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The ‘Star’ Witness

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Dumb and Getting Dumber

Rachel Jeantel is the poster child for the failures of public education.

Several days ago, prosecutors in the George Zimmerman trial put Jeantel, Trayvon Martin’s “girlfriend,” on the stand. Jeantel was on the phone with Martin just minutes before he was shot and killed in his fight with Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida.

She was supposed to be the star witness, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. More than one trial analyst called her a “train wreck.” She bumbled and fumbled. She was rude. She was impertinent. She lacked basic communication skills. For the prosecution, she was more like a 100-car pileup on the interstate.

The 19-year-old daughter of a Haitian immigrant admitted in front of the whole country she couldn’t read cursive.

Struggling to explain this sad fact, one anonymous defender explained that she is a product of her unique cultural background. “Rachel Jeantel has her own particular, idiosyncratic black girl idiom, a mash-up of her Haitian and Dominican working-class background, her U.S. Southern upbringing, and the three languages—Haitian Kreyol (or Creole), Spanish and English—that she speaks.”

There is no doubt Jeantel has had plenty of obstacles to overcome, but race and background do not adequately explain her embarrassing performance in court. Almost certainly, bad parenting and a corrupt culture must share part of the blame, but pitiful public schooling is the main culprit when it comes to her inability to read cursive.

Jeantel’s woeful communication inadequacies speak to the continuing failure of our government education monopoly to properly arm our kids with the skills they need to function successfully in the real world. She does not stand alone. Public education has failed and continues to fail kids in the cities, the suburbs and out in the country. Government-sponsored education does not impart reading, writing, speaking and thinking skills to the kids like Jeantel who need it most.

She is almost 20 years old. Tens of thousands of tax dollars have been spent, supposedly to educate her. Yet, she has reached this stage in her life and cannot read a letter written in cursive? What else does she not know that public education should have taught her by now?

She is but one of thousands who manage to sit in public school classrooms for a dozen years or more and leave without even the basic skills needed to function on a day-to-day basis, much less in a courtroom with the whole world watching on television and the Internet.

Perhaps something miraculous will happen. Maybe Jeantel’s career track toward what will amount to almost total government dependency will be changed because of her negative publicity. Like many before her, a television reality show could be in her future. The title of the show might be “Dumb And Getting Dumber.” She could make millions and never be forced to read cursive. She could hire someone to do it for her.

Maybe someone like Oprah will help rescue her from her awful public education by offering her a talk show. If she is a ratings success, she could use her fame and fortune to tell the world, “You CAN overcome poor public schooling.”

However, chances are, Jeantel is never going to become a productive member of society who can fend for herself. That does not bode well for her future or for America’s future. Thousands of Rachel Jeantels are already on the government dole and thousands more are on the way.

My wife and I now have an empty nest, but if I still had young kids to educate and I lived anywhere but Bossier Parish, they would never darken the door of a public school. Catholic schools. Private schools. Home schools. Online schools. Tutors. Anything to keep them out of public schools where students are indoctrinated, not educated.

The many alternatives to public education are America’s brightest hope for the future. Otherwise, we are going to be a nation of dummies. Cursive writing will go the way of the horse-drawn carriage and very few will be able to actually read a sentence and comprehend its meaning.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (N.A.E.P.), which is administered by the U.S. Education Department, students aren’t getting much smarter, even though per-pupil education spending has more than doubled since the early 1970s. A report released by the N.A.E.P. on June 27th, measures the long-term academic performances of 9-, 13- and 17-year-old students in reading and math. Of the 50,000 public and private school students who took the tests last year, both 9- and 13-year-olds scored higher in reading and math than did students their age in the early 1970s.

However, 17-year-olds did not show similar gains. The 2012 reading assessment indicates that 94 percent of 17-year-olds lack the highest level of reading proficiency, 61 percent could not understand or interpret complicated information and 18 percent lacked the ability to “make generalizations” about what they read.

Meanwhile, Catholic school students have consistently scored higher in reading and math than public school students since the late 1970s and early 1980s. That continued to be true last year. According to the N.A.E.P.’s most recent 2013 data, Catholic school students scored 11-23 points higher in reading, on average, than public school students across the three age groups.

My fear is that our government will eventually outlaw any form of education that is not public education. That has happened already in Germany. Only the state can educate your kids there. In fact, the state will FORCE your kids to attend public schools. Currently, a set of German parents are asking for asylum in the United States because they insist it is their right to educate their kids at home. The Obama administration is seeking to have them deported back to Germany.

As time goes by, given the current state of public education, the Rachel Jeantels of this world will no longer be able to read the original handwritten copies of founding documents like the Declaration of Independence.

It’s written in cursive.

Ed Baswell pastors The Clarion Church and is the host of Crossfire Radio, weekdays from 7-9 am, on The Promise, 90.7 FM. The show is streamed live worldwide at promisetalkradio.org and at ktbs.com. It can be seen each day on the KTBS 24-hour, digital news channel.