Take Courage, Elected Ones

By Judy Cresanta, NPRI President

To object to compromise and reform is to question a great American political craft. The Constitution could not have been written without compromising the differences between the large and small states. The Missouri Compromise postponed the Civil War for 40 years. In the words of its architect, Henry Clay, "All legislation, all government, all society is founded upon the principle of mutual concession." Yet when it comes to institutional reform, the embrace of compromise can be the kiss of death. The poisonous recipe is as follows: Take a savory reform proposal, listen to those with no appetite for change, leave out the ingredients that give it spice, then immediately subject the reform to a double-blind taste-test or better yet, a pilot program designed for failure. That ought to take care of that bit of annoyance! So goes the way of education reform - unless the next legislature is careful.

And it is not surprising that the more dramatic the departure from the past a reform proposal takes, the more tempting for our legislature to kill it with compromise. Threatened interests usually can exercise a veto at one legislative juncture or another. To forestall such opposition, and to avoid defeat, proposals are softened, altered, and massaged into more palatable, bite-size morsels. The result is law which departs only marginally from past practice. Some call this incrementalism at its best. But when it is the institution itself which is flawed it is the institution which must undergo change and this by necessity becomes radical reform.

The naysayers resort to absurd character assassination attempts - "kill the messenger, you kill the message" - or so they believe. In case anyone missed the December 18 issue of Reno News and Review, Erik Espe, in an attempt to minimize the issue of education reform as a crusade of deluded extremists, did a hatchet job on people of faith who are looking for some meaningful school reform to take place in this next legislative session. Espe,

it turns out, is just another cheap wordmeister labeling education reformists as believers in one-world conspiracy theories and leaders of religious jihads. He asks his readers to take his work seriously even though he misquotes his sources and liberally twists the meaning of their statements. But as he savors his own wit and wisdom in having painted all education minded reformers with a broad "wacko" brush, I would ask Eric Espe to consider the following little vignette as proof that compromise on this issue is a loser’s game.

Last month I walked into a restaurant for lunch and waited near the cash register to be seated. Behind the cash register was a cute, clean cut, polite, lady of about 19 or 20 with a bouncy ponytail and a confident smile. Queued and waiting, one could not help but observe the patron next in line present her a luncheon check for $10.09 with a $20.00 bill, only to be returned change of $189.91! Those watching were as shocked as the customer, who promptly advised the confident and perky cashier of the windfall mistake. Undaunted and without missing a beat, the cashier politely turned the LCD device on top of the cash register toward the patron, pointed and argued that $189.91 was indeed the correct change. Dismayed, the customer explained that she had given her a $20 bill, not a $200 dollar bill. That perky pony tail bounce was quickly reduced to frantic frustration. The manager was called and embarrassingly rectified the debacle with proper cash change and our cute little purser was trotted off to other less academically challenging duties. She proudly wore a Reno High class ring.

This anecdote reduces the Erik Espes of this world to trivial non sequiturs while at the same time commissions our legislators to lose their appetites for compromise on education reform. This legislative session will either enable our many fine teachers who are presently hobbled by a vast array of innovative experimental nonsense to perform brilliantly, impart knowledge, and enhance the quality of our kids’ lives and futures, or it will condemn them to the paralysis of the past. Courage, elected ones! u

Return to Table of Contents