New Britain’s big controversy is the proposal of the new school superintendent, Kelt L. Cooper, for a city ordinance to impose a $75 fine on students who skip school. The City Council is thinking about it but the prospects of collecting the money seem small.
Few students have that kind of money and they would not be inspired to get it unless the penalty included something like suspension of a driver’s license, which mere city ordinance couldn’t do; that would require state legislation. So would imprisonment for skipping school, which would defeat the ordinance’s purpose anyway. Further, prosecution likely would cost more than would be recovered through fines. Indeed, unless the mere threat of fines worked wonders, prosecution likely would require a regiment of police officers and prosecutors, since, according to the superintendent, 48% of New Britain High School’s 2,700 students are chronically absent — that is, about 1,300 kids.
Opposing the superintendent’s proposal, Abby Anderson, executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, tells the New Britain Herald that truancy arises from things like bullying, undiagnosed learning disabilities, transportation problems, and “even the lack of a winter coat.” (In August and September?) But the solution Anderson herself recommends belies such nonsense. A good remedy for truancy, Anderson says, is to give students an adult in school “who acts as a mentor.”
You know — like parents, the people who, in the old days, raised their own children.
That is the problem Connecticut is unable to acknowledge even as truancy afflicts half of the population at a major high school.
New Britain High ranks so poorly in student performance — 146 of 156 high schools in the state — not because its teachers, administrators, and facilities are terrible but because its students are terrible, and its students are terrible because half their parents don’t know or care whether their kids go to school or because so many students don’t even have parents, 40% of children in the United States now being born outside marriage as fodder for a vast industry of subsidy and remediation that mostly fails even as it drains resources away from children who do show up and want to learn.
Hence the many new “magnet” schools in Connecticut, the mechanisms by which state government enables the middle class to escape public schools that are being overwhelmed by the slob culture and thereby surrenders to social disintegration.
As no amount of remediation in the schools will ever fix anything, the solution to the educational problem may be to make all schools into “magnet” schools, schools that students attend because they want to and because their parents want them to.
“We call our schools free,” Robert Frost wrote, “because we are not free to stay away from them until we are 16 years of age.” That is, instead of imposing fines for truancy, Connecticut could repeal its mandatory attendance law and work on the real problem, child neglect at home and the government subsidies that enable it.
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Connecticut liquor stores are complaining that they’re not seeing much extra business from the Sunday hours that were granted to them three months ago when the state law requiring closing on Sunday was repealed. The liquor stores think that only supermarkets, which long have been open on Sunday, are enjoying more sales of the one alcoholic beverage they’re allowed to sell, beer.
But of course the response to this whining is: So stay closed on Sunday if you want, just as all other businesses can. Let those who want to work earn the business. Don’t expect the government to keep protecting you against ordinary competition. You’re not quite as special anymore. And if, as it should, the General Assembly ever repeals minimum pricing for liquor and lets supermarkets sell wine and spirits too, you won’t be special at all. You’ll be just like the rest of us working stiffs.
That will be worth a champagne toast at a Sunday brunch.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.