A few days ago, I received a telephone call from Rachel Murray, a reporter for WHIO-TV, because she had been asked to get some educators’ reaction to newly proposed legislation that would require cursive writing to be re-instituted in public schools. This is news because this proposed new law follows by just a few years a law created by this same legislature, which eliminated cursive writing instruction from schools. In other words, the legislation currently being proposed is 180 degrees from legislation on the same topic enacted a few short years ago.
Now, this legislative reversal may seem odd to most clear-thinking Ohioans, but the fact is it is not all that uncommon for our lawmakers to create laws based on God-knows-what information only to come back later and reverse those laws based on God-knows-what information. Those of us in education have become numb to an unknowing group of politicians creating laws that make no sense, but it becomes even more challenging when they create laws that make no sense, then reverse them a short time later. This legislative flip-flopping results in an ever-moving target we are trying to hit. It is ridiculous.
Frankly, until Ms. Murray called, I didn’t even realize that such legislation had been proposed. Unless monitoring new mandates is one’s full-time job, it is impossible to keep up with our legislature’s constant efforts to tell us how to live our lives while insisting that they have no interest in telling us how to live our lives. So, although I wasn’t aware that this law was in the pipeline, hearing that it was certainly came as no surprise.
As we talked on the phone, I challenged Ms. Murray not to adopt the usual media response to such news, where they cover a story with a few short sound bites then forget about it while moving on to the next story. Instead, I challenged her to make this a story not about cursive writing, but about how an incompetent legislature has, once again, passed a law dictating how schools should operate, only to later decide that the law they created was a mistake. Sadly, I told her, this has become standard practice for lawmakers, and it is standard practice because they don’t have the slightest idea about how kids develop and what is important in that development. Yet that doesn’t stop them from establishing the rules under which schools must operate. That is the real story here, not coverage of a single example of their ineptitude.
So, instead of wasting time trying to find out how schools responded to the first piece of legislation and how they would react to this one, I suggested that she and the media in general should be asking the question, “Who gave Ohio’s legislators the right to mandate these kinds of things in the first place?” The answer, of course, is that they have given themselves that right, which is what people in power often do. That might be okay if they possessed expertise on the topic they want to control, but Ohio’s legislators have no such expertise on educating children, yet they continue to wield their power even when they so consistently fail. I find it richly ironic that members of the very body who blather incessantly about raising the standards for others and about holding others accountable for their actions maintain such low standards for themselves and refuse to hold themselves accountable for their own actions. Really, how many times are they permitted to be completely wrong with their so-called solutions before their right to over-govern is revoked?
Apparently, our telephone conversation convinced her to look at this issue a little differently, because she asked if she could come out and do an on-camera interview. During our discussion we talked not so much about cursive writing, but more about our legislature’s consistent ineptitude and unwillingness to acknowledge their inability to create laws that matter. We need our media to do a better job covering stories like this. Instead of focusing on minutiae, which is what a story on cursive writing would have been, we need them exposing the truth about our legislature’s rampant incompetence with educational mandates. But we also need a public that pays attention to the incompetence and demands that it stops.
During more than four decades of working with children in schools, I have had the misfortune of witnessing more educational mandates created by unknowing legislators than I can count, yet I can’t think of a single meaningful law that has helped children become better educated. Not one. Yet, onward they march.
In fact, as we speak, meetings are occurring where these same people are crafting legislation on life-changing topics such as what a child must do to obtain a diploma, or what classes they must enroll in, or what tests they must pass to be deemed successful, to mention just a few, and every discussion in which they engage will be just as superficial, uninformed, and meaningless as the thousands they have engaged in before. It is unacceptable for our “leaders” to continue down this path and it is just as unacceptable if we allow them to do so.
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.