I’ve been collecting clips about schools and teachers around the country for the last year, and I have to tell you that I genuinely fear for the republic. I say that because, for us “old folks” who were actually taught American History in school, a thriving democracy depends upon universal education – an education that prepares the citizens of a nation to govern themselves through their elected representatives. (Of course, it was the presumption of the framers of the Constitution that if one attended school, one could be counted on to emerge educated!)
Is it really because they don’t care that so many Americans don’t vote? Or is it because they can’t read the ballot? We tend to blame lackluster politicians or negative campaigning for low turnout at the polls. But what if the real reason is that most of our citizens are not sufficiently educated about the basic concepts of democracy to understand the issues – even those that directly impact their self interest? And what if that ignorance is compounded by illiteracy?
Last fall, the Center for Civic Information at the Manhattan Institute published the report of a telephone survey of over 1,000 fourth- and eighth-grade teachers. Among the not so surprising findings was that only about 25 percent of those surveyed said they most cared about whether a student got the right answers. More of them most cared that students tried hard or used a creative approach.
That absurd state of affairs has come about because this generation of teachers, and probably a few generations before, have themselves been raised to believe there are no right answers, anyway. So what difference does it make?
For example, our public-school children hear that the Founding Fathers are not to be revered. They were greedy, patriarchal oppressors who were in it for the money and the power. America is not a noble experiment in freedom and equality. That was the cover story, as we stole the land from the indigenous people. America wasn’t recently attacked by terrorists. America is the terrorist!
Furthermore, there are no such things as great books, since all the books we were misguided enough to think of as great, were written by those same old white male misogynists from the evil empire of Western culture. What’s just as great is any diary written by any woman, slave or Native American and recently discovered in someone’s trunk. And woe to anyone who disagrees.
Of course, none of it matters anyway, because language itself is fatally tainted, and words don’t mean anything. They only mean what my idiosyncratic point of view believes they mean. Just ask the deconstructionists.
Those deconstructionists have been very busy, because they didn’t stop with the English language. They have also pretty successfully deconstructed family, religion, values, ethics and morality as well. We all know that, if there can be no right answers, there obviously is no right and wrong. No one’s behavior can be judged because the most heinous acts can be excused on the basis of what the perpetrator may have suffered at the hands of his parents, the police, the inequitable society. Yada, yada, yada.
This leads inevitably to “understanding” that immigrant children shouldn’t be penalized in school because English is not their first language. And what’s so great about patriarchal, oppressive, English anyway? Embrace over 100 languages in the classroom (as we do in the Los Angeles School District) so that no one learns anything – least of all the immigrant children who are one day going to grow up as Americans and not even understand what that means, let alone what it requires of them or entitles them to.
God is dead (although the Wiccan goddess still has a fighting chance, I guess) – traditional morality is destructive; excellence is discredited and devalued; grades are antiquated. Discipline is discriminatory because there’s no such thing as bad behavior, just children with “special needs.”
No wonder teachers are trying to find ways to make their work meaningful, since accomplishment and achievement can no longer be benchmarks of success. After all, the unaccomplished and underachievers in the class are likely to feel bad. Worse, their parents might sue for cruel and unusual punishment.
For a few years now, I’ve been urging parents to send their kids to private religious schools and/or homeschool them. I truly see no other options for raising and educating children to be morally fit, well informed, appreciative Americans and contributing members of society.
A shortage of teachers, a kaleidoscope of standards, endemic failure, annual budget shortfalls, states taking over local school districts and guns in the classroom are unavoidable signs of public-school collapse. I think Oregon may have the right idea. They are looking to shorten the school year by 15 days. How long before it’s clear to them and to us, that we should simply close them altogether?