29.9.08

FOURTH TURNING ALERT. Daniel Henninger, with the latest variation on "take care of the o-rings and the Space Shuttle will take care of itself."

Standards of behavior matter.

All that remains is to see if this week's left-right consensus on standards can be extended to any corner of American life beyond "CEO pay" and other sitting ducks.

Once we're done imposing Spartan discipline on the dining rooms of Wall Street, how about some of the same for the halls and classrooms of the average inner-city high school? A nation in panic at the sight of banks imploding has yawned for years while the public-school system melted down.

A handful of Supreme Court decisions going back 40 years relaxed standards of oversight for dress codes, comportment, speech and expulsion, and the average school principal or teacher threw in the towel on daily discipline.

It was so much easier to be liked. Cheap fuel, cheap credit, and productivity gains in construction gave more people the option of choosing a better school district. Better is a comparative: their kids still couldn't integrate ln x if their portfolio depended on it, but they could count on a relatively safe environment in which their self-esteem was never tested.

Many school administrators can relate to the frontline mortgage-lending officers, some of them old-school bankers who used to help young borrowers understand the difference between the real world and probable ruin. That's what high-school principals used to do. No more.

Suddenly, local lenders were toiling (if they survived) in the easier liar-loan world fostered by Congress, Fannie and Freddie and guys with great tans in Los Angeles. The old public-school system, once a tight ship in countless towns, knew that game. The schools learned to shove another class of semi-educated bodies into the street every June and call them "graduates" the same way lenders called zero-down-payment borrowers "homeowners."

Now comes a test with a stern grading curve. If the fallout includes seeing off access-assessment-remediation-retention from the universities, all the better.

I hope only that there are sufficient bankers and common-school principals that remember the older United States, the one before the 1960s, when the institutions worked.

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