Bill Freeland : The Marx Brothers Are Reforming Public Education

Graphic by Bill Freeland / The Rag Blog.

The Marx Brothers are
reforming public education

Hilarious, but as Groucho himself might have observed, the joke’s on us!

By Bill Freeland / The Rag Blog / June 6, 2012

CONCORD, New Hampshire — While the relentless right-wing war on everyone else’s rights rages on, you may yearn for a moment of comic relief.

To wit I offer the great state of New Hampshire where, with the help of the reincarnated Marx Brothers, its Tea Party-dominated legislature is determined to “reform” the state’s public education system.

But more than that, what follows is, in fact, a microcosmic glimpse of a movement growing in strength all across the nation.

  1. Start with a bill that no longer makes public school attendance a requirement for any student. (Parents rule!)
  2. If, however, a student actually wants to go to public school, at least postpone the trauma by killing off kindergarten. (All they really need is Sesame Street, right?)
  3. But once in school, what if parents disagree with what’s taught — like, say, that the earth goes around the sun? Give them the right to demand a special curriculum. (Science is for sissies!)
  4. Of course, they might not like that curriculum either and decide on a private school. In that case why should they pay taxes to support the public school their child no longer attends? (Tax refund!)
  5. But imagine if a student foolishly stays in public school. Then at least we can lower the dropout age. (More time to prepare for a career at McDonald’s.)
  6. And what about the millions in education dollars the state gets from the federal “No Child Left Behind” program? Send it back! (The feds can surely find better uses for all that money than we can.)
  7. And to make things really simple, why not transfer all rule-making authority from the state’s Department of Education to the legislature. (Obviously that’s where the real experts on our schools reside.)

Hilarious, but as Groucho himself might have observed, the joke’s on us! Because incredibly, bills designed to do all of this and more have been introduced in the New Hampshire legislature in just the last 18 months alone.* And not just in New Hampshire but across the country. (Still laughing?)

Who cares if only bill number three has actually become law. (Apparently there are still enough grownups in the state Senate to rein in the 10-year-olds now running the state House.) But they’re working on more. Much more!

For example, on May 16 the legislature authorized the transfer of up to $130 million of public school funds to private and religious schools over 10 years in the form of tax credits to businesses that provide “scholarships” for students who attend these schools.

These scholarship dollars will be deducted from state funding for the school districts from which these students withdraw. Which means local property taxes will make up for the loss. Or not. The measure passed with a veto-proof majority.

Of course, why pass mere laws when you can do something more substantial, like changing the state constitution!

Under a proposed amendment now under consideration (CACR 12), for example, it would no longer be the state’s responsibility to provide New Hampshire children an adequate public education. Which means that the legislature could change the rules and just, you know, decide to leave it all up to local municipalities — including funding — regardless how poor a given community might be. (Shared responsibility? Where do you think you are, Massachusetts!)

So between this amendment and the 50 measures lawmakers introduced during the past year, the direction is clear: starve public schools while subsidizing private and religious schools, even home schooling.

But here’s the point: This push is not coming primarily from people within the state. Lawmakers are responding to some 20 national organizations — like the Cato Institute, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and FreedomWorks. And these organizations are not just operating in New Hampshire. They have public education in their sights in state houses across the country.

This school year is nearly over. But the fight to make the next year better for our children continues. Which means it’s time we all do some homework — and then do some real work — in our local communities!

*To read the bills cited above simply Google “N.H. bill” plus the appropriate number: 1) HB595, 2) HB631, 3) HB542, 4) SB340, 5) HB429, 6) HB1413 and 7) HB1360. For the constitutional amendment, see: CACR 12.

[In the Sixties, Bill Freeland was a contributor to The Rag in Austin and Liberation News Service in New York. Read more articles by Bill Freeland on The Rag Blog.]

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1 Response to Bill Freeland : The Marx Brothers Are Reforming Public Education

  1. Anonymous says:

    S’funny idear…you know Harpo especially loved children and when asked why he adopted so many with his wife he said so there would be one in every window for him to see when he arrived back home after a day at work.

    For more Harpo and Groucho hilarity, checkout Irving Brecher’s memoir of the pals he wrote two movies for:
    THE WICKED WIT OF THE WEST By Irving Brecher as told to—me! Hank Rosenfeld

    Goodbye, I must be going…

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