Condoleezza Rice’s remarks at the convention on K–12 education were not helpful. She said that she can tell from the ZIP code whether or not a child will get a good education. But many children in every ZIP code are managing to get themselves decently educated because they are well behaved and studious and take advantage of what is on offer. Many Asian immigrants, for example, are doing well even in relatively bad schools. This is not to say we shouldn’t demand better schools but just to correct the overly bleak and fatalistic picture that Rice presented.
Rice also said that we need great teachers, not poor or mediocre ones. But we need tens of thousands of teachers, and more of them every year, to teach our millions and millions of children, including huge numbers who come from fatherless homes, and many who have no English, have never been in school, and arrive as older children and teenagers. The chances of those tens of thousands of teachers’ all being “great” are very slim. What we want are good teachers, and teachers who work hard and try to improve themselves. But we can’t expect every teacher to be “great” in a public-school system as vast as ours, with the challenges presented by the student population as well as current pedagogical and ideological theories (students must be encouraged to construct their own knowledge, be free to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, etc.). We have very few secretaries of states, and even there, we can’t demand that they all be great, and are grateful if they are at least competent and don’t make things worse.
And speaking of students, Rice and other Republicans who speak about education could do a great deal by appealing to the students themselves to study hard, be good, read worthwhile books, not make trouble, and obey the authorities in their schools. This would be far better than sending the message that they have no responsibility whatsoever and if they are failing, it is entirely the fault of their poor teachers and bad schools.