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Excuses

In an earlier post, today, I get called to task in the comments by my most excellent friends, Billy Beck and Kyle Bennett, for stating that the indoctrination students receive in public schools (enviro-silliness, fear-mongering, politicized "science", submission to self-appointed "authorities", etc.) is "small potatoes".

All of this happens–of course, and unsurprisingly–but is such problem any more serious than any of the other rot we as individualists must endure on a daily basis?

Kyle comments:

You’re right about the inefficiency and low quality of education
being driven largely form above, but what I see as destructive is the
content of that education – the stuff you call small potatoes. That
also is driven from above, but after decades of NEA influence, it has
trickled down to the teaching level as well.

Either way, it’s an argument for privatization: allow parents to
choose what will be taught to their children, allow parents to choose
schools that will provide quality as cost-effectively as they can, and
allow the good teachers to earn what they’re worth and have the
resources to do the job right.

And Billy:

The cultural destruction and mutilation wrought at the hands of
public schools is so enormous that, on about three days out of any
given five, I’ll tell you that it is the single most important and
pressing problem that must be solved before anything else. For
an example: consider that the arguments over evolution could never have
risen to the pitch that they have if parents — from Christian to
atheist — were free

to choose among market alternatives for
their own children, according to their own values. And that’s only one
example, before we even get started on the positive indoctrination of
good little statebots.

I’m with Kyle. Nothing about public education is "small potatoes",
Rich, and the good intentions of teachers amount to nothing, in the
end. The destruction of American culture begins with untold numbers of
budding minds, daily, in forced attendance of government
interests. Without that, it’s nearly impossible for me to imagine how
the rest of this could go on.

I’ll grant that the content being taught in school may differ from place to place, but I’ve been with my grade-school-teacher wife for 10 years, and what I see is very, very predominately the basics. Her kids read tons of books, do math, American history, some science, lots of writing (she’s up most every night of the school year ’til 10 or 11 grading their essays). She’s rarely home before seven, even though school’s out at three. Many of her colleagues are still there when she leaves.

I’m sure that neither of you would disagree that there are thousands upon thousands of great teachers. I’ve met dozens. I’ve actually been quite surprised that whenever I attend some school-teacher event with my wife, they talk nothing but shop. No, they don’t talk about the union, their benefits, how the district is in their shit all the time, or  their commie politics. They talk about the kids–by name. They are, in fact, among the very most dedicated people to a task that I have ever encountered in my life. I was and continue to be surprised and impressed. Facts, getting in the way of what I’d believed for years. It’s just a fact, guys. It may be different elsewhere, but that’s my personal experience without the slightest exception over ten years.

So I’ve pondered this a lot, spoken and argued with Bea a million times, and tried to instigate arguments with her colleagues. Here’s what I know: the buck-stops-here responsibility for educating children lies squarely and non-transferably with parents or guardians. End of story. Now, I agree that the state should not be funding schools, or a million other things they do with the money they steal from you and I under threat of imprisonment. However, that doesn’t mean that I need to consider the schools any worse or ominous than any other government program. And, if the schools do a generally good job, then that’s independent of the fact that they do it with stolen money, which is a given.

Most of the criticism I hear of the public schools is generated by the political right. Why? There’s only one reason: because the schools generally refuse to teach their children the collection of fairy tales that they would like them to be taught. Moreover, they don’t want such fairy tales contradicted with things like facts and reason and science. So, though I oppose public schools on principal, I’m not about to have anything to do about it with the nutbars on the religious right and am going to generally discount everything they say until provided with solid evidence.

But Johnny can’t read, they say. Yes, it’s true in many cases, but the blame is often placed where it doesn’t belong. Every teacher I’ve ever spoken with about this issue will tell you that their abilities are severely limited. They are not miracle workers, and if the parents don’t support and back them up, then results may vary substantially. I don’t know how many 5th graders my wife has received in her class that were new immigrants from Mexico or Viet Nam who not only don’t speak a word of English, but are illiterate in their own languages. In many cases, parents too. Not to be daunted, Bea jumps right in and the progress she achieves in nine months with these kids is a near miracle. I’ve seen it. From zero to reading and speaking on a 3rd to 5th grade level in 9 months.

Teachers will tell you that their biggest problem is almost never the kids. "The kids are great," I hear over and over. It’s the parents. In addition to the foregoing paragraph, you also have parents who consider the school nothing more than a baby-sitting service, and worse, those who undermine the legitimate authority of the teacher and the school, i.e., issuing scholastic assignments and grading the results. Give a kid a deserved bad grade and you’re likely to have mom or dad right down your throat. Happens over and over, and what’s the real lesson being taught to Johnny?

I could go on…and on.

But basically, the root problem is not with the public schools, and eliminating them, though desirable, would solve nothing for individualists. Statist indoctrination? Well, the state is just another form of authoritarian institution. The only valid authoritarian institution is the family, when kids are too ignorant to know better and must be forced to comply with certain norms (rational) of behavior. But parents don’t teach their kids to be independent individualists, do they? No, they teach them to believe in a fairy tale, teach them to obey ancient idiocies written in an ancient book, teach them to unquestioningly obey men in "authority" who wear robes in the pulpit and on the bench, and it just goes on and on. In short, they teach them not to think, by which I mean: think only so far. No further, ever!

The indoctrination of people into humanoid bots began back when the first person looked to the heavens, created a fairy tale out of of whole cloth, and asserted himself to be the source of true knowledge. Understandable as that is, we don’t seem to have progressed one bit in all these millennia. Our parents were taught, and then they taught us to be unquestioning idiots, to take things on faith alone, and to respect and obey those who assert authority over us.

The public schools reinforce all of this, of course, but so does everyone and every institution.

We give the public schools too much credit. Parents have far more influence. What’s worse, a lesson in public school about how you should be a "good citizen" and recycle, or a dad who routinely disrespects other’s property by various forms of trespass and littering? What’s worse, a lesson in public school about "sensitivity," or a dad who smacks mom around and cheats on her? What’s worse, a civics or "social studies" lesson in school, or a mom and dad who malign and denigrate daily the companies they work for and those who created those companies? What’s worse, a lesson in school about some "great" politician (who steals and lies such as all), or a mom & dad who talk endlessly about the next government program that’s coming around the corner that’s supposed to make all of their lives better?

If public schools were at the root of all of this mess, then we should expect to see differences in the many thousands of products of private school and private universities. We don’t. They’re just as ignorant as the products of the public schools, many of them holding offices in the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of the federal government, and in our statehouses. The only thing private institutions seem to do is perhaps create more effective and lethal statist elites.

The problem with the state is the problem with all of it. People are supposed to become independent and think for themselves. But to date, that’s only done up to a certain level by most people, and the church and the state take advantage from there.

OK, have at me.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

17 Comments

  1. Kevin on July 31, 2005 at 21:49

    You are right about the blame thing. Most of the problems in schools come from what the parents aren't doing for the child. Or by the time they get to high school, the problem is what the parents didn't do while the student was growing up.

    Nice post.

  2. Billy Beck on August 1, 2005 at 10:08

    Honest to bleedin' jeezis: I cannot understand this chickenshit complaint against The Damned Right Wing and their belief in fairies.

    I don't know why I can't make it clear that this would not be a problem if only there were a separation of state and education, just like a separation of state and religion, for all the same reasons.

    And I will not be kindy disposed to addressing any sort of labor theory of value in defense of teachers breaking their necks for massa on the goddamned plantation.

    Believe me: the less I say about this here, the better.

  3. Richard Nikoley on August 1, 2005 at 10:30

    Perhaps it's 'cause you haven't been there, where I've been. Believe _me_. I grew up with the religious right. These are people who are literally capable of believing _any_thing and _any_ contradiction.

    I think it's important, fundamentally. You can have all the political reforms you want, but if people do not generally possess a discipline of thought (and belief in fairies goes straight to that), then it's all for naught.

    Thinking comes first. People who believe in fairies do not and can not truly think. They are suseptible to any sort of manipulation.

    BTW, mine isn't a defense of schools on any labor-theory basis. It's a defense simply on the grounds of seeing the effects (product). In my experience, the public school, where I live, does just about as good a job as anything out there, and I'm a product of private schools from 7th – 12th grades and 1st year of college. I know what I'm talking about.

    Also, I stand by my point that the indoctrination in schools is not particularly any more serious or worse than indocrination in general.

    I'm right, wall-to-wall on this. It all comes back to the parents. Dumb parents, dumb kids. Smart parents, smart kids, and the particular school they go to is far less important than that.

    Get parents thinking, really thinking, like: further out than their next enterttainment center, RV, boat, or church meetin' and there you will start to see changes that no school in the world will be able to stop

  4. Richard Nikoley on August 1, 2005 at 10:35

    The essence of the above comment is this: there is _no_ solution. We will never see freedom so long as people can be led to believe any damned thing, and religion is a direct manifestation of that disiease of thought: mysticism, the stupidity disease.

    I see signs of a gradual change, but it's a long way off, and we haven't got a prayer of a free society until that happens. Best to just focus on having the best life you can while mankind continues to "evolve" out of the primitive mind he currently possesses.

    Just the way it is, man.

  5. Billy Beck on August 1, 2005 at 11:29

    Religious life experience: Did you ever know that I was raised a confirmed Catholic, and that I served Mass as an altar-boy?

    I ditched the Church as soon as I possibly could without breaking my father's heart.

    Rich? The public schools are not teaching children to think. This fact is far more general than the matter of religion and subsumes it for that reason. I put it to you that there are all kinds of kids out there who don't believe in fairies — nor do their parents — and they are no less subject to "manipulation" than any bloody snake-handler on the scene.

    Don't slide past that, man. Think about it.

    Riddle me this:

    If the essence of the thing is about parents, then what good on earth does it do for them to send their kids to these institutions which you are admitting cannot do the job?

  6. Richard Nikoley on August 1, 2005 at 14:22

    No, public schools are not teaching kids to properly think, and neither are private schools or public and/or private institutions of all kinds.

    Yes, thinking subsumes religion, but _teaching_ thinking does not. Religionists sincerely believe that they are thinking and that their thought is superior to all else for the simple reason that they believe it to be so. Thus, there's no thinking and no teaching thinking because there's no thinking. There is no private / public distinction to draw here, other than that people ought to be free to get whatever education they want (and can pay for), but we ought not fool ourselves into believing that it's going to make any profound cultural / intellectual / enlightening impact. It's not, because people still believe that fairy tales are literal truth, and such belief precludes _any_ possibility of _culture changing_ thought on a mass scale.

    To the next, I'm not saying that freedom from religious belief is any sort of guarantee of enlightenment. I'm saying that belief in religious literalism precludes enlightenment. Tossing religion is just the first step on the road to enlightenment.

    To your riddle, I’m not saying it does anyone any good to send their kids to the public school. I’m just saying it’s no worse than any of the other stuff out there, and just as in many parts of the government, you do often find capable people doing good jobs. My counter to you and Kyle was simply that I don’t buy into the ominous bits about the school system. I’ve seen the very profound impact that parents have over and over and have very rightly concluded that schools come in a very distant second or perhaps third (my maternal grandfather had more impact concerning what I am today than anyone or anything else).

    Bea taught at her first school for 18 years. For the past 5, she’s been at another. The first school was primarily low-income, low-educated families, many new and recent immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, etc. Results were often good, but even sometimes when parents are very supportive, there’s only so much that can be done because they are completely ignorant themselves, often illiterate. You see miracles, but they are a bit rare.

    Then Bea goes to a brand new school in the same district. It’s in a residential neighborhood, and the cheapest houses go for $2 million +. A lot of the kids are Indian and Chinese, their parents being immigrant engineers working in Silicon Valley. Many of the wives don’t work, so Bea often has the wives of multi-millionaires over in her classroom doing every sort of thing. Last year, when her classroom moved upstairs, it was the parents of her students that moved everything and set up the new classroom.

    For the last 5 years, I’ve attended the school’s annual fundraiser. Golf during the day for the gents, then a reception, dinner and charity auction. For that one school of about 600 students, about $80,000 is raised directly from parents in that one single day every year. Most of it goes to buy books for the library. They have an awesome library.

    I could go on, but my point is that the parents of that neighborhood care a great deal and have cooperated with one-another to virtually take control of the school, and they are welcome by the school because they are competent and clearly know what they are doing. Many of the parents even teach special classes at the school. They have a whole series on business and entrepreneurship taught by parents with business experience.

    Yea, tons difference than an inner-city in the Bronx, eh? What do you suppose makes the difference, the system or the parents?

    So, if parents want to send their kids to a public school, I’d advise searching for a neighborhood of very concerned and involved parents. It may still not be good enough, but it’s the best chance they have in that system.

  7. Billy Beck on August 1, 2005 at 14:50

    "Yes, thinking subsumes religion, but _teaching_ thinking does not."

    I did not make myself clear. When you're not teaching people to think, you're teaching them to not think about more than just religion. They also grow up to think not think about things lkke Stalin, for instance.

    Look around you, man.

    I don't don't want to hear about Bea in this again. You can talk about it without me if I do. It's not fair, Rich, and it's impertinent. It's not fair because I'm in the position of attacking your wife. And it's impertinent because she is not representative.

  8. Richard Nikoley on August 1, 2005 at 15:10

    I'm not sure that's any clearer.

    Religion is a part of the culture, not just some item on everyone's life menu. Not only that, It's a _huge_ and _fundamental_ part of _every_ human culture on Earth. Education, whether public or private, generally seeks to reinforce the culture, so criticizing schools for not teaching people to think properly, when their very culture is largely about unthinking obedience to a supreme supernatural being, is cart before the horse.

    And even if your criticisms about cultural destruction in the public schools have merit (and they do), we're talking about destruction way farther up the hierarchy than religion.

    I really don't know why you'd need to attack Bea, or anyone alse I've described. My descriptions of their work is simple. If what I've described is true, then they are doing a good job. They may not be doing _all_ you or I would have them do, there, but to the extent they do, they do well and they work hard at it.

    Otherwise, it's not Bea you'd need to attack. You could simply call me a liar.

  9. gary on August 1, 2005 at 09:27

    It's not just what the right wants taught, but what the keep out of the classroom. And it goes back a ways.

    I went to high school in the 1950s. It wasn't until I was out of the service and raising a family that I learned through my own interest that there was a connection between dinosaurs and birds, looking out into space is looking into the past, and that evolution is a fact.

    None of this was taught in the Amarillo public school system — not to me, anyway.

    And to be an atheist then, as it almost is now, was no better than being a communist. One just didn't admit to it.

    The result of coming on my own version of truth was load of cynicism and reluctance to give social conservatism the benefit of the doubt. Delusion is one thing. Self-delusion is beyond the pale.

  10. Billy Beck on August 1, 2005 at 17:29

    "If what I've described is true, then they are doing a good job. They may not be doing _all_ you or I would have them do, there, but to the extent they do, they do well and they work hard at it."

    This, Rich, is why I referred to a labor theory of value.

    Look: if a person works their ass off diligently all day long at crafting perfect mud-pies, I am still not interested in the product, no matter how hard they work at it.

  11. Richard Nikoley on August 1, 2005 at 19:13

    B:

    Spare me the lesson on the LTV, please. I've explained it to dozens of people myself, including a bro-in-law just a few weeks ago who conducted a garage sale at our place and had a book on Marx from his college days (no, he didn't know what the LTV is).

    It's difficult, at this point, to really engage. If you check my posts, you'll see that I have repeatedly _narrowly_ defined my claim. Now, that may be non-sporting of me, but it is what it is. I have specifically said that in my experience, the _basics_ are being taught (3 Rs & such) and they are doing a good job of it, in my experience.

    If that's not a value to you, I have no argument. But I'm not making an argument a-la Marx, and you damn well know it.

  12. Billy Beck on August 1, 2005 at 19:41

    I can spare you, Rich. I'll trade you:

    I am not interested to know how hard anyone is working at a failure.

  13. Richard Nikoley on August 1, 2005 at 21:36

    Jim:

    OK, happy to help, but only because I know firstahand a lot of what goes on inside, and I also know that a lot of the mud-slinging is politicized from the right in the same way the left politicizes their agendas. I went to a right-wing religious school administered by a fundamental Baptist church. I know precisely what they want by way of schooling and how that motivates their twisting of the whole affair.

    That's not to say that there are not abject failures, lousy teachers, entrenched administration that has little concern for the actual thing they are supposed to be producing.

    But just as in everything else, when you get close to something, you're better able to see _individual_ efforts and results. That's what I've seen, firstahand, over and over, so I'm only drawing conclusions from facts I've directly observed. As such, it's far more difficult for me to generalize. Others may have different experiences–bad experiences–to be sure, but it's still no justification for sweeping generalizations.

    In the end, we'd all be better off if parents simply bought the education suitable to them. Thing is, that's exactly what they are doing at the public school I'm familiar with–at least as much as they possibly can: in time, money, and influential pressure.

    In essence, that school is as close to being a private school as any public school can be and it's substantial. I'd like to see it happen elsewhere, and perhaps some day parents will realize that they can simply cut out the middle man and deal directly (and finance) with the school and its teachers and necessary (small) administration.

  14. Richard Nikoley on August 1, 2005 at 21:46

    Well, Billy: pithy, as is one of your many trademarks. But it really doesn't cut it here, mate.

    Tell you what. I'll trade you the lessons for the unfairness you mentioned earlier. That's straight across.

    Here's the other deal. When you make sweeping generalizations, such as you've done here, it's no different in the world from the commies lamenting Iraq as a complete failure. It's screwed up, in many ways, you and I both know, but the guys on the ground don't deserve _that_, and that's why guys like you and I would never say such a thing.

    You respect the military in many ways, in spite of the minefield we have to traverse in doing so, given our political philosophy. You make critical, very important distinctions, and you are able to do that because you've spent so much "time on the ground," studying not only military history, but the actions and motivations of various individuals. Your _general_ respect for the military man oozes from you, as well it should.

    I'm just saying that I've spent some time on the ground, here, and I'm just making necessary distinctiong given the facts I'm privy to.

  15. Kyle Bennett on August 2, 2005 at 07:30

    Richard,

    I haven't had time to really sink my teeth into this (and it's killing me…), but I have a suggestion. Ask Bea to bring home a collection of the textbooks that her school uses. Make sure you get a physical sciences book and a social studies book, at least, and maybe an economics book if such is even taught in public schools. And try to get one or two for literature or "critical reading" as it is often called. Oh, and don't forget history, if you can bear it. Read them. Ask yourself what kind of society those books are meant to produce.

    I have skimmed some of the textbooks my neice used in her suburban high-quality school district, and it made me terrified for her future.

    I'm sure Bea is an excellent teacher, and I don't doubt that her entire faculty is excellent, and that her students leave there with a superior grasp of the 3-R's. It's the things they are then taught to use those 3-R's for that explain why we have the Clintons and Charles Schumer and Maxine Waters to contend with.

  16. Richard Nikoley on August 2, 2005 at 09:22

    I don't claim to have done an exhaustive review of the materials she teaches with, and I make no representations about upper-level stuff. What I've seen, at the 5th grade level, appears to be reasonably sound. It's basic foundational stuff.

    They do teach critical thinking at her school (rules of logic, fact vs. fiction, etc.). She says that you can immediately tell which kids are already getting such disciplines of thought at home, and in her area, with lots of engineers, it's quite common to have very smart and informed kids. This is because of their parents, which is completely to my point.

    My arguments have focussed exclusively on the elementary school level. I've seen what goes on, first hand, and in my experience, in our area, the schools are doing good by the kids. Could be better, of course, but it's certainly not bad. I don't know about the middle-school and high-school level, but from what I see in older kids, I think there are huge, top-to-bottom problems there, though that too can differ greatly from school to school.

    We're probably blessed in the Bay Area. With median homes in the $700,000s, now, you get lots of people who care a lot about school and their kids, and they make a difference. Money doesn't make people smart, of course, but money is a reasonalbe marker for intelligence and drive.

    Bea tells me that her school is virtually controlled by the parents, as it should be.

  17. Jim Conway on August 1, 2005 at 19:29

    Hey Richard!
    I want to thank you for your comments. It is really so rare to hear someone defend teachers, but your comments illustrate in clearly stated terms exactly what we do as teachers. Wow! Keep it up, and let's hope people will listen and give us the support that is needed to help the kids – our future…

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