Former presidential aspirant Fred Thompson has a piece on conservatism in the Wall Street Journal today that's getting lots of attention. He argues that "smaller government will always appeal." On education, he writes:
An education system cannot overcome the breakdown of the family, and the social fabric that surrounds children daily.
This is the way to "revive the conservative cause"? Through Charles Murray-style defeatism? Of course parents are a child's first and most important teachers. Of course we're never going to eradicate our social ills until we stem the decline of the family. Still, there are three big problems with Thompson's statement.
First, we aren't, by and large, even trying to use our education system to overcome family breakdown. In the inner-city, where such meltdowns are most acute, typical public schools remain awful and resistant to reform. If we had excellent public schools (or lots of urban kids in excellent charter or voucher schools) and they still couldn't overcome the challenges of family dysfunction, then this statement could be plausible. But we're light years away from that.
Second, the excellent schools that are getting amazing results and preparing their students for college and for success in American society reject this notion out of hand. The KIPPs and the Amistads and the Cristo Reys take in loco parentis to an extreme, intervening in all corners of their students' lives if that's what it takes. We need inner-city schools to be...