Schools’ war on boys

Two things come together in this article by Christina Hoff Sommers about the war that schools routinely wage against American boys.

First, it’s written by Christina Hoff Sommers, a writer I’ve deeply admired since I first read Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women. I give her a great deal of credit for helping strip the so-called “liberal” blinders from my eyes and allowing me to see human nature and the world we live in as they actually are, not as the Marxist propagandists claim they are.

Second, the article supports something I’ve been saying at this blog since the day I started it, back in (gasp!) October 2004:  Our culture is incredibly hostile to boys, and this hostility is reflected in our schools.  My pet peeve is the way education revolves around “feelings.”  I’ve said a zillion times that boys tune this out.  If you want to engage them in literature, have them read Ivanhoe, not Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.  I loved that second book (in a chastely salacious way) when I was 11, but Judy Blume-esque books are so not for boys.

If you give boys books about adventure, and heroics, and honor, and decency, they gobble them up.  If you foist on them relatively stagnant books about navel-gazing, they will zone out and become disengaged from education.  Wrap that up with games that deny boys the opportunity to play rough (in a fairly safe way), and compete, and learn how to win and lose, and you will have emasculated a generation.

Could it be that my child will learn something in AP English?

My older child is taking AP English this fall, and has to do some reading and write some essays even before school starts.  I was intrigued by two of the essays:

Francine Prose’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Cannot Read : How American high school students learn to loath literature (Harper’s Magazine, 1999) and Richard Rodriquez’s Aria : A memoir of a bilingual childhood (American Scholar, 2001).  What’s amazing about both of these essays is that they go against the dominant narrative controlling high school English classes all over the nation.

Regarding Prose’s essay, I’m too lazy to search for links right now, but I know that I’ve railed repeatedly against high school English classes that have nothing to do with the English language (grammar, composition, artistry, and elegance), and everything to do with advancing a Leftist social agenda, complete with victimization, racism, white evil, and the elevation of emotions over rationality and morality.  Back in 1999, which doesn’t seem that long ago, someone could still write an essay that would be published in a major magazine making exactly those points.  Prose doesn’t phrase it in terms of the Marxist takeover of education, but that’s the underlying subtext to her complaint about the — you should pardon the expression — crap that high school students have to read, none of which advances the cause of the English language.

Oh, and while we’re talking about English language bastardization, please read Dennis Prager’s latest, in which he comments on a decision Leftist publications have made to act unilaterally to rename the Washington Redskins.  For purposes of this post, here’s the killer quotation, made as part of Prager’s slashing analysis of Slate’s self-righteous stance:

Slate Argument Three: “Changing how you talk changes how you think. . . . Replacing ‘same-sex marriage’ with ‘marriage equality’ helped make gay marriage a universal cause rather than a special pleading.”

Response: It’s nice to have at least one left-wing source acknowledge how the Left changes language to promote its causes. When more and more people began to suspect that global warming was not about to bring an apocalypse, and that, at the very least, it is in a pause mode, the Left changed the term to “climate change.”

The substitution of “marriage equality” for “same-sex marriage” is just one more example of dishonest manipulation of English.

The Orwellian manipulation of language by the Left would be reason enough to oppose dropping “Redskins,” a name representing a nearly 80-year-old tradition venerated by millions.

As for Richard Rodriquez’s article, he says what my father always said:  “bilingual education,” which really means teaching an immigrant child in his native tongue without ever exposing him to the English language, is a mistake.  At least, it’s a mistake for the child.  For the Leftists (this is me talking, not Rodriquez), it’s a great thing, because it creates a perpetual (Democrat-voting) ghetto class made up of people who do not speak sufficient English to break into the great middle class.

These articles are old, and I doubt that many more like them are being written.  I’m delighted, however, that at least one high school teacher is keeping them alive.

I should note that neither of these articles has anything to do with the English language either.  That is, this class has nothing to do with learning how to venerate and recreate the best kind of writing.  But at least it’s not PC crap.

Of Norway, petrodollars, free education, etc.

One of my old high school friends, an ardent liberal, posted the following on his Facebook page:

Norway smart - America stupid

Doesn’t that just make so much sense? Give free education and your nation will be wonderful.  Of course, both “Mr. Silhouette” and the friend who posted it suffer from no small amount of ignorance in making that assertion.  For one thing, I’m virtually certain that they don’t know that Norway can offer this free education, as well as a variety of other social benefits, in significant part because it’s floating away on an incredibly profitable sea of petrodollars.  Were Obama to allow the Keystone pipeline, we might be able to fund a few more educational opportunities in this country too.

The other thing that the cartoonist ignores is that Norway is a petite country (4,722,701 people compared to America’s 316,668,567).  More than that, Norway has a staggeringly homogenous population.  According to the CIA World Fact Book, the population breakdown for Norway is “Norwegian 94.4% (includes Sami, about 60,000), other European 3.6%, other 2% (2007 estimate).”  The numbers are a bit different for America:  “white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate).”  Even that’s misleading, because it’s just skin color (whites and blacks), and broad racial classification (Asian, Amerindian, Alaska native, etc.).  This breakdown utterly fails to take into account America’s cultural melting pot, with our genetic and cultural mix representing people from every corner of the earth.

The population differences between the two countries mean that, in America, it’s very difficult to convince everyone to do the same thing at the same time.  In Norway, on the other hand, people are practically born in lock-step.  (And don’t even get me started on Leftist educational trends in America that involve everything but education, or on the fact that we force non-academically inclined students into academic classes when they should be learning a trade.)

Finally, what neither Mr. Silhouette or my friend know is that Norway is having sufficient problems with its socialism — and that’s despite the fact that petrodollars are paying for the costly luxury that is socialism — that it is starting to turn right politically, away from socialism:

This country was transformed by the discovery of huge oil deposits off its shores in 1969. Although Norway’s state-owned oil company, Statoil, was quickly established to lead the development of the new oil discoveries, the industry has been open to private investment and participation on a scale seldom found outside the United States. That has led to an extremely efficient and profitable energy sector, which provides 36 percent of the national government’s revenue. The Government Pension Fund, into which much of the oil profits are channeled, had $445 billion in assets in 2010 and represented nearly 2 percent of the equity in European stock markets. The value of the pension fund’s assets approximately equals the value of all the real estate in Manhattan.

“Oil has turned Norway from a sleepy, largely rural economy into an economic powerhouse,” says Norwegian businessman Olaf Halvorssen. “So much money comes in to the government that Norway has largely escaped the trimming of the welfare state that many other European countries are going through.”

But more and more people recognize that the oil wealth won’t last forever, and a real debate is just starting in this country of 4.9 million people over what direction its economy should go. Norway will be holding elections for Parliament on September 9, just two weeks before Germany votes. If polls taken over the last year are accurate, the eight-year-old Labor-party government of Jens Stoltenberg is headed for a landslide defeat.

This trend is occurring despite the fact that, so far, Norway’s economy has not only been stable, but it’s been growing at twice America’s 1.5% growth rate:

This country was transformed by the discovery of huge oil deposits off its shores in 1969. Although Norway’s state-owned oil company, Statoil, was quickly established to lead the development of the new oil discoveries, the industry has been open to private investment and participation on a scale seldom found outside the United States. That has led to an extremely efficient and profitable energy sector, which provides 36 percent of the national government’s revenue. The Government Pension Fund, into which much of the oil profits are channeled, had $445 billion in assets in 2010 and represented nearly 2 percent of the equity in European stock markets. The value of the pension fund’s assets approximately equals the value of all the real estate in Manhattan.

“Oil has turned Norway from a sleepy, largely rural economy into an economic powerhouse,” says Norwegian businessman Olaf Halvorssen. “So much money comes in to the government that Norway has largely escaped the trimming of the welfare state that many other European countries are going through.”

But more and more people recognize that the oil wealth won’t last forever, and a real debate is just starting in this country of 4.9 million people over what direction its economy should go. Norway will be holding elections for Parliament on September 9, just two weeks before Germany votes. If polls taken over the last year are accurate, the eight-year-old Labor-party government of Jens Stoltenberg is headed for a landslide defeat.

Please read more of John Fund’s article to learn about the sea change taking place in Norway.

Here’s what I’ve learned:  if my Leftist friends put up a snarky political poster on their Facebook page, it’s invariably factual deficient or logically flawed.

What are the obligations educational institutions have to young people in the LGBTQ spectrum?

Let’s start with that acronym — LGBTQ.  It stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning.  There are also adjectives that can precede LGBTQ, such as “Of color,” Black, African American, Asian, Hispanic, Disabled, etc., all of which create their own little sub groups within the LGBTQ group, which is itself composed of particulate matters.

All of you know that, being libertarian, I don’t care what relationships people form in their personal lives.  Having said that, Robert Lopez makes a good argument that the obligations we have to our children transcend our personal search for happiness, including love and sexual fulfillment.

I don’t believe in gay marriage, but that’s only because I believe it will lead inevitably to the type of clash between church and state that we’re seeing in England.  And no, I don’t see the First Amendment protecting religions from attacks by LGBTQ people who insist that a church must ignore its own doctrine and marry them.  We’ve already seen from the ObamaCare mandate regarding contraception and abortifacients that Leftists couldn’t care less about the First when it comes to protecting actual religions (which was the Founders’ goal), rather than protecting Leftists from religion.  I’m fine with civil unions, however, because I think the state can make whatever decisions it wants, even if they prove later to be stupid.

I’m also sympathetic to people whose external appearance is at odds with their self-identity.  I believe that hormones and other brain chemicals play a strong part in sexual identity and desire, and we all know that nature makes mistakes.  (Believe it or not, I was supposed to look like Heidi Klum.  Nature really messed up there….)

Lastly, I’m fully aware that LGBTQ people have higher rates of bad things such as drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, suicide, and spousal abuse.  I’m prepared to believe that some of these problems in childhood lead people to identify as LGBTQ; that some people are so terribly discriminated against because they are LGBTQ that they end up with self-destructive behaviors; and that there is something fundamentally unhealthy inthe urban LGBTQ lifestyle that leads people into self-destructive behaviors.

So we’ve established that I’m cool with people’s private desires, that I’m okay with civil unions, that I recognize that biology can treat people cruelly, and that I acknowledge a multiplicity of possible factors behind LGBTQ dysfunctions.  None of those factors, however, lead me to believe that our educational institutions have some overriding duty to serve all the needs of the LGBTQ community, or all of its racial or differently-abled subsets.  The LGBTQ community, though, does think that it’s owed this stuff and it believes further that our educational institutions, despite the university diversity staffs that can be bigger than the rest of school administrations put together, is failing to make the community feel good about itself:

Not only do queer youth of color deal with life-altering issues, says a new UCLA study, but schools and institutions are not adequately addressing their needs.

“GBTQ youth of color struggle with homelessness, poverty, family rejection and bullying,” says Ilan H. Meyer, the study’s principal investigator and Williams Institute Senior Scholar for Public Policy at UCLA, in a press release. “Yet, serious barriers exist to providing youth with culturally competent care.”

With a grant from Liberty Hill Foundation, Williams Institute researchers contacted L.A.-based education, medical, and social service providers, examining how the unique needs of queer youth of color are being met. What they found out wasn’t very good…

According to the study titled “Provider Perspectives on the Needs of Gay and Bisexual Male and Transgender Youth of Color,” various institutions are dropping the ball.

You can read the rest here.

I’m old-fashioned enough to have fairly limited expectations about educational institutions:  They should educate in an environment that doesn’t actively discriminate against people.  The facilities should be reasonably safe (no crumbling buildings, etc.), and the faculty should be good.  With younger students, the faculty should be attuned to obvious signs of abuse.  At the university level, it would be nice if the faculty was sensible enough to recognize troubling signs (drug use, extreme depression, anorexia, etc.), and kind enough to act on those observations, but I do not think that it should be a job requirement to have this awareness and decency, nor should the taxpayer have to fund administrations that function as social workers and psychiatrists.

Am I missing something?  Am I a societal sociopath or are the special interest groups in America demanding so much bath water that they’re killing the baby?  (And yes, that’s a fearsomely strained metaphor, but it takes me where I want to go.)

Why have a lot of little posts, when you can have one really big one?

I’ve been coming across so much interesting stuff this morning that I’m going to do another flotsam and jetsam post.

One of the things we’ve long known is that the Left lies about statistics.  Examples of this are “1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted” canard and the “women earn 76 cents for every dollar men earn” lie which is (a) factually inaccurate and (b) misleading because it ignores the fact that women’s commitment to their children means many of them voluntarily take a different career track.  (The only place this is factually true, I think, is the Obama White House, where he definitely pays women less.)  Tom Elia therefore suggests that, before blindly accepting Texas Democrats’ charge that the proposed abortion law would close all but 5 of Texas’s 42 abortion clinics (because of the requirement that the clinic be within 30 miles of a hospital), we might want to check whether this is actually true.

Before you get your knickers in a twist about the revelation that the EU has been colluding with the US to hand over European data to the NSA program, remember that the source is a virulent anti-American, antisemitic truther.  This may explain why The Guardian, after touting the story, then pulled it.  Having said that, it’s not hard to believe Edward Epstein’s theory that this was never a whistleblower case but was, instead, a carefully thought out plan of espionage.

You’re my readers, so I know all of you are already aware that we’re on the verge of the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg.  Nevertheless, I thought I’d still mention it, along with the fact that at least some Americans are aware of how significant that battle was.  World War I saw bigger battles, with more deaths (Ypres, the Somme, etc.), but I’m not sure that any Civil War ever saw such ferocious days as the Civil War did at Antietam or Gettysburg, or any of the other sites where Americans clashed against each other.  I believe it’s very useful to remind some people (and I’m not naming names) that America is the only country in the world that has ever shed so much blood to fight slavery.

Just a moment to mourn Andrew Pochter, the idealistic American Jewish kid who went to Egypt to help raise up the poor Arabs and died in a welter of blood during an anti-Morsi protest.

I think things in Egypt are about to get much worseTwenty-two million Egyptians signed a petition demanding Morsi’s ouster.  Do they really think the Muslim Brotherhood is going to walk away?  If Egypt does fall into a Civil War, it will make what’s happening in Syria look like a Sunday school picnic.

Naive people think a mosque is just a House of Worship.  While it is definitely a House of Worship, it’s also something more:  a symbol of conquest.  That’s why it has to be higher than the surrounding buildings.  And that’s why, in Germany, the air is being filled with the amplified sounds of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer five times a day.

Charlie Martin, one of my favorite PJ Media writers, is at it again, writing smart stuff, this time about climate change and a really important question:  is there any evidence that humans matter?

And while we’re on the subject of climate, Robert Zubrin explains in simple terms why Obama’s recently announced climate plans will impoverish America.  With Obama focusing on climate change (despite more and more data that the entire theory is wrong), even as the economy stagnates, national secrets go walking, and the Middle East is aflame, my first thought was that he was like Nero fiddling while Rome burns.  Reading Zubrin’s analysis though of the devastating Obama’s plans will bring to the economy, the better analogy would be Nero pouring accelerant on the flames licking at Rome.  If you doubt that, check out Obama’s recent appointees, all of whom have drunk full of the climate change Kool-Aid.

Republicans are saying that this time, really, for good and for true, their eyes are open.  That whole Gang of Eight thing made them realize that the Democrats are not their friends in Congress and they promise, never, never, never again to ever again, really ever, let the Democrats play them like that.  How dumb do Republicans think we are?  Republicans are Charlie Brown, Democrats are Lucy, and Americans are a poor, kicked-around, deflated football.

A New Jersey teachers union leader said that the rich send their children to public school so that they don’t have to have contact with the poor.  I know of at least one case where this is true.  Back in 1971, busing came to San Francisco.  I was bussed from one middle class school near my home to another slightly less middle class school far from my home.  It made friendships difficult (none of my friends were near), and there were a few more black kids, but otherwise it was no big deal.  My friend, however, was bussed from her middle class school to a school in Bayview-Hunter’s Point, one of the worst slums in San Francisco.  She could beaten up every day for the first two weeks of school.  Her parents, fortunately, had the money to pull her out of the public school system and they put her in Brandeis.  So yes, they didn’t want her to have contact with the poor — because the poor wanted to have a bit too much contact with her.

If you’re wondering what’s going on in Turkey, Claire Berlinsky will explain it to you.

This is an Open Thread, so please feel free to add to it.

The homogeneity of Leftist thinking at American institutions and its effect on poverty at the ground level

I’ve written before about one of my favorite writers, Paul Fussell.  He wrote a wonderful essay entitled Thank God for the Atom Bomb, about the righteousness of dropping the atom bomb.  He was in the Army when Truman dropped the bomb, so Fussell wholeheartedly approved — and had the data to back up his personal opinion.  (More recently released data completely backs up his 30 year old hypothesis.)  I also wholeheartedly approve, as my Mom was a few weeks away from dying in a Japanese concentration camp when the bomb dropped.

Fussell also wrote what I think is one of the greatest books ever about WWI, The Great War and Modern Memory.  I just bought the Kindle version to reread because my copy, which I bought in college, has disintegrated. It’s a beautifully written book that looks at both the war and concurrent war literature to track a vast paradigm shift in intellectual thought during the four years the war lasted.  Young men went in imbued with Victorian ideas of chivalry and honor; they came out jaded, cynical, and completely unable to accept that aggression is sometimes necessary and could have been useful in preventing Hitler’s rise. It is a triumph of both military writing and literary writing.

What you might not know about Fussell was that this iconoclast was a university professor.  Nowadays, the phrase iconoclastic professor is an oxymoron.  Not so in Fussell’s heyday.  Wikipedia sums up his military and academic career:

Fussell attended Pomona College from 1941 until he enlisted in the US Army in 1943. He landed in France in 1944 as a 20 year-old second lieutenant with the 103rd Infantry Division,[8] was wounded while fighting in Alsace, and was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He was honorably discharged from the army in 1946, returned to Pomona to finish his B.A. degree in 1946-7, married fellow Pomona graduate Betty Harper in 1949, and completed his MA (1949) and Ph.D. (1952) at Harvard University.

He began his teaching career at Connecticut College (1951–55) before moving to Rutgers University in 1955 and finally the University of Pennsylvania in 1983. He also taught at the University of Heidelberg (1957–58) and King’s College London (1990–92). As a teacher, he traveled widely with his family throughout Europe from the 1950s to 70s, taking Fulbright and sabbatical years in Germany, England and France.

As his writing shows, Fussell was an entirely original thinker who didn’t march to the beat of anyone’s drum.  Indeed, he delighted in challenging what was already becoming stifling academic orthodoxy:

Fussell stated that he relished the inevitable controversy of Class: A Guide Through the American Status System (1983) and indulged his increasing public status as a loved or hated “curmudgeon” in the rant called BAD: or, The Dumbing of America (1991). In between, Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays (1988) confirmed his war against government and military doublespeak and prepared the way for Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (1989). The epiphany of his earlier essay, “My War”, found full expression in his memoir Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic (1996), “My Adolescent illusions, largely intact to that moment, fell away all at once, and I suddenly knew I was not and never would be in a world that was reasonable or just”. The last book by Fussell published while he was alive, The Boys’ Crusade: The American Infantry in Northwestern Europe, 1944-45 (2003) was once again concerned with the experience of combat in World War II.

Fussell was never petrified or brainwashed by his academic career.  I wonder what Fussell would have thought if he’d been a teacher at Bowdoin in the last twenty years or so.  Bowdoin found itself in the news lately because of what David Feith calls “The Golf Shot Heard Round the Academic World.”  It all started when Barry Mills, Bowdoin College’s president, had a golf game with investor and philanthropist Thomas Klingenstein.  During the game, the subject of academic diversity came up.  Both Mills and Klingenstein would agree that Klingenstein didn’t like it.  According to Mills’s retelling at a subsequent graduation ceremony, Klingenstein was hostile and, in a word, dumb.  Writes Feith:

In his address, President Mills described the golf outing and said he had been interrupted in the middle of a swing by a fellow golfer’s announcement: “I would never support Bowdoin—you are a ridiculous liberal school that brings all the wrong students to campus for all the wrong reasons,” said the other golfer, in Mr. Mills’s telling. During Mr. Mills’s next swing, he recalled, the man blasted Bowdoin’s “misplaced and misguided diversity efforts.” At the end of the round, the college president told the students, “I walked off the course in despair.”

Klingenstein got word of this graduation address, which implied that the anonymous golf-companion was a troglodyte and racist, and knew that Mills was talking about him.  Klingenstein decided to set the record straight.  Rather than just saying “that’s not what I meant,” or offering his opinion about diversity, Klingenstein took his money and funded a National Association of Scholars project that carefully examined Bowdoin’s curriculum, especially in the last ten years.  The results were eye-opening, to say the least — or, saying a little more than the least, eye-opening to anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to what’s going on in, and the product (i.e., graduates) coming out of, these academic “gatekeepers of civilization”:

Published Wednesday, the report demonstrates how Bowdoin has become an intellectual monoculture dedicated above all to identity politics.

The school’s ideological pillars would likely be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to American higher education lately. There’s the obsession with race, class, gender and sexuality as the essential forces of history and markers of political identity. There’s the dedication to “sustainability,” or saving the planet from its imminent destruction by the forces of capitalism. And there are the paeans to “global citizenship,” or loving all countries except one’s own.

The Klingenstein report nicely captures the illiberal or fallacious aspects of this campus doctrine, but the paper’s true contribution is in recording some of its absurd manifestations at Bowdoin. For example, the college has “no curricular requirements that center on the American founding or the history of the nation.” Even history majors aren’t required to take a single course in American history. In the History Department, no course is devoted to American political, military, diplomatic or intellectual history—the only ones available are organized around some aspect of race, class, gender or sexuality.

One of the few requirements is that Bowdoin students take a yearlong freshman seminar. Some of the 37 seminars offered this year: “Affirmative Action and U.S. Society,” “Fictions of Freedom,” “Racism,” “Queer Gardens” (which “examines the work of gay and lesbian gardeners and traces how marginal identities find expression in specific garden spaces”), “Sexual Life of Colonialism” and “Modern Western Prostitutes.”

Regarding Bowdoin professors, the report estimates that “four or five out of approximately 182 full-time faculty members might be described as politically conservative.” In the 2012 election cycle, 100% of faculty donations went to President Obama. Not that any of this matters if you have ever asked around the faculty lounge.

“A political imbalance [among faculty] was no more significant than having an imbalance between Red Sox and Yankee fans,” sniffed Henry C.W. Laurence, a Bowdoin professor of government, in 2004. He added that the suggestion that liberal professors cannot fairly reflect conservative views in classroom discussions is “intellectually bankrupt, professionally insulting and, fortunately, wildly inaccurate.”

This is an intellectual, academic paradigm shift of almost incomprehensible magnitude.  Since its inception, regardless of the reality on the ground, America’s self-image (which was sold to generations of school children and college students right up until the 1950s) was of an inclusive nation, a melting pot, dedicated to the principle that all American citizens are entitled to equal treatment under the law; have a right to equal access to American opportunities (with it being up to the people whether to take that access); and are subject to the downside risks should they refuse to seize the opportunities or violate the law.  With slavery and Jim Crow, we deviated from the principles, but the principles were sound.

At Bowdoin, though, and others like it, the paradigm has shifted.  Young people are taught a new, ugly paradigm about their country:  America is composed of disparate groups, with a few select groups made up of white men (and, probably, Jews) controlling the nation and doing what they can to exploit, denigrate, and impoverish a never-ending, every-growing list of victim classes, ranging from women, to homosexuals, to non-white races, to Muslims, to fat people, to anything that can be brought under the umbrella of victim.  There is no such thing in this world as equality of opportunity.  There is only equality of outcome that can be attained by using the government to strong-arm the ruling class of white males (and, possibly, Jews) so that they redistribute their ill-gotten gains to the victims.

I was talking the other day to a friend who works at elementary schools in a large, urban ghetto.  These schools have no white children.  The schools are dreadful, and the children — innocent victims all — suffer terribly.  They grow up in abysmal poverty, and they don’t have role models within their homes showing  education or wealth.  Their neighborhoods are rife with crime (especially gun fire) and substance abuse. Almost all come from broken homes.Their streets are dangerous because of gangs.  The message one receives from those brave enough to work in those neighborhoods is that these children can succeed only if we pour government funds into their schools.  And if those funds don’t work, then we need to pour more in, and still more in.

In my mind, I compared these children — and they are so sad, since they are bright little lights that are blinking out — with the immigrants who came to this country between, say, 1850 and 1950.  They lived in ghettos; they lived in abysmal poverty; their parents didn’t speak the language of wealth (many didn’t even speak English); the streets were dangerous, not because of gunfire, but because of knives, disease, and starvation; there was significant substance abuse (alcoholism and opium); schools were grossly underfunded, etc.  And yet these children became working class, their children became middle class, and their children became upper class.  It wasn’t a 100% success rate at every generation, but it was a substantial rate at every generation.

They went from this:

Jacob Riis tenement photograph

and this:

Jacob Riis image of street kids

to this:

Suburban kitchen

What’s the difference between then and now? I don’t believe that it’s because American blacks (and it’s mostly blacks stuck for generations in ghettos) are forever developmentally disabled by slavery. John McWhorter points out that blacks were ascending rapidly, both socially and economically, before Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society enticed them into welfare and single parenthood (welfare pays single mothers better than two parent families).  Starting in the 1960s, the increasingly Left-leaning white leadership in America told blacks that, the end of slavery and Jim Crow notwithstanding, they are not created equal and they are not equal under the law.  They are different — they are needier.  Without Mama and Papa government, they are nothing.

I think it’s this paradigm shift, one that starts in the Ivory Towers by creating infinite victim classes, all of which that can be raised up only by government intervention and control, that trickles down into the streets. In the old days, you had to do it yourself, so you did. Nowadays, the government is supposed to rescue you. Homes don’t emphasize education, self-sufficiency, and upward mobility. They emphasize “Why isn’t the government helping?”  This is not about race, or slavery, or poverty — it is about an intellectual environment that explicitly educates future leaders that government needs race-victims, and slave-victims and poverty-victims to fulfill its purpose.  Without those classes, government is meaningless and by definition a vehicle of evil.

Paul Fussell, who thought outside the box, would not have approved.  (Or at least I like to think he wouldn’t have approved.)

A gripe about English teachers

English teachers

I adore reading but, with one exception, I loathed every high school or college English class I ever had.  Watching my children go through high school English classes reminded me why:  the books they believe we should read are dull and the teacher’s firmly believe that a cigar is invariably anything but a smoke.  (The exception was one vigorous, eccentric, acerbic English teacher who managed, while still obsessing over sexual imagery, to teach us actual thinking and writing skills.)

Maybe I’m a cultural troglodyte, but I think Catcher in the Rye is a dreadful book.  It was certainly groundbreaking when published, because nobody before had ever thought that readers would want to spend time with a self-involved, neurotic, boring, angry, sex-obsessed prep school boy.  Apparently post-WWII audiences, exhausted by years of being on and reading about blood-soaked foreign shores were, in fact, hungering for some narcissistic fare.  But why did the book become part of the American literary canon?  Outside of a certain type of English teacher, I’ve never spoken to anyone who actually liked it or learned from it  — and that’s true whether we’re speaking about learning more about the English language or learning more about life.

To those English teachers reading this blog, I can assure you that this post is not aimed at you.  If you’re the kind of person who would read a conservative political blog, I’m pretty sure you’re not the kind who would take Oscar Wilde’s opiate-infused Picture of Dorian Gray, and spend two full lecture periods focusing on the sexual symbolism of the various flowers described in the book.  (No kidding; that’s what one of my English teachers did.)  Wilde’s book was kind of fun, and he certain knows how to use the English language, but our classroom time would have been better spent understanding how he used structure, vocabulary and obvious imagery (as opposed to pre-Freudian sexual stuff), to write his famous book.

What I keep wondering is what English teachers (or the Boards that set their curriculum) think they’re supposed to teach.  If I were writing the curriculum, I would say that they should teach (a) basic grammar; (b) rich vocabulary; (c) solid writing skills; and (d) the true canon of beautiful writing that shows our English language being used in the best, highest way.  One can quibble over who should be in that list, but modern English is sterile without knowing Shakespeare, the King James Bible, Dickens, Austen, etc.  These works are the backbone of a lush, flexible, varied use of our English language.  (It’s hard to think of any 20th or 21st century books about which this can be said.)  Read these books and you will be able to speak and write with more grace, fluidity, and richness than would come from a thousand readings about that whiny little bastard Holden Caufield.

Today, every English class seems to be about amateur psychology.  The kids are forced to read navel-gazing books that aren’t about the English language — its use and beauty — but are, instead, about modern existential angst.  When did narcissistic angst shove the English language out of English classrooms?

Kids should be reading big books with big ideas, rather than small books about little people obsessed with their puny discontents.  Kids should be reading beautifully-written books that embrace our marvelous, multi-faceted, exceptionally-rich English language, instead of reading books that delight in the use of obscenities, slang, and bad grammar — all intended to show the author’s hip, navel-gazing credentials.

Our country would be a much better place if all high school and college-level basic English classes were wiped off the curriculum.  We’d then start fresh with books and poems that celebrate the English language and the human spirit.

 

Public schools dying under the weight of teacher’s unions

Teaching math

I’ve been hostile to teacher’s unions since I was a child.  I saw them from both ends:  as a lifelong public school student and as a child whose father (reluctantly) belonged to the California teacher’s union.

In the classroom, my teachers were decrepit fossils, many of whom hated students, and few of whom could teach.  Here’s a highlight list of some of those teachers:

  • Mr. X, the science teacher who quizzed 13 year old girls about their sex lives, said of a Jewish student “there’s another one Hitler should have gotten,” and who physically attacked a student and then threw a movie projector out the window.  I think it was the damage to school property that finally got him kicked out of the classroom on administrative leave.  He drew a full salary for four years before they terminated him.
  • Mr. Y, the math teacher who would periodically rush out into the noisy hallway outside his classroom, screaming “G-g-get a-w-w-ay from m-m-my c-c-c-classroom, you f-f-future p-p-pimps and wh-wh-whores!”  His teaching was no better than his attitude.
  • Ms Z, famous for telling students that children’s books were riddled with sex.  After her class, students would convene in the halls to spread the word about sexual imagery in The Cat In The Hat or Where The Wild Things Are.  (I hear from reliable sources that high school English teachers today are just as, if not more, sex obsessed than Ms. Z.)
  • Ms A, the chemistry teacher who was one year away from retiring, and had apparently decided to start her retirement early by stopping teaching.  She had us memorize the Periodic Table of Elements, but never actually told us what it was.  She’d give us worksheets with experiment procedures, but forgot to tell us what scientific principle was at stake.  I got a B in her class.  Everyone else I knew got an A, because they’d managed to get their hands on the master sheet for her test.  She didn’t care.  She was leaving anyway.

I had some decent, or merely mediocre, teachers during my years in public school, but I had only three or four really good teachers. With those few exceptions, my teachers were old, bored, hostile, and/or dysfunctional.  Had they been employees in the private sector they would have been fired long before or, fearing firing, they would have gotten their acts together.

What I heard from my Dad about the inner workings of the teacher’s union didn’t make me very happy either.  For one thing, and this is a gripe that no longer has much resonance, the unions did a lousy job of getting teachers decent salaries.  The way it worked was that the union bosses would enter into a negotiation with the school administrators (who were also union members).  The deal would be that the administrators would get a 4% cost of living wage and the teachers a 2% cost of living wage (this was during the inflationary 1970s).  Once this deal was reached, the administrators would then negotiate with the powers that be for this pay package.  And that was it.

My Dad was disgusted that he was forced to pay union dues to an organization that provided him with something that barely qualified as a living wage.  As I said, those days are gone.  The unions have figured out how to make sure that their members get good wages.

What disgusted my Dad even more than lousy salary representation was the way the unions insisted on sticking their noses into curriculum matters.  California unions were advancing Ebonics long before the media caught hold of the notion.  (And when the media caught on, a still sane American public laughed the idea out of the schools.)  They also argued in favor of abandoning phonics (so a generation didn’t learn to read), pushing new math (so a generation, myself included, never learned math), and generally overhauling education in a direction that decreased learning.  In recent decades, they’ve added an overwhelming Leftist tilt to the entire curriculum.

My regularly occurring rant against teacher’s unions came about today because Prager U has a new video out, this one about the damage teacher’s unions to do American public education.

Incidentally, I’m trying out a new approach when it comes to school vouchers.  When I post about vouchers, I say that the school choice movement is the best thing that can happen to public school teachers.  The good ones are always complaining about the curriculum limits placed upon their classrooms and the way these limits interfere with their ability really to teach the children.  School choice, by forcing public schools to compete, would mean that school boards and state education departments would have to listen to these teachers in order to improve the schools’ competitive standing.  This argument puts teachers in a bind, because they can scarcely argue that there’s no room for improvement.  Further, if they reject this argument, they’re conceding that they’re not being truthful when they speak to concerned parents and say that, with regard to a certain teaching approach, their hands are tied.

Education for the brainwashed generation

I know I’m just grumpy, but this promotional mailing from Ithaca College rubbed me the wrong way:

Ithaca flier

Ready to write environmental wrongs.  Ithaca College will turn your academic passions into unforgettable experiences — and make you ready for the adventure of your life.

I know that the first sentence is meant to be a clever pun, but it’s not.  At first glance, I thought it was a typo or blatant grammatical error.  On second reading, I thought Ithaca was promising to teach students how to plan to create environmental wrongs.  On third reading, I realized that Ithaca is offering to teach students how to “list” environmental wrongs, although I suspect there’ll be a fair dollop of creative writing (i.e., anthropogenic climate change) thrown in.

The whole thing — with the smug girl and the promise that documenting, or making up, environmental wrong is the “adventure of your life” — made me queasy.

Am I overreacting?  I probably am.  But as Kurt Schlichter said about Lena Dunham’s and HBO’s vile, nihilistic show Girls, we need to know what’s out there, because it is out there, and it’s aimed at our children.

The hypothesis fallacy; or please explain to me why EVERY scientific experiment (whether hard or social) needs a hypothesis

Scientist

Bear with me here, because I’m about to prove how simplistic and primitive my mind is.  I need you all to help enlighten me.

Some high school students I know got an assignment to set up and complete an experiment.  Some of the experiments they came up with include looking at plant growth under different circumstances, or rust development under different circumstances, or human responses to certain stimuli.  This strikes me as a very sensible project for budding young scientists.

Plant growth experiment

My confusion arises from the fact that the students are required, as part of setting up the experiment, to include a hypothesis — or, in other words, they have to begin the experiment with an assumption about its outcome.  For example, a student measuring the effect of different fertilizers on otherwise identically situated plants, in addition to establishing the controls and variable(s), must also announce before starting the experiment that she believes that the more expensive fertilizers will work better.  Then, she’s supposed to see whether the data she collects supports this hypothesis.  (I.e., she proves or disproves her hypothesis.)

Here’s my problem:  I don’t understand why there is a scientific virtue to going into an experiment with a pre-determined conclusion.  It seems to me that it’s much more intelligent, in most, if not all cases, to go in with a question, and then to create an experiment that has sufficient controls to answer that question and that question alone.  My hostility to the hypothesis as a prerequisite arises because I suspect that a pre-determined hypothesis risks affecting the outcome.  Sherlock Holmes thought this too:

Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget

It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.

Exactly.  The scientist who has decided in advance that spending more on fertilizer results in better plant outcomes may subconsciously lavish a little more care or do things a little differently with the plant getting the good fertilizer.  The experiment is less likely to be tainted by the scientist’s biases if the scientist begins by asking “Which fertilizer is better?” rather than announcing “I think the more expensive fertilizers are better.”

Birth Control Pills

This is not just an idle question about high school projects.  I’ve noted the disdain that I have for Bay Area breast cancer studies that assume the culprit for the unusually high cancer rate in the Bay Area arises from too much bacon (evil factory farming) or from power lines (evil global warming).  One could just as easily announce that the hypothesis is that Bay Area women have high breast cancer rates because they get too much radiation from too many mammograms, or they have too many abortions (at too young an age), or they delay childbearing for too long, or they overuse of the Pill, etc.  If my study focused as narrowly on my assumptions, as these heavily Leftist studies focus on their assumptions, both studies would show that women who had done one or more of those things had higher cancer rates.

Establishing these almost random correlations (given the ridiculously biased parameters underpinning the various hypotheses) wouldn’t prove causation; instead, they would just prove that the scientist’s own prejudices forced the data down a narrow pathway.  Doesn’t it make more sense to find out about everything from diet, to environment, to lifestyle/sexual choices, and then, a la Sherlock Holmes, to see where the facts lead?

Global warming

This same “hypothesis fallacy,” for want of a better phrase, strikes me as one of the major problems with the whole global warming hysteria.  Various Leftists advanced the hypothesis that fossil fuels (which we know can contribute to pollution, and that Leftists believe give an unfair economic advantage to the First World) are evil, and then they set about proving their evil-ness.  If climate change is a genuine concern, wouldn’t it have made more sense to start with the question — “what’s going on?” — than to start with the answer — “Fossil fuels are changing our climate.”  After all, if your set-in-stone hypothesis isn’t even in the ball park, it means that your experiments are not only worthless, but they’ve also managed to ignore other, more relevant, data.

I understand that the hypothesis is a standard requirement for scientific experiments and has been since the Enlightenment.  I’ve explained, with a little help from Sherlock Holmes, why I think the hypothesis requirement taints, rather than advances, science.  Now that I’ve acquainted you with the contents of my brain, can you please explain to me why the scientific community is correct, and why Sherlock Holmes and I are wrong.

 

The main peril of factory education: boredom

(I made the following comments in this morning’s newsletter, and a friend suggested that they’re good enough to be in a stand-alone post.  Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting the reasonably daily Bookworm Room newsletter, you can sign up here.)

I’ve been working with some students helping them to review for the first semester AP European History exam.  I know British history extremely well, and the rest of European history fairly well.  This means that, when the students have questions, I usually have answers.

The problem I’m having is with the picayune nature of the questions.  History is a wonderful, fascinating, lively story, one that reaches back into time and up into the present.  It’s a brilliant tapestry on which individuals both small and great play out their destinies.  History is the best novel and the most exciting movie.  Except . . . that’s certainly not the way these students are learning it.

Savery Steam Engine

Instead, the kids are condemned to memorize both important events and isolated factoids that might make them stars on Jeopardy.  This factual relativism, which attempts to raise the mundane to the same level as the significant, wastes time and utterly fails to teach historical trends or inspire any love for the subject.  Being required to memorize the names of the three men whose work brought about the steam engine that powered the industrial revolution (Savery, Newcomen, and Watt) is infinitely less interesting and to the point than understanding about a society’s energy needs, and then seeing the wonders of the way in which harnessing energy brought about the Industrial Revolution.

The study questions reminded me, painfully, of a never-to-be-forgotten-or-forgiven test I took back in a 9th grade English class.  Although we hadn’t read Moby Dick, one of the questions asked us to identify the book’s author.  The four choices were:

Moby Dick book cover

a.  William Shakespeare
b.  Nathaniel Hawthorne
c.  Herbert Melville
d.  Herman Melville

I knew Melville wrote the book.  I knew his first name started with an “H.”  And I guessed the wrong H-name, which lowered my test grade from an A to a B.  It wasn’t a big deal (I still got an A in the class), but I’ve never gotten over the injustice of that stupid question.  Rather than testing knowledge, it tested almost meaningless minutiae.

That was more than thirty years ago, but public schools are still obsessed with the meaningless, even as they’re incapable of giving color and life to the things that matter.  How frustrating for the students.

I can only hope that my blog’s content today is more interesting and more useful than the stuff they’re teaching in the schools.

Too much education makes people economically dumb

I’m not boasting when I say that I move in very rarefied circles.  It’s a fact that became glaringly obvious to me today when I started reaching out to legal colleagues via LinkedIn.  I’m launching a new business enterprise, and those connections will be useful.

For those unfamiliar with it, LinkedIn is the professional equivalent of Facebook.  Rather than chit-chatting about children, sports, and the minutiae of their lives, people use LinkedIn to post their resumes, boast about their professional accomplishments, and network with other professionals to whom they can be useful or who can be useful to them.  So, as I said, I’m working on using LinkedIn to touch base with lawyers I’ve met over the years, whether high school classmates who went into law, law school classmates, professional colleagues, or people whom I’ve met through PTA and the neighborhood who also happen to be lawyers.

As with Facebook, LinkedIn examines your friends’ friends and, if two of them share a common friend, LinkedIn will suggest that person to you as a possible link in your own professional network.  This is where I get to the rarefied bit.  When I scroll through my LinkedIn contacts (who currently number less than 100, because I’ve never paid that much attention to cultivating these contacts), I get suggestions that run the gamut from high stratum A to rarefied stratum B:  ambassadors, corporate CEOs, senior counsel at major corporations, managing partners of huge law firms, etc.  In my circles, these titles are predominant amongst the various professional friendships LinkedIn identifies for me.  I

What interests me so much about these people is that I know for a fact as to most, and can reasonably guess as to the remainder, that they voted for Obama and, within their own states, counties, and cities, also voted for the most Democrat and Progressive (although not Green) candidates.  This milieu — rich in degrees, Ivy League diplomas, and money — is disproportionately Leftist in orientation.  If you ask them about their political beliefs, they will say that it’s because they’re smart and educated, implying that brilliant mines inevitably embrace Progressivism.

I see things differently, of course.  All of these people are products of America’s colleges, universities, and professional schools, not to mention fine high schools, both public and private, in nice neighborhoods and suburbs.  All of these schools lean Left or have simply stopped leaning and collapsed completely on the Leftist side of education.

So these smart people are right that there’s an inevitability here, but it’s not that the logical output of a brilliant mind is Leftism.  Education certainly matters, but not in the way they think.  The fact is that, if you’re academically smart, you’re more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and even attend professional school.  In other words, the smarter you are, the longer your exposure to Leftist academic thought will be.  These high earning, upper echelon people didn’t embrace Leftism because their intellectual analysis inexorably led them to it.  Instead, they embraced Leftism because their smarts mean they’ve been steeped in the Leftist stew for infinitely longer than the average American who didn’t go on to a higher degree.

These same people also remind me that academic smarts do not correlate with real life intelligence.  I have no doubt that these people are good lawyers, doctors, CEOs, ambassadors, etc.  What they’re trained to do, they do well.  Outside of their sphere of expertise, however, they’re remarkably naive and intellectually incurious.

Here’s my example for today:  In the wake of the election, I’ve heard five Obama supporters — all of whom also voted for all the California Democrats and for all the California taxes — complain that their taxes are going up next year.  The cognitive dissonance is almost painful.  All of them consistently embrace big spending — and, therefore Obama and his fellow Democrats — because they’ve been trained to believe that the spending on welfare, entitlements, and “select” businesses is a “good thing.”  This is a knee jerk belief.  They will always vote for these “good things,” and for the candidate who promises them.  And they will ignore the rhetoric about higher taxes (Obama was not shy about targeting them as the next big source of funding), and they will ignore fiscal cliffs, and they will ignore plain old common sense that says that someone must pay the piper.

One of the things that made the rounds on my Facebook was a boastful poster saying that those states with the highest number of college-educated people all went for Obama.  The implication is that these smart Blue State people, unlike the ill-educated yahoos in Red States, are the ones who have the brains and ability to understand how Obamanomics will serve America.

What the genius who created this poster missed the fact that these smart Blue States are, not coincidentally, almost all broke.  Thus, of the list above, the following Blue States are amongst those states running the biggest budget shortfalls in America:  Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Minnesota.  In other words, 80% of the “best educated” states are in dire financial straights.  You’d think that, with all those smart people, they’d be rolling in the green stuff.

It turns out that one of the biggest indicators of Blue state-ness isn’t smarts — it’s brokes.  Here’s the list of the states Obama won, with the ones that have more than a 10% budget shortfall marked, appropriately enough, in red:*

California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Hawaii
Illinois
Iowa
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
Ohio
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
Wisconsin

It’s striking that, of the 26 states that gave their electoral votes to Obama, 84% are in debt.  (The perpetually broke District of Columbia also gave its vote to Obama, raising to 85% the number of broke jurisdictions that went true blue.) You’d think that, with all those smart people floating around, they’d manage their money better. In a way, you could say that the Blue States are actually Red States, given their financial hemorrhaging.

By the way, given that we’re still in a recession, it’s true that many Red States are also in debt.  Still, there’s no doubt that the Red States are managing their money better than the ones filled with all those educated Progressive geniuses:

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
Georgia
Idaho
Indiana
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
North Carolina
North Dakota
Oklahoma
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
West Virginia
Wyoming

As you can see, only 41% of the “dumb” Red States are seriously in the red.  They may not have the degrees, but they have sufficient smarts to control their budgets — which is the fundamental responsibility of all viable governments.

If the election is any indicator, it shows that our education system leaves people incapable of rational economic thought.  This is true even when these same educated people are the ones most hurt by their economic ignorance and Leftist credulity.

_______________________________

*I culled the state deficit information from here.