Madison County Opinion...

SEPTEMBER 4, 2002


Column
By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
September 4, 2002

Frankly Speaking
Bureaucrats mess up
our educational system
King Roy has to be troubled by the latest education news. After all, he is spending a great deal of money bragging about his education policy. Now, we learn that Georgia is now last of 50 states in SAT scores. Only the District of Columbia has a lower figure.
So why are we in this fix? The standard excuse is that more Georgia students take the SAT test because of the HOPE scholarships. I don’t buy that argument. Our students have a miserable record in SAT testing because they are not being well educated.
Why? The answer to that is easy to find. Just ask any teacher. They have to spend far too much time meeting the demands of state and national bureaucrats than they do teaching. Our education bureaucracy is overblown, expensive, repetitive and disruptive of the education process.
I have attended many board of education sessions. I am always amazed at the amount of time the board devotes to satisfying demands of the state and federal bureaucrats. A common statement at board of education meetings is, “State rules require that we do this.”
I said that the bureaucracy is repetitive. Here in Georgia we have three more or less independent education bureaucracies. We have the state board of education, the state school superintendent and an Office of Education within the governor’s office. The U. S. government’s education bureaucracy is even worse. All these bureaucracies are so busy fighting for control of our children’s minds that the kids get lost in the dust.
Every one of these bureaucracies has its own testing program. They claim that the tests are necessary to make the schools “accountable.” As some of our schools in the Atlanta area have discovered, the test themselves are so incompetent that the testers need to be held accountable.
I am of the opinion that all bureaucracy-inspired testing ought to be eliminated. Our schools have a long-term system to guarantee their accountability. Each school is judged by one of several accrediting bodies. The school is subjected to intensive study on a regular basis by these groups to determine if they are doing their job. If they fall below established standards, they lose their accreditation. Madison County Schools recently went through this process and had their accreditation renewed.
How can we improve our schools? Step one, kick the politicians and bureaucrats out of the schools. Step two, make it clear to the parents that they have the right and responsibility to oversee the education of their own children. Step three, make it easy for parents to move their children to other schools if they are dissatisfied with the school they currently attend.
By the way, I took notice of the fact that District of Columbia schools are the only ones with a worse record than Georgia. That makes them the least effective schools in the nation. That same school system spends far more money per student than any other school system. Clearly, throwing money at education solves nothing. While the schools need sufficient funding, parents, teachers and local administrators are far more important than the budget.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His web page can be accessed at www.mcga.net. His e-mail address is frankg@mcga.net.

Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
September 4, 2002

From the Editor's Desk
Looking back at ‘Ground Zero’
The breakfast customers left their food to evacuate the Bankers Trust building next to the World Trade Center.
And over the next few months, writer William Langewiesche visited the ghostly dining area in the severely damaged building. The “pastries petrified” and “the morning juices evaporated” as he peered down on the 17-acre “Ground Zero.”
Langewiesche gained access to the site as few other journalists did, traveling into the Trade Center’s foundation hole where recovery crews had so many daunting tasks, such as seeking out the giant air conditioning units of the World Trade Center that housed some 24,000 pounds of Freon gas. Recovery crews were concerned that the tanks containing the gas would leak and suffocate perhaps hundreds of workers. And they feared that the gas would “come into contact with open flames” and transform into an acidic gas — related to the mustard gas used in World War I — “then go drifting.”
There were also fears that a “slurry wall,” which was “a 70-foot high concrete shell that enclosed the foundation hole to keep the tidal waters of New York Harbor from flooding in” would collapse, engulfing Ground Zero in a 70-foot pool, perhaps endangering lives and possibly stretching the recovery effort from months to years.
There were no such recovery catastrophes, but the threats highlight a point. There was much more to the recovery tasks than most of the public knows.
Langewiesche’s observations, which are published in a three-part installment in the August through October issues of The Atlantic Monthly, offer a detailed perspective of the disaster site.
We see into Public School 89, where recovery organizers from numerous agencies — a virtual “alphabet soup of acronyms” — met daily in a kindergarten classroom to plan the massive cleanup tasks. While government organizations were involved, cleanup efforts relied largely on private enterprise, namely four construction crews — Turner, Bovis, AMEC and Tully — whose big machinery moved the heavy debris.
Certainly, there was bravery. And the writer illustrates plenty of examples, pointing out some of the key people in the recovery effort and how so many acted with so little self regard in the chaos of the wreckage. New firefighters who rotated in to help in the effort often met the tangle of metal with utter lack of thought for their own safety. And the older, more experienced firefighters had to reel them in at times, recognizing the difference between courage and useless risk.
Courage, of course, was not the lone human trait shown at the site. The wreckage there was psychological as well as physical. And amid the chaos, there was factionalism, egotism and anger.
The sense of brotherhood firefighters share is admirable, but this was sometimes resented by non-firefighters at the site, who felt that the firemen treated the remains of their fallen with more care than those of civilians. Langewiesche noted the “surprisingly ganglike view” of one fireman who “bemoaned a ‘drought’...when the remains being recovered were merely of civilians (not of fellow firemen).”
There were the feelings of ownership that were evident, a sense of “this is our disaster more than yours” that sometimes set firemen, police and construction workers at odds.
There were the expected tensions that accompany assertion of power. There were those who proclaimed themselves part of the action, who really had no business there.
But mostly there was an enormous job and a contingent of some 3,000 people working with little to no rest, waging a war with formidable enemies — the twisted steel, the dangerous caverns, the emotional turmoil and the incredible loss, both collective and personal.
So much has been written and broadcast about the Sept. 11 attacks and the horrible aftermath, but there is surprisingly little in the way of quality, detail-oriented journalism that engages more than our emotions about the tragedy. This account offers a panoramic view of the structures, the wreckage, and the people who worked so hard to clean the mess.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

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