By Christopher Chantrill
For six generations, writes the military historian Victor Davis Hanson, the government has been educating his family in his hometown in California. But things are not going well on the hometown education front any more.
“[A]fter a haircut, I noticed that the 20-something cashier could not count out change. The next day, at the electronic outlet store, another young clerk could not read – much less explain – the basic English of the buyer’s warranty. At the food market, I listened as a young couple argued over the price of a cut of tri-tip – unable to calculate the meat’s real value from its price per pound. “
It’s not just California. In Washington State Bruce Ramsay writes in the Seattle Times:
“At community colleges, half the students take remedial math. At the University of Washington, atmospheric-sciences professor Cliff Mass says, ‘I saw a profound drop in math skills starting in the mid-’90s.’ New-age math, he says, has created ‘a whole generation of students who can’t do fractions.’
“The official measure of math skills is the Washington Assessment of Student Learning… a new-age test… [C]onsultant Michael Cohen, who has reviewed the WASL, says the actual math in it is seventh-grade level.”
So, in left-coast Washington State half the kids entering community college can’t do seventh-grade math. To Hanson what’s needed is some top-down authority. “We should scrap… sermons on race, class, gender, drugs, sex, self-esteem, or environmentalism,” and encourage the rational ability to make sense of the presence from a knowledge of the “abstract wisdom of the past.” We should allow teacher credentialing from academic subjects as well as teaching credentials. And we should end lifetime tenure.
But Rep. George Miller (D-CA) has another idea. According to Debra J Saunders, he wants to broaden the mandatory testing of students under the federal No Child Left Behind Act to provide
“multiple measures of success. These measures can no longer reflect just basic skills and memorization, but rather critical thinking and the ability to apply knowledge to new and challenging contexts.”
You mean like in new-age math? This top-down political centralization is exactly the problem, according to David Green, Director of Britain’s conservative think-tank Civitas.
“Some services just can’t be subject to remote central direction because, by their very nature, what makes for success is local and personal.”
And that applies in particular to education. Politicians, tenured bureaucrats and organized special interests don’t do local and personal. And yet “we should” do something.
Given the manifest failure of education under compulsion, it is time to think about the very nature of education and the social environment under which it can flourish. Danny Kruger, a staffer fop British Conservative Party leader David Cameron, has done so. In On Fraternity he analyzes the three enthusiasms of modernity: Liberty! Equality! Fraternity! Liberalism reduces everything to the individual and the egoic demand “I shall.” Socialism with its ethic of equality reduces everything to coercion and “You must.”
Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority-the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says “We should…” Our current education system is a blending of the individualist “I shall” and the socialist “You must.” It reflects a social and political philosophy which understands only a bipolar world consisting of the individual “creative” will and centralized state coercion. It hates the notion of authority and uses all its power to destroy the “non-coercive social persuasion” that lies at the center of conservative philosophy in Burke’s “little platoons” and Berger and Neuhaus’ “mediating structures.” No wonder it is failing.
We conservatives know what needs to be done. We know that the only way to solve the education crisis is to break the monopoly of government education and establish the principle of parental control and education choice. But even if school choice did not deliver better results than monopoly government education there is still the principle that a child belongs to its family before it belongs to the state. Writes Danny Kruger:
“To the Right… the education of children is the supreme, almost exclusive responsibility of the parents who brought them into the world. Not the state, not ‘society’ in the abstract–which is the state–but the family, is rightfully responsible for a child’s schooling. Parents should be in charge.”
And let us be clear about this. This parental right includes the right to be wrong, even against the weight of the education experts. But a parent would have to be a real doofus to match the experts that are sitting around watching half of our high school graduates failing seventh-grade math.
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his roadtothemiddleclass.com/ and usgovernmentspending.com/. His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.