James Howard Kunstler -- World News Trust
Feb. 10, 2017
By her public utterances, Betsy DeVos seemed spectacularly unqualified to lead the bureaucratic enterprise called the U.S. Department of Education. But you really have to wonder: could she do any worse than the exalted mandarins of educational bureaucracy who preceded her?
There is so much not right with public education these days that it could be the poster child for institutional collapse in America. Certainly in terms of the money spent per student, it illustrates perfectly Joseph Tainter’s classic collapse dynamic of over-investments in complexity with diminishing returns. Young adults are floundering in high school, or “graduating” as functional illiterates despite the vaunted widespread application of computer “technology.” They can do Instagram on a cell phone, but they can’t read an application for a driver’s license. And the mania for “diversity and multiculture” has left kids without the armature of an American common culture to successfully mold a life onto.
That common culture, by the way, is exactly what allowed waves of immigrants from the early 19th century until WWII to find a place and thrive in an American life that was new to them. It also enabled the sons and daughters of former slaves to enter professions and business, even despite Jim Crow segregation. Today, according to the official diktat of the Department of Education, and the propaganda of the politicized teacher corps, the very mechanisms that made previous success possible are essentially outlawed or banished beyond the pale of a functional consensus. For instance, instruction in speaking English correctly.
I have said this before to the scorn and derision of my auditors: it should be the primary mission of schooling to teach kids how to speak English grammatically and intelligibly. Without that capability, they may not be able to learn much of anything else. That this is not regarded as important anymore is a spectacular disgrace. It also brings us to the horrifying issue of race in American schooling. (Yes, this is part of that “conversation about race” that the professional race relations establishment calls for incessantly but doesn’t really want to have.)
The failures of education are especially vivid among the children of the so-called inner-city -- polite code for black. The school troubles of this group may be attributed to an array of other problems, starting with a social services system that pays teenage girls to have babies without a father present in the house, and the inept parenting that follows in chaotic homes. You could argue that children produced in those conditions are so damaged by the time they get to first grade that they can’t recover.
Under Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, a policy called “racial equity” was devised to mitigate the embarrassing problem of black students being suspended or disciplined disproportionately for atrocious behavior in the classroom. The “solution” to that was to just stop enforcing behavioral standards. The policy placed the blame for students’ disruptive behavior on the “cultural insensitivity” of the teachers and staff, and more generally on “white privilege.” The result, naturally, is greater chaos and dysfunction in the classroom. It is worth reading the piece by Katherine Kersten in City Journal on how this worked out in the St. Paul, Minnesota, district.
Arne Duncan was also responsible for mis-applying federal “Title Nine” law on college campuses (originally drawn up to balance funding of men’s and women’s sports), where it was used to promote the extra-legal prosecution of rape allegations in what amounted to campus kangaroo courts run by ideologues unconstrained by due process. This has produced a star chamber climate of persecution across the country, nicely in-step with the officially sanctioned coercions of the cultural Maoists who are destroying the intellectual life of American higher ed.
American schooling from kindergarten to post-doc has entered a phase of epic failure under the watch of several generations of federal policy “experts.” It suffers from several other illnesses than the ones I’ve already mentioned, namely the tragic over-centralization of school districts into giant schools; and the odious racketeering in loans that drives college education. Betsy DeVos has a lot of damage to undo engineered by her exquisitely qualified predecessors.
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.