Plan twice, shoot once.

How the Schooling Disaster in Detroit is a Win for Al-Qaeda

By Jay Holmes

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently declared that the Detroit, Michigan school system is a national disgrace. He is right. Some politically sensitive types in Detroit were offended by this. They should, instead, be offended by their educational system.

When Duncan was selected as Secretary of Education, I wondered how qualified he was. After all, he had been a professional basketball player in Australia for ten years. He also has a sociology degree from Harvard. Red flag to me. Most of the sociologists who I have met in government are anxious to quote statistics and salivate at the possibility of discovering more statistics. When I ask them for an action plan, they give me a blank stare. In fact, they often act as though they have been shot by a poison dart whenever action is required.

Another red flag to me was the fact that Duncan came from the hideously corrupt political system in Chicago. After a closer look, though, it became evident that, as the CEO of the Chicago school system, Duncan had played a part in significantly increasing test results for students in Chicago. Obviously, the hard work of the kids, the parents, and the teachers made it happen, but until Duncan showed up, the Chicago schools were well on their way to hell with no redemption in sight.

The improvement in Chicago test scores was on both the national standard testing for all grades and on the ACT. Also, the number of Chicago youngsters graduating increased, as did the number of Chicago youngsters entering colleges. These were real results. Duncan obviously wasn’t the typical school superintendent claiming victory after leaving a school system in shambles.

Ok. So red flags aside, and without knowing about or giving a damn about his politics, the guy won a major battle in one of this nation’s most important wars, and he showed up sober to fight that battle where the enemy held the high ground and outnumbered him badly. I’ll give credit where it’s due. Given Secretary Duncan’s history of success and the pathetic results produced by the Detroit school system, I take his statement about Detroit seriously.

Now that we have identified a priority target, what shall our tactical plan be? I am a bit out of my league here. This is a battle that I am willing to fight passionately, but I lack the best weapons and training to ensure victory. I’m willing to listen and learn.

As someone who is not a trained teacher, though, even I can easily identify a few facets of the problem in Detroit. Some of the issues are external to the schools. Detroit is a failed, Rust Belt city with chronic, long-term high unemployment, high crime rates, and no signs of recovery. OK, we know the battleground now. Do we evacuate the children to refugee camps in Canada, or do we make a stand and fight? It looks like we are going to stay and fight.

We are dealing with children who live in fear of violence and economic uncertainty. Many of the children have no real parent, or an undereducated parent working overtime at a back-breaking job. Ok, that’s most of what we need to know about the innocent hostages in question. So we need a solution that can rescue the greatest number of kids. Is it “fair” that you and I need to rescue them instead of their parents doing it? Hell, no. But you don’t want to share your national budget, your health care system, your economy, or your streets with uneducated children. Even if you don’t care about them, if you care about you at all, take a look at what’s going on.

Who is the enemy? Who is the hostage taker? Is he from Yemen, Pakistan, or southern Egypt? No, he is from America. He/she is the heartless politico who makes millions of dollars vanish from the Detroit school system each year. He/she is the lazy, self-protecting, responsibility-avoiding slime bag who collects a salary and produces no work in his or her day.

You know what they look like. You have met a few of them in your child’s school or in the company or government agency where you work. They tend to be highly informed about the latest nuance in political correctness, and at the moment they are very busy explaining why everyone needs to join their new initiative on “Azerbaijani cultural sensitivity” or “preventing sexual harassment amongst preschoolers by dangerous four-year-old boys,” or they are busy organizing this year’s Save the Whales Day. At least the kids have fun at the Save the Whales Day, and the whales suffer no impact one way or the other. But this type of useless schmuck “administrator” is not only wasting a salary slot that could go to a live employee, they are preventing sentient beings from running the schools.

Now let’s see how education in Detroit matters to the big picture.

One of the few signs of hope in the stone-age environment in Afghanistan is that, in some locations, children are starting to attend something like real schools. Based on UNICEF numbers, 18% of reading-age girls in Afghanistan can now read. This heartbreaking number is actually good news. A few years ago, the number would have been about .5%. Approximately 49% of reading-age Afghani males can read. This number is also an improvement as compared to 10 years ago.

Literacy matters to national security in any nation, both internally and externally. Better education makes for a stronger economy and fewer criminals on the home front, and when countries become more educated, their citizens are less willing to join any jihad activities. In short, a well-informed nation is less likely to tolerate living under anything like Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Here’s a real shocker for you. Almost all mobsters and other types of gang members do poorly on any test that measures thinking skills, reading, math, or problem solving. You’re not really shocked at that, are you? Few people abandon real jobs to become foot soldiers for the mob or meth dealers for the local crack King/Queen. By having educated citizens, we have fewer criminals. When other nations have educated citizens, the risk of their citizens joining criminal enterprises like Al-Qaeda decreases. Education is obviously not the only factor in deciding an individual’s path or a nation’s path but it is one of the big ones.

The current estimate for functional literacy of adults in Detroit is 53%. Unlike in Afghanistan, the numbers are not improving. If Detroit does not change directions, we will soon end up searching for volunteer teachers from Afghanistan to teach kids and adults in Detroit to read. When you find yourself asking the question, “How can those people in Someplaceville elect that piece of garbage for a fill in the blank?” a large part of the answer is ignorance. Ignorance is a dangerous enemy of progress, justice, and democracy. Ignorance is the best friend of human suffering.

The anti-West factions in the Chinese oligarchy don’t care much about literacy in Afghanistan, but they and other enemies, such as Al-Qaeda, are happy to see decay in education in the United States. Al-Qaeda and other organized crime groups know that people who cannot read are more easily scammed into supporting their criminal agendas, and they are more easily victimized by those criminal agendas.

The combined adult literacy rate in Pakistan is 58%. People in Pakistan can read better than people in Detroit. Yes, Pakistan. That country in turmoil with no real education system where Al-Qaeda is trying to gain control of the government. The government that Al-Qaeda currently has to pay lease rates for. Perhaps Pakistani immigrant applicants should be required to teach reading in Detroit schools for six months before gaining full visas.

The battle in Detroit and in other school systems in Western civilization matters. I’m ready to put my boots on and go fight. I recognize some of the weapons available to us. There are some exceptional, highly motivated teachers. There are some passable teachers who aren’t going to join any “special ops” efforts, but they are fighting on our side, and they can contribute. There are some administrators who are not avoiding the fight, but not enough of them, and there are some parents who have the motive and means to help their children. We are not without resources.

So how do we win this battle? That’s a real question for you, readers. Tell me, because I am desperate for the answer, and because your future depends on it.

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14 thoughts on “ How the Schooling Disaster in Detroit is a Win for Al-Qaeda

  1. Wow, a fantastic post, H.

    I’ve been a teacher for 16 years. (Disclaimer: I have taught in private schools in Canada and around the world). My own kids, however, attend public school, as did I.

    In Alberta, we are reputed to have one of the better public education systems in the world. (I’m not sure how that’s determined). But still, there is a problem with the paradigm of our provincial government (and many other governments) view education. They see it as an expense, not an investment.

    In Afghanistan, education is (finally) being seen as an investment. In Detroit (and even Calgary), it’s seen as an expense. If it’s an expense, we can cut. If it’s an investment, we build.

    A vague idea, perhaps. But I believe there needs to be a philosophical shift in how we view education.

    • on ,
      J Holmes said:


      Ah, thank you Leanne. “Investment versus Expense”. I am adding that to my psych. war kit. Politicians, their apostles, and their sign weilding followers love to recite simple slogans. Perhaps we can wake up a brain or two somewhere with this simple device.

      In many school districts in the USA they have the investment component but the investment cash seems to swirl around in the wind and drift out of sight with no visible impact. In Detroit millions of dollars remain unaccounted for. Sadly there have been no indicitments.

  2. on ,
    Kerry Meacham said:


    I agree with Iron(ic) Mom that people tend to put more money in investments and reduce it when it’s an expense. The other thing is discipline. My dad was a teacher and was always active with his students. He taught firearms safety on weekends, and he was the one that chaperoned hunting trips with me and my friends when we would go bow/gun hunting as teenagers.

    He enjoyed teaching for years, but finally ended up retiring early because he became so frustrated with his lack of ability to discipline the kids. He was told on one occasion by the mother of a disruptive teenage boy in one of his classes that, “discipline in the school is your problem not mine.” He then told her, “Now I understand why I’m having problems with your son.” Probably not the best move on my dad’s part. However, he went to the administrator and told him what happened. Luckily there were no repercussions, but that was the turning point for him. His hands were tied on discipline, the parents didn’t care, and the time he spent with the disruptive kids didn’t allow him time to teach the ones that wanted to learn.

    After he retired he told me, “If my first five years teaching had been like my last five, I would have quit early and found something else to do.” That’s a sad comment coming from someone I know for a fact loved teaching for years, and his students loved him.

    I think time and again the areas that are successful are the ones where the parents and the teachers work together. This also goes back to one thing my dad told me about discipline in the early days. “If I had a problem with a student, I would discipline him. The next time I would take him to the office. At that point I would tell him my next call would be to his father. Guess what? At that time (in the 60’s) that took care of the issue 99% of the time.”

    Maybe I should like a hard-ass, but teachers can’t teach if they spend all their time with the problem children and have no recourse. Inner city, suburbs, or country schools are the same. If everyone works together they can be successful. If people think throwing money at the teachers/schools is the answer, then they’re going to be disappointed.

    • Holmes:

      “but teachers can’t teach if they spend all their time with the problem children and have no recourse”

      That makes sense. How do we change it? It’s our school system. We pay for it, we own it, and we live in a democracy so how do we fix it?

      One thing that is clear is that teachers can not fix the system. They are under the tight control of the system. We the tax payers will have to fix it because none of us needs to care if the school superintendant likes us or not. We have the power to make the system do what we want it to do.

  3. I do pretty well these day in not going off on angry rants, but one topic that baits me is education system and administrators. Is the situation bad? Yes. Detroit is only the worst example, but we have plenty of issues all over the place. Look out when 50% of seniors can’t find NYC on a map.

    We have a lot of incompetent teachers. But that doesn’t offer a solution. We have a bloated bureaucracy. But cutting it in the wrong way doesn’t help either.

    As a college teacher, I was intrigued at Obama’s recent recognition of the importance of community colleges. Then they announced an “initiative” (God save us) and even had Jill Biden give speeches. Now watch how they inject money to hire administrators to meet the challenges square on. Meanwhile, they do nothing to get more great teachers on the job.

    But the bigger issue is definitely societal and rooted in much larger issues. I’ll just say it’s awfully hard to win this fight without functional homes or young people that understand a) life is hard/challenging b) nothing comes easy and c) their future actually matters.

  4. I don’t know the answer- this is so far from my field of expertise, I dare not stick a toe in. But it appears from living overseas that many of the developing countries place a high value on education. And somehow, that starts with the family. I have a kid who wouldn’t get through school without what I call “mule motivation”- a stick in the back and a carrot in the front. I have the time and the will to do that. We are not poor or hungry.The social issues surrounding the actual problem seem insurmountable, however, and this is my point, I would rather put money in my country before sending it to another. Our children are the ones that will eventually maintain our economy and hopefully keep our economy strong- they need to be able to read. If they can’t study because they- and their family- are hungry- I’d rather feed them with my money and let Duncan work on the education specifics. Sign me up for the solution. Great post.

    • on ,
      kadja1 said:


      You hit it right on the head amblerangel! There are solutions to this…Close down the Department of Education–Dismantle the National Education Association and put the burden back on the states. Put the burden on the families to instill social skills so that teachers have the time to teach and stop letting parents threaten to sue every time Johnny or Jenny gets in trouble. Nix that problem and that will solve 40% of the problems.

      States need to be responsible for the publishing and distribution of their own textbooks and testing materials instead of letting another state control most of it. It leads to corrupt books and such being put into public school and if you don’t believe me, check out today’s History books. They have outright lies in them. At least I taught my kids how to go to the college and get the documentation from actual government archives to prove to other educators how full of crap the district’s materials really are. The truth should be taught–not some author’s opinion of it and that is what is causing the problem there.

  5. on ,
    Larry said:


    Where do I begin? I have taught for 35 years, and I have little problem with discipline since I am a man and sooner than later I have been lucky that kids have “come on board ” for me when I am teaching. I have my challenges because parents do not raise children; they let them grow. However, today I do want to rant about how I have had to “dummy down” what I cover in the class room. In the old days, you may have spent a day or two on text structures or discussed idioms in a short story for a day and revisited them the next time an idiom came up. Now, my classes spend seven class days producing a pamphlet on the computer so they can produce a “product” that shows their mastery of test structures. The idiom had been taught the year before, but this year, I have gone over idioms all year with a figurative language piece on every test. Why, do you ask, is so much emphasis placed on these two and other “indicators”? It is all about the state tests, and when you have 97% to 99% proficient on the test, your school looks pretty darn good. I have not taught comparisons of modifiers until last week, and my students said that they had never heard of such a thing. They know now, and I hope to be able to teach other new and unique concepts in the next three weeks since the tests are finally over for this year. Yes, I teach in an upper class white suburban school district. We have computers and everything we need except teacher salaries. Now, I hear there is no money for paper next year. Detroit and the city which is near my suburban district have so many more problems which speak to a whole other strata of social and economic evils. My concern is what will happen to us when the best school district in the state is weak in academics and rigor. With no accountability, consequence, or responsibility, how do we prepare a generation for the real and sometimes harsh world that we all deal with sooner or later? My friends in the work force and corporate world complain to me about college graduates not being able to write. I tell my friends to ask their new coworkers if they know what an idiom is, and good luck trying to train some very lazy and over confident youngsters. My next rant is about how computers-yes, we need them and they are here to stay- have created lazy and uncommunicative students.

  6. on ,
    kadja1 said:


    I am of the opinion that student should NOT be exposed to working on computers until 10th or 11th grade at the earliest. If they have one at home to use to write papers-fine, but if not, let them learn the “hard” skills first so if the computers crash, they won’t need them to function! We are a much more literate nation because we had nothing but pen, paper, map colors and index cards–we learned the actual skills for solving issues and answering questions first…I don’t want to hear about how “overseas students have the advantage” because in the early grades they learn the hard skills FIRST before getting on computers. They are taught totally differently than American children and it is time this country grew up and quit spending money on what amounts to a luxury when these students won’t be able to purchase one in the real world if they cannot read or write. It’s ridiculous. All it is about is making money and public schools have been used by HP and Apple for marketing to families who can’t afford their technology long enough!

  7. on ,
    J H said:


    Why can computers not assist in teaching “hard” skills? Other than penmanship I don’t see why computers are a negative in schools. I think the problem is a lack of worthwhile software in the schools computer systems.

    One major glaring failure of the Department of Education is their failure to produce free, publicly available software for learning basic skills such as reading and math. Think for a moment about the fantastic “Reader Rabbit” series that was so helpful for our children ten to fifteen years ago. By now “they” should have developed something far more comprehensive. In this case the infamous “they” gang is the Department of Education.

    Every child, parent, teacher, aunt, uncle and concerned person should be able to go to the Department of Education web page and quickly pull up high quality, engaging learning software that kids can fall in love with as easily as they fall in love with “World of War Craft”.

    This glaring failure by the Department of Education is easily fixed. We have thousands of unemployed software writers in this country. We have thousands of brilliant professors. The Department of Education burns cash like a forest fire burns grass and trees so the cash is available.

  8. on ,
    kadja1 said:


    It is a lot cheaper on the taxpayers given the budget this nation has right now to NOT have computers in the early grades. It will cost MORE money to develop new software and then we’re right back in the cycle of spending money on that which (bottom line) is a luxury. The computer itself is NOT the problem–it is the push by marketers to have the things stuck into a classroom before a child learns to tie his or her shoes. It’s totally ridiculous. The country is busted as far as the budget. We need to go back to basics and bring in the technology in later grades.

    Besides that, kids are being taught how to pass a yearly test rather than how to read and solve the problems and answer the questions without the aid of the computer. As I said, if the computer crashes, what will they do? The use of computers and software should be supplemental at best if they are going to insist on using it in early grades and should not be relied upon to teach hard skills–that is the teacher’s job.

    Since the ‘advent’ of this marvelous technology, our literacy rates in this nation have plummeted. It screams volumes that this nation was in the top 5 of the most “literate” nations prior to it’s use. Right now we are ranked 45th, falling below the UK…Cuba is at #2. We need to find out what other countries are doing because there is not any excuse for the U.S. to rank this low. Technology used in the past 20 years has NOT improved it. Anyway, here is a link for you to check out. I know for a fact that some of the countries outranking us do not use technology in the classroom as we do.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_literacy_rate

  9. on ,
    Dave said:


    Wow…this one seemed to have touched a nerve. These are some serious and impassioned responses. I’m all for using any tool available that can help teach our kids (and even adults) the skills they need in life. Technology, such as the internet, can drive the cost of access to great learning materials down by cutting out the cost of distribution. Look across the internet and you can find free study materials on a wide range of subjects. Still, in my business, we find that the basic skill of organized writing is in short supply. A computer can really help with that, when used properly, but all too often it just enables more people to churn out lower quality crap.

    • on ,
      kadja1 said:


      That is exactly why it should only be used in upper grades. If only used in upper grades, I think it will force the software developers to quit putting our worthless crap–and instead, but supplemental software out that will require a knowledge of the skills to progress. Yes, there are programs that help with “organized writing” but do they do the work FOR the students if they right click and drive on, OR do they require a certain number of tries before that can be an option? Any software utilized must have prerequisite skills in order for it to really work. If the kids don’t have those skills, then the result is that they rely on technology to do the work for them. I’d rather spend more on hard copy materials that I know will work, than play a guessing game with software that might not be worth a dime. I don’t believe that costs are driven down using this stuff because school districts spend more money on these things each year than they do on textbooks in many areas. I have a problem with that. Unless it is History, some textbooks can be re-used whereas software can go out of date in ONE.

      • I’m no expert, but I will say this. My children do not have important skills that we have. First, they can’t write for crap. They rely on spellcheck and automatic capitalization and punctuation correcters. They also have virtually no exposure to cursive writing and many can hardly sign their names. Second, they can’t type. “Typing” means they are put on keyboarding software for a few hours in grade school or middle school, if they are lucky, and unless the child is unusually motivated, they really don’t care what finger they use to hit the keys. The teachers abdicate the teaching to the computer, and, as a result, the kids don’t learn. Third, they can’t do math. They have calculators from a young age and are never actually able to fire off their math tables. Schools are so eager to improve their images by saying, “Our second graders are doing division,” that no one cares that they can’t add 8 + 6 in their heads. And now they’re trying to sell be on the idea that memorization is boring for them, and it’s so much better to focus on the higher concepts. After all, they have their calculators. No. That’s giving my kid a turd and telling me it’s a diamond.

        I don’t mind computers when the purpose is to teach the kid essential computer programs like power point, excel, wordprocessing or something else of that ilk. Otherwise, Kadja, I’m with you. The fact is that we put a man on the moon with a slide rule. Bring back the chalkboard, the tablet, and the pencil.

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