Looking back on my time as a teacher, I note with irony that there is a special breed of stupidity which only manifests in those who purport to transmit knowledge to others. Rest assured, it is they who are now in charge. There is no reasoning with them, there is no Socratic dialogue to discover the truth. Only the leftist narrative can thrive in the fallow ground of education in 2015 America.
The sheer ignorance of those tasked with this charge can only be matched by their arrogance. This is displayed in many different facets. Just one example to be explored here is the propensity of modern literature instruction to assume the form of “thematic units.” Because it is not enough to pass on the great literature to the next generation; no, there must be some greater task for the leftist (largely) female English teachers.
A thematic unit is just the right pretension to puff up their absurd notions of intellectualism. Such pretentions in these teachers are so delusional that a mere word; nay, a look, can pop the bubble and they vanish into the nothingness that they always were. Because these teachers who are so intent, almost psychotically so, on doing good, are just too dumb to see they are doing bad, and would have been better advised not to have gotten out of bed in the morning.
They truly personify all the naivety and cluelessness expressed in the term “do gooder.” They take it for granted that their job is to disseminate the cultural Marxism which they have absorbed uncritically (and indeed unwittingly) from the wider culture on to students. Any subject matter teaching which might occur during the process is viewed as entirely incidental. Yet it would be quite futile to try to explain this to such teachers. What they lack in logical deduction, they make up for in earnestness. It is a rather unfortunate combination.
I should probably add as a caveat, though it abruptly breaks with the thrust of my essay, that there are certainly some brilliant English teachers, tucked away perhaps at elite private schools, who surely know their subject well and are not enthralled to the leftist narrative. I have but rarely rubbed elbows with such gentlemen scholars. Suffice it to say they are an appreciated, yet rare exception.
The Ideological Component
If I were to be more cynical (or honest), I would note that the thematic approach to literature not only avoids the pesky task of passing on our culture’s venerable literary canon, but actively seeks to tear it down. It does so in an onslaught of multiculti propaganda, authored by pretenders and imposters, with a familiar villain as the foil. In this regard, the thematic unit is another means of a putsch, an effort to hound traditionally minded teachers out of the profession and to alienate students of Western lineage from their own culture. Look around: Have they not wildly succeeded? We are sifting through the ashes of a scorched earth kulturkampf.
Practically speaking, a thematic unit provides the opportunity to dispense with the textbook altogether and assemble a hodgepodge of pieces by minority authors bitterly critical of Western culture. This may well describe textbooks themselves to some extent. But whereas a textbook receives much scrutiny, even some which should theoretically come from the right, a thematic curriculum can be distributed by a school district via a PDF file, all under the radar of the general public.
The dirty ideological work of the thematic unit is done quite easily under the general theme of “culture” or some variation thereof. From such an innocuous question as “What is culture?” we learn that pretty much every culture besides the West has something truly special to offer. How many times have I seen this insidious theme of “culture” in education transparently used to encroach upon the curriculum formerly constituted of meritorious literature?
A typical piece would be an individual struggling with two competing facets of their identity. On the one hand, they have their vibrant ethnic heritage; on the other, they are seamlessly navigating the mainstream culture. It is a motif in our newly and artificially contrived literary canon. I can only conclude that this is how the powers that be now define what it means to be American.
While I do not doubt for a minute that multiculturalism is the biggest scourge on education, in the interests of staying on topic, I cannot expound upon this angle in depth here; but I would like to return to the subject at a later date. And I have certainly touched upon it earlier.
Generally speaking, what “thematic instruction” means is that a unit of literature is taught under the rubric of an “essential question,” “What is culture?” being just one example. An “essential question” is cooked up by a coterie of textbook editors, notable only for their diversity, and certainly devoid of any other redeeming qualities. The “essential question” is marked by a vacuity that only the education industry could manage. Another particularly egregious, but representative example:
Is truth different from reality?
To give yet another example, Pearson prefaces Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with the query: “To what extent does experience affect what we perceive?” Why didn’t Shakespeare think to add this navel gazer to his folio? This essential question is returned to at the end of each act with a comprehension question which ties into it. This is not hard to do, as the essential questions are so far reaching and broad that literally any line of inquiry can be said to fall under its purview. For example, the comprehension question,“How does Brutus’ speech help you understand how he feels about Caesar?” arguably relates to how Brutus’ experience has shaped his perceptions; though again, the essential question also relates to practically any question.
One might say that works of literature have questions they pose by implication of the theme, and that a good teacher would extricate those questions and crystallize them throughout the study of a book. One of those rare intelligent private school English teachers posed an essential question for Macbeth along the lines of “What does it mean to be a man?” This is perfectly acceptable and relevant to the play (“I dare do all that may become a man”). And it was especially apropos at a boys’ school.
Yet somehow the actual practice of posing essential questions has become an exercise in either leftist propaganda or trite navel gazing. This is because of the nefarious nature of the education industry, and the incompetence of teachers and textbook publishers.
In yet another irony, English teachers (again mostly women and, increasingly, gay men) who so long to concoct “conceptual” lesson designs have almost no ability to think conceptually. When they muck around with the curriculum, therefore, they inevitably make everything worse and less coherent.
For example, I was once obliged to meet with my fellow teachers so that we could be in “lock step” in our lesson plans, which would actually be dictated by the district. This would be good, noted my department head, because then she “wouldn’t have to think.” The rather pointless question at hand was what activity to use in order to introduce Wiesel’s ubiquitous Night—because activities with no literary content are oh so vital in progressive education. The department head volunteered that she, in order to give students an idea of the experience of concentration camp inmates, had used a sharpie to write students’ school ID’s on their arms as they walked in the classroom. How’s that for “tactile learning”? Another woman suggested that we show the students pictures of concentration camps, only to reveal…they are American internment camps of the Japanese during WWII. So you see, we must never lose sight of how uniquely evil we are. And by “we,” she presumably did not mean to implicate her people, obese Latinas. This is just one example of “conceptual thinking” gone awry.
To propose that we need some other means to engage students in a text other than the text itself is a worrying sign that one does not really understand the material at hand at all. In my experience, this was almost always the case with English teachers. Let’s be blunt: these are lightweights who would prefer to read young adult lit like the Hunger Games along with their students. They’re easy marks for the liberal elites higher up the food chain in the educational establishment.
Naturally such English teachers cannot perceive genius when they encounter it, though they have a vague sense that certain works are important. So they instinctively twist and manipulate such works in a way as to advance one of their pet liberal causes, or otherwise pair the work with some platitudinous and irrelevant “essential question” that they have received from the professional literature.
Such questions are then to be mulled over with furrowed brow by armies of empty headed teachers, and confused yet perhaps willing-to-try students. What ridiculous answers will they concoct, when teacher and student, of barely distinguishable mental ability, put their heads together to ponder such questions?
Malcolm Unwell is a chronicler of America gone wrong and aspires to be a malevolent voice in journalism. Contact him.