by Tom White
The historian Gary North, whose work appears often on this site, typically doesn't give a lot of time to the day-to-day dogfight of party politics. He has said somewhere, I think, that current politics isn't his, so to speak, shtick. But he frequently knocks out paragraphs on aspects of our dizzy national life that are startling, illuminating and, for my money, convincing.
Here's one from his Institute of Christian Economics email newsletter of October 23, 2002:
"Government schools are the primary cause of mind-altering drug addiction in America. They are also the primary initial distribution centers. The public schools have created the present-oriented defeatist mindset that characterizes the drug addict. This mindset involves loss of faith in binding moral law, loss of faith in God, loss of faith in the possibility of redemption, loss of faith in the day of final judgment, and loss of faith in personal responsibility. Lose these, and you also lose faith in life's meaning. Drugs are an easy sell to people who have abandoned faith in life's meaning. To win the war on drugs we must win the war on tax-funded education."
John Taylor Gatto comes at the problem of our meretricious and hyper-engorged government school system in a different way. As an ex-teacher himself, he emphasizes the aspect of sheer academic failure. A study of his website (www.johntaylorgatto.com) will, I think, open almost anyone's eyes, anyone, that is, who hasn't fiercely willed them to stay shut.
I fear that condition is, however, where most parents find themselves: in a self-willed blindness. Because to know that you are consigning your children to a hell hole seven or so hours a day is a bit unsettling if your self-esteem, your precious amour proper, requires that you see yourselves as Great Parents with Great Kids.
I regret to say I am related to a number of such people. They have my sympathy. I really do not enjoy disturbing their illusions. My gentle suggestions have been brushed aside often enough. And I can't go past the level of gentle suggestions or ironic comments or subtle hints, etc. I long ago adopted as a guiding maxim this jingle: "Whoever is convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."
To do anything meaningful about the school situation in those cases where there is not enough money for a good private school, or no such school within range, means home schooling. That means mama has to stay home, papa has to add some more duties to the already full load he will be carrying as sole breadwinner. A DRAG big-time. So look away and turn up the volume on the TV.
But the thing comes home to roost. I have friends involved in salvaging the wreckage. They operate schools that take in "troubled," "at-risk" youngsters who have gotten a real head start on meaninglessness and drugs in their government schools, often the "better" ones in well-to-do suburbs. Desperate parents turn to these new schools with the plea: "Take my kid, do SOMETHING, do it now!"
The kid, perhaps kicking and screaming but with no other good options, is now on board in this special school, 12 months of the year, 24/7, with very little contact outside. The moral program is definite, clear-cut, not optional. It does exactly what public school may not in that its ethos begins with God, simply conceived, and moves through the Commandments, the Golden Rule, the school's rules, and so on, and makes this standard stick on the school grounds the clock around. No one is shocked by mistakes or failures, but there is no plan to have the students rewrite the program or go "cafeteria" about what they'll choose to do.
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are usually the modus operandi of these schools, a program that has been briefly stated thusly: "Trust God, clean house, and go to meetings." The schools' version of that is, "Trust God, clean house, attend classes, and observe the school rules."
These are not jails. Kids are free to walk out. Some do. But a great many grab the chance, the first one they've ever had, really. The staff people are simpatico, not big eggheads, mostly people who have themselves come back from the abyss, and know what's it like out there. And they value clean living as God's own gift to reformed idiots.
The academic side is also tough and challenging. It hits the old-fashioned basics, 3Rs, etc. Lots of emphasis on getting somewhere in life, having goals, delaying satisfactions for a better result. Tremendous emphasis on tackling difficult work. Result: the kids come to life and eat it up. Not all, but an astonishingly high percentage.
The rot in the government schools comes from intellectual and moral flabbiness; hopelessly fatigued and overburdened teachers are ridden by what one Net columnist calls "neutered administrators." Elaborate ennui and indifference stall all efforts to put the pervasive vigor and rigor that youth needs for stimulus into anything at all, except perhaps sports, especially football, which concerns but a tiny minority of specialists among the students.
These schools, all privately owned, theist but non-denominational, have turned into a small but growing nationwide industry in the last decade. They have no shortage of applicants despite a cost of a considerable number of thousands per year for board and tuition. It's the reasonably well to do who are resorting to this solution. It's not available to the ghetto, worse luck. But it may be that the seed of common sense (and, ye gods, some simple morality) will yield fruit a hundred fold when the results of this movement finally surface in the public consciousness.
One has to suppose that has to happen sometime. Two vectors now head for a point of collision: one, coming from the left, is the apprehension that the government schools are hopeless; the other, coming from the right, that schools operated on exactly the opposite set of principles, and on a free-market platform to begin with, are brimming with hope and turning out kids with a real grip on living. There are no guarantees that graduates will never mess up, but their launching pad is not a phone list of drug contacts.
I got thinking about all this after spending a few minutes with our local daily. In short order I was brought up to date on two groups of high school students. One had administered a brutal beating to a "special student," that is, a less-than-overly-bright one. It seems they deliberately planned the event and sought out a likely victim, and then videotaped the fun for later viewing. I think this was in Michigan. It doesn't matter. It could have been anywhere.
The other was here in Texas and also involved a bunch of high school kids. They were at the home of the parents of one of them. Along comes (in the early morning hours) a girl student to join the fun. All were drinking of course. The girl passes out and is raped by a number of the boys. And they, too, videotaped the whole thing, presumably so as to have something amusing to watch later. And of course the tape will convict them. There is not enough sense here, as a friend of mine used to like to say, to plug sand in a rat hole.
These kids not only don't know what behavior is criminal, they don't know an apprentice criminal's first maxim: Don't leave a trail. They don't even have a rudimentary instinct of self-preservation.
Of course you say that I haven't proved that the government schools are to blame. True. But has their Godless, dull-witted, mass-herding of youth been of any help? Could children anyone is paying any attention to end up like this? As for me, I'll continue my campaign of gentle suggestions and subtle hints. I remind you that, as I recall the story, cholera was not defeated in London by discovering the microbic cause; it was defeated by shutting down certain wells that were delivering suspect water.
Tom White [send him mail] writes from Odessa, Texas.