Monday, June 28, 2010

No Serf Left Behind

Whenever I hear about people attempting to do battle with the monolith that is the public school cabal, I think of various mythical figures who exemplify frustration and defeat – Sisyphus, Don Quixote, Wile E. Coyote, and such like. They are forever coming up against a power that is – for some mysterious reason – nigh unto absolute. And yet, they invariably survive, and live to return to the fray. So in this sense, their lives and efforts seem fraught with futility... and yet they do what they do, “for the sake of the absurd” as Kirkegaard put it. And while it is absurd, and a bit pathetic, to see the same battles fought over and over with the same result, the notion that there is someone out there who dares “to dream the impossible dream” is an inspiration for the rest of us, who have neither the fortitude nor the persistence – nor, perhaps, the foolishness – to engage in this kind of conflict.

And yet, there was a time, within living memory – including mine – when the public schools stood for quality, and a sincere belief in the value of education – I mean real education, and not only on the practical side but for its own sake. They also stood for patriotism – a bit starry-eyed and delusional at times, but at least genuine and not of the cynical, manipulative type that we see emanating from Washington these days. And I'm sure that there are teachers even now – a lonely remnant – who believe in the old values, but hardly dare admit this in the company of their peers -- a group dominated by "furry radicals" from the 1960s. As it is, the main, if not sole, mission of the public schools in our time is political – to turn out “good citizens” of the Servile State – the contemporary version of The New Soviet Man. This would be the ultimate authoritarian, who questions nothing and accepts everything – quite the opposite of what formal, institutional education used to be about, which was all about questions and inquiry... and skepticism, as appropriate. As the bumper sticker says, “Question Everything” -- except one suspects that the people who sport this sticker are the same ones who swallow whole everything that is claimed about “global warming”. But in any case, the mission of schools used to involve expanding one's thinking, and one's horizons, as well as one's assessment of one's own potential. But students nowadays are boxed into a minuscule space of non-thought and non-action, with the walls of political correctness closing in and the ceiling of “equal outcomes” getting lower all the time. Once they are crushed into a tiny intellectual and psychological cube, they are spat out by the system and told to go, and be good citizens – which means, take your place on the mile-high Matrix wall with all the other cubes. And the fact that this is, indeed, Job One of the educational system is brought out in sharp relief by the reaction whenever anyone questions it, or proposes that there might be a better (or at least alternative) way.

Case in point – the recent interest in single-gender public schools – and it should be noted that single-gender schools were, not all that long ago, just called “schools” since many, if not most, of the high-quality private and parochial schools were, in fact, single-gender, and proud of it. But the public schools, being a creature of “democracy”, have had to succumb to the same Utopian - and now unisex -- thinking that has characterized so many of our other institutions. But even so, no one with a grain of sense would have claimed, in the old days, that putting, say, middle-school kids of both genders in the same classroom would achieve anything other than to get them each thinking, non-stop, about the other gender – to the detriment of all else. But of course, it is the “all else” that the educational establishment of our time has written off as being unimportant and irrelevant; what counts is “socialization”, and the word has a funny ring to it. It almost sounds like “socialism”, which, of course, it is – or, let's say, it's one of the major building blocks of socialism. The first thing you do when you want people to “work and play well with others” in the Servile State is to put them into situations where all the rough edges – all the individuality – get beaten down and rubbed off.

There are many ways of accomplishing this, and the public schools are adept at most. And, when it comes to gender, a major part of this campaign is something that has characterized human initiation rites since the dawn of time – namely sexual humiliation. In this case, it refers to the humbling of an individual in the presence of the opposite sex -- but the more traditional, all-male version is still used as a tool, to great effect, in fraternities, the military, and prisons. But who is it who is commonly sexually humiliated in the average middle-school classroom? Is it the boys? Hell no – that piece is reserved for the locker room. No, it's the girls. And they come out of the experience either traumatized or hardened -- “toughened up” -- all to the detriment of themselves, of society, and of true femininity. And yet! Guess who is the most vehemently opposed to the notion of single-gender classrooms – the feminists, of course. They have no problem at all sticking girls into rooms full of predatory boys... hoping, I guess, that the girls will beat them at their own game, whereas, more often than not, they are the ones who get beaten... at least psychologically, spiritually, and morally.

What's interesting in the present case (bubbling up in the Pittsburgh public school system) is that the assistant superintendent for Pittsburgh secondary schools has called single-gender schools “an effective model in raising student academic achievement, particularly [note this!] among historically low-performing student groups.” What “historically low-performing” means is “black”, in case you didn't notice. But that only aggravates the problem, since the primary target group for the Regime's brainwashing schemes is blacks – always has been, ever since the great migration from the South. And along with this brainwashing effort goes an absolute indifference toward academic achievement – both on the part of blacks themselves and their white caretakers. So the notion of “fixing” that situation by segregating (by gender) blacks will inevitably meet with furious opposition – which it has. The ACLU is, of course, already on the attack, even though Title IX (of all things) has been “interpreted” by DOE, to allow for “options for school districts to create single-gender public schools”. It'd be awful funny if the ACLU had to go to court with Title IX on the other side of the aisle, wouldn't it?

The primary argument revolves around the concept of “separate but equal”. On the one hand, the advocates claim that single-gender classrooms, while they separate the sexes, nonetheless provide equal quality (or non-quality) education to each... while the opponents would counter that, in the words of the Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. I mean... if this argument can be used when race is a factor, it can certainly be used when gender is a factor. Right? But then the question arises, is there a difference between “equality” and being identical? A male-only classroom will certainly be different from a female-only classroom, but does that make them unequal? And the problem with that question comes not with comparing metrics – i.e. making comparisons based on measurable commodities – but with comparing what are, in effect, two different art forms. For teaching is, finally – and ideally – an art, just like coaching, or leadership, and the skill with which this art is exercised probably has more influence on the results than any other single factor. Who has not read or seen stories about teachers in “ghetto schools” who have achieved amazing results with “unpromising” students? What changed? It certainly was not the schools, or the students (in terms of their baseline culture or families, etc.) -- it was the quality of the transaction between the educator and the student. And this particular quality is, I submit, something that, ironically, can't be taught – i.e., excellent teachers can't teach mediocre teachers how to become excellent. They might be able to provide them with “tips”, and procedures, and a few basic concepts, but that's about it. And frankly, the education departments in our colleges and universities aren't going to come up with a Pat Conroy all that often. For one thing, that's not their goal; excellence and “thinking outside the box” are simply not on the agenda. Plus, they have to deal with that portion of the population that is still attracted to that line of work, and public education these days has come to be considered – rightly or wrongly – a sheltered workshop for mediocrities, losers, busybodies, and frustrated leftists. People looking for a “quality” life doing “quality” things are not likely to focus on the public schools as being their first choice. And of course one response to this is that the problem is not with the teaching, it's with the “politics”. But how did the schools become such hotbeds of “politics”? I mean, any time people are working together in an organized group there are going to be transactional aspects, personality issues, etc. But this notion that public school teachers are somehow frustrated by “politics” is a red herring – the political obsession and intrigue are part and parcel of the whole public education mindset, starting at the grass roots. When your world view is based on what Ayn Rand called “social metaphysics”, then everything becomes political. And the teachers' unions are, after all, creatures of the teachers, who, aside from being entitlement junkies, were brought up with a certain mindset – namely that all worthwhile human activity has to be motivated by some (usually collectivist) concept of “social good”, and that it has to, in turn, be mediated by government – and the bigger and more intrusive the better. What counts is uniformity – and what we are doing in this society is educating to uniformity, not to any sort of outstanding, high-profile achievement; the latter is left to arise spontaneously, in spite of the system, not because of it. And, by the way, when the social work establishment started looking for ways to extend its clammy reach into the lives of American citizens and families, who did they recruit as their very first auxiliary force? Public school teachers, of course – since they already had the attitude that they knew better than parents how children should be raised and taught. And it's never the agenda of the majority of parents that is pursued in the public schools; it's the agenda of the teachers, the teachers' unions, the education bureaucracy, and, ultimately, of the “social change” advocates in departments of education. So yes, it really does all begin with ideas – with a philosophy and a certain world view. Most important things do, in fact – even though this will be denied by the practitioners, who pretend to be totally objective and “scientific” (even though that is itself a world view).

And when one thinks back on the history of public schools as a subset of social history, it's amazing that the schools remained bastions of quality for so long after liberalism and collectivism became the preferred points of reference in so many other aspects of American life – social welfare, the economy, the arts, politics in general. It's almost as if the schools held out until they could hold out no more. Think about the sudden and precipitous changes in the dynamics of the American economy and social structure that came with the New Deal; it was a revolution with far greater impact than most of what are called “revolutions”. It was, in effect, a top-to-bottom restructuring of society and the economy (something the Obama crew are trying to recapitulate in our time, by the way). But the schools remained intact – teaching the basics in an organized, coherent way... turning out “good citizens”, but without the degree of brainwashing that is commonly applied in our time. And what was the difference? I think the main one is that what we today call “family values” were still pretty much taken for granted; they at least weren't universally derided by the media. And what that involved, more than anything else, was trust. The “system”, if you will – the government, the schools, social welfare agencies, etc. -- still basically trusted most parents, most of the time, to know what was good for their children – including education – and to properly implement it. The sanctity of the family was still accepted as the cultural baseline, in other words – unlike today, when families are considered “accidents” and pretty poor ways of bringing up children. And this was despite the impact of mass migrations, the growth of cities, the decline of rural life, and the teachings of the likes of John Dewey. Yes, public schooling was about “integration” in the broad sense – integration into American life and the inculcation of certain common values. It was opposed to provincialism and (because this is America, after all) sectarianism... but I can't recall it ever being actively opposed to religion, for example; at least it wasn't during my time in the public schools. It also wasn't opposed to the notion that parents are the best judges of what, and when, to tell their children about sexuality. It didn't attempt to undercut parental discipline, or ideas about nutrition, or politics. The schools had not yet set themselves up as opposing forces to the home, in other words – as hotbeds of radicalism and social activism where all the latest political fads would be mercilessly promoted and pushed onto families by way of their children. These are ideas and techniques that were universally applied in the Soviet Republic – and, as I said, it's amazing, when you think back on it, that they hardly made a mark on our own public education system until, probably, the 1960s. And that's considering that the Soviet system was considered the wonder of the world by the New Dealers, who were already running everything else in the country starting way back in 1933. But I suspect that the delay had mostly to do with the local character of public schools – the fact that teachers (and therefore curricula) were answerable, primarily, to local school boards, and secondarily to state education offices, and hardly at all to the federal government and its “brain trusters”. And the unions had not come into their own as yet, with all of their “one-worlder” ideas. At that time, if a parent didn't like what he or she saw when their kid brought things home from school, they could just call up the teacher (who was probably a neighbor) or a school board member (ditto). Things could be changed and adjusted at the local level without making (literally) a federal case out of them. But now, it's all so centralized – such a faceless, multi-storied, Byzantine bureaucracy, that parents feel powerless – which they, in fact, are. Plus, they know that the system has ways of dealing with “troublemakers” and those who question the wisdom of the educational hierarchy. You can be “hot lined” for any number of things these days – and we now have such a gigantic, tangled web of laws that, at any given time, just about everyone is violating at least one law, whether they realize it or not. And the Regime knows this, and its foot soldiers (including teachers) know it. Again, it's more like the Soviet Union every day – you can be denounced by anybody, for any reason, and that gets you caught up in the machinery of the system... and lots of luck ever getting free. So the smartest thing for parents is to keep a low profile and stay below radar... even though it's their own children we're talking about. But their attitude is one of, basically, despair – when it comes to their own freedoms, so that naturally extends to the freedoms of their children as well.

One of the reasons for the widespread dysfunctionality that characterized the breakup of the Soviet Union was that there was no living memory of freedom – the people were like caged animals who are suddenly confronted by an open cage door; they didn't know what to do, or what to think. It was much more comfortable before, when they knew their limits. And so it is in our society, and one of the main institutions that exists to define, and enforce, those limits is the public education establishment. Do as they say... think the way they want you to think... and all will be well. Do or think something else, and the entire weight of the establishment will come crashing down on you. And how many people want to move out of their “comfort zone” to that extent? Very few. So they will offer up their children as sacrifices to The Power, hoping that, somehow, they will all survive and come out intact – but the child's spirit is a delicate thing, and is easily crushed. And when you have the largest bureaucracy in the country devoted to doing just that... well, the outcome is pretty inevitable, unless one is willing to stand up in defiance, and risk everything for the sake of the truth.

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