By David Trumbull

Editorial Humor

May 20000


Last month school children in several communities across the Commonwealth refused to take the MCAS, a statewide standardized academic achievement test. Progressive Cambridge led the way with 127 students boycotting the test. City Councilor James Braude joined the protest rally in front of City Hall. Teachers and School Committee members also voiced support for the students who heeded the chant, "be a hero, take a zero" on the test.

Supporters of the government school monopoly protesting the very system they created and run was an amusing sight. Perhaps we are witnessing the first cracks in the great edifice of the education-industrial complex. I cannot say if--as the boycotters claim--the MCAS is a flawed test. If inaccurate, the students are surely right to object to the test. But I suspect that the adults who joined the protest were more afraid the test just might be accurate. For, by any reliable measure, many of the public schools are failing.

Over the past several weeks I have traveled the state, meeting personnel managers and training directors at textile mills. The nonprofit trade association were I work is attempting to develop a model training program for textile workers. What is needed? Workers need training to operate the highly complex equipment used in a modern mill and recent immigrants to the US need to learn English--no surprise on those two counts. I was surprised to hear of the great need to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic to the English-speaking, American-born workers.

When you hear of high school graduates who read at below first grade level, you have to ask questions. When I asked one personnel manager what was going on in her Southeastern Massachusetts community her answer was, "the public schools just totaled failed these people."

Modern education may be characterized thus: "School days, I believe, are the unhappiest in the whole span of human existence. They are full of dull, unintelligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, and brutal violations of common sense and common decency. It doesn't take a reasonably bright boy long to discover that most of what is rammed into him is nonsense, and that no one ready cares very much whether he learns it or not. His first teaches he views simply as disagreeable policemen. His later ones he usually sets down quite accurately as asses." Progressive education was still a new idea when H. L. Menken wrote those words in 1928, it ain't gotten any better with age.

Boycotting the whole government-run school system, as opposed to skipping out on one test, is difficult. There is the cost. Our taxes--it is not without reason that they call this Taxachusetts--fund the nearly $13,000 per year per pupil cost of Cambridge public schools. The results on the tests the kids do take document just how little we get for that "investment." The rich, of course, simply opt out of the mess, sending their kids to private schools. Isn't it time we give all parents a real choice in schools for their children?

This month, the Massachusetts legislature will meet in a State Constitutional Convention. Among the issue they will take up is the question of placing before the voters a ballot question on repealing the state constitutional ban on private school parents receiving educational tax credits. Massachusetts is the only state to have written into its constitution a ban on any, even indirect, state support of private schools.

The ban's sordid history is rooted in religious bigotry. Even after the state church was disestablished in the early 19th century the public schools were still largely operated as extensions of the dominant Protestant religion. Protestant hymns and prayers and reading from a Protestant translation of the Bible were customary elements of the school day. Roman Catholics set up their own schools to get they children out from under this state-sponsored religious indoctrination. When the anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party briefly came to power in the 1850's they amended the state constitution to ban aid to private (i.e., Popish) schools.

Over 80,000 Bay State votes have asked the legislature to let us vote on removing the anti-aid amendment. The Know Nothings are long gone but their mutilation of the state constitution remains a bulwark of the government school monopoly. If we can break up the phone company and Microsoft, surely we can give parents a choice in education.


David Trumbull is Chairman of the Cambridge Republican City Committee.