Tuesday, February 27

Real Guns and Butter-Flavored Butter Substitutes

Mr. du Toit:

Thanks for the rapid response, and welcome. This sorry blog is a catch-time-as-available vanity operation and not a full-time gig. I often don't even see comments for a day or so. So apologies for the appearance of tardiness. Your response was a fair return of fire, sir, and sportsmanlike; we commend it, and staunch a trickle of blood.

We're glad to hear your daughter is doing well, though it was not her vocabulary or syntax we worried about but a superfluity of adjectives. We call our wife "Wife" in print, or more often "Poor Wife", in part to give her plausible deniability as to even knowing us, yet that, coupled with the nom du blog, has not prevented members of the local School Board from discovering us. That event would seem even more likely (mutatis mutandis, of course), regardless of what you call her, since you post under your own name. But we accept the explanation, certainly, without withdrawing any of the attempts at humor that followed. "Hardscrabble," just to clear up any possible confusion, refers to our distaste for your Wolf at the Door blegging and was meant solely as a cheap shot. This is among the many reasons why we aren't blogging for John Edwards. And since you ask we find "Father Figure" to be rather witty.

Okay, I hope that clears the air. We still wonder why, or if, there was no attempt on your part to correct the situation? This formed a sizeable chunk of our apologia. We are not so foolish as to imagine that every public school in all circumstances is run or staffed by reasonable people. In fact, we know better. But the same is true of my local grocery store, where my status as a taxpayer impresses them not at all, and my legal rights are at a minimum. (Which reminds me, that "Lileks of the Left" was a sort of running gag, the result of someone's comment about my habit of outlining the vexations of power tools and supermarket conveyor belts.)
One would have thought that a progressive like yourself would think more about fixing what's wrong, but perhaps you believe the public school system is just dandy.

What I believe is this: Chinese is a language--many languages, technically--which, to Western ways of thinking, have a remarkable dependence on ambiguity. And the Chinese aphorism commonly quoted as "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" may be interpreted as "...begins under one's feet." Hitting the road doesn't get us where we're going any faster if we're headed in the wrong direction.

And that's precisely what the argument--I would rather characterize it as "the use of public education as a political football"--has been about since the days when I was a student. Every time I engage in such discussions somebody tells me I must not imagine there's anything wrong with public schools. It's gone on so long now that I'm being asked to explain or excuse a fall from grace which took place after I first started hearing the complaints. Today's Good Old Days (from a test score standpoint, not our endless hurtling down the Open Mineshaft of Secular Humanism) were yesterday's Hell in a Handbasket. It is rather for people who make little effort to deny they'd prefer little or no public education at all to demonstrate that their ideas lead us in the right direction. Until then it's hard to gaze that way and see anything other than the politics of racial and class divide, anti-trade unionism, and religious bias. We task the public schools with living up to the highest ideals of democracy and then we pepper them with long-range artillery for every perceived failure. The urban ones, at least.

Lemme tell ya, there's a lot that's wrong, systemically wrong, with public schools, much of it the result of political interference, some of it the result of the peculiarly American species of hubris. Read that tale Doc Helen linked to again. What would you have us do? How do we tailor the educational system to one mother's son when she expects problems to be solved without her input and imagines that the other kids calling him "Calculator" is some sort of bellwether of the Apocalypse?

I've heard a lot--maybe all--of the "solutions" from the Right. I haven't heard any that solve anything but its own objections. Sue me if you'd like, but I don't really imagine the Hoover Institute gives two shakes about the times I've held my wife in the dark while she sobbed into my shoulder over the wretched homelife of one of her students. I doubt the day we packed up the artwork of her seventeen-year-old student, killed in a house fire with her younger sister after the gas company shut off service last winter, affected anybody's belief in the holy perfection of laissez-faire capitalism. I don't think any of these "solutions" is informed by a sense of just what sort of work it takes to be a teacher, to make endless calls to parents, to file complaints against employers working 16-year-olds until 1AM on school nights, to spend out of pocket for paper when a six-mile drive to the white suburbs takes you past a football stadium that'd be the envy of most Division II programs. "Solutions"? Pah. If we're really concerned about Every Last Child then before we "reform" the educational process we need to give those born into poverty decent healthcare and nutrition. After that we can set our sights on eliminating Sadism from the nation's dodgeball arenas.

Best wishes to you and your daughter,

J. B. S. Riley


Anonymous said...

Dogman, you are far too nice to this assklown. He probably thinks his reflexive bullshit cliches ["liberal Massa's plantation", "One would have thought that a progressive like yourself would think more about fixing what's wrong, but perhaps you believe the public school system is just dandy."] is a product of deep thinking rather than a formula repeated so often over on the right that it just oozes from his finger tips.
I know his kid is still snickering over the fact that Daddy hasn't glommed onto what "Father figure" means.
He can type, he can't think. Forget about responding rationally.

Anonymous said...

God! You leave me in tears.

I salute you, Doghouse.

Anonymous said...

My favorite public education trick is to make the quality of a child's education dependent on the value of the property in their school district, because that teaches them about a cold, unfeeling universe governed by arbitrary standards.

DBK said...

As the brother and brother-in-law of two elementary school teachers, one of whom teaches in an Oakland inner city school, I say "Amen brother, and preach it" to your posting here. When I hear my brother talking about the results of NCLB, I want to punch every politician who voted for that fakery right in the mouth. Education is a political football and it is so for the right and the left. Neither side has anything to be proud of in this. And yes, there are big problems. But NCLB didn't do anything to solve them and, generally, made new problems. Well, it did solve one problem. You don't have to teach children anything more than what will be on the next test, so it lowered the curriculum, though the quality of education was not improved.