Toss Those Sausages Onto The Conveyor Belt, Peasant

I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” (J. Wellington Wimpy, “Popeye” canon).

As your attorney, it is my duty to inform you that it is not important that you understand what I’m doing or why you’re paying me so much money. What’s important is that you continue to do so” (The Samoan lawyer in Hunter S. Thompson’sFear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good” (Allison Benedikt, Slate, “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person“, Slate’s DoubleX, August 30, 2013).

The promise of big government – from Stalin’s “Five Year Plans” to Obama’s “Hope and Change” – is always just down the way.  Around the corner,  The light at the end of the tunnel at the end of the tunnel you’re in.  It’s just one five-year plan away. 

And when you’re living in a city run by people who think we can build a better life through more light rail, then waiting for utopia is OK, more or less, provided you’re not one the eggs that gets broken to make the omelet, whether you’re a University Avenue business or a Kulak.  (at least until you can find a way to sell your house) is a perfectly fine option. 

But when it’s things that are the here and now?  Like you and your future? Your kids and theirs?

Now it’s personal.

Allison Benedikt writes for Slate  –     to be exact, one of their clubby pseudo-feminist brandettes, DoubleX.  

And while the quote above does spell out the thesis of her piece pretty well, there’s always more to mock:

Some Of Us Are More Equal Than Others:  Give a point to Benedikt for at least giving a shout-out to human nature, especially the human nature of socialist institutions:

Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good. (Yes, rich people might cluster. But rich people will always find a way to game the system: That shouldn’t be an argument against an all-in approach to public education any more than it is a case against single-payer health care.)

But of course, it is a perfectly fine argument against both; intentions aside, universal systems always end up being two-tracked systems; one for the plebeians, and another for those who have to manage them; public schools and Obamacare for most of us, but “elite” schools and exemptions for thekommissars, for Chelsea and Sasha and Malia and Matt Damon’s spawn (who will, naturally, grow up to manage the plebes). 

But that’s not the main argument (not that an actual “argument” is warranted) against Benedikt’s “idea”. 

The Unicorn School System:  According to Benedikt, if we’re all forced into the public school system, it’ll improve because parents just won’t stand for it.

So, how would this work exactly? It’s simple! Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better. Not just lip-service investment, or property tax investment, but real flesh-and-blood-offspring investment. Your local school stinks but you don’t send your child there? Then its badness is just something you deplore in the abstract. Your local school stinks and you do send your child there? I bet you are going to do everything within your power to make it better.

Perhaps you are.  For a while, anyway.  I speak from experience, having spent years trying to get the Saint Paul Public Schools to be anything more than a malignant pathology. 

But the simple fact is that when pseudo-intellectual dabblers like Allison Benedikt say things like…:

And parents have a lot of power.

…that’s where you know she’s either never had to deal with a truly malignant administration, or her definition of “power” is different than yours and mine.

Parents have the “power” to come in and stuff envelopes and help chaperone field trips and do whatever the system wants warm bodies to help with.

Push back against institutional stupidity in the curriculum?  Scrutinize the plans the system has for your kids?  Demand better out of “standards”, or – more importantly – teachers and programs?

You quickly find that “parental power” – especially in a one-party Democrat controlled city where the School Board is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the most extreme wing of the Democrat party – is a black humor chanting point. 

Not to say they don’t want your help, as Benedikt correctly notes: 

In many underresourced schools, it’s the aggressive PTAs that raise the money for enrichment programs and willful parents who get in the administration’s face when a teacher is falling down on the job. Everyone, all in.

But always, always, the only “power” that the system recognizes is the “power” to work within, and to feed your efforts into, The System.  The System as it is prescribed by the thinkers of deep thoughts.  Not by you.  Perish the thought.

Alas, Egg:  Your only real “Power” in Benedict’s fever-swamp dream, though, is the “power” eggs have in your Sunday omelet:

There are a lot of reasons why bad people send their kids to private school. Yes, some do it for prestige or out of loyalty to a long-standing family tradition or because they want their children to eventually work at Slate.[See also “Higher Ed Bubble”]But many others go private for religious reasons, or because their kids have behavioral or learning issues, or simply because the public school in their district is not so hot. None of these are compelling reasons.

Not for other peoples’ children, they’re not, perhaps – provided you’re the very sort of utterly illiberal person that rates the “liberal” tag these days. 

But you only get one shot with your children.  And the education your child gets – as opposed mere “schooling”, which is a distinction most “liberals” miss – has a lot to do with how they do in life. 

Benedikt seems to think that having a couple of “lost generations” –

And “how our children do in life”, in aggregate, has everything to do with the future of our country – our economic performance 30-50 years from now.  

By the way – if we have a couple of lost generations of badly-educated people (our kids and grandkids), then from what basis are we going to build any “improvements?” 

The Cure Is The Disease:   Of course, school itself isn’t the problem.  Is it?

Or, rather, the compelling [reasons] (behavioral or learning issues, wanting a not-subpar school for your child) are exactly why we should all opt in, not out.

Among the most popular alternative schools – Sudbury, Waldorf and some private and charter Montessori schools – they don’t actually tell the children “you have to learn to read at a specified level by age 7”.  They assume that children, who are born with an innate drive to understand the world around them, will learn to read, and read very proficiently, at their own speed. 

And they’re right.  Barring serious physical or mental handicaps, every child does learn to read.  Long story short; there are no reading difficulties in a Sudbury or Waldorf schools.

It’s a piece of cake, really; those kids have just finished becoming fluent in a language (in some cases more than one); reading is comparatively simple in comparison.   Compare this to a public school, where kids are exhorted and threatened and cajoled into reading by an arbitrary point in time that is politically vital but, to the child, utterly meaningless – or be stuffed into “remedial” class, shamed, humiliated and, in short order, put on the “problem child” track. 

A friend of mine whose kids went to a Sudbury school – where every single child, no matter how damaged, learns to read by age eight, frequently by teaching themselves – notes that if learning to speak “to grade level” by age four was a government priority, you’d have rooms full of five year old “remedial speaking” students, being “remediated” at exquisite expense by unionized “educators” supervised by ranks of administrators. 

The point?  To Benedikt, your kids’ problems are even more reason to force them into the public schools – when there’s overwhelming evidence that in many cases school itself causes many of the problems in the first place.

This is especially true for boys – where a generation of academic feminism has turned public and most private education into a harrowing, self-destroying prison.  The system we have now might not have been designed to hamper boys’ development and turn education into a self-abnegating drudgery that they are only too happy to escape at the earliest opportunity – but how would it be any different if it had been? 

The system destroys our boys today.  We’re one academic fad away from doing the same to girls. 

And Yet Even Benedikt Knows The Answer:  Benedikt yammers on and on about the imperative to…

…what?  Help our kids?

No.  To support the institution.  To sacrifice a few generations of our kids’ well-being to support…what?  Not education, but the institution of publicly-funded schooling, and the industries – academia, textbooks, consultants, administration – that feed off it. 

And yet Benedikt herself hovers near the real answer – probably without knowing it:

I believe in public education, but my district school really isn’t good! you might say. I understand. You want the best for your child, but your child doesn’t need it. If you can afford private school (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy public school. She will have support at home (that’s you!) and all the advantages that go along with being a person whose family can pay for and cares about superior education—the exact kind of family that can help your crappy public school become less crappy.

In other words, the crappiness of the school doesn’t matter, provided that the parents care enough. 

Good, engaged parents – the ones P.J. O’Rourke called “the ones with the eternal good common sense to give a shit” – are the answer.  And as Benedikt herself says, with good parents, the schools don’t matter.

Which is exactly what a generation of home-schoolers and charter-schoolers, not to mention private schoolers, have discovered; good parents do solve problems.

And in their capacity as good parents, many of them discover that avoiding the public schoolsisthe answer. 

She may not learn as much or be as challenged, but take a deep breath and live with that. Oh, but she’s gifted? Well, then, she’ll really be fine.

So why not cut out the sneering, incompetent middlepersons?

Bonus Question For Allison Benedikt:  When you’re in a nursing home someday – a public one, naturally, since one must assume you think old folks should all have the same treatment, just like kids – are you OK with being taken care of by the kids who grew up under the “lost generations” you seem to be comfortable with saddling our children with?


14 thoughts on “Toss Those Sausages Onto The Conveyor Belt, Peasant

  1. After reading Benedikt’s treatise, how could one not be concerned about the damage caused by an inferior education?

    Meanwhile, in Germany yesterday, the State forcibly seized four home-educated children from their family:

    At 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 29, 2013, in what has been called a “brutal and vicious act,” a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, forcibly removing all four of the family’s children (ages 7-14). The sole grounds for removal were that the parents, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

    The children were taken to unknown locations. Officials ominously promised the parents that they would not be seeing their children “anytime soon.”

    HSLDA obtained and translated the court documents that authorized this use of force to seize the children. The only legal grounds for removal were the family’s continuation of homeschooling their children. The papers contain no other allegations of abuse or neglect. Moreover, Germany has not even alleged educational neglect for failing to provide an adequate education. The law ignores the educational progress of the child; attendance—and not learning—is the object of the German law.

    More at the link:

  2. Question: Don’t we have two lost generations already? If the public schools really knew how to do better, wouldn’t they have done it already?

  3. Education need to be funded by the taxpayer, but the money has to be distributed bottom up and 100% privatized.

  4. OK, she assumes that two generations of people will lose their chance to have a decent education, but in the third generation, parents and teachers will get together and, despite their lousy schooling, not only know to demand a decent education, but will know how to deliver it.

    My homeschooled kids can see through the illogic of that one, but I’m guessing a lot of products of the government schools cannot.

  5. In more ways than one, Allison Benedikt is the reason that Soylant Green will be people.

  6. Education has to be reformed because so much of the promise of equal opportunity for all relies on the promise of equal educational opportunity for all, at all income levels, in all neighborhoods, and at all ages. That implies a radical definition of how education is organized. Schools today are little different in form than schools of 100 years ago, despite radical changes in communications technology (and what is teaching if not communication), and a huge change in the nature of the demand for education. We are no longer educating children for factory jobs. Today we need to educate to prepare them for 1000 different professions. Schools have to change from being 19th century factories of education to being 21st century centers of mass customization. The teaching profession will change. Some teachers will win, and some will lose.

    What are the two biggest obstacles to major changes in the structure of education? 1. The government education bureaucracy, particularly local school boards. 2. Teacher’s unions. Both groups have an enormous investment in the status quo, and both are fighting to keep it.

  7. I think one could easily argue that children were getting a better education in 1900 than they are getting today. I recently attended the 100 year anniversary of the Toimi school opening. One room school house with teachers quarters, a library the size of a walk in closet, children who possibly had never even heard English spoken let alone spoke it themselves.

    I don’t think the big difference is the teachers, it certainly isn’t the building it is the parents and what is expected of the children.

  8. I agree with jpmn. Speaking as a parent with two teenagers in school, I think the main problem with American schools is that neither parents nor teachers make their lazy students work hard enough. Classes move at the speed of their slowest students, and everyone seems happy with that. The best part of a charter school is that people have to make some effort to get into it, and the teachers and principal (headmaster) can constantly drum into the parents and kids that this school is different, by which they mean they expect everyone to work hard. Longer hours, more reading, and a faster pace through the curriculum.
    Rather than standardized testing to measure how well a teacher or school is performing, standardized testing should reveal to parents how well their child is doing, vs. the rest of the school, the rest of the country, and the rest of the world. American parents, most of whom work in a very competitive environment, need to understand that their child is also in a race for success. Parents demand too little of their children and their schools. I support any reform that allows parents to more directly interact with those making decisions about their children’s education (charter schools do that, as well as vouchers for private schools), and any reform which reveals just where their children stand relative to the rest of the world, which will motivate them to act.

  9. My grandfather started school in 1920 in rural Missouri. One room, one teacher ($5/month salary), 8 grades. The boys chopped wood for the stove in the middle of the room and brought their squirrel guns to school; they were allowed to leave early or come in a little late if they were hunting – as long as they left some of what they shot with the teacher. My grandfather completed his elementary and high school education there, went to college and even came back to the school as a teacher for a couple of years before starting a successful career as a businessman. Among his classmates were people who went on to become engineers, doctors and historians.

  10. I agree with Emery’s second to last post; too many promises are made to those who have no role in keeping them and really have no business expecting them. Also, preparing children to function at a basic level is no longer important since schools have now assume a 360 degree approach to their role; they’ve assumed the role that parents (yes, plural) formerly held. Schools now develop the whole child, year round.

    I also suggest a third obstacle to Emery’s list. Daycare; I believe that many parents rely on school as a “free” kiddy kennel. Since very few mothers (with the occasional father when he’s present) take any more time to raise their child than the law or workplace allows; school provides a relatively safe, acceptable, guilt-free place to dump the kid while the parent(s) work or sleep-in.

    Why do you think government subsidized (“free”) pre-schools and the DFL’s all day kindergarten schemes are so popular? Play your cards right and you can cut the responsibility umbilical cord by age three. Toss in free feeding stations and water throughs for all kids during the summer and you can skate by with spending less time on your kid than you do on your schnauzer or pit bull (depending on neighborhood). I’m talking all facets of our political prism, too not just those on the side we disagree with.

    I suggest that most parents are quite satisfied with our academic system, and getting a useful education is a nice, but hardly primary, outcome.

  11. Somehow, this reminds me of my perfect solution for dealing with traffic congestion – make everyone else ride the bus.

  12. jpmn: Sounds like you’re a 218’er. I am somewhat familiar with the Toimi area also, having hunted there all my life. Indeed,100 years ago society had more pragmatic expectations. Also, the Finns that settled that area, like most Finns (sorry for the stereotype), were pretty stern and deliberate and probably would put up with little that had no practical value. While this is true with most immigrant populations, I’ve found that Finlanders are a breed unto themselves.

    My mother, product of Polish immigrants, didn’t speak English in school, or church for that matter, until she started in the public school system in the 1920’s. Although she, like many of her age and station in life, didn’t finish high school, she was quite proficient with “the three R’s.”

    Our upcoming generation is quite removed from the impact of things that positively shaped those who came before them; immigration, the Depression, WWII, etc. None of these offered any type of social safety net like our modern-day equivalents do. God help us if we ever do get hit with something big. We sure won’t be able to fall back on what we learned in school. I doubt if those who might want to do us harm will been through a good anti-bullying curriculum.

  13. Mitch:

    Lets not forget something. How long do we give the public schools. The city of Minneapolis early in the 1990’s created a special levy to limit the class size to just sixteen students. This levy when it is sent to the voters is always approved.

    Yet in the year 2013 which is more than 13 years after the levy was passed Minneapolis is not cranking high school graduates and the quality of the education is still being questioned.

    So to the high school drop out that wrote this article since I don’t have a kid that has been sent to a private school and I pay my taxes to support the Public Schools when should I expect results. 13 years should’ve been more than enough since that is how long we teach in the public schools.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

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