Saturday, October 25, 2003


The Nation takes on No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, a new conservative book about race and education:

Which is to say that the Thernstroms want schools serving students, many of whom come from families headed by single mothers and/or homes where little or no English is spoken, to undertake two major tasks simultaneously, one cultural, one academic, for the same--and in many cases less--money and with fewer high-quality resources than suburban schools enrolling middle-class white kids. The fact that some schools can do it--often with self-selected students and parents and highly motivated teachers--doesn't mean they all can. Your local piano teacher probably couldn't write Don Giovanni, either.


Nor do they understand that if the barriers are bureaucratic, they're often created in response to strong community and political pressure. Most places want safe teachers who don't mess too much with secular humanism, witch tales and evolution, or ask too many searching questions. And despite all the talk about high standards, most parents are confident their kids do fine and don't want them treated too harshly by demanding schoolmasters, preferring schools that retain traditional anti-intellectualism and regard jocks at least as highly as brains.

For the entire review, click here.

While this is a fine refutation of what appears to be your typical right-wing voucher and choice crusade, it seems to dance around the real problem with public "education." That is, the schools cannot possibly do what society seems to be continually asking them to do. As I have said many times, education is not at all about learning. Rather, education is about indoctrinating children into the culture of obedience and authority--any learning that occurs is happenstance, an accident of the fact that education is the ruse that justifies the indoctrination: with all those books lying around, somebody's bound to pick up a few ideas every now and then.

Obstensibly, public "education" serves several funtions. It supposedly creates good citizens who know and perform their responsibilities well. It supposedly creates a force of thoughtful individuals ready to enter the job market with strong "basic skills." "Education" is supposedly the great enabler of democracy: it is supposed to erase the savage inequalities of racism and economic class.

Of course, that's complete bullshit. "Education" does none of these things. In fact, given its totalitarian leanings, "education" tends to do exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to do: in reality, "education" serves to replicate the existing class structure. Anyone with half a brain can see this. Kids from well to do families go on to college and get better paying jobs. Kids from blue collar families generally do not. As one critic has observed, we might as well abolish the SAT and instead judge the academic worthiness of students based on family income--the higher the income the more likely a student is to be accepted by a college. Indeed, upper income kids have higher levels of achievement because their families and communities expect it. Absent that expectation, the achievement levels drop. In other words, schools themselves have very little to do with a child's learning short of providing a place to learn. Family and community are the true educators and motivators.

This reality drives me mad whenever I encounter standard liberal critiques of conservative views on education. Liberals, like conservatives, tend to accept the idea that our society's basic conceptualization of schooling is sound. Liberals seem to notice that certain structural problems exist, but they never seem to connect the dots and come to the inescapable conclusion that the authoritarian nature of "education" is utterly at odds with the concept of learning. Liberals seem to think that the schools as they exist now can somehow be fixed.

Unfortunately, most liberals are blind about this: the schools cannot be fixed. We must abandon the present system and completely start over. If our society is truly interested in creating thoughtful, responsible, free citizens, education must be based on knowledge and inquiry instead of authority and obedience.

Sadly, I fear that society doesn't really want that. We could have a renaissance the likes of which have not been seen in Western civilization for 500 years. I bet it doesn't happen.