Bottom-Up Leadership

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Ron Paul’s latest book, The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System. Last night I particularly appreciated a passage where Dr. Paul wrote about the process of becoming a good leader:

Successful leadership begins with self-government. It is extended through successful followership. A person learns the basics of leadership by working closely with a competent leader who serves as a model. He gains access to the leader through his willingness to submit to leadership. This is the principle of bottom-up leadership. It begins at the bottom. Then, over a period of time, the follower advances in his level of responsibility. Maybe he attends a meeting on a regular basis; he shows up. This is basic and absolutely necessary to success in life, because a lot of people do not show up. Maybe he gets there early. He helps to set up the chairs. He learns how to make the coffee. He offers himself as a servant to whoever is running the meeting. He becomes useful to somebody else.

The themes of responsibility and servant leadership are recurring ones as Paul outlines his methodology for producing educated citizens who are ready to succeed in whatever course they choose to pursue, and to lead with humility:

So few people are faithful servants that those people inevitably rise in the chain of command, even if there is no official chain of command. So few people are reliable followers that leaders reach out to them, train them, disciple them, and put them in positions of leadership.

The discipleship model of servant leadership is prevalent in the Bible, so it should come as no surprise that Dr. Paul frequently credits his study of Scripture in forming his own style of leadership. Yet another reason to love the good Doctor!  I hope you’ll check out his book. You won’t regret it!

Only Bad People Send Their Kids to Private School?

Allison Benedikt’s recent editorial about public vs. private schooling is a top candidate for “Worst Article of the Year”. The title alone is enough to give you the basic gist: “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person.”

Benedikt really, really wants you to give your children to the State. Because they’ll get a better education there? No. Because home and private schools fail to offer an excellent education? Nope. Because the State has their best interests in mind? Not a chance.

So why?

She freely admits that government education is often “crappy,” and that private schools are much more likely to provide a “superior education,” yet insists that it is in the best interests of future generations for everyone to be publicly indoctrinated. And even those inclined not to despise nationalized schooling ought to admit that her case is less than compelling. In fact, it is just the type of article I would write if I were tying to use satire to convince readers of the deficiencies of public education, though by all accounts she is actually serious. This quote should suffice to give you her basic argument, should you choose to spare yourself from further asininity:

I went K–12 to a terrible public school. My high school didn’t offer AP classes, and in four years, I only had to read one bookThere wasn’t even soccer. This is not a humblebrag! I left home woefully unprepared for college, and without that preparation, I left college without having learned much there either. You know all those important novels that everyone’s read? I haven’t. I know nothing about poetry, very little about art, and please don’t quiz me on the dates of the Civil War. I’m not proud of my ignorance. But guess what the horrible result is? I’m doing fine. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that I got a lame education. I’m saying that I survived it, and so will your child, who must endure having no AP calculus so that in 25 years there will be AP calculus for all.

Forgive me if I aspire to more than for my children to “survive” school. And it’s certainly debatable whether she is, in fact, “doing fine.” Anyone who can compare the educational benefit of “getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house” with the merits of reading Walt Whitman is practically begging not to be taken seriously.

I can only hope that the thousands of people who have read and shared this article in the last 24 hours are doing it, like me, to point out how utterly ridiculous it is, though my cynicism leads me to suspect that there are probably many who actually believe that continuing to sacrifice generations of children on the altar of government schooling is “worth it, for the eventual common good.”

No, thank you. I, for one, will proudly wear my “bad person” badge with honor as I fulfill my God-given responsibility to do everything in my power to provide my children with the best education possible, starting with their discipleship as followers of Christ. And as more and more “bad people” are awakened to the dangers of things like the “common core,” we’ll be here to welcome them to the exodus from State schools, which is the only real hope for the education of future generations.

EDIT: Here’s someone else who’s also “Proud to Be a Bad Parent”, and more reasoned in his response to Benedikt’s article than I have been.

Non Scholae, Sed Vitae Discimus

As another school year begins (yes, it’s still JULY; welcome to Cookeville), I’m reminded again of the extreme importance of conveying to our children a biblical worldview. From Nancy Pearcey’s excellent book Total Truth:

A school superintendent once told me that most educators define “a Christian teacher” strictly in terms of personal behavior: things like setting a good example and showing concern for students. Almost none define it in terms of conveying a biblical worldview on the subjects they teach, whether literature, science, social studies, or the arts. In other words, they are concerned about being a Christian in their work, but they don’t think in terms of having a biblical framework on the work itself.

In many Christian schools, the typical strategy is to inject a few narrowly defined “religious” elements into the classroom, like prayer and Bible memorization—and then teach exactly the same things as the secular schools. The curriculum merely spreads a layer of spiritual devotion over the subject matter like icing on a cake, while the content itself stays the same.

Thank God for Highland Rim Academy!

Lower Salaries for Tennessee Teachers?

Today the Tennessee State Board of Education will vote on a change to the State Minimum Salary Structure, which would result in lowering the minimum amount that public schools are required to pay their teachers. Predictably, many Tennessee teachers aren’t too happy about this. They claim that this will result in “decreased lifetime earnings” for all teachers, which has led to nearly 6,000 signatures on a petition to “protect fair and equitable pay” for teachers.

At the risk of making this my least popular blog post ever, I have a confession to make: I don’t get the outrage.

Don’t get me wrong. I love school teachers. My dad is a public school teacher, as are a great many of my friends, colleagues, and church family members. I have no desire to see any of them make a lower income. I just don’t see how the proposed changes would hurt any of them. In fact, this ought to be seen as a positive step toward improving Tennessee schools.

The purpose of the proposal is to give schools greater flexibility in their hiring. The changes are only to the minimum salary that a teacher can be offered; most school systems already pay more than the minimum, which will undoubtedly remain the case. Schools that are willing to pay higher salaries will still attract better teachers, which is why the Tennessee Education Association’s claim that teachers will have “no incentive” to seek advanced degrees is baloney.

Of course, one reality that many teachers do not want to have to face is that the laws of supply and demand are working against them. There are simply more people with education degrees than there are jobs for teachers. Ask an economics teacher what that would mean for salaries in any profession that wasn’t funded by tax dollars.

Here’s what a lower minimum salary will do for Tennessee schools and teachers:

  • Schools willing to pay competitive salaries will be more attractive to better teachers, which should in turn provide incentive for other school systems to pay more than the minimum.
  • Schools that cannot afford to pay above the minimum will be able to hire more teachers, resulting in fewer unemployed teachers.
  • Prospective college students concerned about the possibility of earning a lower salary will be less likely to major in education, reducing the surplus of qualified teachers, and increasing the relative value of those who are great teachers.
  • Under-performing* teachers will not receive automatic raises, becoming less of a burden on Tennessee tax payers.

The bottom line is this: These changes will make the market for good teachers more competitive, and competition is a good thing. The cream will still rise to the top, and the pressure on smaller, less-funded school districts will be eased. If you’re a great teacher, there will be schools willing to pay you for your talents. If you’re a newly certified teacher struggling to find a job, this will make you more employable. If you’re not a good teacher, it’s time to be willing to bring home a lower paycheck or consider another line of work. There are plenty of teachers willing to take your place.

I, for one, hope this proposal passes. Not because I don’t value teachers, but because I do.

* Note: By “under-performing” I am not referring to test scores. I agree with the TEA (and every teacher I’ve ever known) that test-based evaluation of teachers is a terrible idea. But let’s be honest. There are some teachers who are content to merely come to work and collect a pay check. There are also a great many excellent teachers who consistently go above-and-beyond. Save the pay raises for them!

How Two Moms Took on Common Core… and Won!

The state of Indiana recently passed into law the nation’s first (but probably not last) bill pushing back against the “Common Core” educational standards adopted by 46 American states. In an encouraging tale of how ordinary citizens can still bring about real, positive change in the face of overwhelming odds, this bill is largely the result of the efforts of two concerned moms who were willing to do whatever it took to fight back against destructive influences on their children’s education. Maggie Gallagher has the story on National Review Online.

As these moms learned, Common Core—far from being beneficial, despite wide bipartisan political support—actually lowers education standards at most schools. Rather than preparing students to excel, Common Core conforms students to the lowest level (which is the only way to achieve “equality” among students):

These standards are designed not to produce well-educated citizens but to prepare students to enter community colleges and lower-level jobs. All students, not just non-college-material students, are going to be taught to this lower standard.

And as with most things relating to public education, the ulterior motive has little to do with what’s best for children, and much to do with what’s best for the all-consuming State:

One major objection to the Common Core standards is that they are not evidence-based. Their effect on academic achievement is simply unknown, because they have not been field-tested anywhere in the world. But moms have a more elemental objection: The whole operation is a federal power grab over their children’s education. Once a state adopts Common Core, its curriculum goals and assessments are effectively nationalized. And the national standards are effectively privatized, because they are written, owned, and copyrighted by two private trade organizations.

Read the rest of the article here.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of government schooling, but as long as I’m being forced to pay for it, I’d like to see control of the schools localized, with the Board of each school system accountable to its local constituents. That’s impossible with a federally-mandated set of standards and standardized testing which forces public school teachers to dumb down their methods and teach to the test. Furthermore, I care deeply about the children in the public schools (though you’ll never see mine there) and have no desire to see them handicapped by an educational system designed to foster dependence on the State (see Luke 6:40). I pray that my state will follow in the path of the state in which I was born and raised.

P.S. — Last week I had the privilege of delivering the annual report for Highland Rim Academy, the local private school which I serve as President of the Board. During that address, I reasserted our Board’s commitment to refuse to accept vouchers, should the school voucher bill proposed by Governor Bill Haslam ever make it through our state legislature. The primary reason we are so opposed to receiving vouchers—which, on the surface, might seem a good way to bring new students into the school—is that accepting tax funding would force us to also accept state standards, which are far too low to allow us to accomplish our vision for the school. This is exactly what happened at the private school mentioned in the article posted above! Public money never comes without strings attached…

[Image Credit]

Say’s Law and Education

This afternoon I was listening to a panel discussion on for-profit education, as part of some research I’m doing for offering Kindermusik classes at the School of Performing Arts. While much of it probably won’t interest most readers of this blog, one thing did stick out at me as particularly thought-provoking.

One of the panelists spoke about the ability of the private sector to educate far more efficiently and effectively than the public sector—a truth with which I couldn’t agree more strongly!—making reference to Say’s Law, which states that “supply creates its own demand.” His point was that innovative people create things which no one has yet “needed” (e.g., fax machines and cell phones), and this in turn creates demand for that good or service. In this case, educational entrepreneurs develop educational products (e.g., Kindermusik) which are proven effective over time, becoming both beneficial to society and profitable for the entrepreneur.

What I found most fascinating, though, was when he went on to describe public schools as “necessarily conservative”—in the sense that they “must not be subject to the vicissitudes and fads of the moment”—whereas education, to be successful, requires “the entrepreneurship of people with new ideas, flexibility, agility, imagination, energy, the willingness to run risks, and also a desire to make a little money.”

I’ll admit that when I think of public schooling, the word “conservative” typically does not come to mind. But as I thought about it, I realized the panelist was correct in his assessment. With an increasing push for standardization of student outcomes and the emphasis on a “common core” in government schools, the options for teachers and parents are quite limited in public education. This really is a conservative mindset, albeit a mind set on conserving values more commonly labeled “Liberal.”

Private and home schools, meanwhile, are at liberty to pursue whichever methods are best in a given context, giving parents and teachers the freedom to choose whichever educational options are best for their students. As the supply of excellent educational choices increases, it will create its own demand among those who haven’t yet realized what they are missing. This truth is what makes me so excited about my work at the music school and at Highland Rim Academy!

So what do you think? Are public schools “necessarily conservative”? Is school choice the key to better education for all? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.


In the same discussion, Kindermusik CEO Michael Dougherty also stated that his “driving mission” was to prevent music from becoming “the next Latin,” something vital to a child’s education which has been “snuffed down in the lives of children.” As a huge fan of classical education, I thought that was a pretty cool connection to make!

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

I’ve long been a fan of TED Talks, a series of lectures related to Technology, Entertainment, and Design. They consistently provide thought-provoking content on a wide variety of topics. Yesterday I finally had the opportunity to listen to one that I’ve had bookmarked for quite some time, and it’s quickly shot up near the top of my list of favorite talks!

Sir Ken Robinson is an expert on creativity and education (two things near and dear to my heart), and is the author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative. Here is his talk delivered at the 2006 TED Conference. At times hilarious, at times profound, he shares his thoughts on cultivating creativity through the way we educate our children. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have! Let me know what you think.