***Chapter Twenty-Eight--Conservative Debate Handbook***

Public Schools: Issues & Reality; Education & Politics



Synopsis

The Federal Government & local schools: Waste, usurpation and arrogation--an inherently bad combination. Education & diversity--obvious pitfalls. Politically awkward issues that no one wants to face: Egalitarian fantasy = need to blame someone else for individual failure. What motivates true educational pursuit. Need for maximum parental involvement & local control: Practical reasons & moral reasons.

The scope of this Chapter will be limited basically to what has not been covered elsewhere. In Chapter Five, we dealt with those educational problems caused by the Leftwing environmentalist pretense of species uniformity (i.e., racial denial), in sufficient detail that we need not pursue them further here, except as they relate to other issues. We have also touched briefly upon the wasteful nature of a not Constitutionally mandated Federal Aid to Education, and on the absurdity of the concept that it is possible to design an educational system where "no child will be left behind," in our floating Chapter Last. While some aspects of those subjects may be inextricable from a more generalized discussion of educational concepts, this Chapter will have a somewhat different emphasis.

Our purpose here--as always--is to suggest issues for the Conservative debater, not provide a definitive treatment of the subject of public school education or the educational process. However, it is perhaps a sorry comment on the contemporary debate on the issues to be discussed, that much of what is merely common sense--and common in that it is in accordance with what a scan of the typical reader's own experiences must confirm--has been largely ignored in the great displays of public hand wringing, both in the media and within official bodies, which we have all witnessed over the acknowledged disaster that American public education has become.

Federal Waste, Usurpation & Arrogation--An Inherently Bad Combination

This is not primarily about an unconstitutional waste of public funds, by the imposition of another layer of bureaucracy into the public educational picture. There is an almost equally fallacious concept in the motivation for the Federal overreach, the nearly delusional idea that the level of expenditure is the principal determinant of the quality of education, and/or that the enforcement of uniform performance norms can be an effective means for "solving" an imagined problem in the, admittedly radical, differences in levels of student performance.

We will discuss the question of motivation in more detail; but the absurdity of trying to equate educational achievement with money spent, may be seen in a number of verifiable phenomena. For one, compare the vastly more articulate politics of America in the 1840s and 1850s--when most people had very little formal education and most, even when once literate, were self-taught beyond the most elementary level--with today's moronic politics of the 30 second sound bite. For an example much closer to home and time, practically every intelligent American over ten will remember an associate or acquaintance who, even in grade school, demonstrated a formidable grasp of material on a subject wholly outside the school curricula; that mastery, the result of a self-initiated pursuit of a special interest.

For a boy, this might be observed in an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the statistics of a favored sport; for a girl, perhaps an amazing recall of human interest data about a popular entertainer, athlete or celebrity. From the standpoint of the pure retention of acquired knowledge, these pursuits--which, though hardly "trivial," may later be reflected in excellence in the game suggested by that adjective--frequently involve the maintenance of an internal data base (memory) far exceeding that obtained in many required subjects. The contrast, indeed, should be a stark reminder of the fact that motivation is an immensely important factor in the learning process; and that the mere expenditure of funds for educational aids and settings may be almost totally irrelevant to what any given child acquires in any particular discipline.

From this perspective, it appears that Federal intrusion into local education is not only a wasteful and unconstitutional assumption of a role neither envisioned nor sanctioned by the men who gave us our written Constitution. In the arrogation of such unwarranted role, the Washington establishment is also telegraphing its acceptance of the fallacy that educational problems are subject to macro solutions. Yet we would submit that the "cure" to any educational problem lies in the motivation of the individual student; that trying to plan the motivation of a child from afar--via central planning of the allocation of resources, curricula and methodology--makes no more sense in education than it does in economics. Here, as there, the central planner (collectivist) offers precisely the opposite to the needed dynamic. Federally planned or directed education may be expected to achieve all of the success of one of Stalin's Five Year Plans--and for very similar reasons.

But while central planning can never be a substitute for the individually directed mental efforts, of those targeted to be subject to such planning, in an unplanned society; there are definite consequences to any new Federal intrusion into local education. For one, there is a further compromise to the traditional restraints on arbitrary Government. Every time the Federal Government inaugurates another unwarranted program, we fall a bit further into the abyss of unrestricted power. The point is not that the proponents believe--and believe sincerely--that they are doing good; that they are actually "solving problems." Almost every tyranny in history has been rationalized by similar beliefs. The very purpose of our written Constitution was so as not to leave the task of defining the limits on Government to the whims or judgment of those in office, at any moment in time.

Yet the consequences are not limited to wasting money, or undermining the system of legal relationships and restraints on which American political society was based. Behind that system was an understanding that grew out of the true American ethos, reflected in the Declaration of Independence but born in the experiences of the generations that preceded it: The fundamental understanding that a healthy social order is not dependent upon Government; rather upon the dynamic interaction of responsible and accountable individuals. Ronald Reagan showed an understanding and acceptance of this ethos, when he made his comment to the effect that Government is not the solution to every problem--that often Government is the problem. There is nothing the Government in Washington can do to make certain that "no child is left behind," anymore than Stalin could plan Russia into prosperity. But in such unreal pursuit of fantasy, many will lose sight of a reality which was once second nature to most Americans.

Education & Diversity--The Obvious Pitfalls

In Chapter 5, we discussed the alienation that takes place as a result of the forced acceptance of an egalitarian fantasy in the integrated school. But there are subtler problems that arise from a far less dramatic juxtaposing of students from varied backgrounds, even within the same racial or ethnic group; problems likely to be proportionate to the actual degree of diversity involved. The major problem in Chapter 5 arose from a failure to address real differences in individual aptitudes, with resulting alienation and lost opportunities for development. There, the greatest damage was to the minority student. Here, we address factors that can negatively impact almost all students, regardless of their individual aptitudes or innate capacities.

The most obvious and immediate pitfall, in bringing culturally diverse pupils into the same school, is in the field of communications. While one encounters the claim that such "multi-cultural" or integrated schools help prepare pupils to live in a broader adult world, where they will almost inevitably encounter a diversity of types; such argument has only very limited applicability, except in those situations, and in that perspective, where an immigrant or new resident seeks to be culturally acclimatized or assimilated into a dominant culture. That is, where one deliberately seeks no deviation from what would be the pattern and method of instruction, were the seeker not present. But in the case of educating the rooted youth of a community, the price of diversity may far exceed any conceivable benefit.

As discussed in Chapter 27, subjective images play a very important part in the communication of concepts and values. Where the student body is culturally diverse, the students bring very different sets of cultural images to the class room. While there is doubtless some advantage to bringing varied perspectives into a College seminar, it is very different in the first years of any child's formal education. The thrust of higher education involves a building on an established base of essential skills, both verbal and analytic. Being exposed to a great variety of perceptions, whether familiar or not, is not likely to undermine skills already mastered. Well before College, not only the basic skills, but also a well developed sense of personal identity, should be in place; the possibility for a confusion of focus and perspective, immeasurably less than at the more formative level.

But for the elementary school child, in the early process of mastering those essential foundational skills for the educational pursuit--as well as in one of developing a sense of personal identification unique to that child--a proliferation of the unfamiliar, particularly of perceptions that may be incongruous to those gathered in the home, can hardly prove helpful in achieving such mastery. To even suggest otherwise, is to embrace a subjective value system, which focuses not on the maximum development of the individual child, but on the humanist exultation of species for the sake of species--a Leftist aberration, touched upon in Chapter 21: The pursuit of an abstract notion, of less real value than an idle day dream; yet one with immense potential for diverting attention from the actual needs of real children.

Consider, for example, a first or second grade reading class, and the effect even of children reading with different accents or inflections: To the extent that such accents or inflections slow or confuse the other students in their ability to follow what is being read or said, they will reduce the speed with which they master the reading basics. Since those reading basics are the key to most self-directed aspects of the educational experience--as well as being of great importance to the class-directed aspects--anything that slows their acquisition is obviously counter-productive. Note that this is no disparagement of any group. The same confusion factor will operate, to a significant degree, regardless of the ethnic components in the particular composite. The extent of the diversity, not the particular groups involved, is the essential factor.

Nor can anyone familiar with psychological factors impacting children in their early years of school adjustment, simply ignore the potentially disconcerting aspect from combining problems of initial adjustment to a class room setting and an unfamiliar teacher, with those flowing from having to adjust to other children, whose backgrounds, basic communicative idioms, appearance, etc., may all seem incongruous to a particular child. Surely, there are considerations here, which to those who do not feel a compulsive need to vindicate human oneness regardless of cost, should mandate a much closer look at the question of how children are assigned to particular schools and classrooms.

Politically Awkward Subjects & The Need To Blame Someone

In public education, even more so than in other fields long corrupted by an egalitarian mythology, it has become virtually impossible for a public figure to speak frankly about the human factors in perceived failure. No public official wants to assume the responsibility for explaining to parents, or activist groups which claim to speak for parental interests, why so many children get almost no benefit out of compulsory school attendance. When forced to choose between the alternatives of addressing reality or coming up with a new scheme to try to "fix" reality, the public official will, almost invariably, opt for the new scheme--however foolish or expensive.

Given the fact that all children are never going to perform at the same level; that means, medians and averages are means, medians and averages, not standards for what is biologically or psychologically a norm to be expected; the madness of this approach, as well as that of the mass educational mindset which makes it appear necessary, should be obvious. Yet given the egalitarian bias, so long promoted by political demagogues, no one in the educational establishment wants to state the obvious. Rather we have a culture, which seeks to find someone else to blame for each child's failure. In place of a pursuit of what is true and useful, we are treated to endless "analysis" and invective. But the "analysis" never really considers the full extent of fundamental differences in individual aptitudes, and the invective but fans emotions growing out of the harvest from an established public school culture of denial, and the socialist mindset which made it possible.

In place of reason and the pursuit of knowledge, we let demagogues fan the flames of envy, guilt and totally unreasonable expectation. If the immediate subject is a comparison of racial aptitudes, the person who speaks truth is accused of "racism" (Chapter 5). If the comparison is related to sexual differences, the truth speaker is accused of "sexism" (Chapter 8). If it involves a difference in aptitudes among those of the same race or sex, he will be accused of "elitism," or some other pejorative suggesting a form of snobbery and/or indifference to human need. The one thing which will not be allowed, is a general and thorough discussion of the data.

There is no possible way that anyone but demagogues can benefit from this state of affairs. Not to oppose it, is to abdicate any hope for a better future for any of our children. This absurd misdirection plays directly into the hands of those who would redefine group identification away from traditional ethnic and community patterns, which always helped inspire positive efforts, into ones based upon Leftwing theories of victimization, discussed in Chapter 11. Note that to the educational or political demagogue seeking grievances to exploit, the mere difference in achievement levels is seen as proof of victimization. Of course, this very need to see victimization, in different levels of achievement, demonstrates how little real respect many, who prattle endlessly about "diversity," actually have for the truly diverse nature of human types.

Anyone who puts the interests of the individual child ahead of a cultish devotion to egalitarian cant, will understand that no child benefits from any aspect of the victimization game. There is no benefit whatsoever for one taught to blame a failure resulting from a lack of personal aptitude upon the imagined evil intentions of others. Nor is there any benefit from instilling guilt in the more successful student, or in the teacher who failed to reach the child without the necessary aptitude. To the extent that the resentment, envy, blame or guilt, game diverts attention from a pursuit of how best to develop the real personal aptitudes--however great or small--of each particular child, it does additional damage. The effect of these factors, further imposed upon an already evident flight from reality, which first gave respectability to so many grievance seeking demagogues, is to create a climate where public education becomes an increasing waste of social and economic resources.

This, of course, did not have to be the case. There is nothing inevitable in the frenetic denial of reality, or the unwillingness to confront demagoguery. But so long as it remains the case, it will be incumbent upon thoughtful men and women to carefully consider the level, if any, of their continued support for public involvement in education.

What Motivates Educational Pursuits.

We have touched upon the powerful internal factor that can inspire an intense personal quest for knowledge in the bright pre-adolescent. While, if defined as a non-academic pursuit, it would depend upon a dynamic which does not necessarily have direct bearing on the school experience, it clearly illustrates the first and probably most important source for motivation in the learning process; the obvious one, subjective interest inducing a self-directed acquisition of information. We illustrated the concept by reference to the sport or celebrity preoccupied child, to focus on the self-motivation as well as direction of the acquisition. There are also many children, in whom mentally alert parents instill a desire to pursue particular forms of independent, self-directed study. But that involves a second basic source of motivation for educational pursuits, which we will also address.

While the parental influence--and here we refer to the influence exerted by ongoing parental interaction with a child, not to the influence of an always active genetic inheritance--may have a very considerable effect on how the child directs the pursuit arising from internal motivation; the two sources remain quite distinct. To make the point more emphatic, let us take an extreme example: In India, as in the Romulus and Remus legend of Rome, there have actually been lost or abandoned children suckled and raised by wolves. These children--however alienated from human ways--are still participants in the learning process. For that matter, the dog or cat that is your house pet engages in a self-motivated learning process, quite beyond what its parent or parents may have taught it before separation, or what you have taught it as to acceptable behavior.

We may chuckle at the old bromide, "curiosity killed the cat"--an ancient witticism about the demonstrated intelligence of these useful companions, who take a far more than passing interest in what exists or goes on around them. Every intelligent creature learns throughout its waking hours. Most of our learning in early childhood, and almost all of that learning among our pets, is outside the verbal sphere. But it is learning none-the-less. Some of what is learned by simple observation, touch, listening, smell, etc., even for humans, will remain verbally undefined. (For example, one early learns how to spot various forms of plants, animals & insects. Many people retain these clear images throughout life, but never seek to set them down or even internally define them beyond the images themselves.) On the other hand, much of what is acquired subjectively, by simple observation, will eventually be coordinated with what is later acquired verbally, in a basic process that all sentient humans go through in analyzing and systematizing information at our disposal.

For an example of such latter process, many bright children will have taught themselves various simple math skills, long before being exposed to them in school. Merely learning to count, can stimulate a recognition of the relationship between numbers. And from counting to twenty, it is a not very difficult step--with no need for further outside intervention--to see that four sets of five stones--or four sets of the five digits one has at the end of each of four limbs--equals twenty. (Indeed, the variety and extent of the logical relationships that a child will perceive through his or her own observation, may afford a very good indicator of the potential of that child with respect to many varieties of more formal--i.e. externally organized and directed--education.) But the point, again, is that there is an independent, self-initiated process, that will always be an important factor in anyone's education.

This self-reflective, self-motivated, process may be addressed by surrounding a child with interesting objects. But how the child responds to those objects is not something that can be externally directed. From first impressions onward, we remain individually unique; and any educational theory that refuses to accept this is not likely to solve any problem which arises from such uniqueness. Yet the parental role, both as natural nurturer and secondary motivator for the unique being that is a child, is still obviously more important than that of any public institution.

There are a number of points to be kept in mind, when trying to assess the function and importance of the parental role in motivating an educational quest. Most obvious are those which deal with the very nature of ongoing life, the progression of generations. If there is a moral responsibility to educate a child, that responsibility is first and foremost, his parents'. If there is anyone on earth likely to have the right rapport to lead a child in the acquisition of knowledge, it is his parents. Moreover, while there may be many situations where, for whatever reason, a parent has not been educated up to his or her own potential--and hence, limited in what he or she can actually teach;--that parent should still be able to inspire a child to go as far in the pursuit of useful and/or enriching knowledge, as that child's potential will allow. What that parent has, which no public school can possibly equal, is that personal rapport with the child, based upon the most intimate species of familiarity, with which to build a level of trust and influence, never likely to be even approached by the administrators of any public institution.

Of course, a parent's perceptions of moral values, of what is true and what significant, are likely to be more like the child's than would be those perceptions of any employee of a public agency. And while in the Communist and Nazi worlds, it might have been seen as a proper role for the regime to reorient a child's value system into a path desired by the collective; such reorientation is inconsistent with the purposes of a free society, totally unacceptable to those who would maintain the American tradition.

Yet having addressed the limitations on the ability of those outside the family, to motivate educational pursuits; we do not suggest that a truly talented and inspired teacher may not have an enormously beneficial role in the education of many children, with whom he or she may come in contact, both in the direction and augmentation of such motivation, as the individual child brings to such contact. However, the extent of the influence of the skilled and inspired teacher will still largely depend upon the internal (self originating) motivation of the student, and on parental or familial influences to which that student has already been subjected. Where there is little innate subjective need to acquire knowledge, or analyze what one perceives through the senses, even the most talented teacher will be able to accomplish very little. And we would further suggest, that not only is the success of even the best of teachers beyond the ability of a public body to dictate; so, too, are both the motivational levels and teaching skills of individual teachers, with respect to particular students.

Can Motivation Be Packaged?

Obviously, we do not believe that motivation can be packaged. Nor can a committee of educators in Washington, or even closer at hand in a State Capital, provide a formula for teachers, in general, to establish rapport with so unique a subject as the individual student. Curricula can be centrally mandated and standardized--whether wisely or not, is another question. But you can not order people to work well together. In education, as in economics--and indeed in all forms of human action and interaction--what works best is what brings the most individually motivated personal action into play. There is no workable substitute for individual initiative, teacher by teacher; modified as needed, student by student. The macro approach may appease the fantasies of egalitarian theorists. It must inevitably fail for all the same reasons that Communism failed in Eastern Europe.

Because of the inherent limitations on central planning, it must be obvious that the most effective education--hence the least wasteful education--is that closest to home; that which may be most easily molded to the specific needs and interests of the individual child. This does not mean that we should scrap comparative testing of school achievement. On the contrary, establishing minimum standards for what constitutes a certain level of education is absolutely necessary, if that particular level is to have any significance. But on the question of how a child gets to that level--or how best to try to bring a child to that level--all human experience suggests that the less centralized planning and direction, the better. We need to free local education from the theorists' procedural check lists. Ultimately, we must return to the reality, that child rearing is primarily the responsibility of a child's parents. This is not only the most practical course. It is the foundation for traditional social morality; a major part of the dynamic, ongoing ethic, which gives continuity to the heritage of any people.~

This does not mean that nothing can be done to improve the chances for the child whose parents, for whatever reason, are not able to properly fulfill the parental function. But the least suitable intermediaries are those representing political units, answerable to a general rather than specific and immediate population. Starting with the more extended family; a local Church, neighbors or an ethnic community, are all far more suited to help orient the needful child, with far less likelihood of counter-productive humiliation and misunderstanding of the actual personalities involved, than the agents of a distant political power structure. Such, by the very nature of a "diverse" citizenry, are precluded from taking the narrower, but required, interest in the unique needs of individual families. (And to illustrate the clear superiority of a religious institution over the State, in dealing with the social problems of individuals, see Jefferson's commentary on Welfare in Chapter 1!)

This is not, of course, what a modern educational theorist with a Socialist bias wants to accept; not what those, to whom "diversity" is only a way to break down other people's cultural value systems, want to hear. But it is precisely what those wedded to the American tradition would expect to find; precisely the approach on which those, who would maintain that tradition, must insist.


~We have not discussed specific proposals for educational reform, either inside or outside a public school system--such as school voucher proposals, where a parent could use public funds for private schooling. These involve additional considerations, concepts that go well beyond the foundational ones discussed. But it should be obvious that, all else being equal, anything which would increase parental influence would be an improvement over present conditions in most communities.



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