It's funny how equating something with “defense” gets things done. Think about the Interstate Highway System, for example... or the space program... not to mention the Patriot Act, TSA, and the vast bureaucracy that has grown up around the “War on Terror”. We can be chasing goatherds across the Hindu Kush, but as long as that effort is identified as “defense” we're in the clear. Yes, the defense shibboleth covereth a multitude of follies. It is, in fact, the all-powerful, all-purpose excuse for whatever we might want to do, either on the home front or overseas, and it seldom loses a battle... except when it runs up against public education. Yes, there is a force even more powerful than defense, and it is the public schools and their facilitators – the teachers' unions and all of the various government agencies that depend on the public education system, and especially its chronic failings, to stay in business.
This was brought out in an AP article in yesterday's paper entitled “Study finds fault with education system” -- as if one needed a “study” to find fault with a system that has been miserably failing “the children” for decades now. But this is not just about everyday, garden-variety failure – the generation of armies of ignoramuses and the resulting impact on the culture. No, this is about public education's impact on defense. It seems that “nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the Army fail its entrance exam” -- and that, in turn, is based, presumably, on the failure of public schools to teach “basic math, science and reading” -- you know, those things that are now considered "electives". The article cites “a growing worry among military and education leaders that the pool of young people qualified for military service will grow too small”. (Too small for what? But read on...) This is predicated, of course, on the continuation of the military as a form of voluntary, as opposed to conscripted, service – and the unspoken implication is that people who have better prospects elsewhere (in education, employment, etc.) tend to avoid the military like the plague. Yes, it's true – a military draft does result in more talented people being in the military. But a price is paid in terms of morale (both theirs and society's in general), so it's anyone's guess what the bottom line is. A Ph.D. candidate commanding a tank (a not unfamiliar sight in Israel, for example) might do better as a tanker, but if he spends every waking hour longing for the comforts of grad school, that might cancel out any raw talent he happens to have.
So at any rate, here's Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education: “I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America's under-performing education system.” Wow – talk about throwing down the gauntlet! Might as well accuse them of hating astronauts, puppies, and apple pie. I'm amazed the NEA hasn't already asked for his head (maybe they will). The public education cabal can weather virtually any type, or level, of criticism – and so it has, countless times over the years. It can acquire monopolistic and tyrannical powers, courtesy of Congress and state boards of education. But can it defend itself against this latest charge? I'm guessing that it can, and the reason is that political correctness, AKA the liberal agenda, always trumps all other considerations, and has for many years. Take the military itself, which has just entered upon a new phase of social experimentation with the demise of “don't ask, don't tell”. Was defense, or readiness, topmost in the minds of Congress just now? The fact is, it wasn't in their minds at all... any more than when they totally ignored the problems that full integration of women into the services would cause. The military has become, over the years since World War II, the cutting edge of... not defense, but social change. That and a massive jobs program, not to mention a limitless cornucopia for arms makers. So we wind up with troops that are – through no fault of their own – severely compromised in many ways, forced to adhere to policies that further reduce readiness, and to use weapon systems that are based more on pork-barrel politics and plain bribery than actual need.
And even this wouldn't be so bad if we were Spain, say... or Norway... or Tunisia. We could have a charmingly small military that was suitable for people who were “into” that sort of thing, but would never be called upon to fight any real battles. But we're the defender of the free world, right? We're the leader in the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the War on Islam (oops – didn't mean to include that). We're the last, best hope for democracy. We're Israel's lifeline. And we have been granted, by unanimous acclaim, the mission to go anywhere in the world at a moment's notice in order to make sure that everyone is being nice to one another. And if they're not, we reserve the right to blow them into fine particles. So... given that that is our mission, wouldn't you think we would be a bit more serious about preparing for it? I mean, look at what happened after Sputnik – the public education establishment got an unequaled shot in the arm – and, for a while there, it actually responded. But let's not forget that that was at the very end of the post-war era of good feeling – a time when America shone as victor and savior of Western Europe and a few places in Asia. Well, OK, we gave China away to Mao and Eastern Europe away to Stalin... but let's not quibble over minor details. We were large and in charge... and when the Russkies beat us into space, we had to respond, and the public education cabal had not yet fully morphed into a force in opposition to quality education (or any education at all), nationalism, patriotism, or defense. That had to wait until the cultural revolution of the 60s took hold – although, one has to admit, public education was in the vanguard in many ways, i.e. it acted as much as it reacted. The “march through the institutions” did not begin with public education (unless you include the state university systems), but public education was a sitting duck for the “agents of change”. It was ripe for the picking, and pick they did. And the public schools were fertile ground, since they grew up, originally, with "Americanization" as a primary mission -- so it was not a huge leap to shift over to de-Americanization. (Once again, the downside of having an idea-based culture, which can turn into a house of mirrors on a moment's notice.) So in a few short years we went from a situation where the public schools were part of a united front along with parents (i.e. ordinary Americans), churches, small towns, business, etc. -- to a situation where it was being wielded as a weapon in the culture wars by the radical fringe. And it's not as though everybody got fired and a whole new cohort got hired – it's just that teachers, just like most people, tend to be followers – politically passive, with very few ides of their own. So when someone new moves into the top position, and starts putting out a new narrative, well... the tendency is to go along, especially if the unions say so. I mean, it's not unlike the situation with labor in general – how many rank-and-file union members agree with the social and political agenda of their union bosses? Damned few, I'd say – in most cases. And yet the sanctions that are imposed for speaking up, and protesting, are so severe that few are willing to brave the storm. As with any political or social change phenomenon, the true believers – those who have nothing to lose and everything to gain – tend to come out on top. And the ones who have little to gain and much to lose tend to go along. Survival comes first! And although there might be some genuine cowards playing roles in this drama, I really suspect that, most of the time, this is the way it played out. And that, all by itself, constitutes a good argument against political and social movements, and even against unions – that they almost inevitably turn into tyrannies, small-scale and local at first, but then able to wield vast power and create drastic changes in the culture, against the best interests of most of their nominal adherents.
So what happened, starting in the 60s, was that the newly-empowered public education establishment began to diverge from the mainline culture and its values. The irony, of course, was that that empowerment stemmed directly from the felt needs of the establishment – namely the need to “maintain parity” with the Soviets in the areas of science and technology. And as I said, the education establishment played along until it gained a foothold – but then it came under new management and the agenda shifted (but not in a way that was immediately visible to the ordinary citizen). Then the culture war began, and it became increasingly apparent that the education establishment was on one side, and the “silent majority”, as well as traditional American values, nationalism, patriotism, and defense, was on the other. And what's amazing is that they (the public education cabal) got away with it – all the way through the end of the Cold War, including Vietnam, right up to and including the “War on Terror” (to date) and the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Somehow it appeared that the predations and criminal negligence of the public education establishment had not caused any serious problems for national defense – although there were certainly hints of such a thing starting way back in the 1970s. The minute the draft ended, the military entered a bit of a crisis mode, and one way of dealing with it was to lower standards for enlistment. Another was to let people in, but provide them with a high school education, as well as a tech school education, before putting them out on duty. Yes – the military, as a matter of explicit, overt policy, was filling in the gap left by public education. And this was considered burdensome and expensive, but somehow tolerable. Up until now, that is. Or, maybe the Secretary of Education is just complaining over nothing. After all, it is him making the complaint, and not the military. In fact, according to the article, “the Department of Defense says it is meeting its recruiting goals”... but the suspicion is that this, as always, owes much to the current economic situation. What happens when things start looking up (if ever)?
So... if the military is not (yet) worried about this situation, why is the Secretary of Education worried? Could it be that he's found a “hook” with which to whip the teachers' unions into line? That doesn't seem very likely, since one word from them and he'd be out on the street. What I think is going on is that we have what I call “agenda clash” -- a phenomenon that seems to be cropping up more and more often these days as our economic degrees of freedom vanish and the government polices up our few remaining freedoms from the battlefield. The military is supposed to be a primary agent of social experimentation and change; let us grant that much. “Readiness” and “defense” in the strict sense aren't even on radar for the promoters of social change and of the military as its victim, er, “implementer”. But, as we all know, social change starts from the bottom – or at least it's supposed to. It starts from those on the lowest rung, socially and economically. But guess what, nearly ¼ of those who apply (who may not be from the bottom-most layer anyway) do not qualify. And guess what, that's talking about the people who get as far as taking the test. According to the article – and I have to admit I scarcely believe this myself -- “the test is given to a limited pool of people: Pentagon data shows [sic] that 75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don't qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn't graduate high school.” But remember, as bad as this sounds, we're still talking only about those who apply, not the entire population -- at least I hope not. But still... what this means is that the military is missing out on a major piece of its mission, which is to “socialize” the proletariat – especially the young males who would otherwise be out on the street dealing drugs, robbing convenience stores, stealing cars, and so on. And if these people are out of reach for the military, they are also, to some extent, out of reach for the establishment – the Regime. In other words, they are truly free agents, allowed to exist in an anarchistic subculture like the characters in some post-nuclear holocaust movie.
You see, it has always been assumed, by “policy makers”, that the military could take up the slack where the larger culture – i.e. economy – failed. So the very bottom layer – the layer consisting of people who weren't even qualified for military service – would remain small and manageable, composed mainly of those who would be wards of the state anyway, but relatively harmless and “low maintenance”. But now those numbers are swelling, because the educational establishment has failed to keep its part of the bargain – namely to “educate” people just up to the point where they qualify for military service, but no further. Of course, no such bargain ever existed – but the military persisted in believing that it did. But now the chickens are coming home to roost, and the free hand granted the public education cabal turns out to have been abused and exploited, in pursuit of a different, and even more powerful, agenda – namely the creation and maintenance of a permanent underclass, which forms a political power base as well as a full-employment guarantee for welfare caseworkers, law enforcement and prison personnel, emergency room employees, and so on. So you take that 75% of applicants who don't even get to take the test... and then another 23% of those who do, but fail... and you've got 81% who walk in the door, but just walk out again, having been tried and found wanting. And what they go back to is life in the permanent, anarchic underclass. And this is not exactly what the Regime had in mind.
So the military is caught in a bind. In “good times” (for the economy overall), no one is interested. And in “bad times” -- well, those ought to be good times for military recruiting, which they traditionally are... except for this problem that seems to have surfaced. The “willing and eligible” layer is getting thinner – sandwiched between the “eligible but not interested, even in bad times” layer above and the “willing but ineligible” layer below. And of course, there is much that the military can do to manage this problem – and it has, over the years, with varying degrees of success. For example, there is a wide variety of ways of dealing with the high school graduation issue. But how do you enforce physical fitness on a civilian population of minors and youths? No one has managed that one yet, no matter how many laps Michelle Obama runs with grade-schoolers. And as to criminal records – well, the military has never been too keen on the “dirty dozen” mystique, no matter what liberals think. Sociopaths make perfectly good politicians, but lousy soldiers.
But again, this all has to do with actual readiness, and my thesis is that the Secretary's concerns have more to do with the socialization issue. While it's true that – as I've argued previously -- a vast underclass is a vital part of the Regime's blueprint for America, there's such a thing as too much of a good thing. And as I said, there is always the threat of anarchy, and no one wants that – at least not in pure form. When the “inner city” or the “ghetto” explodes, it's nice when the explosion is limited to the socio-economic boundaries of that area – and it usually is. But who is to say – who can guarantee – that the situation being described won't eventuate in a repeat of the urban riots of the 1960s and 1970s? That's what I mean by “anarchy” -- and while it has its political uses as a “fear factor”, it also has serious drawbacks... especially if things get out of control. Anyone with a reasonable degree of physical fitness can walk from Washington, DC's old “riot corridor” into Georgetown (home of much of the power elite) with very little trouble. And if you can walk, you can run -- with a Molotov cocktail in your hand. There is always that threat hanging over the heads of the elite, and it has to be managed by any means available.
I have to include another quote from the same article – and this one's a beaut. A member of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators commented that “it's surprising and shocking that we are still having students who are walking across that stage [i.e., graduating] who really don't deserve to be [given a diploma] and haven't earned that right.” Surprising? Shocking? “Still?” Well now, whose fault is that, Mister Educator? The teachers' unions have been engaging in a culture war against traditional education and its supporting values for decades now. They have been in the vanguard of people who are opposed to “standards”, or even grades. They have pushed relentlessly for a curriculum that includes virtually everything but the “3 Rs”. They fight like demons when anyone starts talking about "pay for performance", and they lobby relentlessly against charter schools, faith-based schools, and home schooling. And besides, it's much more politically correct and humanistic, and “considerate”, not to mention non-racist and non-discriminatory, to simply give out diplomas no matter what. You serve your time in the public school prison/warehouse, and if you're still breathing at the end, you get a diploma. And now they're starting to have second thoughts? Please. Like any good radical, I say that things have turned out exactly as planned – there were no mistakes, there is no failure. It's “mission accomplished”. The Regime is now closer than ever to achieving its ultimate vision for American society -- an army of serfs and soldier-slaves and a power elite, with no one in between. And just because the success of the “educators” equals a failure for everybody and everything else – well, that's unfortunate, but clearly those who object don't have the proper revolutionary attitude. And that, apparently, includes Arne Duncan, a “direct report” to our most revolutionary president to date. (If your "irony alarm" hasn't started making a deafening roar by now, I'm afraid you've missed the point. But read on.)
Well, it's not hard to see where all of this is going. Now that Obama has taken on, with relish, the mantle of “war president” -- now that the people concerned about “defense” are not only Republicans, conservatives, racists, “haters”, etc. -- the spotlight has shifted a bit and is now shining, with a most annoying brightness, on the very people who were Obama's most fervent and loyal supporters. He's starting to wonder why those friends of his aren't doing more to support the wars he inherited from George W. Bush. Why aren't they doing more, in other words, to educate the underclass to the point where they become suitable cannon fodder (but not much more)? Well, of course, that lack of support has been going on since shortly after he was born; all he's seeing is the end stage, the reductio ad absurdum. But he can hardly afford to chastise them too severely because they're about all he has left in the way of unquestioning support.
One could see a silver lining to all of this in that, if military readiness truly declines and if enlistments fall below critical mass, the military will no longer be able to perform its assigned missions, as detailed above – nearly all of which are either unconstitutional, immoral, or pure folly. And I guess this is possible in theory, but experience should teach us that the Regime always finds a way to wriggle out of situations that, to anyone else, would be an impossible bind. The increasing use of drones (the mechanical, not the human, kind) and other high-tech gadgetry is obviously one approach. Another is the increased reliance on special operations forces and paramilitary units (“contractors”, formerly known as “mercenaries”), the latter being more often under the intelligence, rather than the military, chain of command. This way, the mainstream military can be more or less left alone to perform its primary function which is socio-economic. The problem is, one can only do so much with specialists – our strategy still relies quite heavily on “boots on the ground”, which means bodies, which means ordinary “grunts” (or their sea-going equivalent). You can fight battles with drones, but can you engage in “nation-building” with drones? Not that I'm aware. And we see that the bulk of our military effort consists of occupation, once the initial invasion is accomplished. How does one occupy a nation in the Middle East from a bunker in Nevada? No... bodies are still going to be the answer, unless there is a radical change in the question, and I don't see that happening very soon. I mean... as if our debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan weren't enough, now we're getting ready to invade Iran. Or Yemen. Or some other place that no one over here cares about. So I see this bind – this contradiction, this paradox – continuing, and if it drives certain people to distraction, well, it's no more than they deserve.