A Stately Freedom Zone Decreed

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As I was dozing on the sofa the other day, I had a libertarian dream about Buffalo, NY, my beloved yet sickly hometown:

All our politicians had accidentally consumed a drug that made them forget about the special interest groups that own them and made them want do the right thing for a change without being afraid they would lose the next election and have to get real jobs. Under the influence, they looked at the failed government monopoly so-called school system and saw it for what it was: a program to provide high-paying, lifetime, part-time jobs for middle class people who didn’t exactly wow them in college, at the expense of the mostly low-income students who are their captive audience for seven hours a day. They saw it as a rigid, expensive, Stalinist monster that produces barely literate, historically ignorant, uncultured, lovers of big government.

Though many of the parolees from this pedagogical prison survive the experience with their minds intact, thousands of others emerge intellectually and morally ill-equipped to function independently in today’s world. These misfits fill out the ranks of petty criminals, welfare recipients, drug users, and beggars of one form or another. Even the fittest of the survivors, however, are at risk of becoming slaves to the bureaucratic mindset which produces unthinking adherence to a set of arbitrary rules of behavior decreed by superiors in a chain of command. They become the perfectly docile subjects of our mostitarian welfare/warfare state: our democrazy.

The drugged-up politicos miraculously and for the first time in their lives realized that such a sick thing cannot be reformed, only extirpated. They abolished the government school monopoly! Instead, they made the City of Buffalo the nation’s first educational free enterprise zone. They put the parents back in charge. This irked the parents who used the government school system as a free baby-sitting service, but the politicians didn’t cave. They were on drugs, you see. They replied, "If you can’t take care of your children, don’t have any until you can!"

Then they took the money spent on governmental student warehouses each year in Buffalo — $562,000,000! — and gave the citizens of Buffalo a gigantic tax cut. That meant a per capita tax cut of over $1,800 per year. That’s an amazing $7,500 for a family of four — $225,000 over thirty years not counting interest. The tax cut made Buffalo the lowest taxed city in New York State and one of the lowest in the Northeast. The cost of living plummeted as rents and retail prices fell. There was an immediate and enormous economic boom as businesses from all over the Northeast began to relocate here. The local economy sizzled as millions of new dollars were spent or invested. There was an unexpected windfall for employers needing unskilled labor as hundreds of laid-off public school teachers, union officials and assistant deputy superintendents applied for work. More importantly, people with low and middle incomes had more money in their pockets. The tax relief was a godsend for persons on fixed incomes, particularly the elderly poor.

Meanwhile, educational entrepreneurs from all over the world traveled to Buffalo to set up shop. Buffalo became an experimental laboratory with each educational firm competing with the others for the patronage of parents and children. Every conceivable educational approach was available — from Christian to progressive to Montessori to Hebrew to high-tech to low-tech to secular to Moslem to home schooling. The National Association for the Advancement of Home Schooling moved to Buffalo.

There were even schools for people nostalgic for the old ways which featured students assaulting teachers with knives, fists and obscenities and teachers assaulting students with political correctitude, hatred of Western Civilization, and environmental wackoism. They were, alas, sparsely attended, as the parents now had to pay for such services. More sensible parents could choose from among dozens of different types of schooling, based on the particularized needs of their individual children, each unique in their talents, experiences, temperaments, and goals. There was even a consortium approach that allowed parents and students to experience a smorgasbord of different educational approaches in the same school year. Freedom was glorious; the possibilities were endless. The poet Coleridge was moved to describe Buffalo’s educational free enterprise zone as "a miracle of rare device, a sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!" But suddenly —

— I was jolted out of my beautiful dream by a TV news report: President Bush and Senator Kennedy had just agreed on a significant increase in federal spending and control over education. A real statist nightmare.

February 6, 2001

James Ostrowski is an attorney practicing at 984 Ellicott Square, Buffalo, New York 14203; (716) 854-1440; FAX 853-1303. See his website at http://jimostrowski.com.

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