Education's Great Divide: My Time in the Trenches
In thinking about how valuable education is in cultivating the next generation of Americans, my mind took me back nearly twenty years to when I was a graduate student functioning as a substitute teacher at La Puente High School in Southern California. On one assignment, I was to cover a social studies class of some old-timer; he had written down in his instructions that since his classes were on a field trip, my sole duty was to show a movie at 6th period to those who did not attend. What I found that day opened my eyes.
In a dusty corner shelf of the room was a set of thirty-year-old textbooks from the mid-1960s, and although my memory cannot now relinquish their title, their contents burned themselves into my brain. As I flipped through the pages, I was astonished to find what I would now consider an upper-level college textbook under color of what in the high schools used to be termed "civics." This text contained a very detailed understanding of political theory, constitutional law, macroeconomics, American history, and comparative political systems. I spent the rest of the day in slack-jawed amazement, perusing what a student in a working-class town was expected to know before the mavens of education began tinkering with the curricula of our schools.
When the instructor returned at the end of the day, I revealed my astonishment to him, and he informed me that he had used those texts when he first hired on. Now, however, could not do so, since they would be incomprehensible to nearly every student -- especially considering that the nature of history and American government had been changed in the current texts. The teacher related to me that the current texts had been scaled down to what used to be a grammar-school understanding, and they carried within them a jaundiced view of America, preferring to accentuate the warts and blemishes rather than the achievements of our political system.
I then made it my business, when finding an older teacher, to ask if education had been "dumbed down." To a person, I found that this question unleashed volatile diatribes on how dull children had become since the responders had begun as idealistic young men and women in the field. Algebra teachers informed me that every year they were forced to eliminate problem sets that previous years had mastered. English teachers who once taught Shakespeare and Dante were now reduced to leading seniors through Orwell's Animal Farm or postmodern novels featuring teens in existential moral dilemmas. Moreover, the analysis of themes in book reports had been deconstructed into not what the author was attempting to portray, but what personal emotions were elicited in the reader.
Teachers, who are part and parcel the products of our New Education, can never be fully aware of what diminution has been wrought subsequent to the Great Divide. From elementary school and into the colleges, disciplines of objective knowledge have been either discounted or leveled, and critical thinking has been pushed aside for the subtle indoctrination of a specific worldview. Students are deemed to be merely clever animals, and the slow, simmering replacement of a spiritual for a biological self-definition is therefore woven into the fabric of how they are taught life and the world.
Campus speech codes and filtered curricula have denuded the classical goal of the acquisition of a free and analytic mind. The capacity to seek and apprehend truth has devolved into the project to fashion pliable minds with correct and proper opinions, in which truth itself is a problematic, wavering, conventional construct. Passion and commitment in service to a politicized cause are indeed more valuable than the veracity of that cause, since the absence of truth renders one construction of the world coequal with another.
The moral equality of lifestyles, as well as the preferred end of an equality of material results, is deemed by those who design curricula to be consistent with "anointed ideologies." All permutations of sexuality are to be held valid, protected from the scrutiny of blighted paleo-moral judgments. All cultures and religions are also worthy of celebration -- with the exceptions of Christianity and the American regime, who are guilty of a plethora of crimes throughout the earth and must therefore be lowered in stature to ensure the final egalitarian assessment of distinction-free understanding. The fiction must be implanted that we are all one worldwide loving and happy family, benevolent and divided only by geographical and artificial political overlays.
On perhaps my saddest day of teaching, I was witness to an assembly presented to juniors and seniors at La Puente High School under color of "AIDS Awareness." Within the 45-minute series of very cleverly devised humorous skits and demonstrations, I beheld the barbaric demolition of the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian West before my very eyes. Along with provocative descriptions of male-on-male coitus and the disparagement "twisted and perverse" directed at anyone who found fault with the emancipated vision of a sexual free-for-all was a single demonstration that elicited only wild applause and profound laughter amongst the audience.
A mid-twenties young woman, in showing how the transmission of AIDS would be nipped in the bud by condoms, unwrapped a condom, placed it in her mouth, and proceeded to insert a cucumber -- using her lips to unroll the condom around the circumference of the vegetable. She then brought students of both sexes on stage and had them perform the same activity -- some with a strange adeptness and others rather clumsily. I looked around the auditorium to see if a teacher or administrator would stop this, but those in attendance were laughing as hard as the students.
There is no doubt within my mind that the lesson learned that day, under camouflage of health safety, was that any traditions of restraint or sexual boundaries that implied that we are any more than passion-driven, erotic animals should be demolished or at least seriously called into question. After all, schools are the provinces of authority, and they function in loco parentis. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the homes of those students when their parents asked Johnny and Mary what they learned in school that day. In hearing the Tale of the Cucumber, I wonder if any were as dumbstruck as I was -- that the children they loved above all else had been instructed in an action well-known to any back-alley prostitute.
In a world where knowledge is a commodity we value in the extreme, wisdom, or the possibility of it, is becoming an endangered species. Leo Strauss said that it is better to understand the low in the light of the high than the high in the light of the low. If we can no longer grasp his epigram, then perhaps we are farther along toward our day of reckoning than we can ever know -- and of the volley being fired across our broadside, it can truly be said that we never saw it coming.