Let’s Not Get Carried Away with Education Rhetoric


Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee makes several points with which I agree in his op-ed, today, in the Providence Journal, but Rhode Islanders should keep two things in mind if the truly want an education system that helps turn Rhode Island around.

First, McKee’s core prescription is that Rhode Islanders should change their state constitution to “guarantee[] every Rhode Island student a right to a high-quality public education.”  It’s the sort of proposal that sounds good while giving the impression that it won’t actually change anything.  Who could argue against such a thing, stated broadly and with no details?  We need to know what the proposal actually means, though, especially when the state constitution already requires the General Assembly (i.e., the state government) “to adopt all means which it may deem necessary and proper to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.”

If some provision of state law and budgeting is standing in the way of adequate public schools (collective bargaining for teachers, say), one could argue that the General Assembly was not authorized by the constitution to implement that law or, alternately, that the General Assembly is obligated to change the law.  An amendment such as McKee advocates might bring this right to a more individual level that would grant Rhode Islanders standing to sue the state, but in the State of Rhode Island as it currently exists, what might be the outcome of such lawsuits?

I suspect we’d see demands for more spending.  That’s the one thing on which every powerful force in the education establishment can agree.

From there, the second point responds to McKee’s assertion that “if our public schools performed as well as those in Massachusetts, earning power in Rhode Island would jump by $1.5 billion to $2.1 billion annually.”  To the extent that greater education increases each person’s earning potential, Rhode Island would likely find its students increasingly likely to leave the state.  Investing in education doesn’t do much good for the economy if the state’s policies prevent Rhode Islanders from realizing their potential as entrepreneurs or even just as workers.

And if the end result of a right to “a high-quality public education” is to drain more resources out of the economy to fund the beat of Rhode Island’s ruling class, then even if the net result turns out to be better educated people, they’ll have even less opportunity in the state when graduating.  Then, just as Connecticut is losing GE, we’ll lose even more of our children.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    “guarantee[] every Rhode Island student a right to a high-quality public education.”

    There is an easy, and obvious, trick potential here. Simply lower the definition of “high quality public education”. I also think that they are seeking money, to a public official their “budget” is their place in the pecking order.
    Since not everyone needs to be a software engineer, nor wants to be, I think it is a time to really rethink vocational education. Germany used it to leap frog itself into the industrial age. Ford and General Motors started their own. There might be a problem in reading the tea leafs. I expect carpentry to take a hit from “factory built” housing, probably sooner then later. Think cad/cam and robotics can’t do it? I think “operating engineers” are safe. “Robot mechanics” perhaps, although any robot worth it’s salt should be able to self diagnose.
    An aside. I offered some cement siding to a local voke wood shop, which I understood wanted donations (budget?). They couldn’t take it, although they wanted to. It cannot be hand nailed and the kids aren’t allowed to use pneumatic tools. I couldn’t help but think of the tools in the machine shop which would tear your arm off. I have heard of long haired kids having portions of their scalp ripped off by a lathe. Still, nail guns are “post grad”.

    • Rhett Hardwick
    • ShannonEntropy

      So kids in say an auto repair class aren’t allowed to use a say impact wrench to change a tire ??

      No wonder business folks complain they have trouble finding anyone qualified to do manual labor

      Kids donut learn much else in school either. A machine shop owner told a Pro·Jo reporter he offers every high school kid on field trips ten bucks if they can set the riders on a balance beam scale to 78¾ lbs. He hasn’t had to pay out even once

      • Rhett Hardwick

        I am of two minds. I have known a number of “trade school” grads who have done rather well. To be fair, several picked up a business started by their fathers, but they were intelligent and hard working. I have also known two instructors. One (with an interest in Elizabethan poetry) ran an “auto shop” , the other “taught” welding (I signed up for adult ed. I commend it, the best tools and you don’t even have clean up after yourself). Both admitted that while they would help kids who asked, mostly they just “warehoused”. Voke ed assumes the kids are dumb. My mechanic seems to lead a pretty good life, he even takes off Wednesday afternoons for golf. When my daughter was at Dartmouth, she found they had an excellent machine shop. When bored, she would go there and “turn” something on a lathe. I think that was “feminism” run amok, but it did impress the boys.

        • ShannonEntropy

          Welding … of all my kids nieces & nephews the one who makes the most $$$ is my older sister’s son. He is a welder for a major mid-west farm & industrial vehicle company

          Your mechanic plays golf on Wednesdays ?? My guy takes every Friday off … wish I only ever had to work four days in a row !!

          I thought of a lot of tasteless Jokes about your daughter getting “bored” … but I have too much class for that …

          • Rhett Hardwick

            Thank you. I thought to say she would “turn a screw” but considered you would be unable to resist it.

            Locally, I understand the highest paid welders are “nuclear welders” at Electric Boat. Other than “zero voids”, I am not sure what certification requires. This is probably a field which will yield to robots as they become more flexible. If you have examined bicycles, over time, you may have noticed that joints are no longer brazed, but “tigged” (Tungsten Inert Gas) by machine. You can tell by the consistency of the “puddling”. High end bikes are still brazed.

            Many successful blue collar guys I know have been smart enough to pick up every certification available. A welder I know is the “safety officer” at his place of employment. He is also licensed as an “operating engineer”, so he can operate any of the cranes in a pinch. Based on his military experience, he is also licensed for explosives. He has a “financial adviser”.