The Problem With Programs
As I crossed a street in downtown Bucharest in the summer of 1992, I saw what I thought was a bundle of rags. But the bundle was moving itself slowly across the street. The bundle was a boy—a boy of about 10 or 11. He was crawling across the street because he had no right foot. A red and raw stump stuck out of the leg of his ragged pants. He had no foot, no crutches, no wheelchair, no help. Upon reaching the far sidewalk, he sat up, apparently readying for himself a new place to beg.
I had been out looking for a place to exchange my American dollars into Romanian currency and was having a difficult time finding a “Change” bureau. I wanted to buy some small trinkets to bring home to my children from my quick visit to this land still struggling to rid itself of Communism.
Upon seeing this boy, the object of my mission changed. Assuming that I could not give this boy American dollars, I began looking for a place to exchange money even more quickly. I planned to return to the child and give him the equivalent of $20 or $30—a full month’s wages for an average worker. I assumed it would be a fortune to this boy.
My search took about 15 more minutes, and by the time I returned to the last spot I saw this ragged, footless boy, he was gone.
Earlier that day, I had seen the cruel face of Communism in equally stark terms. As the international vice president of Christian Solidarity International, I was invited to tour two buildings with other members of the board of our Swiss-based human rights organization.
The first building was Orphanage No. 9. Romanian orphanages had received considerable attention from the Western press after the fall of the Communist dictator, Nicholas Ceausecu. Most of the attention had focused on the orphanages for babies and infants. Orphanage No. 9 was different. It was filled with hundreds of children ranging in age from 6 to 18.
Christian Solidarity International had undertaken three projects to improve this orphanage. First, CSI staffers personally delivered and installed high-tech Swiss restaurant equipment in the kitchen to ensure that proper food preparation was possible for these children. The previous stove was so warped that it looked like the griddle had been modeled after an ocean storm. Second, the director of the orphanage was taken to Switzerland to be trained to manage the orphanage in a humane manner. And third, CSI purchased hundreds of plastic bed covers. Fully fifty percent of these 6 to 18 year olds were so emotionally scarred that they wet their beds every night.
I will never forget the stench in the sleeping areas. Nor will I forget the hundreds of thousands of mosquitos perched on the ceilings in the hallways outside the sleeping areas, awaiting their nightly feast.
We went straight from Orphanage No. 9 to the nearly finished palace of the dictator Nicholas Ceausecu. The strategic areas of the palace were just a few days from completion when he was overthrown and justly executed.
Our guide told us that this was the second largest building in the world. The extravagance of its splendor is second to none. I have told friends that Windsor Castle and Versailles look like aging K-Marts compared to Ceausecu’s monstrosity. My exaggeration is only slight.
In the ballroom was an archway adorned with countless little balls. Our guide told us that 20,000 Japanese pearls were ready for installation to replace these balls. The gold adorning the chandeliers and frescoes was real. The door in Ceausecu’s personal office was as expensive as a luxury yacht. The draperies in the dictator’s office were of nearly pure Japanese silk. The only “impurities” were strands of real gold which were woven into the draperies.
Perhaps if I had not just come from Orphanage No. 9, I might have thought this to be a palace of unmatched grandeur. Instead I thought that each of the 20,000 pearls would have fed a child for a full year or more. The dictator’s door could have built a new orphanage. His drapes could have provided screens and air conditioners and heating and books.
I am certain that few human beings have ever observed a greater contrast in opulent luxury and abject poverty in the space of an hour. It was insane, immoral, and inhuman.
This was my second trip to eastern Europe for Christian Solidarity International. In 1988, I had traveled with a small delegation to Moscow to negotiate for the release of prisoners who were jailed for their religious faith.
In one meeting, I met as the sole American lawyer with about a dozen Soviet lawyers who had been charged with rewriting the laws respecting religious “freedom” in the USSR. We had an interesting exchange regarding the inherent rights of men. My hosts reminded me that they were Communists and did not believe in “inherent” (i.e. God-given) human rights, but only those rights which were specifically recognized in international laws written by men.
The essence of the Communistic philosophy can be reduced to a single thought: Centralized planners do what they think is best for the masses. The philosophy of freedom can be stated with equal simplicity: Each person and family should decide what is best for themselves consistent with the moral laws of God.
Communism focused on the masses. Freedom focuses on the individual. Communism focused on programs. Freedom focuses on individual solutions.
Unfortunately, America is becoming more and more focused on centralized programs for the masses. As we do, we are not in danger of becoming Communists. But we are in danger of suffering the same penalty inherent in a centralized planning system—a loss of freedom accompanied by a lower standard of efficiency.
Centralized planners are currently locked in a battle with local school officials in Queens, New York. The centralized planners want all children to learn the value of homosexuality. I would venture an educated guess that each parent wants his individual child to learn to read.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, I had some teachers who were concerned about teaching their classes. But the great teachers were concerned about teaching each individual child.
Centralized planners can attempt to plan programs to solve the problem of children who cannot read. Such group programs will never work well. Individual instruction, however, will rarely fail to teach a child to read.
The home-schooling movement is growing in America because it works well. The reason it works well is that it is based on the philosophy of freedom: The goal is the education of each child. That is a radically different goal from the education of all children.
Public schools can also have an attitude of teaching each child rather than teaching all children. I know. I have been a student in such public school classrooms. My father engendered that attitude in the elementary school he principaled for nearly thirty years.
The problem is that the good teachers and good principals are being constantly hampered by the efforts of centralized planners whose latest “five year plan” is advertised as the latest solution to the problems facing the schools. However, the latest solution will soon need solving as well, because mass programs never work. Children are not mass produced machines. Human beings are individuals with God-given unique attributes.
Centralized planners are threatening to “solve” other problems. We are told that rationing health care is the only solution for the health care crisis. This may be true if you are trying to treat all Americans. If you are trying to treat each individual American, there may be other solutions.
Centralized solutions are coming in education and health care. But this is exactly the opposite of what we need.