The term "third rail" implies sudden, certain, and terrible death. One hundred years ago, subways were designed to be propelled by electric motors energized by an external power source. (Today's diesel electric trains generate their own electric power for locomotion.) The designers laid two parallel rails for the wheels of the train and put a third rail down the middle. The third rail is energized. A "feeler" on the train touches the third rail to power the electric motor. The motor discharges the power to ground through the wheels to the main tracks. Anyone stepping on the third rail with a foot either on another track or the ground got a first hand experience similar to the condemned at Sing Sing when the lights dimmed.
In national politics, a politician steps on the third rail when he wants to change Social Security. Old people like their national pension and they VOTE. Said politician experiences sudden, certain, and terrible political death. At the state and local level, the third rail is education.
Without getting into the whys and wherefores, there are two serious truths about education that must be addressed. No. 1: The State of Indiana, like every other governmental entity in this great nation of ours, is broke. No. 2: The average 19-year-old in 2010 has less fundamental knowledge and is less well prepared to face the world than the average 19-year-old in 1970.
Because these are such vitally important issues, most people have a strong opinion on them. Something must be done. But what? Whatever your idea, there will be a very strong contrary opinion.
I attended part of the Cracker Barrel meeting at the Jackson Township Firehouse on Saturday. Within 20- 30 minutes, the participants were passionately locked into this issue: Education. How do we address the problem that today's 19-year-old has less fundamental knowledge and is less well prepared to face the world than 40 years ago.
Like the daemon cast out by Jesus into the heard of swine, the problem is legion. The problem is Washington. The problem is Indianapolis. The problem is the School Board. The problem is the principal and administrative staff. The problem is the union. The problem is the teacher. The problem is the student. The problem is the family. The problem is cultural. The problem doesn't really exist, but is merely a flawed perception. How many others have I left out?
On Saturday, the issues included school funding, charter schools, school vouchers, and home schools.
There is little reason to doubt that our area teachers passionately want to educate our children. But today's 19-year-old has less fundamental knowledge and is less well prepared to face the world than 40 years ago.
Encouraging children to leave the public schools, particularly if they take their tax funded "tuition" with them creates new problems. Most costs associated with public education are fixed and don't vary much with the number of students. Encouraging students to leave and take their money with them will exacerbate the financial problems faced by our schools. But today's 19-year-old has less fundamental knowledge and is less well prepared to face the world than 40 years ago.
Our culture and system of government, freedom itself, cannot long survive without an educated population who are aggressively taking on life. To change nothing is the same as allowing the airplane slowly arc toward the earth until the nose tunnels into the round. The proposed solutions may in fact push the joy stick forward and steepened the decent. How do you fix a problem that originates from Washington, Indianapolis, the School Board, the principal and administrative staff, the union, the teacher, the student, the family, the culture, or doesn't really exist, but is merely a flawed perception?
I wonder how many Romans perceived the collapse of the empire even before the barbarians arrived at the gates? Hannibal ad portas!