Can Americans trust the baby boomers to save the public school system? Not according to libertarian satirist P.J. O’Rourke, author of The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again), who has criticized the setup for years.
“I think the state of our public schools would indicate no, no, you can’t,” O’Rourke said, referring to entrusting his generation with control of the schools. “Although really — I think the main problem with public schools is that they became publicized, and I mean not just in the ‘No Child Left Behind Act,’ but the school system used to be a sort of funny, self contained sort of square, rather slow on the uptake, but rigidly organized in the way things had to be for kids… Kids are disorganized.”
“I grew up going to public school, and they were huge public schools,” he continued. “I went to a school that had 3,200 kids, and I had grade school classes with 40-some kids. Discipline was rigid. Most of the learning was rote. It worked. And it worked because it was this sort of separate system that was all on its own. There was this mysterious school board — who knew where they came from — but they seemed to stay there forever, and there was these old maid teachers in grade school, this little group of people.”
“But then we — the baby boomers have to get involved in everything. We had to get involved in the school board, and we bring all our theories to education to bear on all of this. But this simple, sort of stupid, simple yet pretty effective system… When it was subjected to the baby boomers, [whose] sort of political instinct just to everything to mess around with everything, it came to pieces.”
Americans are in quite a fix now, O’Rourke claims: Any politician looking to improve the schools would be unable to fix the byzantine administrative system, and would be forced to point out that students should shoulder the blame for poor performance.
“[O]f course no politician, no real politician, can fix it, because it would mean standing up and saying the problem with public school… ‘I can’t fix it, I just can’t fix it,’” O’Rourke said. “The problem with public school is not overcrowding in the classroom. The problem is not teacher unions. The problem is not underfunding or lack of computer equipment. The problem is your damn kids. Which, of course, means the problem is you, which means the problem is me, which…” He chuckled. “Yeah, we sort of messed that up.”
Catch the rest of TheDC’s featured segments from the exclusive interview with O’Rourke this week, and be sure to review previous parts of the interview.