"No matter how hard they try to intimidate us," the chairman of the Manhattan Institute, Paul Singer, said last night, "we will not back down."
The event was the Institute's annual Alexander Hamilton Dinner in Midtown Manhattan. Those attempting the intimidating were identified by Mr. Singer generally as defenders of the status quo, but given the context of a recent American Federation of Teachers report that put money managers whose personnel donated to the Manhattan Institute on a "watch list," it wasn't hard to imagine what he meant.
No backing down at all was evident in the remarks of the two main speakers at the event, Invemed CEO Kenneth Langone and the former governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour.
Said Mr. Langone, who was honored at the event with the Alexander Hamilton Award: "We need to hold our teachers accountable....They are being paid a fortune and very frankly the results aren't there....We are not getting the results from our teachers for what we are paying."
He told a story he said had been told to him by a New York public school principal of calling teachers into a meeting. When the clock hit 3:40 p.m., the end of the official workday, the teachers got up and walked out. "I'm angry, and I think you ought to be angry with me," Mr. Langone said.
In contrast, Mr. Langone spoke with pride of the results achieved by the Harlem Children's Zone charter school, which he is involved with. He said the first year, the school fired 80 percent of its teachers because they just weren't getting the job done. Last year the school graduated its first high school class, and all the students went on to college, he said.
Mr. Barbour, who was standing in for Hamilton award winner Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, was introduced by Joel Klein, the former New York City Schools chancellor who is now an executive at News Corp. Said Mr. Barbour: "We have got to replace some of those teachers with technology...We have to learn how to reduce the number of teachers."
In addition to addressing education, Mr. Langone spoke about what he called the "tragedy of the welfare state." He said the "downside of all that government assistance" is that "we strip people of their self respect when they don't have a chance to do it for themselves."
He also spoke of what he called "generational theft."
"Every month my wife and I get $4,000 from the U.S. government," he said. "We need to energize the young people who are being screwed by guys like me." He called for a "counterforce" to the AARP to revise the Social Security program. "I shouldn't get it. I should pay more taxes," he said. "Take my Social Security and raise my taxes," he said, but "make sure it goes to only one purpose, paying down our enormous national debt."
Mr. Barbour questioned the idea "that every child ought to go to the university," arguing that some would be better off getting training in job skills such as welding, auto mechanics, and steel working.
The Manhattan Institute is a New York-based public policy research organization. The dinner raised $1.6 million for the institute, Mr. Singer said in his welcoming remarks.