Then and Now

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Every Child Left Behind

Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurrit.

Having read the Oct. 8 Daily Mail, it occurred to me old Horace might well have been commenting on its article "Stamping Out Bullies."

To paraphrase, with poetic license: "You can stamp the bullies out, but they'll soon find a way back."

The article came on the heels of a slough of letters from Truman students, attempting to thank the Vernon County Historical Society for putting on Missouri History Day.

They made dismal reading: what's been called "anguished English." Never mind the near universal ignorance of spelling, punctuation, grammar, and penmanship. They couldn't say what they meant!

They'd "lernd" a few bits of garbled factoids. But mostly they'd just felt. "I liked it because I had fun" (which is to say, "I liked it because I liked it").

So my first reaction to "Stamping Out Bullies," inevitably, was: What in God's name are they wasting time and effort on such a kickshaw, which they actually dignify as a "curriculum," when they haven't yet taught the kids to write passable English?

Is Richard Mitchell right after all? Are they incapable of teaching passable English? "In any case, they obviously don't want to. They want to wear the robes of prophets and priests, and peddle to their students the same bogus 'humanistic' attitudes that were peddled to them in the teacher academy. They want to preside over rap sessions on values clarification and play charades of holistic creativity and appreciation enhancement."

And of course they admit, nay boast, that they want their students merely to feel, not think.

"Stamping Out Bullies" sounds to me like a "rap session" not a "curriculum." The world hasn't changed; only the methods of teaching have. One learns to write good English by reading good English. The students' letters proved they haven't done much of that. In grade school I met the likes of Longfellow, Bret Harte, and Washington Irving. I gather it's all "Dick and Jane" now, dumbed-down stuff to dumb down the kids.

And don't tell me "Wake up! It's the electronic age!" Computers and TVs aren't made by illiterates, survivors of 12 years "where creativity and self-expression are held more important than spelling and punctuation."

The public still imagines schools are in the business of imparting knowledge, by means of instruction. In truth, ever more school effort is devoted to preaching "humanistic (by which they mean something like "humane") child-centered education."

Central to it is "behavior modification," which in honesty should be called "indoctrination." An authority calls the bully business "learning;" but only facts, an organized body of knowledge, can be learned.

We possess no facts about human nature, only self-styled experts' opinions of them. And these notions aren't knowledge; they're dogma, which cannot be taught, but only preached.

Well-meaning or no, "Stamping Out Bullies" is "behavior modification," such as is done in schools in totalitarian countries, but passing strange in a land that (so we say) values freedom above all things, the freedom of the individual (even the individual child) to be himself.

Do you want your child to be imparted knowledge, or his behavior modified? Isn't his personality your business and his, not that of schoolhouse "experts?"

"Stamping Out Bullies" may do no harm, save in that it wastes time and resources. But it's an example of a pernicious academic trend, away from real learning, into the quicksands of "humanistic," "values clarification," (the would-be replacement for morality) and like muddled notions. And of one thing we can be sure: It isn't going to do any real good.

No, the world hasn't changed. There were bullies in my day. But the teachers then were "authoritarian." Today, authorities (even in their own learning fields) mustn't be "authoritarian."

The old methods, that worked so well, now would land them in jail.

And it was then understood that bullying was simply one of the facts of life an individual had to learn to deal with on his own, not run to mama or teacher.

Sillier still is the "politically correct" notion that verbal abuse is as awful as physical violence. A bully once followed me around for days, sneering over and over, "You G--d-- little piss-ant!" I just ignored him, pitied him in his pathetic ignorance, and minded myself of the old saw, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

I suppose under the enlightened new dispensation I'd be obliged to make a federal case of it.

Why does any child need a "curriculum" to tell him he has the resources to combat bullying, if he'll only tap them? And it's something he must learn all from within himself, not from the school nanny, if he's to make it in that bullying world beyond the school door.

The most mercilessly bullied boy in my early school days was Bill Phelps. Far from the "lost self-esteem" and so forth, which the "experts" so bemoan, as far as I could see the bullying toughened Bill, made him our all-around top student and eventually lieutenant governor.

A collective example of "de-bullied," disarmed people are those 1930s British appeasers, whose liberal schooling had preached that all men are reasonable and nice.

The "experts" who propose to take the bully out of the bullies suffer from the old liberal delusion that there is no innate human nature, that all is environmental. So if you tenderly scold and shame the bullies, and be nice to them, they'll cease to be bullies.

Sorry, but it doesn't happen. Like Hitler, surely the archtype of all bullies, they're born that way, and nothing will change them at heart. Naturam expellas furca ...

I'm sure what I say will be taken as a slur on our local school administrators and teachers. In truth, my esteem for those poor souls is exceeded only by my compassion. They're prisoners of the monster bureaucracy that dominates so-called "education" in this country. A few of them even manage honestly to teach, in the olden sense, when the monster isn't looking.

An authority laments that "No Child Left Behind" has forced them to stress "academics." How awful! Academics aren't "humanistic!"

Still, I don't like "No Child Left Behind" either. In an honest school, the dummkopfs should and would be left behind.

Every child, so I read, is to be told he's "special" and "deserving of respect." But special means "unique, one of a kind." If everybody's special, nobody is. And there are people not in the least deserving of respect, at least not mine.

The language is being perverted in order to tell the kids soothing, smarmy lies, which is doing them no favor.

With the schools frittering their time and energy on preaching, not teaching, we can safely say that, in effect, every child is being left behind.