Dumb and Dumber

If you thought the national media gave Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal a rough time for his bumbling performance before the U.S. Supreme Court during arguments on the Texas sodomy law, take a whiff of the latest coverage of Rod Paige, the U.S. education secretary and former Houston Independent School District superintendent.

In an appearance before a U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee, Secretary Paige was asked by Senator Arlen Specter to explain why the administration proposed to cut funding for rural education. The Republican senator was stunned by the response.

According to Washington Post reporter Al Kamen, Paige's answer followed this convoluted course:

"We are learning a lot about rural states as we are moving now to having discussions specifically about that topic, about rural education. The various representatives from these states have had a chance to sit down with us and we with them to learn about their idiosyncratic issues.

"We have learned an awful lot about these states, and we are continuing to learn how we can be helpful with the states. They have enlisted the help of very capable accountability experts."

At this point, noted Kamen, Paige consulted a cue card for help. He then digressed into several comments on the issue of accountability, ending with the claim that his department was a partner in helping rural states "overcome some of these difficulties, and the same is true of Nebraska." There was no explanation why he pulled that state out of the hat, since no one on the committee was a Cornhusker.

Pennsylvanian Specter stared at Paige, then asked, "Mr. Secretary, how does accountability bear on eliminating the funding for a program?" Sensing the futility of further discussion, the senator threw in the towel and asked for a written answer later.

"Absolutely," replied Paige brightly. "I look forward to that because I think there are answers."

Perhaps he should look for them in his Ph.D. thesis on the movement of football linemen.

Paige also made headlines last week by declaring to the Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist convention, that he preferred Christian private schools to public education because "in a religious environment the value system is set. That's not the case in a public school, where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values."

Paige went on to tell another Baptist interviewer that "all things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith. When a child is taught that, there is a source of strength greater than themselves."

It's not surprising Paige has been one of the foremost salesmen in the administration for using federal dollars to pay tuition for private school students.

After his comments provoked a flurry of criticism from advocates of the separation of church and state, CNN quoted Paige as saying he would "pray for his critics."

We'll just say a silent prayer of thanks to President George W. Bush for getting this guy out of town, which makes room at the top of HISD for people who understand and value public education. -- Tim Fleck


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