The Idaho Republican Party, from what I have read on (the opinion) page earlier in the week, is considering calling for the abolition of the Idaho Department of Education. As I write this, I do not know what has been decided at the convention now taking place in Idaho Falls (note: this resolution did not pass). I do know I believe this to be very foolish, although probably topped by other portions of the platform.
If you read my last column, I hope you learned that I have nothing against the Republican Party, per se. I do, however, have a problem with bad ideas. If the Idaho Department of Education is eliminated, what organization or group will take on statewide coordination of the curriculum and distribution of money? I think, if I were to ask a proponent of this plan, the answer would be, local schools and concerned individuals/parents.
There is much to be said for a centralized approach. What if one school district decided to teach exclusively using the texts of A.A Milne, the author of the Winnie the Pooh books, as the sole basis of the curriculum? What if another school district decided to eliminate math as a topic? I’m sure the proponents would argue that would never happen, but I think it wiser never to underestimate the ability of people to make bad decisions.
Actually, the problem with the above examples is not that every school district might be teaching something different, or even that some of them might be teaching quite nutty things. No, the problem is that the Idaho Constitution guarantees the right to an education to every citizen of this state. The people who wrote that constitution obviously thought that there is a role for government in education. If there is a role for the government in education, then it follows that there should be a department to oversee and coordinate that role.
I do not believe, having read the current Idaho Republican Party platform, that the people who wrote it believe there is a role for government in education. They talk a lot about local control, and parental involvement. Local control is good, but I believe central coordination is needed. While many parents do a fantastic job of homeschooling, I think it unrealistic to expect that all parents can do an adequate (let alone excellent) job of educating their children without the support of a school system and teachers.
The political parties have a duty to conform to the existing laws of the state they wish to govern, including the founding document of the state, the state constitution. I hope that the Republicans delegated to the convention realize this, and fight against any attempts to eliminate the Idaho Department of Education.
This column first appeared in the (Idaho Falls) Post Register on June 25, 2010.
Note: Since this column appeared, the Idaho Republican Convention is over, and this resolution regarding the Idaho Department of Education did not pass. My opinion regarding even the putting forth of such a resolution still stands.