Friday, February 16, 2007

What's the Real Problem Here?

At a recent education reform conference in Austin, Texas, Apple CEO Steve Jobs criticized teacher unions, blaming them for refusing to fire incompetent teachers in public schools. He was applauded loudly several times during his speech. Jobs admitted that his pointed criticism of the teacher's unions may have cost Apple some business in the state of Texas. Meanwhile, at the same venue, Michael Dell asserted that unions were originally created to protect employees from abusive employers. Curiously, Mr. Dell neglected to mention that some former Dell employees are suing his company for witholding their just wages.

These men were both right about problems with schools as these are currently organised, but they both also missed a much larger issue: contemporary mass compulsion schooling (note that I don't use the word education) is itself dysfunctional in many ways. How so? Consider John Taylor Gatto's assertion (and remember, he taught in New York City public schools for 30 years and was awarded New York State Teacher of the Year at the end of his career):
I want to open up concealed aspects of modern schooling such as the deterioration it forces in the morality of parenting. You have no say at all in choosing your teachers. You know nothing about their backgrounds or families. And the state knows little more than you do. This is as radical a piece of social engineering as the human imagination can conceive. What does it mean?

One thing you do know is how unlikely it will be for any teacher to understand the personality of your particular child or anything significant about your family, culture, religion, plans, hopes, dreams. In the confusion of school affairs even teachers so disposed don’t have opportunity to know those things. How did this happen?

Before you hire a company to build a house, you would, I expect, insist on detailed plans showing what the finished structure was going to look like. Building a child’s mind and character is what public schools do, their justification for prematurely breaking family and neighborhood learning. Where is documentary evidence to prove this assumption that trained and certified professionals do it better than people who know and love them can? There isn’t any.

Think carefully about what Gatto wrote, and then watch Ken Robinson's 2006 speech on creativity and education. You'll wonder why we've so readily accepted the way schools label children and even insist that they be medicated for the sake of managing the classroom environment. Many parents, hungry for the quick fix so they can get on with getting on, accept the diagnosis without too much protest. Forget behavioral modification, which takes patience, effort, and time — all of which are in increasingly short supply these days.

Can you say — massive abdication of parental responsibility? See, I knew you could. Should we be surprised? Hardly. After all, we've already decided as a culture that children are essentially disposable. But that's something most people won't admit, either.

Therein lies another tragedy — the corruption and death of the soul of Western civilization. As Mother Teresa observed: "When a mother can kill her unborn child, what is left of the West to save?"

What, indeed?

Oh, we certainly need educational reform — more urgently than ever. But this won't happen for as long as we don't see the kind of social reform that is only possible when people are angry or disturbed enough about the status quo to actually do something about it. A friend wrote to me in January 2003:
I took a position in the Histopathology lab of the Foothills Hospital. On my first day of training they took me over to a dozen buckets of abortions and told me they were to be dissected daily and prepared for processing. For the next 8 months I had to look without deception or illusion at the way our culture regards the gift of life. This experience woke me up out of my complacency like a hammer over the head and I began to pray and seek God and ask for a revelation of truth. It led me back to the Catholic Church that I had left at the age of 20. I experienced a deep conversion but when I returned to the Church I was horrified to discover droves of people who go to Church but believe like the world and are indifferent to the grave sin of the culture.
Meanwhile, do we still have functioning consciences? Then we should be silent no more.

More on this later.
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