The Public Eye

printed 02/21/2020

As I’ve followed the public debate over the new and improved education funding formula and whether it will produce kids who can do calculus between shifts at the pickle plant (see future columns on economic development), it became apparent that two schools of thought are at work here.

To break down the argument to its most fundamental level by deleting all the political jibber-jabber and education-speak, here’s where we are on the subject of what it takes to make a good student: we can buy them or beat them.

That’s pretty much it, as proponents contend that spending about $4 billion would make kids more prepared for lives as adults, while opponents suggest that a good kick in the pants, on an as-needed basis, of course, would do the same thing.

Having never received a billion dollars, but having been a repeat recipient of a good kick in the pants, I’m not qualified to decide which approach to an improved education would be superior.

For all I know, had I benefitted from the first rather than the second option, I might at this very moment be developing the warp drive for Elon Musk’s spaceship, although he probably already has one, since Earth can’t be his home planet.

That first name alone suggests some kind of alien background — Elon, Yoda, Klaatu — the latter starring in “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a film about humanoids with an itch to remove us.

Anyway, as I’m living proof that the kick-in-the-pants doctrine did not send me soaring toward academic excellence — four years of Latin classes to get through a two-year curriculum would be a strong indicator of that — my question is whether my Latin teacher might have done a better job with me had she been paid more.

After all, it is conceivable that she reached a point where she found herself doing a cost-benefit analysis on me and decided I wasn’t worth it.

“So, Dobson, tell me again how many questions you answered correctly on our last test?”

“E pluribus unum, or, as we veteran Latin students say, ‘Out of many, one.’”

“You know what?” she says. “I need more money and you need a good kick in the pants.”

Which brings me to a workable solution. We should do both. The way I see it, spending $4 billion on education for the kids only works if we also retain a good kick in pants as an incentive.

“Welcome to the public education game, Mr. and Mrs. Beastley. We have two prizes today, one for your little Bobby and one for you.”

“Oh, how exciting.”

“It is, and here’s how it works: Behind door number one is a $4 billion education for Bobby, and behind door number two is a kick in the pants.”

“Wow. That’s great. What do we win as parents?”

“Not having to go behind door number 2 if you let him waste it.”

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