A Child Left Behind

"The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion."

~ Edmund Burke, speech at country meeting of Buckinghamshire, 1784

New Beginnings

Bush's No Child Left Behind agenda is but the logical extension of our current educational system. Is this a bold statement? I think not. Those who think the act radical or otherwise intrusive have not studied the history of education in this country. Such is the nature of the beast.

True, in the beginning of America, education was not within the realm of government, and certainly not within the grasp of the federal government. But evolutionary and revolutionary changes in our society, government, and economy have led us to the NCLBA. It has been a slow process, but these days a political revolution is geared to take decades, not weeks, months, or years. Government-based programs have time and control on their side.

A Personal Account

1973. I never recognized my birth year as a significant period of history. Perhaps it was too contemporaneous for study in public schools, where I learned of Mesopotamia, the Renaissance, and even those 20th Century events like the Great Depression and the posthumously named "War to End All Wars."

Yes, the public school teachers seemed to studiously avoid discussion of more modern events. It was as if the political chicanery of recent decades was in the realm of religion. They dared not touch the vital nerve of our present condition; it might draw up deep passions. Based on a horrendous lack of interest in ancient history, such learning could never stir the blood enough to offend. They made it bland, straightforward, and something they could dispense to students in definitive doses. So that is where we stayed, in the archaic.

Politics and modern government were topics for self-discovery. If your parents had a political philosophy, they were responsible for this type of education, if they cared. The school system goal (in keeping with John Dewey's original intent) was to socialize children, so they could be participants in a progressive society.

Yes, we studied the Constitution, but not in a rigorous way. A quiz here asked how many Articles there were, or if we could name a delegate. Depth was severely lacking.

The takeaway from public school: we had a Constitution, a noble document, which outlined the form of our existing government. The tripartite had enacted some changes along the way, but only changes necessary to changing times. This evolution of the Constitution was in keeping with Dewey's relativistic ideals. But we were still a great, democratic nation.

Higher Education

College did little to change this educational paradigm. How could it be otherwise? Universities and colleges are but an extension of public school system. Publicly subsidized (even private institutions like my alma mater), they further establish the establishment. Although some dedicated professors shine like jewels, they are deeply embedded in the snout of an oversized hog. Dissent from conventional wisdom is rare indeed.

College is a time for self-awareness though, an age in life that sparks rebellion and disbelief. Most questions I had could not be answered by textbook. Most questions could not even find origin in those textbooks. The books were so shamefully partisan that little, if any room for discussion was prompted. And although I sensed a struggling within my class, we were too ignorant to know how to ask the question, too uneducated to grasp what question we wanted to ask. For too many future citizens, that smoldering fire of curiosity and questioning was laid to rest in those formative years.

Yes again, courses similar to secondary education were offered – World History I & II, American History I & II, and Political Science. College level courses did allow shallow investigations into current government, at least delving into those years leading up to the existing administration. But what was the takeaway from college? Little different.

The government was a noble institution, just like the public school system. Yes, we studied some controversial issues, but the conclusion remained that our constitutionally based government was intact. The government was made up of myself and my classmates, we were told! We had to but step into the political circle or enter a voting booth to move the country in the direction we thought correct. We were empowered people!

Back to my birthright. My political science professor taught that in the 1973 era the federal government became accountable to the public, by way of the press. The Vietnam retreat and the Watergate exposé proved that the public could hold officials to the fire, if corruption was uncovered (or should I say undercovered).

Put another way, The Press was diametrically opposed to The Federal Government, and protected citizens from officials that would otherwise overextend their reach. The press limited government power. Officials that lied, accepted bribes, or promoted self-interests were placed under bit and bridle. In the final analysis, we still lived under a noble, constitutionally based government. Ideas expressed in order to deepen our faith in government . . .

Higher Education for Secondary Education

Like most college students, I didn't have an inkling of my future. Believing that college should provide a "liberal education," not a career, I somehow chose to double-major in English / Secondary Education. The few serious teachers and professors I had studied under had unintentionally convinced me to follow in their steps. There were many paths I could take, and I considered this one honorable. That idea slowly melted away during the actual college years.

While student-teaching, in my final semester of college, the last bit of that resolve left me. Forced to be a sponsor of state education, I had to set aside my doubts about the government and follow the curriculum. How else could I ask my students to compete in a 500-word essay contest, pre-titled "America, the Great" (sponsored by the local chapter of the American Legion)? Students protested, some with valid arguments, but I countered them with that obsequious question: what other country in the world is as great as America?

So I ended my college years and entered the working world, my B.A. in English / Secondary Education what I had initially opposed: an economic banner that might help me get a real job. Due to the extra-curricular education by my father, I left college with a growing number of questions, not answers. My father's strong political views would continue to help shape mine as I entered adulthood. And I am now coming to appreciate the value of such personal teaching.

Horace Mann and a Brief History of Public Education

Horace Mann, called the father of the public education system, became the chair of the first State Board of Education. In Massachusetts. Kerry's state. In 1852, with the assistance of several wealthy industrialists, the Massachusetts legislature passed the first compulsory education act.

If you were to study this period, two facts emerge:

  • The citizens of Massachusetts resisted this law as tyranny. How many parents today see public education as an infringement on their rights?
  • The language used to promote the law was unapologetic. Unlike today's politicians, the legislature promoted education as a means to produce 1) competent factory workers and 2) state-subordinate citizens.

Under the spell of these pseudo-Prussians, the majority of state governments followed suit. By the time John Dewey had written his famous treatise "Democracy and Education," the idea of state-sponsored education was generally accepted. Dewey simply refined the ideas promoted by Mann: students should become tools of the greater society, not liberally educated, self-sufficient citizens. The battle between state and individual had been lost.

After the explosion of the welfare state during the FDR tenure, it was not surprising to see the federal government extend its reach to include education. State schools are still reeling with the effects of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), passed during Lyndon Johnson's tenure, under the umbrella of the "Great Society" and Civil Rights. Since then federal subsidies, lobbied and promoted by the NEA, have taken affect. Tracing the public education system is akin to reading Dante's Inferno; they both wind down to a pit of despair. Bush's NCLBA is but another level on the staircase of an eternally damned system.

Education and Politics

Just like a person's diet, their political views are most often a product of their exposure and their comfort level with that exposure. A Louisiana native would likely be familiar and comfortable with parboiled rice, white beans, and crayfish, but probably not with tabouli. A recent immigrant from Latin America would undoubtedly feel at home eating dinner at El Acapulco, but not at Il Portico. Another way of explaining this idea would be to ask you: Have you ever tried to serve sushi to a bona fide Texan cowboy? Usually you can't. It is out of their personal comfort range.

This may sound narrow-minded, even racist, but I side with a man who defended such ideas (Richard M. Weaver, see Life Without Prejudice And Other Essays).

So what is the political comfort level of my generation? What is their exposure? Just like diet, it definitely depends on their race, their economic status, their education level, and their family. But they do have one thing in common: 98% were rubber stamped by the public school system. And for most, so were their parents.

What does this mean? In short, the public may have strong views regarding party politics, but they have an unwavering faith in the overall system. They simply do not question federal control of education, only perturbate over the impact of federal initiatives! If their education ended when they stepped into the working world, then they probably never asked the questions that matter.

Those products of state-sponsored education have not read anything about history, except in torpid textbooks. They have not studied governments, or historical limits placed on governments. They may have heard of the Magna Carta, but they could not explain its significance. They know that habeas corpus is a legal term, but don't know the importance of this right in our present world. They have not an understanding of war, or historical causes of war.

They have not studied the evolution of political parties, or the effect of these parties in England. It does not cause them any heartburn to know that in the last fifty years we have sent our troops into nearly three-dozen foreign countries. So long to the Monroe Doctrine; they don't know what it represents. And the idea of trading security for freedom is well within their comfort range.

Terrorism has trumped tyranny. Modern education has been exalted above the autonomy of a well-read individual. Party politics rule. Our representatives sway with the polls. All this and more, I say, because Americans surrendered their right to educate their own children. A state-sponsored, self-aggrandizing system cannot fail to produce these results.

Education as a Key

Now thirty years old and behind the ball, I am slowly retooling my thought processes, learning the history of my age. The 1973 era is important, well beyond the significance imposed by the Republocrat campaigns. Kerry's war record vs. Bush's war record. Who cares? Who can sling the most mud? The masses can't and won't dig deeper. What about Nixon closing the gold window, and how it has affected our fiat money system? Why were we really involved in Vietnam? Was it to liberate the Vietnamese, like we have liberated the Iraqis? How is it that President Ford pardoned Nixon? Was this the justice deserved by a criminal? Or how can one look at the Fox News Network and even think that the press protects us?

So we see that the pollen that John Dewey carried in his pockets, spread in his letters, and distributed in his sphere of influence has borne fruit. Publicly schooled teachers are incompetent, students lack basic skills, and police are necessary to give the appearance that our schools are safe. But students are properly socialized, be sure of that. We'll be eating Dewey's rotten fruit until the collapse of the empire. Hopefully sooner than later.

Life comes full circle. My wife and I both majored in Secondary Education. We have yet to set our feet in public schools, or private for that matter. We have, however, chosen to exercise our right as parents and homeschool our children. Products of the public education system, we know the weaknesses and strengths it holds. We also know that whoever holds the key to education also holds the key to the future. We are the minority. Given the reach and growth of our current state and federal governments, we don't see a significant change anytime soon. But we've been studying our history, reading on governments, and learning about empires. Maybe, in the wake of the collapse others will step forward and secure the future for their children.

September 10, 2004