"Summit" seems to be a favorite word for President Clinton. Whenever he encounters a problem that seems widespread and deep-seated, he calls for one, or at least for a national dialog. Race relations and cloning are two examples. Now we can add school safety to the list. The idea is that Americans can talk things out and find a solution.
But nationwide summits are not effective when it comes to education. So far, Clinton's list of possible solutions to school violence includes uniforms, curfews and an old-fashioned crackdown on truancy. Get tough on the kids and teach them some discipline.It all sounds great, but it has nothing to do with the federal government.
In the United States, education has always been a local matter. This page has supported the adoption of voluntary nationwide standards for educational achievement, but it would take a giant leap to cross the gulf between standards and a mandate for uniforms and curfews. Each local school district must consider its own unique problems and concerns, then decide on the correct approach. School uniforms are good disciplinary tools, but a district whose residents don't want them should not be forced to accept them.
Clinton's other grand plan for education, reiterated this week in a speech to the unabashedly partisan American Federation of Teachers ("Don't let Ken Starr get you down," one teacher shouted during the speech), is to somehow involve the federal government in the hiring of 100,000 new teachers. Again, the underlying premise is good. Generally speaking, the nation needs more qualified teachers. But, just as cities and towns learned when Clinton succeeded in getting them 100,000 new police officers a few years back, the costs eventually boomerang.
Cities and town ended up stuck with the yearly costs of retaining the extra officers, and school districts eventually would end up with the costs of the extra teachers. That translates into higher property taxes or, for those board members reluctant to slit their own political throats, cuts in other important areas.
The nation does indeed need to come to grips with the violence that spread through its schoolyards last spring. But the answers lie much deeper than curfews and uniforms. In some cases, they lie in the lack of basic moral training. In others, they can be as complex as detecting mental illnesses before they get out of hand.
But pushing the federal camel into the tent of local school districts would bring nothing but trouble. It's a simplistic and deceptive approach. Thank goodness the GOP controlled Congress isn't taking any of it seriously.