Thomas Jefferson had it right: "Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree."

Actions of some of our Utah state legislators reaffirm that point. They keep calling for "a world-class education," but when it happens, it looks like they are the last ones to recognize it. Same holds true for parental involvement; when they don't like what parents say, they punish them. And recently, a lawmaker started raising questions about the international baccalaureate diploma program. First, the complaint was that it was "anti-American" and later changed to concern over "governance issues." Which is it? They decry federal control and demand local control; but on a whim, take local control from parents and school districts.

The IB program is a successful program some high schools have offered for more than 20 years, and many parents are eager to have their students attend. The program is rigorous and designed to challenge students to think, become life-long learners, develop a sense of their own culture and an understanding and ability to communicate with others worldwide. It strives to develop caring, young people who can help create a better and more peaceful world through understanding and respect. So what's wrong with that?

Those are the skills and knowledge students will need to succeed in today's global economy. It's what lawmakers say they want — a "world-class education." The problem is some legislators remain silent, while others are unable to see that the world has changed; and rather than promoting policies that broaden the horizon and opportunities the flat world offers our young people, they appear obsessed with imposing their personal ideologies that prevent the state from becoming part of a changing world full of opportunities. Globalization now allows employers to find skilled workers worldwide, outsource high-paying jobs and find knowledgeable workers who understand different cultures and can communicate and compete with people all over the world.

The Legislature has shown a lack of leadership, vision and, more important, the political will needed to renew our educational infrastructure for the 21st century. It's as though the Legislature has chosen to turn inward rather than outward, driven by the individual sense of power it wields on a whim. The state constitution calls for the general control and supervision of public education to be vested in a State Board of Education; yet, lawmakers micromanage rather than provide a vision for our education system, and they are disingenuous by saying they fight for local control while they usurp the rights of local elected officials.

Most disturbing are the vindictive actions they sometimes take on citizens and public officials for disagreeing with their decisions, punishing them by taking away money, changing laws and using their positions to chastise dissenters. They say they want parental involvement; however, as with the "radical" PTA group, they want to haul it before their committees designed to stifle dissent because the group has opposed some of the Legislature's decisions.

The importance of the IB program cannot be overemphasized given how the world, with the Internet, knows no borders, and the ability for Americans to compete and work with other cultures is vital in a global economy where knowledge, innovation and the ability to communicate with others worldwide is essential. Those are the skills the IB program develops in our students, vital in preparing them for the ever-changing world they will encounter.

For the Legislature not to understand that, and its misuse of power, reminds me of Thomas Jefferson's warning that the people must not have blind trust in their rulers — "Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers..." He also told us how to fix it.


A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch; served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: [email protected]