If Venezuela can . . . .

by Craig Westover

Any of these educational ideas sound like something new, something you haven’t heard proposed right here in Minnesota?

— We must train socially minded people to help the community.

— If they attack us because we’re indoctrinating, well yes, we’re doing it, because those capitalist ideas that our young people have — and that have done so much damage to our people — must be eliminated.

— The goal is to develop “critical thinking,” not to impose a single philosophy.

— A state role in regulating education is internationally accepted.

— The new curriculum would help students develop values of “cooperation and solidarity” while learning critical reflection, dialogue and volunteer work.

— Education based on capitalist ideology has corrupted children’s values. We want to create our own ideology collectively — creative, diverse.

They certainly do sound familiar.

Those educational ideas, however, come not from Education Minnesota, Parents United or the Minnesota Department of Education. According to the Associated Press, they are objectives of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s plan to remake his nation’s school system – public and private.

Chavez has threatened to take over any private schools refusing to submit to government oversight. All Venezuelan schools, public and private, must submit to state inspectors enforcing the new educational system. Those that refuse will be closed and nationalized.

Of course, that could never happen in the Minnesota– a single monopoly school system run by the state.

It’s just happenstance that last legislative session there was a move afoot to cap the number of charter schools until the state had a chance to determine accountability measures for charters. And in 2006 when a bill authorizing education vouchers for low-income families was introduced in the House Education Policy Committee, anti-choice legislators attempted some 22 “accountability” amendments having the effect of stripping independence from any private school that accepted a voucher student. (The bill was killed in committee.)

So far it only applies to public schools, but let’s not forget that the No Child Left Behind Act authorizes the state to “take over” schools that persistently fail to meet annual yearly progress (AYP) objectives, which are, coincidently, set by the Department of Education.

Chavez’s attempt to solidify “21st-centure socialism” was defeated 51 to 49 percent in the recent Venezuelan elections despite the “economic carrots” he dangled in front of the country’s majority poor. Perhaps there’s hope for Minnesota.

If we are really after diversity in education, for example, then we need to broaden our notion of what constitutes ‘public education’ beyond just what government provides. District schools beholden to the Minnesota Department of Education are just one part of a public education system that includes charter schools, private schools, religious schools, online schools, home schools and methods of education that haven’t yet been drawn up on the back of a bar napkin or conceptualized by a think tank. A comprehensive plan for public education would encourage efforts to expand and support all pipelines for delivering knowledge and skills.

(Now we can back to the real Venezuelan crisis – Where are the Twins going to trade Johan Santana?)