American Education, R.I.P.

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After spending 25 years observing the American educational system, including 12 years on various college campuses, I have come to believe that by any imaginable measure, our system is failing across the board. And while public schools are at the epicenter of the collapse, the gangrene has long since spread to many of our private schools and throughout our university system.

A recent article in the Houston Chronicle noted yet again the travesty that our public schools have become. Since the performance of that city’s students has shown no signs of improvement, the bureaucrats running the system have decided to relapse into social promotion:

"Houston high school students who’ve failed core subjects such as English or math would get to move on to the next grade under a proposal HISD trustees are considering as part of the district’s effort to reduce its dropout rate."

Roberto González, who chaired an HISD task force that studied the district’s dropout problem, said the change is a good one.

“Students that have been retained one year have a 50 percent chance of dropping out. Those who’ve been retained two years have a 90 percent chance of dropping out,” he said, citing a Texas Education Agency report on grade retention in 1999 and 2000. “The important factor is to keep students in an age-appropriate grade level. When students start falling behind, they start losing interest in school"

The article proceeds to describe all of the usual excuses and rationalizations that have become standard propaganda for those benefiting from the dysfunctional status quo.

But so long as the fundamental issues are ignored, no amount of "reform" or increased tax expenditures will make any difference.

There are, in my opinion, two fundamental purposes of education. First, is the "nuts and bolts" issue of teaching young people the basic skills they will need to survive and prosper in their adult lives. The second, more abstract purpose is to inculcate children with the values and traditions of their culture. This latter function gives children a guidepost for the philosophical essentials of living a moral life and allows them to psychologically place themselves on the larger continuum of their civilization. It should teach them what has come before, and inspire them to work to carry their culture forward.

While socialism is destroying the first purpose of education, political correctness is strangling the second.

I’ve long thought that our public school system is America’s version of Soviet agriculture. The USSR collectivized farms early on it its "utopian revolution" (an event which piled up a body count of several million…particularly in the Ukraine). From that point forward, the Soviet bureaucracy micromanaged the system with elaborate five year plans. Each five-year plan plowed copious government resources into the system, set up strict criteria for productivity, and created a list of performance projections which routinely predicted that an agricultural cornucopia was just around the corner.

And, to the great surprise of the socialists, the system was a miserable failure. The USSR, which had by far the greatest abundance of high-quality agricultural land on the planet, was chronically short of food. Each year, the government spent vast resources trying to make the system perform, and each year its output fell far below the grandiose projections of the most recent "plan."

The system was a textbook example of the fundamental flaws of socialism. It did not fall short because of some error in the bureaucratic structure of the system, but because the system itself was incapable of working.

A food shortage in Russia is comparable to a gasoline shortage in Saudi Arabia. Any system that could mess things up that badly is truly an abject failure.

Similarly, our public school system is based on the fundamentals of socialism. The schools are physically owned by the government, the employees are on the government payroll, and the system is financed by confiscation of money from the taxpayers.

Thus, the failure of the system is not due to poor teaching methods, inadequate financing, or low teacher-to-student ratios. The failure is systemic. The public school system cannot work because it is based on a fundamentally flawed version of economic philosophy.

The proof of this is well known to everyone in our country. The woeful academic skills of American students are too incontrovertible to be chronicled here. And the failure of numerous reform proposals (such as President Bush’s "No Child Left Behind" bill) is a foregone conclusion. The system cannot be fixed any more than a fish can be taught to ride a bicycle.

But as odious as this system is in failing to teach students the basic skills they will need to survive and compete, it is the effects of our school system on the second, cultural purpose of education that is the real long-term danger to our society.

As cultural Marxism seeps into the very fiber of our curriculum, it is having a hideous effect on the philosophical and cultural well-being of rising generations of Americans.

Since the seizure of our academic infrastructure by 60’s Leftists several decades ago, the system’s core agenda has veered into the wilds of multiculturalism, ethical relativism, and radical egalitarian socialism. It is no exaggeration to say that the fundamental mission statement of the current system is to defame and deconstruct Western culture and history. The existence of Western civilization is blamed for most of the evils of history, and the value of its eradication is implicit in the very foundation of the system.

And despite the system’s miserable failure at teaching basic academic skills, it is having a raging success at this corrupt new political undertaking.

I liken young American students today to Indians in the reservation system. The Native Americans prospered for millennia in this land and developed proud hunter and warrior cultural traditions. They had tightly knit social structures and lived generally noble lives.

All of this changed when they were herded by the federal government onto reservations. Once hooked on various social programs, their cultures disintegrated and their reservations frequently became centers of poverty, illegitimacy, alcoholism, and crime. Stripped of their ancient traditions, many Indian youths were without ideals to maintain their dignity and guide their lives.

Walking around any mall and watching the middle class youths there will immediately affirm the truth of this reservation analogy…complete with body piercings and tattoos. A glance at the statistics shows an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, depression, and substance abuse.

Stripped of their cultural values and traditions by an openly propagandistic educational system (and a debauched popular culture), too many young people are adrift in the world, without any coherent set of cultural standards, religious values, and social support networks (the real kind…not the government variety).

The net effect is to create a cohort of youths who watch degenerate TV, listen to depraved music, and are utterly ignorant of even the most rudimentary facets of the cultural history of their civilization.

The ironic thing about our PC education is that its advocates insist that multiculturalism, and the consequent de-emphasis of Western history, is necessary due to an imbalanced and distorted preference given by our society to Western civilization. The argument is essentially that our children are being bombarded by pro-Western cultural bias, and that it is necessary to expose them to other cultures in order to expand their horizons and prevent narrow-minded chauvinism.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In my subjective analysis of the situation, I find most modern youths to be almost totally ignorant of even the basic tenets of Western history and culture. And since the system is not even doing a very good job of teaching them about other cultures, they are essentially cut-off from history altogether. Aside from the pop variety, they lead lives devoid of art, history, and culture…they have been utterly homogenized.

With the simultaneous implosion of family structure, the wonder is that things aren’t much worse than they are.

Some time ago, I devised a short quiz on some basics of Western history and culture to test my hypothesis. I picked questions that covered the gamut, from art and music to politics and war. I have had the occasion to ask these questions to a variety of high school and college students.

The brief version is as follows:

  1. Name the general who surrendered at Appomattox.
  2. Other than Romeo and Juliet, discuss the basic plot of any Shakespearean play (I’ve found that most students tend to know about Romeo and Juliet…I chalk this up to the PC educrats’ stressing this play due to its "valuable" message of rebellion against parental authority.)
  3. Who was Pericles?
  4. Who was Lorenzo de’Medici?
  5. Who fought at the Battle of Marathon?
  6. Discuss the plot of any Italian opera.
  7. How is the Pope selected?
  8. Who was Martin Luther? (I invariably get a dissertation on the civil rights movement in response to this question).
  9. Tell me anything at all about the Magna Carta.
  10. Name two nations that were members of the Central Powers during World War I.

I do not believe that these are particularly difficult questions. In my opinion, anyone with an even rudimentary knowledge of the history and culture of the West should be able to get at least half of these correct. A young person who is actually in high school and learning relevant subject matter should know at least 7 or 8 of these with no problem.

Much to my chagrin, my hypothesis has generally been upheld. The vast majority of students score below 5…and more than a few hapless souls have only gotten one or two correct.

My point here is NOT that the current generation of youngsters is intellectually challenged…they are no smarter or dumber than any previous cohort. My point is rather that our educational establishment is drastically failing at what should be one of its primary missions (inculcating the younger generations with the basics of Western culture). And my further point is that I do not believe that this is the result of mere incompetence (though God knows there is plenty of that)…but rather that this ignorance has been perpetrated with malice aforethought. It is the intentional outcome and stated goal of the system.

Without a doubt, modern students do not harbor chauvinistic ethnocentrism towards Western civilization…there is no need to worry about that. To be chauvinistic, one must first possess some basic knowledge of the subject matter at hand.

But the bigger question for our nation concerns the future. Can a society which has actively cleansed its cultural memory from its children long endure? What will sustain this future generation during difficult times? Will they be able to recall the lessons of history and the teachings of their ancestors to help them through inevitable periods of darkness?

There is no way to know…but I’m fairly sure that we are all eventually going to find out.