I’m fighting a quixotic losing battle against Austin utopians and their media surrogates who want to place even more mandates on HEAVILY BURDENED public schools. There are literally hundreds of proposed bills each session that try to do this — and many of them succeed. In a previous blog, I described the problems with current legislative efforts to water down truancy laws by shifting the burden to schools. I recently testified in Austin against that bill as an example of unnecessary unfunded mandates and intrusive state control. But I was astounded by the cast rounded up in support of that bad bill.
The first speaker was the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. I had the very strong impression he was asked to testify by the bill’s author(s). He believes Texas is misguided and alone in its truancy efforts because of the high volume of truancy court referrals — and because 48 states have already “de-criminalized” truancy. I sat there with my mouth open, knowing that a national report just touted Texas as having the highest graduation rates in the country for the different ethnicities. Why would we want to imitate states less successful at keeping kids in school? What qualifies the chief justice to weigh in on how best to keep kids in school? He is understandably sympathetic to over-burdened judges and courts, but fighting truancy is all about helping kids, not lessening the workload for lawyers and judges.
After the Senate passed the bill (despite the valiant efforts of Senator Larry Taylor), it was sent to the House Committee on Juvenile Justice. A similar parade of people stepped forward to praise the bill. Among them was a representative from Appleseed, an Austin-based group (many of whom are lawyers) describing itself as “sowing the seeds of justice.”
The Appleseed woman who spoke at the hearing was intelligent, unemotional, and armed with data contending that Texas is mistreating students when referring them to truancy courts rather than making schools do more. I’ve since looked up Appleseed and found their polished report titled “Class, Not Court: Reconsidering Texas’ Criminalization of Truancy.” At first blush, their findings and recommendations might seem reasonable. But they repeatedly ignore the statistical warning that “correlation does not imply causation.”
Here’s a simple example of misusing statistics in that way: More people eat ice cream in the summer. More deaths from drowning occur in the summer. Therefore, summer drownings are caused by eating ice cream. There is a positive statistical correlation between ice cream eating and drownings, but one does NOT cause the other!
Appleseed believes that truancy courts are a “pipeline to prison” and that such coercion “dis-incentivizes” student attendance. Isn’t it more likely that the same factors leading a child to become truant remain when they are adults? Youth truancy convictions and adult criminality are correlated. But it is a mistake to say that one causes the other. Instead, lack of parental/personal discipline and poor character are more likely causes of both truancy and adult crime.
Space prohibits addressing the additional fallacies in Appleseed’s report. Their charts and graphs lead to their pre-conceived ideology, not truth. They would impose new mandates on schools apparently believing in an unlimited supply of money and labor for their brave new world.
Likewise, the Houston Chronicle has had editorial opinions touting the courage of those willing to “de-criminalize” truancy. Not coincidentally, there were well-timed “news reports” in that paper about alleged misuse of the truancy courts elsewhere in Texas. Social utopians and dictators have long used isolated stories of injustice to justify conquest and martial law. The same tactics are now being used to impose further state control over school districts.
Back-slapping Austin cronies huddle together with access to media outlets, lauding their own “enlightened” views. Far from the real battle, these board room generals seek one-sided hard luck stories to justify their heavy-handed intervention. They ignore individual student/parent responsibility for truancy and cry crocodile tears over the economically disadvantaged. The result is a condescending, paternalistic, and unfunded mess. As a Peace Corps volunteer who taught the poorest in Africa, I can tell you that disadvantaged kids can make it to school on time — from miles away and usually on foot!
Instead, American society now cries loudly, “Fix the system!” I won’t go into the many systems school districts already have in place to help economically disadvantaged students in advance of truancy referrals. I won’t go into our schools’ cooperative efforts with local community agencies to provide food, clothing, tutorials, mentoring, and other services. I won’t elaborate on all the significant money and personnel used for these purposes. Even so, schools cannot do it alone.
We cannot adequately prevent truancy without the prompt backstop provided by the courts. That backstop is NOT the cause of truancy or criminality. The real solution begins and ends with individual responsibility — either self-generated or imposed. When that responsibility is not promptly exercised, the judiciary must swiftly coerce school attendance as best for the child and for America.
I say to students and their parents: Go to school. If you truly have a problem preventing attendance, our school district and others will render both aid and compassion. Don’t listen to those who call you a “victim.” And don’t let Papa Austin tell you it’s the “system’s” fault. Get some grit.
At the risk of being labeled an unenlightened religious nut, let me quote scripture: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” Truancy court is the rod. And that’s a better answer than ill-conceived legislation punishing schools for “not doing enough.”