Every student I have polled in my classes has spent years of his or her life parked before a TV set or a video game and practically none can remember being read to at an early age or conversed with in their maturing years on cultural, political, historical, or literary questions. This goes a long way toward explaining the critical deficiencies from which they suffer in both the lexicon and the morphology of the language, the privation of the latter being most evident in the confusion of their written productions. Clarity begins at home with reading to children, with literate discussion and good speech habits, with diligent monitoring of homework, with expressions of concern. This is obviously an ideal scenario, but as Emerson urged in Society and Solitude, “Hitch your wagon to a star.”
Regrettably, there is no doubt that the educational system in which our kids are trapped does almost nothing to ameliorate their situation and in fact only exacerbates the predicament in which they find themselves. Far too many have been ideologically indoctrinated by progressivist teachers, taught to nurture an unearned feeling of self-esteem and to assume a sense of entitlement. Very few are actually trained in the protocols of thinking and studying, to take course work seriously or even to write properly. Thankfully, as we see from the above exemplars, some are conscious that they have been short-changed.
These latter are the students whom literary scholar Janice Fiamengo, in an as yet unpublished paper, calls “the teachable remnant.” Like them, we should be aware that on the whole students are treated very superficially indeed, despite the pamphleteering cheeriness of our school representatives, in what amounts to little more than the promotion or imposition of a kind of shuck-and-chuck pedagogy. But since it is less problematical to try to modify the school than it is to rehabilitate the family or transform the culture, I come to the reluctant conclusion that, faute de mieux and even if the eleventh hour has already passed, we have little choice but to tackle the problems where we empirically meet them.
With regard to the schools, parents need to get their act together. They must offer critical support to their children’s responsible teachers, many of whom are struggling to retain their dignity and effectiveness in a rapidly degrading environment and who must be encouraged to resist both the shortsighted attempts—aka “reform”—to repair the intellectual mutilations from which students suffer and the techno-administrative ideology that is defrauding them of their birthright. Parents must also be pro-active in discerning and protesting against those teachers who are a discredit to their profession, who have not invested in mastering their subjects, and who are content to float their way to retirement. Those who can afford it might consider enrolling their children in the better private schools, as do most of our politicians who, despite their laic advocacy, wouldn’t dream of sacrificing their kids to the Moloch of public education. And parents who do not enjoy the means to defray the tuition costs of the private schools, but who are educated and committed, have the option of home schooling.
One does not need to be clairvoyant to agree with Quebec intellectual Jean Larose, who writes in L’Amour du pauvre [The Love of the Poor] that the new curricular dispensation will produce chiefly des esprits conformistes…incapable de concevoir d’autres réalités que celles de leur milieu et de leur experience immédiats. Parce que les mots leur manquent, parce que les formes leur manquent, ils se trouvent souvent sans originalité au moment de concevoir…condamnés à réinventer le bouton à quatre trous… [conformist minds…incapable of conceiving other realities but those of their immediate environment and experience. Because they lack words, because they lack the forms (of thought), they find themselves without originality at the moment of intellectual conception…condemned to reinvent the four-hole button…].
This numbnuts curriculum is refracted in the practical sphere as programmatic reform—a synonym for useless theoretical busywork—, as the application of a cybernetic mindset to curriculum and methodology that dissolves subject matter into a swarm of innumerable and contentless objectives, and especially in the continuing moral, psychological, and professional diminishment of the student. But it is precisely such a process of student demotivation and institutional contempt that makes any restructuring program or curricular renovation which does not focus on the basics and the disciplined formation of the mind pretty well idle if not downright harmful. If this situation is not reversed or even partially remedied, we can write off the next generation more or less wholesale.
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