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Tag Archive: Schooling

The MSM has embarrassed itself to a near-fatal degree

Posted: Friday, August 31, 2012 (11:26 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Friday, August 31st, 2012:

Who better than J. E. Dyer to inspire me to rekindle my moribund blog, in a blog post entitled Are the American voters idiots?, which ultimately tackles several of my favorite hobby horses:

There were so many reasons to know in advance that Obama would be a poor president.  Yet many of the voters were taken in by the media hype surrounding Obama.  The president’s associations and recorded statements were played down.  The record was there for a number of investigative authors to find, from Michelle Malkin to Stanley Kurtz and Aaron Klein.  But the mainstream media presented a very selective picture of the Democratic candidate.

The MSM, in fact, has embarrassed itself to a near-fatal degree with its remarkable coverage of the Obama administration, whether it is amplifying the cries of “racism!” that erupt whenever there is criticism of the president, or credulously reporting whatever the administration puts out, word for word, as if there is no previous record or any set of facts to be counter-checked.  (The latter pattern is especially strong when it comes to reporting about defense and national security.  Reporters have regularly retailed administration talking points about the unprecedented “shows of strength” the Obama administration is making, when a little research would reveal that the US had already been doing whatever the “unprecedented” thing is, for 5, 20, or even – in the case of North and South Korea – 60 years.)

There has been a tremendous growth in vague, elliptical, and/or tendentious narration of what’s going on in the nation and the world.  The people can be pardoned for being tired and confused.

But the inability to distinguish fantasy-news and talking points from reality is a product of the US education system.  That system has taken millions of people with plenty of native smarts and indoctrinated them with a set of ideological trigger-concepts, all while declining to teach them to think critically.  Developing judgment through critical thinking is one of the hallmarks of adulthood, and the US education system has been making that harder for Americans, rather than fostering their abilities.

I have this lingering sense, which I honestly suspect is nothing but delusion, that the producers of mainstream “news” product really are making themselves progressively (!) more and more irrelevant by alienating their audiences with increasingly transparent cultivated stupidity, and un-reflexive progressive bias and partisanship. I hope it’s not just the projection of wishful thinking on my part. And although I agree with her assessment of the typical results of the US education system, I think the actual contributions of the schools to those results might entail a smaller and more collaborative role than Dyer seems to be suggesting. The entertainment industry plays no small part, independently of the schools, as does the overall entitlement ethic of society.

Dyer’s article gets to that in its own way later on, where she speaks critically of “the modern American pathology-network” of dependencies, addictions, disorders, and despair. She remains confident in the redeeming value of the free exchange of ideas in the public square, though the history of progressives and other leftists in power does not fill me with the same confidence that the square will remain open for dissent indefinitely.

It is hard to imagine zero-tolerance bullying prevention without schools becoming mini-bureaucratic-police states

Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 (3:10 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Wednesday, September 14th, 2011:

Mary Rose Somarriba, writing yesterday at Public Discourse, on the recent anti-bullying legislation recently enacted in New Jersey (hewing closely to Obama administration policies), in an article called “A Bully-Free World?”:

Why, one might ask, would the president lead a conference on preventing something like bullying, which is ultimately impossible to prevent? It could be, perhaps, because bullying is something that everyone agrees is wrong, and it is something that everyone can relate to, because everyone has been bullied at some point.

But sadly, bullying is like any unfortunate human conflict and will exist as long as humans do. This does not mean it is okay to bully; it means it is problematic to imagine that we can create a world in which conflict doesn’t exist. It is hard to imagine zero-tolerance bullying prevention without schools becoming mini-bureaucratic-police states—the likes of which only belong in films like Minority Report or Adjustment Bureau—where kids could be criminally charged for hurting each other’s feelings, “different” kids could be targeted as “likely to be bullied,” and so on. But that is exactly what this boils down to: a child’s version of hate crimes.

In reality, laws like New Jersey’s risk worsening the problems of bullying. There is reason to believe that hotlines where kids can anonymously text-message tips to incriminate bullies are yet another technology that kids will abuse for the purposes of bullying. Further, bullying prevention is arguably the wrong goal altogether. It would be better to focus on conflict resolution than on conflict prevention. Devoting all effort to preventing the inevitable is not only wasteful policy; it is a failure to do what actually might lessen the damage of real-life conflicts.

One of my kids – probably the youngest one – mentioned something during dinner the other night about the latest anti-bullying campaign at her school, and I was too tired and cranky to resist letting out a snort. The kids were a little flabbergasted when I said I thought the current anti-bullying hysteria is moronic. Of course, they assumed that anyone who didn’t “like” anti-bullying must therefore “like” bullying – that’s the way these things are framed society-wide, the way immature minds tend to work naturally, and certainly fits the Facebook zeitgeist we and they inhabit. I pointed out the hypocrisy of adults shoving anti-bullying propaganda down the throats of helpless populations of schoolchildren, and made some references to the long stream of social do-goodism in the schools, of which anti-bullying is not merely the latest fashion, but an almost inevitable consequence of previous efforts by the same kinds of “progressive” people to coddle school children, eliminate discipline, abandon authority, and eradicate the stain of “judgmentalism”.

I don’t think I did a very good job of explaining myself, and fortunately, Somarriba does a pretty good job in this article of explaining at least why the anti-bullying agenda is impractical. But I really dislike the agenda for reasons she comes close to, but doesn’t address. She suggests that perhaps President Obama wants to get out in front of this because everybody agrees that bullying is wrong, and she’s dead right about that: it’s a convenient platform for cheesy moralism. You won’t lose any votes by thundering denunciations against bullies, after all. And that’s the real problem here: it’s symptomatic of a culture that feels the need to find something phony with which to fill a glaring void, a void where genuine morality deserves to be found, but cannot be allowed expression lest it upset the libertarian apple cart of mutually assured disregard of vice.

The Error of Permitting Religious Practice

Posted: Saturday, September 18, 2010 (11:50 pm), by John W Gillis


A local furor erupted a couple days ago over a Wellesley Middle School class’ visit to an area mosque, a story which has subsequently gone national. This whole story is just so wrong, on so many levels, that it approaches (?) the absurd. It is a microcosm of everything wrong with the deracinated public life that has banished religious faith to the margins, and adopted a functional atheism as public policy (despite the lingering religiosity of much of the unwashed masses).

The 6th grade class found itself at the mosque as part of a social studies unit called “Enduring Beliefs and the World Today.” It’s hard to pass over the name chosen for the program without snickering at the irony of it, for unfolding events would make it clear enough that “enduring” pretty well describes the approach these public sector “leaders” take toward beliefs – at least of a religious nature.

Along with visiting the mosque, the learning unit called for visiting a synagogue, and meeting with “Hindu religious representatives” – whatever that means. Oh, there was also apparently a section on Christianity, which I guess also continues to be a belief endured in the modern world. So what did the “Christian” field trip entail? Attending a “gospel music performance!”

OK, so you might be thinking that perhaps it’s hard to find an actual house of Christian worship in Wellesley – hence the detour to hear Al Green covers, or whatever they ended up listening to. Becca_flyer Alas, though, this school is barely more than a stone’s throw from Saint Paul Catholic Church, with its associated elementary and middle school (where my youngest daughter is enrolled). If the teachers were afraid of catching dogma cooties from entering a real church (where Mass, incidentally, is offered daily at 9:00 AM – perfect timing for a walking-distance morning field trip from the public middle school), they could have taken a trip to at least view the parochial school kids, with their frumpy uniforms, old-fashioned manners, and serious classroom demeanor.

But whatever possessed them to so trivialize the “Christian” component of their program, that’s just so much snarky background for what would transpire with the trip to the mosque. A mother accompanying the class took a cell phone video showing several of the school boys motioning along with the men they were standing near during midday prayer. Well, between the knee-jerk anti-Islamic sentiment and the knee-jerkier sentiment that the children had been exposed to “prayer” without donning proper repellent gear, this has turned into an absolute circus.

First came the accusation from a group apparently aggressively intolerant of Islam, named Americans for Peace and Tolerance (founded by Jewish Advocate columnist Robert Jacobs), who claimed in a YouTube video based on the cell phone capture that the boys had been “asked to participate” in the prayer service – a provocative overstatement – and then they go on to ask: “How did Wellesley public school teachers allow this to happen?”

Now, I’m at a loss to understand how any sane person would think that those teachers should have forbade the youngsters to pray – never mind the likelihood that the boys probably engaged the rite on about the same level they’d engage a Cotton Eye Joe dance at a school social, but the superintendent of schools issued an apology for the “error” that “any students were allowed to [participate],” and assured the parents that “it was not the intent for students to be able to participate in any of the religious practices” [emphases added].

Somehow, we’ve gone from Thomas Jefferson’s conviction that the state should not decide which religious beliefs and practices should be suppressed, to an air-headed bureaucratic conviction that government at any level is in “error” if it permits any kind of religious practices among those unfortunate young charges left in its incompetent care. God forbid [can I say that?] we permit any kid to participate in a “religious practice” on the watch of the overbearing nanny-state! Although I do have to wonder: do you think the kids were permitted to sing along at the gospel concert? Did they have to self-censor certain words? What if all they did was dance, or bounce to the beat? Looks pretty similar to Muslim “prayer acts” if you ask me…

However, not to be out-done by the educators in either inanity or self-importance, the director of the group stirring up this trouble, Dennis Hale, has instead likened the “prayer acts” movements to the hypothetical scenario of the children having been taken to a Catholic church, and given Communion! A journalist friend of the group has called for the firing or suspension of the superintendent and/or the teachers involved! And now another Jewish advocacy group – the American Jewish Committee – is calling for the creation of state guidelines for school visits to religious institutions! Oy vey!

I can tolerate a little Jewish over-reaction to Muslim hostility, real or imagined – the Jews don’t have the luxury to consider appeasement – but leave the public schools out of it; those kids are already getting the shaft.

Catholic Education & Sotomayor

Posted: Thursday, June 4, 2009 (10:36 pm), by John W Gillis


sotomayor&obama I don’t agree very often with what Michael Paulson says over at the Articles of Faith blog at Boston.com – he doesn’t even ask the right questions, as a rule – but I had to concur with something he said the other day about President Obama’s address introducing Sonia Sotomayor as his nominee for Justice Souter’s Supreme Court seat: he said he was struck by “the language he used to describe the role of Catholic schools in offering children a path out of poverty.” Here is the quote from the President’s remarks:

“But Sonia’s mom bought the only set of encyclopedias in the neighborhood, sent her children to a Catholic school called Cardinal Spellman out of the belief that with a good education here in America all things are possible.”

You won’t get any argument out of me by suggesting that the way to get your children a good education here in America is to send them to Catholic schools, but I have to wonder what the President’s good friends and supporters in the public school teachers’ unions (never mind management) thought about that remark.

Meanwhile, at about the same time this remark was made, the papers reported that the last Catholic parochial school in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston would be closing next year, due primarily to declining enrollment. And as true as it is that the academic performance is superior, and as important as a sound academic foundation is to the life of the intellect, you can believe me when I say that academics is about the least of the good reasons I send my children to Catholic schools.

It wasn’t very long ago that Catholic families were strongly encouraged by the faith community to utilize the parochial schools as an important element of providing their children a good Catholic upbringing. As the parochial school systems sags and slowly collapses under the weight of indifference, it strikes me that such encouragement is almost wholly lacking these days in parish life. Local sponsorship of the responsibility for Catholic education seems limited to bulletin notices of area open houses, and an occasional fair to provide schools tables from which to hand out marketing literature normally reserved in magazine racks in the back of the church.

This seems to be part of a trend among much of the laity of abandoning anything distinctively Catholic. People just want to fit in – and I don’t understand why the priests seem so disinterested in resisting the trend. Maybe they try harder than I give them credit for, but there is simply insufficient depth to the soil of parish life in the form of supportive and receptive laity – I don’t know. It just seems to me that if so many Catholics want to blend in seamlessly to the larger, secular, culture – without being willing at the same time to abandon their Catholic name, then they can’t possibly discern a necessary difference between Catholicism and the spirit of the age.

Regarding the schools, it is as if people view the parochial schools as nothing more than public schools with incrementally better academics, and unwanted tuition bills. Actually, the parochial schools offer an environment relatively free of the fashionable academic conceit of godlessness, as well as a moral seriousness that not only doesn’t nurture the narcissistic insolence prevalent among too many youth today, but refuses to tolerate it very far. I won’t even mention the sexual mores.

You can’t put a price tag on that, and if Catholics, on the whole, could get their act together around this, there is no good reason why the tuition bill for parochial education couldn’t be at least cut to a nominal stipend, if not avoided altogether. It is widely said that the parochial schools do their superior work while spending less per child than the public schools do. Whether it be through vouchers or some other method, it would only take political will to allow Catholics (or anyone: non-Catholics are at least a significant minority in most parochial schools) to choose to send their children to Church-operated schools instead of government-operated schools, without paying twice.

The easy answer to the acculturation puzzle is to make a distinction between “real” Catholics and nominal Catholics, and to expect the nominal Catholics to find the exits, but I think that attitude does a disservice to those we might call spiritually poor. From the bishops on down, we try too hard to get along, and, in consequence, we fail to make the case to the many that Catholicism has something radical to offer; that being a Catholic is different than anything else. The loss of interest in the schools is just an obvious example of the loss of Catholic meaning through the withering of Catholic culture – although, for all it’s worth, I have little confidence that Justice Sotomayor, if she is confirmed, will demonstrate how a Catholic education can help shape the moral character with Catholic meaning… I hope I’m wrong.