A is for Activist?

It is dispiriting to note that those to whom we have entrusted the education of our children in the primary and public schools are woefully under-educated practitioners of the discipline.  In an article titled "Educational Rot," Walter Williams laments "the low academic quality of so many teachers."  Williams is referring to the abomination of teacher training colleges, which recruit the dregs of the graduate schools, catering to candidates "who have the lowest academic test scores."  The same applies to graduates of the gender studies programs in the universities, who, unfit for productive employment, often end up in the K-12 classroom.  The damage such instructors do to the public school system and to our children is incalculable.

Trained to follow a leftist curricular agenda, a majority of K-12 teachers are set on molding the social justice warriors, anti-free market revolutionaries, radical environmentalists, global warmists, and feminist Furies of the future.  The exclusion of the traditional focus on writing skills, effective reading, civics, maths and sciences, and the counter-emphasis on "social justice" themes in the public schools constitutes the first stage of the systematic dumbing down – what historian Niall Ferguson calls The Great Degeneration – that afflicts our society.

Thus, far too many students who emerge from these incubators, whether they are conscious of it or not, suffer not only from mental sluggishness, but from a kind of psychic immiseration.  They compensate by trying to persuade themselves that they are useful and enlightened citizens when, for the most part, they are merely antisocial drones.  The gene pool is not being chlorinated, as Wendy Northcutt suggests in her 2009 Darwin Awards romp; on the contrary, it is being increasingly contaminated.

Inspired by the reigning cultural ideology and leftist political legislation, our K-12 purveyors of the Progressivist meme have put into practice the adage attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola (though possibly mischievously misassigned to him by Voltaire): "Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man."  There is much truth in the saying, as Aristotle recognized in Book 7 of the Politics, arguing that children should be reared in the home until the critical age of seven, when their instincts will have been shaped and characters formed.  After this developmental mission has been completed, children proceed to the "Lessons" – that is, music and gymnastics, before moving to the higher echelons as they prepare to begin the journey into adulthood.

Aristotle was concerned with raising good citizens, sound of body and mind, willing to defend the polis from its enemies and able to reflect dispassionately on social and political issues.  Our pedagogues have a different purpose in mind.  The citizens they wish to create are agenda-driven ideologues who believe their own country, to quote New York governor Andrew Cuomo, "was never that great" – indeed, it is the sum of all evil – and that what we may call "identity tribalism" is the road forward to true egalitarianism.

These poor abused children are regularly subjected to board books like A is for Activist, in which, after a series of atrocious rhymes, they are bombarded with asinine slogans they can barely understand, like "Environmental justice is the way!" and "Creative Counter to Corporate Vultures."  They are asked "Are you an Activist?"  By the age of seven, the answer to the question is probably yes.

By the time they reach university, a staggering number of them are fundamentally dysfunctional, devoid of basic knowledge and convinced they must repudiate and undo the presumed sins of their fathers.  They cannot write a coherent English sentence, will agitate for LGBTQ rights, will shout down conservative speakers and denounce "white supremacism," will don masks and battle gear to disrupt public events, and profess a passionate dedication to the most destructive of political philosophies: universal socialism.  K-12 is a slough of didactic despond, turning out largely illiterate and innumerate fodder for the universities and foot soldiers for the coming revolution.  Its charges consist of not pupils, but recruits.

As educator Ken Poppe, a veteran of 47 years in the trenches, writes in his as yet unpublished memoir, If I Ran My School, "all the red tape paperwork, the government interference, the political correctness, the constant threat of litigation, the gross misallocation of money – even the suspicion by co-workers if you got too good – left me thinking it's nearly impossible for any neophyte to rise above all this."  He is right.  Trying to bring public education back to the summit it once occupied is a Sisyphean task.

Plainly, homeschooling will be an uphill battle, as, for example, the Canadian comedy film Adventures in Public Schooling makes abundantly clear.  The film tells the story of a homeschooled prodigy who escapes his mother's stifling over-parenting and enters the broader, socially hip, and far more interesting realm of the public school.  Variety reviewer Dennis Harvey, while clearly deploring homeschooling, generously acknowledges that the mother is at least "not serving some extreme religious or political agenda" – an attitude that represents the common perception of the phenomenon.  The film concludes with a reconciliation between mother and son.  The mother, says Harvey, may have been an "overzealous best friend" but, thank the Lord, was not "a terrifying example of pathological dependency and transference" – again, an attitude that expresses how the homeschooling parent is generally regarded.

Adventures in Public Schooling manages to hide the reality of mediocrity and indoctrination that characterizes the public school system under a veneer of lighthearted ebullience.

Steps must be taken to redeem the K-12 disaster, for that is what it truly is.  It needs to be admitted that K-12 education cannot be reformed; it must be replaced.  Vouchers, charter schools, and homeschooling should be encouraged, and parental choice, responsibility, and authority must supersede the intrusion of self-interested bureaucracies in the educational process.  There would be no teacher unions.  Once necessary to ensure job security and decent salaries, they inevitably become Club Meds for union officials and bastions of professional mediocrity.  They will no longer figure in the new dispensation.  Teachers Training Colleges will be a thing of the past; teachers will be drawn solely from their respective disciplines, which they will be expected to have mastered.  The insinuation of political theories and ideological practices into the minds of the young will be strictly prohibited.

The only solution that has a chance of success is the empowerment of the parent and the home and the elimination of a top-heavy, inefficient, and wasteful educational bureaucracy.  Such will be a slow and intermittent process, failing which ongoing academic – and cultural – decline is inevitable.

A happy and well educated child is the optimum goal for early education.  That such an aim is conspicuous by its absence and remains differentially elusive should not deter us from the struggle to achieve it as best we can.  In the long run, happiness comes with work, integrity, self-respect, and mental discipline.  These are qualities that the institutional monolith cannot foster.

Indeed, as Aristotle wrote in the Nicomachean Ethics, happiness, as the purpose of life, relies on fostering moral reason and intellectual excellence, for which the Greek word is arete.  As the philosopher knew, the concept is central to true education and must begin with the young.

A is not for activist.  A is for arete.

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