New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s 2016 front organization has released a 15-point education plan to follow on what he’s billing a major education speech given, of course, in Iowa instead of New Jersey. It’s a pack of generally worthwhile ideas for state lawmakers to consider but confusing as a pre-presidential platform, given that the federal government does not control teacher tenure, has comparatively few funds with which to create voucher programs or charter schools, or have much directly to do with how students earn higher-education credits and intermediate credentials. It certainly doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have any control over at what time of day and week colleges schedule classes, despite Christie’s demand that they get on top of that misuse of building space.
Unless Christie believes that it’s appropriate for the federal government to, as it has extensively under the Obama administration (with or without legal authorization), bully and coerce states into adopting national policy agendas in exchange for federal funds and a reduced risk of legal harassment from the U.S. Department of Education. It seems Christie is totally fine with this arrangement, given that part of his plan would use federal power to make colleges itemize their bills to students according to his personal preferences.
When the feds dictate to a private institution the design and content of its private arrangements with private individuals, it’s become a threat to liberty instead of liberty’s just defender. Maybe the feds should spend some time and money, oh, I don’t know, hunting down and defending against the Chinese hackers who made off with the personnel records of all federal officials instead. That would be under its appropriate purview.
At core, this is a fundamentally unserious education agenda from a man who will soon tell us we should make him our nation’s commander in chief. Take, for example, his “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail” description of why colleges use classrooms for as little as five hours a day and almost never on weekends, which for colleges begin Thursday:
‘Lots of schools have exorbitant operating and maintenance costs because they’re not optimizing the way they use their physical space,’ he said. ‘They hold all the classes during peak hours ‘cause that’s when the unions want their professors to teach…’
Governor, I know you can’t be well-versed on every detail of every aspect of education and every other public policy in the nation, and you’re really proud of beating off unions in blue New Jersey, but get some better advisors, because a) most professors aren’t unionized, so unions can’t possibly dictate the usual teaching hours and b) a better answer to this question would involve some criticism of students, whose intellectual laziness plus professors’ similar wish for four-day weekends that’s probably really the root cause here.
Christie is approaching policy like many of the general public, which means assuming that just because a given problem exists, there must be a national solution. This is a fundamentally un-conservative approach, because conservatives believe that perfection isn’t possible in this life. Sometimes bad things happen that no amount of “awareness” or law-passing can fix. It will always be this way. So government must restrain itself from becoming one of the many inevitable challenges people will encounter in the foolhardy mission to “make the world safe for [everyone at every time in every place].”
It’s also fundamentally un-conservative to assume that, if something needs fixing, the best place to do so is at the national level—especially something so personal and individualized as education. That Christie doesn’t get this is also indicated by his recent about-face on Common Core, which he admitted this February he locked into New Jersey just to get some federal funds. Now he’s telling us he feels tricked, that he “regrets” getting his state into Common Core; but he wants to put America’s universities in precisely the same position by requiring them to hop to the federal tune to access federal student loans?
It’s not only hard but impossible to square Christie’s education plan with his “charge” to a Common Core review commission he created: “we have to keep government at the local level.” Like most politicians, Christie is trying to have education local and under the federal thumb at the same time, because while he doesn’t see a problem in big government as long as he’s controlling it, he knows American voters always have been and still are very much against federal micromanagement of education. This sort of deceptive, incoherent policy-making typical of politicos is unworthy, both philosophically and morally, of someone who would be president.