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Readin', writin', and Reaganism.

President Reagan has engaged the issue of the decline of public education in America by ordering a teacher shot into space. That Administration plan for the schools got media attention for a day, and then the matter of education was dropped, probably for the duration of the campaign, except for the obligatory sounds of support for classroom prayer. The National Education Association--organized teachers--which believes that prayer and astronautics will not improve the schools, is working for Reagan's defeat. Meanwhile, parents and students who rely on public instruction can only wonder whether the edifice will survive.

The vital signs are all on a downward curve. At the secondary-school level in urban areas, the classrooms are understaffed, underfunded and undervalued. Growing numbers of middle-class kids go to private schools, Catholics go to parochial schools, fundamentalists go to church schools, Southern whites go to white "academies" and those with no place else to go, go to public school. That situation might be tolerable if the public schools were as equal as they are separate, but state and local politicians are not motivated to give money, attention or respect to the poor, blacks, Hispanics and others who are still in their charge, though not of their kind.

No Administration in the recent past has made an effort to improve the schools on a scale appropriate to the problem, but Reagan seems to be working specifically for their demise. He begans his term by announcing plans for the abolition of the Department of Education, established only a few years earlier under Jimmy Carter. He attacked teachers and school administrators at the cause of educational decline, he advocated major budgetary cuts and he put religion in an adversarial position to public instruction. Reagan won't say it, but he would doom public schools to the same fate he has planned for the cities and towns of the Rust Belt: death by attrition. Educational triage, like regional euthanasia, would allow more-favored sectors to rise in strength and significance.

Reagan is not merely ignoring public education. The movement that bears his name has important bases in fundamentalist schools, conservative churches and nonpublic institutions. It derives energy from racial, class, regional, sexual and religious divisions. In the private, segregated, unequal places Reagan supports, people learn the values and take the attitudes of his ideology. Last week, 60 Minutes broadcast a report about eh explosion of Protestant fundamentalist education in America. An organization called Accelerated Christian Education, which identifies itself as a publishing house, trains teachers, furnishes material and helps set up schools across the country. This year, 1,000 new fundamentalist schools will open--an average of three a day. The hundreds of thousands of graduates those schools turn out will be ideological shock troops for Reaganism long after Reagan is gone.

In a second term, Reagan would try to give his base a big boost by pushing Congress to approve tuition tax credits for private schools. Under that plan, taxpayers would subsidize any secular or church school that can get accreditation from the local authorities. No doubt, some institutions of quality and high standards would be helped, and parents would be able to find alternatives to the increasingly degraded public system. But the net result would be the permanent subversion of democratic, integrated education: the base of the egalitarian social movement that has been sustained in America for two centuries and that Reaganism seeks to supplant. For it is clear that the "Reagan Revolution" which political pundits discovered four years ago is not simply concerned with tax rates and military hardware but is aiming to challenge the very premises of the democratic order of life. Yesterday's Papers

In an effort to revive his flagging campaign and present himself as a forceful personality, Walter Mondale today denounced President Reagan in unusually harsh terms. Portraying the President as "a half-dead drag queen" who "likes to dress up in women's clothes and read romantic slush," Mr. Mondale pledged that he would wear male attire "100 percent of the time." In what aides explained was an attempt to dramatize the new "macho Mondale," the former Vice President made his speech dressed in a loincloth. He occasionally brandished a large club and moved to the front of the stage to kick supporters in the face.

Responding to the attack, President Reagan described Mr. Mondale as "a rat in sheep's clothing" and urged voters to examine the issues.
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Title Annotation:Ronald Reagan's policy on public education
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Oct 13, 1984
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