Accordingly, we procrastinate and console ourselves that somehow the school system will be improved by our endless talking, talking and more talking -- by conducting public forums -- by establishing "visions" (amounting to avoidance and escapism) -- by having "dreams" -- and by establishing "goals" that have no realistic expectations of being met, in part, because there is no real push, especially by the Legislature, to achieve them.
The Legislature is directed by the state Constitution to "provide for [an] efficient system of free schools." It has failed. Rather than providing for efficient management and administration of our school system, it has provided inefficient micromanagement.
The much-discussed Education Audit describes the state's education system as being "detailed to the extreme in statutory language that results in an education system that has little flexibility to modify policy and operations without changes to code."
The Legislature has been counterproductive. Almost yearly it adds bits and pieces (morsels to those who advocate them) to already cluttered and overreaching laws. many of which are antiquated, inconsistent or redundant, confusing and of dubious value -- or by creating a second Department of Education (the Department of Education and the Arts) after having apparently concluded that one Department of Education is not enough.
In the meantime, our student achievement scores in science and math languish at or near the bottom when compared to other national and international school systems.
There exists no easy fix. Make no mistake about it. Any real commitment to address deficiencies in our existing school system will involve hard work and much critical thinking over an extended period of time. It will be complex to execute; it will involve controversy; it will call for tough decisions; and its success cannot be assured. But is there an alternative to facing up to these challenges? I think not.
The real commitment of which I write should originate with an aroused citizenry (with emphasis on young adults, politically unbeholden) who have been stirred out of their apathy and indifference to school affairs to become passionate about improving the achievement of our public school students.
The time to start a commitment is now, with a carefully designed, rationally sequenced, comprehensive identification of essential components of the public school system for citizen in-depth analysis, evaluation and recommendations.
This story aptly states my point: The great French Marshal Lyautey asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener said the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The marshal replied, "In that case, there is no time to lose -- plant it this afternoon."
McElwee is a Charleston lawyer.