In looking for a piece I seemed to remember in which John, a prolific internet presence, advocates abolishing public education, I came across his overall diagnosis of schooling in America, well worth reading and a marvel of concision and accuracy. On its strength I hereby nominate him as SecEd, as one says in the as-yet undrained swamp on the Potomac. I nominate myself as Asst. SecEd, with the title of Lord High Executioner and a government-supplied guillotine. Schooling will never be the same. Heh heh.
A question John raises in the piece I was looking for, and answers in the negative, is whether any reason exists for public schooling beyond perhaps fifth grade. It does seem reasonable that the population not actually moronic should be able read menus and street signs. It also seems possible.
In the column racket one is required to say that our children are the future–may God have mercy–and that democracy requires an educated electorate knowing history, geography, languages and such so as to have a grasp of the issues of the day, etc, and so on, and on, to the last syllable of recorded tedium. Questions seldom asked: Does American schooling produce such an electorate? Can it? Could it? Does anyone really want it? Or does it simply keep children out of their parents hair, and off the job market?
We have all seen the surveys showing that “college” graduates do not know when the Civil War took place, where Afghanistan might be, and cannot find the Pacific Ocean on a map of the Hawaiian Islands. For most students, most education is a farce, a waste of time and money.
The failure to learn is not, or not uniquely, a problem of intelligence. Obviously the actually stupid will not learn anything. But neither do the intelligent. John points out that his own children, presumably bright, took four years of high-school Spanish yet cannot speak a sentence.
Do you know anybody who learned any language in high school? Or in “college”? Languages can be taught, and are in countries such as Finland and Denmark, but American schools are hopeless, and Americans uninterested.
Somewhat parenthetically, for the bright student, public schooling is both an obstacle and a torment. He, or most assuredly she, is quickly reading five grades ahead of class. Such students prop open the tops of their desks to sneak-read books about dinosaurs or astronomy, or Jane Eyre. They do not give a wan, etiolated damn about how Mommy Beaver had three sticks, and Little Baby Beaver had two, and how many in all did the wretched animals have?
Back to ponderous wisdom. Bright kids learn to read by reading, by going to the library and coming back with ten books, by reading voraciously, indiscriminately, clandestinely reading under the covers at night with flashlights. You don’t teach them to read. You get out of their way. In fact, you don’t teach them much of anything. They do it.
Coming back to the plight of John’s kids and Spanish, I ask myself what I actually learned in high school. Almost nothing. I took required courses in economics, geography, Latin, Spanish, English, some kind of history (that I cannot remember what sort of history suggests that it did not add materially to my store of knowledge), government–and and came as blank as I had begun. While I wasn’t bright enough to attract tour buses, I was some above average–and yet, apart from math, learned no more than the dumbest kids. If Tommy (name redacted) hadn’t stolen the senior-civics exam, I would still be in high school.
I did profit from two years of algebra, one of plane geometry, and typing. Why? Because I was interested. I can still do long division of polynomials. What I really most learned in school (my high school transcript may not fascinate you. Patience. I am coming to a point) was physiology. For some reason it interested me and I inhaled textbooks, to lasting effect (eosinophils, neutrophils, basophils, large and small monocytes…see?)
From which we conclude: Kids will learn what interests them. They won’t learn anything else. This is why hackers of fifteen years break into secured networks but do not know whether Columbus discovered America or the other way around.
Far better would be perhaps junior high followed by vocational training in a field of interest to the student. In four years currently wasted on learning nothing, a kid could get a monumental head start on being an auto mechanic (look under the hood of your car and tell me it’s a job for dummies), electrician, paramedic, computer tech, accountant, dental technician, and so on. Or be phenomenally ready for med school. Such training of the very young would not in all fields amount to professional competence, but would produce dynamite candidates for further study.
This would serve the primary purpose of keeping them off the streets. Kids would be no less prepared to make momentous decisions of state–heaven help us–than current ones. They would also end up as adults, not Snowflakes
Why is American schooling a disaster? Because it rests on the bedrock of envy, the grinding resentment of the superior. “You ain’t no gooder’n me” might be the national slogan, embodying both the attitude and its dire grammatical consequences. Envy explains the emphasis on the mentally halt and lame, on disguising the inability of the dull. Everyone must go to “college” to hide the incandescently obvious, that most are not bright enough. Kids who cannot count their fingers, much less on them, must be put in AP classes. And so on.
Feminized schools are run by women of low cerebral voltage who have no intellectual interests and probably resent the bright. A kid of IQ 140 will regard his ed-major teacher, at 95, as a form of tuber and she will guess as much. The emphasis in this Slough of Despond falls on making sure that No Kid Gets Ahead. It works. The whole charade needs to be abolished.
To digress, perchance to dream: While I am reorganizing the government, I will appoint Eric Margolis as Secretary of State, and put Patrick Cockbern or Robert Fisk on the Middle East desk. A journalist who has spent a lifetime covering foreign affairs on the ground may know more about it than some damn Coca-Cola executive. But my mind wanders.
Yet many who are bright enough for university simply have no interest. To many, a commercial-diving ticket appeals more than a degree in The Sociology of Breathing. What earthly point is there in subjecting him to the high-school equivalent of those miserable beavers?
How important is a fifth-rate unremembered education to the betterment of society? John makes the point that the English empire was administered entirely by men who learned nothing in school but Latin classics. (Stalky&Co. is canonical.) Of course they had a sense of noblesse oblige as a matter of caste and, I think, a comparative immunity to corruption–”it isn’t done, you know”–which we do not. A society founded on class has advantages.
When Mr. Derbyshire finds that he has been dragooned into the federal government, he will probably go into hiding. I will have him hunted down by muscular skip-tracers with large butterfly nets. And oil my guillotine for the coming years. There are callings that transcend personal preference.