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Ideological War Spells Doom for America’s Schoolkids

August 30th, 2010 - 10:35 am

Students are returning to school this week. But they’re not heading back to class — they’re walking straight into a war zone. Our kids have become cannon fodder for two rival ideologies battling to control America’s future.

In one camp are conservative Christians and their champion, the Texas State Board of Education; in the other are politically radical multiculturalists and their de facto champion, President Barack Obama. The two competing visions couldn’t be more different. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. Unfortunately, whichever side wins — your kid ends up losing.

That’s because this war is for the power to dictate what our children are taught — and, by extension, how future generations of Americans will view the world. Long gone are the days when classrooms were for learning: now each side sees the public school system as a vast indoctrination camp in which future culture-warriors are trained. The problem is, two diametrically opposed philosophies are struggling for supremacy, and neither is willing to give an inch, so the end result is extremism, no matter which side temporarily comes out on top.

Both visions are grotesque and unacceptable — and yet they are currently the only two choices on the national menu. Which shall it be, sir: Brainwashing Fricassee, or a Fried Ignorance Sandwich?

Why Is Texas So Influential?

Now, in the struggle between the President of the United States and the members of a local school board, you’d think the president would have a big advantage. Not so. Because the Texas State Board of Education (TSBE) enjoys a uniquely powerful position: Textbook manufacturers don’t want to make 50 different editions of each book catering to the whims of each state, so they instead make just a few editions, one for each of the “major educational markets” such as Texas, and then the smaller states have no other option but to use those versions. So the boards of education in California, Florida and most importantly Texas essentially get to dictate what goes into textbooks nationwide. The TSBE tells the textbook companies which subjects must be covered and how they must be covered to be acceptable in Texas, and textbook companies are compelled to play along; if they try to go rogue, Texas will reject the book, and the publisher will lose most of its sales.

So when the TSBE holds its periodic meetings to set textbook standards, as it did last March and May, the educational world sits up and pays very close attention. And at the same time that the TSBE was meeting, the Obama administration announced new federal educational guidelines.

The tragedy for our nation is that both proposals are horribly flawed. But we’re caught between a rock and a hard place; due to the escalating culture wars, the middle ground is a cratered political no-man’s-land. Everyone’s in “you’re either with us or against us” mode, and the end result is that it’s almost impossible to find an even-handed analysis of the dreadful situation in which we’ve found ourselves.

Innumerable liberal critics condemn the anti-science and partisan revisionist lunacy coming out of the Texas school board meetings. And you know what? The criticisms hit home. It’s next to impossible for a sensible person to defend the TSBE’s often ridiculous proposals.

On the other side of the fence, you’ll find countless conservative pundits and angry parents increasingly outraged by the ever-escalating political correctness and equally egregious (but mirror-image) historical revisionism which dominates public schooling away from the Texas sphere of influence. And you know what? They’re right too. Left-wing activists have basically taken control of the educational system and have for years been brazenly transforming it into a training ground for young radicals.

But what you won’t find is anyone willing to say that BOTH sides are unacceptable. (Until now, that is. I’m saying it.) Either you’re on the left and you bash the Texas standards, or you’re on the right and you bemoan the progressive curriculum. Each published criticism only tells half the story, so the argument never goes anywhere, since each side refuses to even acknowledge the points made by the opposition.

In this five-part essay, which will unfold each day this week, I’m going to examine the intrinsic shortcomings of both the contemporary left-wing and right-wing approaches to education. I wish there was no need to do this, but unfortunately those two extremes seem to be the only two options on the table. The only way we’re ever going to return to sensible education is to call out, debunk, and then dismiss the two dominant extremes. In the series’ final section I’ll present what should be the obvious solution to the dilemma, a rigorous non-politicized back-to-basics freedom-centric educational framework that will infuriate the radicals on both sides but please the only people who matter: parents and students.

 

Illustration by Buzzsawmonkey

 

First let’s introduce the disputants:

Team Left

On the left we have radical academia, the neo-Marxist educational theorists, and the teachers’ unions: their progressive blueprint, which they’ve been incrementally yet successfully implementing for over three decades by now, is to inculcate in students a “social justice” mental framework focusing on multiculturalism, an absence of competition, and a general loathing for America and distrust of traditional American values. In the past, when old-fashioned schooling still held sway, these activists denounced nationwide educational standards which prevented teachers from presenting “alternative” facts and viewpoints. But now that the once-alternative progressive framework has become ascendent and dominates the education landscape, the left (or at least the Obama wing of the left) has flipped policies, and these days they insist on imposing nationwide educational standards to prevent any local schoolboards or states from sneaking off the political plantation and exposing students to conservative values.

What’s topsy-turvy is that the federal government’s new standards now discourage traditional subjects like reading and math in favor of malleable courses like history which are more amenable to political manipulation and social indoctrination:

A plan to overhaul the 2002 education law championed by President George W. Bush was unveiled by the Obama administration. …

In the proposed dismantling of the No Child Left Behind law, education officials would move away from punishing schools that don’t meet benchmarks and focus on rewarding schools for progress, particularly with poor and minority students. …

The blueprint also would allow states to use subjects other than reading and mathematics as part of their measurements for meeting federal goals, pleasing many education groups that have said No Child Left Behind encouraged teachers not to focus on history, art, science, social studies and other important subjects.

Uh huh. The reason for this, of course, is that politically neutral fundamentals like spelling and multiplication tables get in the way of prime brainwashing time. Up until now the progressive agenda has been seriously hamstrung by the need to squander much of a student’s educational career just nailing down basic skills, in order to pass standardized tests. Now, Obama has pronounced: We will federally fund even those schools that let students drift into illiteracy just so long as they take classes in P.C. history and social studies instead. And if you are naive enough to think that “history” and “social studies” are politically neutral too, then keep reading. (Though it should be noted that the president’s insanely confusing and much-loathed “Race to the Top” education funding scheme has drawn withering criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.)

Concomitant with this official drive is a subtle but persistent push to change the educational atmosphere. Politicized re-orientation is not limited to facts and textbooks; it’s also about changing students’ philosophical frameworks.

These days, it has become standard policy in American classrooms for students to be rewarded for merely expressing their feelings about a topic, rather than exhibiting knowledge about a topic. Meanwhile, competition of any sort is rapidly becoming taboo. For example, until recently when each school chose a valedictorian for graduation, the selection was by definition limited to the one student who had the best academic record. In the modern classroom environment, however, this is condemned as elitist:

A June 27 story from the New York Times points a finger towards one of the many problems that contaminates the nation’s educational system – the belief that competition is an elitist, antiquated concept and those who try deserve accolades equal to those who achieve.

The article focused on the swelling number of valedictorians at the nation’s high schools.

One school has seven valedictorians this year, another has 30 and Colorado’s St. Vrain Valley school district has 94.

A June 3 story from KFSN-TV, in Fresno, California, reported that Bullard High School will have 62 valedictorians this year.

How can so many students be ‘Number One’? The Times explained, “Principals say that recognizing multiple valedictorians reduces pressure and competition among students and it is a more equitable way to honor achievement….”

It goes on: Class projects in American schools are now often assigned to groups rather than individual students, to dampen the sense of individual achievement if praise is earned — or soften the shame for those who flop. Students are too frequently passed along to the next grade-level, even if they’re not up to the task — so as not to damage their self-esteem (coughor the school’s academic rankingscough). The backhanded compliment, “I’ll give you an ‘A’ for effort,” which in my day was always dripping with sarcasm and usually immediately preceded a big red “C+” on the paper, is no longer sarcastic: Students really do get actual “A”s for effort, even if they don’t come close to finding the right answers.

This is the progressive dream: To eliminate hierarchy and stratification in schooling, and to make sure, by hook or by crook, that no student fails or feels bad, even if the only way to achieve that is to ensure that no other student succeeds or feels good. Because if there are winners, then there must necessarily be losers, and Team Left has banished the very category of “loser” from our vocabulary. Baby, meet bathwater.

Team Right

On the right we have conservative Christians and the Texas State Board of Education, who want to not only return to the basics of 1950s-style education, but to also put the fundamentalism back in the fundamentals, applying an unapologetically Christian overlay to what kids learn in school, and in certain areas dispose with scientific fact in favor of religious dogma.

The Texas State Board of Education has infamously for years been trying to eliminate the theory of evolution from the state’s science textbooks and to replace it with the anti-scientific non-theory of “intelligent design,” better known as creationism. Although this issue was not addressed in the board’s most recent 2010 meeting, at their previous meeting, in 2009, after much contentious debate, they resolved the dispute by agreeing to a watered-down watering-down of evolution, allowing teachers to point out the deficiencies of all scientific theories, not just biological theories, as a way of sneaking at least some kind of anti-evolutionism into the curriculum over the objections of scientists nationwide.

As someone who knows more than a thing or two about this field, I can only shake my head in dismay at the sheer ignorance and irrationality of the TSBE on this issue. Why, I ask myself, must they contaminate their legitimate grievances over the left-wing bias of school curricula? By coupling patriotism with creationism, they are discrediting not only their own but everyone else’s attempts to counteract the leftist agenda.

I’m still angry about it. The TSBE has done more to help the radical progressives than has any group or individual on the left. No need for liberal activists to undermine the TSBE’s credibility, and by extension the credibility of anyone potentially aligned with them — the TBSE undermines itself! Thanks, guys. Now will you please shut up?

No. They will not shut up. Because at this year‘s meetings, in March and May, the TSBE upped the ante and broached a whole new category of intellectual offenses, this time not about science but about history and social studies.

First, they defeated a motion to have students learn about the separation of church and state, a foundational principle of the United States; the board members seem to have no problem ignoring those parts of the Constitution (such as the First Amendment) which they personally dislike. To add insult to insanity, they then removed all mention of Thomas Jefferson as one of the writers who “influenced the nation’s intellectual origins,” since he was the bastard who insisted that the U.S. be a secular nation in the first place. Hey, Tommy-boy, who’s studying your so-called “separation of church and state” now, eh? Payback’s a bitch!

There’s more to come about the TSBE’s attempts to rewrite history, as we shall soon see in Part II of this essay. Their two-pronged assault on both scientific and historical facts makes it painfully clear that they are totally out of touch with reality and want to impose their particular brand of religious beliefs on the public schools.

But then again…

However grotesque Texas’ twisting of facts may seem at first glance, it’s positively mild compared to what’s going on coast-to-coast in the rest of the country’s classrooms. That’s because the Texas curriculum wars are not happening in a vacuum — they’re happening in response to a complete perversion of the American educational system that has taken place right under our noses over recent decades. Did you naively think that today’s kids have been studying the same core subjects in the same ways that you studied them, way back when? Think again. Education has been revolutionized, but the revolution was not even announced, much less televised.

In Parts III and IV we’ll examine the much more subtle yet effective long-term project by the American left to fundamentally transform our schools. And in Part V, if you aren’t too depressed by then, we’ll grope for a way out of this mess.

Continued in PART II: What’s the Matter With Texas?

 


 

Part I: Ideological War Spells Doom for America’s Schoolkids
Part II: What’s the Matter with Texas?
Part III: Indoctrination Nation
Part IV: In Pursuit of Cultural Hegemony
Part V: Proposals for an Educational Renaissance

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