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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

November 13, 2002
Taking Over

Today's "must read" is Cass Sunstein's Op/Ed piece in the New York Times about judiciary activism.

As Sunstein makes clear, this is something to fear whether you're Democrat, middle-of-the-road, or Republican.

Swaziland

Nothing new about Zena, but the monarchy in the country continues to be revealed as a system on the edge of revolution.

Enforced Education: It's All A Plot. Or, not.

A plot to do what? I don't know yet. I've just started reading John Taylor Gatto's on-line novel The Underground History of American Education.

So far I'm not sure whether to take it seriously (why don't we have a system whereby parents have easy access to the backgrounds of the teachers entrusted with their children?) or to laugh my way though it ("a government agent called a teacher").

One thing I always try and do when I'm reading something public-policy related is to see how quickly I can identify the political leanings of the author.

Sentences like, "I want to open up concealed aspects of modern schooling such as the deterioration it forces in the morality of parenting have an odd air of combining right-wing zing and survivalist propaganda. First thought: Far, far, far right-wing and probably living in an thinly populated area of Tennessee. Or Washington State. With a lot of guns and a two-year food supply.

Then I ran across: "One thing you do know is how unlikely it will be for any teacher to understand the personality of your particular child or anything significant about your family, culture, religion, plans, hopes, dreams. In the confusion of school affairs even teachers so disposed donít have opportunity to know those things. How did this happen?"

That sounds like a more left-wing, inclusive kind of educational dream, overly-idealized. Peace, love, and understanding and take a toke while we're waiting for the bus.

Maybe this guy is just confused?

Also, I'm sorry, but at what point did a commitment to teach every child reading, writing, and 'rithmetic become a commitment to nurture your family's religion?

(I'll tell you what I think. If he spent 30 years teaching disrespect for home and parents, I'm glad he's no longer teaching.)

At this point I'm still in the prologue and I already disagree with what seems to be the underlying assumptions of the book, that schooling is interfering with parenting and that public schooling does children a disservice.

The bottom line remains what it has always been. If you want your children to learn your values, you have to teach them those values. And that teaching is going to require time, effort, patience, and love. And you might throw in setting a good example, while you're at it. It's not up to little Johnnie's third-grade math teacher to teach him the meaning of Judaism, Christianity, Paganism, or whatever your religion is. It isn't the the responsibility of Susie's English teacher to try and lead Susie to fulfill your family's "dream", no matter what it is.

Teachers are there to teach their subjects. Your child's morality, your religion, and your personal family dreams are your business.

The next thing I ran across was the cost-factor, figured in a way to make the Enron accounting department proud with, "The cost in New York State for building a well-schooled child in the year 2000 is $200,000 per body when lost interest is calculated."

What interest? Lost where? At what percentage? Using what figure as the principle? Amortized? Monthly, quarterly, or annually? Or daily? Interest derived from what? The stock market? Are fluctuations figured in or did you use a constant?

By now I'm totally confused, which the next bit, an endless, run-on litany of the author's woes and wins as a teacher, does nothing to clarify.

I dunno if I'm going to read this book or not. I do agree that people don't learn at the same speed, or in the same way. But I don't automatically derive from those facts the conclusion that public schools do more damage than good.

And I'm not sure at all I want to read the rest of the book after reading this passage:

"Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents. The whole blueprint of school procedure is Egyptian, not Greek or Roman. It grows from the theological idea that human value is a scarce thing, represented symbolically by the narrow peak of a pyramid."

It has nothing to do with Egyptian, Greek, or Roman "procedure" and doesn't have its basis in theology and where does he get these ideas, anyhow?

(Maybe from the Republicans. They certainly believe that a very few people have a lot of value and the rest of the world should just shut up and empty the garbage.)

His next paragraph goes on to say:

"That idea passed into American history through the Puritans. It found its "scientific" presentation in the bell curve, along which talent supposedly apportions itself by some Iron Law of Biology. Itís a religious notion, School is its church."

Yeah, because the Puritans were all about Egyptology.

And how he gets from the "Iron Law of Biology" to whatever it is he's discussing being a religious notion, I do not know.

"I offer rituals to keep heresy at bay. I provide documentation to justify the heavenly pyramid."

Okay, I may be getting a glimpse of what he's getting at here. He feels the whole schooling process is too automated, too restrictive, and/or too rigid.

"In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling."

Okay, buddy, if you have, as you say, met gifted and/or disabled children, then clearly you do know they aren't a myth, so why are you saying they are?

As a "gifted" child who shared a school with "learning disabled" children, I can assure you, if your own experience wasn't sufficiently convincing, that we do exist.

The bell curve is not a figment of someone's overheated imagination. Perhaps it's your imagination which is at fault, that after 30 years in the classroom, you couldn't tell which child needed extra help and which child needed extra challenges?

I also fail to see what's "questionable" about trying to identify different learning abilities and adapt to them.

Isn't what you're demanding? Because it seems to be what you want, but at the same time you're dissing the public school system for trying to find a way to do it. (The only other conclusion I'm able to draw from your premise at the moment is that you don't think people should have to learn if they don't want to, but I'm thinking that it's the imprecision in your writing that's leading me to that conclusion.)

Shortly thereafter he comes out in favor of "free choice" for schools and announces that tests designed to figure out if Johnnie Can Read are a waste of time, as are tests that try to measure if students in Oregon are getting as good an education as students in Baltimore.

Sheesh. At this point, he spends a chunk of time patting himself on the back for how popular he was after he publicly quit his job and gives us a list of the impressive organizations just dying to hear what he had to say.

On the other hand, I might keep reading if he goes on to develop this theme:

"As I traveled, I discovered a universal hunger, often unvoiced, to be free of managed debate. A desire to be given untainted information. Nobody seemed to have maps of where this thing had come from or why it acted as it did, but the ability to smell a rat was alive and well all over America."

The rhetoric is muddy and contradictory but there may be something of interest further on. I'll keep reading and probably keep you posted, whether you like it or not.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:01 PM