Mistaking windmills for giants, Don Quixote said, "Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished." This case of mistaken identity was compounded by Quixote's claim that he could single-handedly defeat dozens of giants. If he believed he could defeat them, he was delusional. If he did not, it was mere posturing. If the windmills were actual giants, he would be dead.
Thus it is with the federal government and the U.S. public education system. To hear any President of the United States talk about the importance of education is theoretically commendable. But to hear the President claim to be able to do something about it is perverse.
Our federal government is a joke because it claims to be able to affect so many things from which it is far removed, and for which it is, by design, a cheerleader and silent partner. Short of passing unconstitutional laws that nationalize education, the only thing the federal government can do about education is to bring the economy to such ruin that state governments will choose to trade their sovereignty for solvency. States will then implement bureaucratic nonsense masquerading as practical policy, and billions of dollars more will be spent. Meanwhile, the United States continues to fall in global educational prestige.
The president can draw his sword, proclaim victory to his sidekicks, and make grandiose gestures at the American educational system. But, even extorting state governments, the federal government is powerless to do what it claims. It cannot teach a single child or implement a single policy that will conquer the giant that is a crime-spawning ogre. Teens and young adults who know nothing about their world, their society, or their own language, add to a population that sees no open doors of opportunity. It feeds in a trough of physical circumstance that offers little more than crime, government handouts, or both, as a means to make it to next week. This population is not a motionless windmill. It is a giant of hopelessness and despair that not only grows but threatens to inhabit the seats of government that will repeat the same baseless claim to defeat itself.
The best thing we can do for education is to ignore the federal government and recognize education as not a product to pay for, but a life-long state of mind. Each parent has to demonstrate a practical effort to learn more each day, and imprint that attitude on his or her children. Math, reading, etc. are general subjects. They are vessels from which greater things are taken by the student than just tests and homework. Our local schools must not be afraid to teach the unlimited potential of each child. They must teach that each student is not a specimen shackled to biology and statistics, but is an individual capable of both envisioning and achieving the achievements that fulfill their highest aspirations. Our schools must teach the value of each practical step and the virtue of patience.
If the President of the United States wants to say this, I applaud it. But when he claims that the government over which he presides can slay the giants of ignorance and want, he deserves no applause, only the pity that a Sancho Panza can confer to a demented friend.