik plot.

What camp am I in?  I'm in the camp that wants my children, and my neighbor's children, and my children's children, to have a high quality education.  I'm in the camp that gets frustrated when dealing with educational bureaucracy and lazy teachers who view smart kids as one they don't have to teach--but gets annoyed when demagogue politicians propose simplistic solutions to complicated problems (and worse, when they enact them).  Given that, I will probably cause equal offense to the two groups mentioned above.

At any rate, welcome!  The bell is about to ring!

1 comment: