by Tammy Drennan
My Sunday paper this week featured an interesting letter from one of America’s future teachers.* The young man is an education major working toward a career in public schooling.
He doesn’t say where he gets his information or how he formed his opinions, but he’s pretty clear about what he thinks: to wit, the budget for public schooling has been reduced because of the war, and “keeping the public uneducated is the primary tools (sic) of fascists who have worked within the confines of democracy.” His solution is to “get the hawks out of office and give some CPR to public education immediately!”
Of course, our letter writer is mistaken about funding for schools. Spending continues to increase at phenomenal rates. Between the war years of 2001 and 2005, federal spending on elementary and secondary public schooling increased by 11 billion dollars.
On the CPR front, literally millions of people are wearing themselves out trying to resuscitate public schools. The patient is not responding very well, to say the least. We might even suspect that the patient is undermining our efforts by holding his breath while we pump his chest.
And the fascists who don’t want people to be educated? Here are some thoughts from those fascists Woodrow Wilson and John Dewey, as reported in the article “Textbook America” by Walter Karp (Harper’s Magazine, May 1980):
As Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton, sternly advised the Federation of High School Teachers: “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” Since there was no way to stop “the masses” from entering high school, the only way to meet the crisis, in short, was to prevent them from learning anything liberating when they got there. Instead, the educational leaders said, the new secondary schools should offer vocational training in particular and something called industrial education in general. This, the influential Douglas Commission said in 1905, was a “new idea” in education. and in truth it was.
…Dewey’s most important contribution was his conviction that democracy has little to do with politics and government. Democracy, according to Dewey, was “primarily a mode of associated living,” which for most Americans chiefly meant working together in factories. Having stripped democracy of its political character, Dewey and his colleagues, who prided themselves on their “realism,” went on to redefine it as “industrial cooperation.”
The new “realistic” definition of democracy even stripped public education of its theoretical republican objective, which was, as Jefferson had said, to teach future citizens “how to judge for themselves what will secure or endanger their freedom.” Such knowledge was unlikely to enhance, and might well impair, “industrial cooperation.” The new object of “democratic” education, Dewey said, was to teach every child “to perceive the essential interdependence of an industrial society.” Thus instructed, the future citizen (i.e., factory worker) would develop what Dewey called “a socialized disposition.”
The resuscitation efforts will continue, of course, and many young and impressionable young people will throw their lives into that effort rather than into the solution, because they’ve grown up in public schools and gone to colleges where they’ve learned absurd things, such as: public schools made democracy possible; our liberty is protected by public education; and public schooling leads to social harmony, less crime and more morality (okay, that last one isn’t even a goal anymore).
And a solution that a young, idealistic wanna-be teacher might pursue? How about starting a neighborhood school or tutoring service in some inner city? It wouldn’t pay much, but lots of people work a day job and pursue good on the side.
If you happen upon this, Mr. Ramsay, may I direct you to an excellent book by a former teacher and winner of teaching awards, John Taylor Gatto: You can read it free here (though I recommend buying it and applying pen and highlighter).
*Chattanooga Times Free Press, March 9, 2008, Letter by Thomas Carsten Ramsay