The maddening problem facing conservatives fighting the growth of big government is that much of the growth is fertilized by former conservatives who started growing it. The phenomena is most evident in benighted lands that don’t impose term limits on elected officials and where legislative bodies meet year round.
And just as a cancerous growth is no respecter of persons, politician growth isn’t limited to the federal government.
Symptoms are evident on the state and local level. In Virginia, a politician who initially ran for office as a small-government conservative failed to resist the temptation to build a ‘legacy’ over the years he remained in the state capitol.
Bill Stanley, in his first race for the Virginia Senate, promised to “fight to reduce state spending and the size of state government.” Those two promises work in tandem. Without increased spending, government can’t grow and expand its interference. Cutting spending also cuts the size of government since the Commonwealth must balance its budget.
Stanley’s first legislative session was promising, considering he’s a defense lawyer. He introduced a bill that would require local courts to try repeat juvenile violent offenders as adults. Choosing the right health insurance policy may be so daunting that it takes 26 years to prepare for the decision, but choosing between right and wrong is binary, and consequences should apply at a much earlier age.
Six years since Stanley first ran for that office, it appears that he has fallen under the influence of some social justice warriors. He’s gone from tough-on-crime to touchy-feely. He’s introduced a bill that would forbid local school districts from suspending any student in preschool through the third grade.
I wanted to ask the senator a number of questions regarding this state government expansion into the affairs of local school boards, but eight days wasn’t long enough to work me into the schedule. I did speak with a staffer, however, and as far as he knew, there is no epidemic of pint-sized suspensions in the district.
It might have been useful for Stanley to interview a few teachers before he began meddling. Teacher’s classroom discipline experiences are instructive. For example, in regards to a third-grade boy who made an obscene gesture as he exited the bus and entered school, the behavior was reported. When the vice principal asked the boy about the report, the boy struck the principal.
That earned the boy his third suspension for this year. One might be tempted to say that three suspensions prove suspensions don’t work. It’s time to try the gentle Stanley Rule, which would force elementary schools to create an alternative, in-school behavior program.
That ignores the immediate benefit of a suspension: It gives his teacher a break.
When not taking a swing at administrators, this child routinely shouts in class, disrupting the room and destroying the learning environment. He bullies other children and exhibits disrespectful behavior that other, easily-led boys imitate.
The prospect of his moving into fourth grade is so foreboding that more than one fourth grade teacher has applied for a transfer to another school.
Taking away suspensions removes the only leverage administrators have these days.
Suspending this kid doesn’t bother him a bit, but it bothers the parents a great deal. It means staying home from work, arranging short-term daycare or dialing 1-800-Im-Ur-Jailer.
Enough suspensions, and parents may finally become engaged and discipline their delinquent. But Stanley’s meddling means the punishment is inflicted on the children in the delinquent darling’s classroom who obey the rules and are trying to learn — an impossibility because the teacher’s time and attention is spent trying to deal with Rosemary’s Baby.
Stanley’s staffer contends the outbursts “mean there are other issues going on at home.” Exactly. And a conservative response, that respected the rights of well-behaved children, would have directed school administrators to make a referral to the dreaded Child Protective Services after the second suspension.
Classroom decorum would be preserved, and conditions in the home would be investigated without disrupting the school or creating in-house discipline programs that siphon more money away from the education of the kids who aren’t a constant problem.
Conservative legislation seeks to serve the law-abiding, rule-following majority without imposing new burdens or taking away their ability to act independently.
Stanley’s bill fails that simple test. Instead, it’s legislation in search of a problem. The bill also may put Stanley in search of a new job when the parents of kids who follow the rules learn what he’s done to their child’s classroom.
Michael Shannon is a commentator and public relations consultant and the author of “A Conservative Christian’s Guidebook for Living in Secular Times.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.