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The Death of Work and Education in Illinois

By Dan Proft

 

The Illinois model of governance is doing a real number on education and job creation.

 

Well, two numbers actually: 50 and 66.

 

50th is the place Moody’s projects Illinois will finish nationally in job creation in the Year of Our Lord (House Speaker Mike Madigan) 2014.

 

66 is the percentage of Illinois 4th graders who do not read at 4th grade level, according to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.  61% of 4th graders cannot do 4th grade level math either, according to those same NAEP tests.

 

Combine those two numbers with the fact that only New Jersey exports more of its college-bound high school seniors than Illinois and one begins to get a sense of both the magnitude of the brain drain and the reason for it.

 

As to the matter of jobs, the depressing Moody’s report follows the disappointing December jobs report nationally. Remember we exported the Illinois governance model to Washington, DC, in 2008. These tragic numbers reflect the problematic and persistent duality of people who are looking for work but are unable to find full-time employment and an increasing number of people who have stopped looking for work.

 

The costs imposed by this double whammy that concern me are not the relatively minor dollars associated with extending unemployment and other social welfare benefits.  The real cost is the Illinoisans who have lost a sense of self-worth, purpose, and place in society as their potential goes unrealized.

 

Your job is not who you are but it represents an important part of what you do. Character is forged through work.  In “Ideas Have Consequences,” University of Chicago English Professor Richard Weaver wrote of the “prayer of labor” observing, “Pride in craftsmanship is well-explained by saying that to labor is to pray, for conscientious effort to realize an ideal is a kind of fidelity.” By contrast, Weaver warned, “No society is healthful which tells its members to take no thought of the morrow because the state underwrites their future.”

 

Everyone who is able should engage in the “prayer of labor” not solely to “make a living” and to be self-sufficient but because not doing so is spirit-stultifying.

 

We hear much talk of the importance of equality from Governor Pat Quinn, who has been playing the politics of resentment and class envy in Illinois since the bygone days Barack Obama spent toking up with his Hawaiian Choom Gang to “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”

 

As to education, if equality is the order of the day, what of equality of educational opportunity for children left to rot in school systems that do not educate and have not educated children for successive generations?

 

How much longer shall we rationalize systems that discriminate and thus foreclose opportunities based on zip code and household income? Per the NAEP test results, the industrial organization of K-12 education is clearly not producing defensible results.  And remember, spending on K-12 education in Illinois has increased three-fold in the past two decades (in real terms).

 

It turns out that central planning works no better with job creation or education than it does with health care.

 

Worse yet is the permanence of the failure central planning imposes on its victims because the after-market prescriptions are simply no remedy for its ravages.

 

You cannot raise the minimum wage high enough, extend transfer payments long enough, or create social welfare schemes expansive enough to retrofit adults with the critical thinking competency and marketable job skills they should have acquired as children.

 

Properly understood then, grade school test scores and unemployment rates do not represent a struggle over statistics but rather they quantify the chances of civil society’s survival.

 

Dan Proft discussed this same issue at the Current Events Club in Glenview on Tuesday. Watch a 60 second clip of his talk at that event here.

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