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An August 5 meeting of the Select Committee on Public Education does provide some insight into the abilities and the shortcomings of H. Ross Perot and his committee in dealing with their assigned task. The meeting itself was a curious affair, initiated with a lecture on principles of education by the short, rumpled, venerable Chicago philosopher Mortimer Adler, delivered to the assembled business leaders, education administrators, and state officeholders. Perot, Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby, State Comptroller Bob Bullock, and House Speaker Gib Lewis sat bunched at the head of a long table of committee members, who listened politely as Adler spoke pedantically for two hours about his newest formulation of the progressive education theory handed down from John Dewey, what he called his “Paideia Principle.” According to Adler, education in this country has declined since the 1930s, principally because it has operated under several fallacies, including: the notion that only some are educable, leading to the creation of an elite class for education rather than quality education for all; the notion that education is for the young and not for all stages of life; the practice of making education teacher-centered and data-centered; and the orientation of education toward making a living. What Adler was pushing was a general humanist education for all children. “Democracy did not come into existence on paper until universal suffrage in this country in 1920,” he told the committee. “It is not fulfilled yet and falls short of what is on paper.” Adler predicted that it will take 50 years of democratic education to produce true democracy in this country. Adler proposed guidelines for all schools, calling for a required curriculum and the elimination of electives. “It must be liberal, not technical; humanist, not job-oriented,” he told the committee. The goals of a democratic education should be: first, to teach the duties of democratic citizenship; then, to teach the individual to reach his or her full potential; and, finally, to teach the student how to earn a living. Teaching should be directed toward the growth of understanding through use of the Socratic method, actively engaging the student’s mind, Adler advised \(while across town Norma and Mel Gabler were testifying before the State Board of Education, decrying social studies texts against the “barbarism of specialization,” which, he said, would bring the demise of culture in this country. Following his presentation, Adler joined the committee in a general discussion of his proposals. State Sen. Carl Parker the possibility of applying high-flown theory to “thousands of school districts who want local control.” When the discussion later turned to teaching independence of thought, Parker noted, “We’ve had groups coming here saying we should pass laws mandating courses on American capitalism or drug abuse [referring to the Clements-Perot War on Drugs].” Perot stared at his notes. exception with Adler’s comment that educational quality has been on the decline since the 1930s. Haley pointed to the space program as evidence to the contrary, then added that, if there has been a decline, we should look to the lowering of educational standards due to what he regarded as a retrograde insistence on equalizing educational opportunity. Each time the discussion threatened to head off on spurs or tangents, Perot tried to bring it back to a consideration of Adler’s proposals, sounding like the committee’s leading humanist. To Adler’s declaration, “the use of computers in schools will really help teaching,” the high-tech magnate responded, “I appreciate your comments on where machines can make contributions, but we can’t confuse data and wisdom.” As the discussion wore on, it became clear that many of the committee’s conceptual limitations were not Perot’s. Perot was free of the vested interests carried into the meeting by committee members from the State Board of Education or from schools of education, which were roundly attacked. Soon enough, however, despite his apparent desire to push the committee’s philosophical inquiry and his demonstrated intellectual largess, Perot did begin to show some evidence of limitations in his ability to deal with social problems beyond his tightly-cropped world view. Perot, for instance, readily accepted the remark of a Dallas school official, who said, “We’ve been doing what society has asked us to do to integrate society. We did it. If society wants achievement, we can do that.” Perot offered this statement as a means of instructing committee members in the possibility of education reform. What it revealed was Perot’s naivete. Not only did he not question the success of society’s integration, but he seemed unaware of the two decades of lawsuits involving the Dallas schools’ reluctance to integrate. The limitations of the committee and of Perot himself became more clear later that afternoon when bilingual education and special education emerged as special whipping boys of the committee. After citing Mortimer Adler’s opposition to bilingual education [“We should be unilingual. Anyone who comes to the United States they should speak English,” Adler had earlier told the committee .], Perot proceeded to introduce a group of Texas school principals, most of whom were Mexican American, in order to give the committee a chance to ask the principals questions about bilingual education. Each principal complained either about bilingual education in general or about the state’s bilingual education mandate. One principal complained about all the “frills,” such as bilingual education, special education, free lunch programs and health classes. Again, to his credit, Perot acted the diplomatic mediator, saying, “One man’s frill is another man’s special interest.” When Rep. Haley denounced state Sen. Carlos Truan \(Dsoring the bill providing money for bilingual education and “that judge in Tyler,” [Judge William Wayne Justice] for making it mandatory, Perot countered, “That’s part of our open system. Mexican American leaders want what’s best for the children. Our job is to find out what’s best for the children.” The inclination of the committee, nevertheless, was to investigate bilingual education with an eye toward cutting it back. Saying the current bilingual education law has created “a zoo,” Perot remarked, “We have made those laws and we can undo them. Some of those federal court rulings are pretty tricky.” “He [Perot] is rushing to judgment on a subject on which he cannot claim any expertise whatsoever,” Sen. Truan later told the press. Perot then went on to say that principals across the state had complained to him about the problems they’ve had with special education and the way problem students hide from school authorities under the “special ed” label. State education board member Will Davis challenged “the validity of your [Perot’s] information from across the state.” There is little question that there are problems with all aspects of education in Texas, including bilingual and special education programs. The alacrity, however, with which Perot and his committee have singled out these programs for special THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3