DeVos, School Choice and Food Trucks

 

Betsy DeVos, our Secretary of Education, recently said:

“Near the Department of Education, there aren’t many restaurants. But you know what? Food trucks started lining the streets to provide options. Some are better than others, and some are even local restaurants that have added food trucks to their businesses to better meet customers’ needs.

Now, if you visit one of those food trucks instead of a restaurant, do you hate restaurants? Or are you trying to put grocery stores out of business?

No. You are simply making the right choice for you based on your individual needs at that time.

Just as in how you eat, education is not a binary choice. Being for equal access and opportunity — being for choice — is not being against anything.”

In this last assertion DeVos reveals the ignorance that should have disqualified her from ever being Secretary of Education. Being for school choice certainly does indeed require being against something. In fact it requires opposition to a seminal idea that helped inspire the very creation of public education. Namely, that public schooling helps glue together a diverse nation that is in perpetual danger of falling apart.

Horace Mann, the famed leader of the original common school crusade, was very opposed to DeVos style choice — which then was utterly dominant. He said it was divisive, undermined the support of the power elite for public education, and siphoned off the best students. Was Mann wrong about the divisiveness? Does educational choice in fact divide us? Let’s consider.

Predictably, Mann was opposed by private school interests. Their finances were at stake. That, in itself, is significant because we all the time still fight over money. But he also was opposed by clergymen who were alarmed by his view that common schooling should and would empower children to decide for themselves what their religious obligations were.

Now this is something to think about. Some 85% of private schooling is religiously sponsored. And these schools are not in the business of empowering children to decide their religious obligations for themselves. Quite the opposite. Moreover, while indoctrinating youngsters in the faith, they unavoidably impart political beliefs that also are not optional. Opposition to abortion, for example. So, like it or not, a dominant element of America’s private schools do not exist to empower thought, but to impart beliefs. And since they necessarily deal in ultimates — the fundamental meaning of life, for instance — these beliefs are largely non-negotiable.

Of course disparate beliefs are devilishly divisive. Check on the Hundred Years War, the Troubles in Ireland or the sectarian strife in the Middle East if you need proof of this.

So let’s get back to school choice being divisive. Where does DeVos’ devotion to choice originate? In her wealth and her own private religious schooling. Who almost never sends their children to public school? The wealthy, of course. And why didn’t they do so? Because they want their children to be separate, to stand out, to not be a part of the common herd. Now add to that a particular set of idiosyncratic religious convictions and you’ve got the schooling DeVos experienced in her formative years. 

Now she assures us, from the Olympian heights that her family’s money secured for her, that you don’t have to be against anything to be for school choice. But if she knew something about public education she would think otherwise.

 

Did You Call the Parents?

When teachers have a problem with a student the principal frequently asks “Did you call the parents?” Should they have failed to do that, they might be “written up” or at least looked at askance. The underlying assumption is that calling the parents will be helpful. But, as my commanding officer in the Army once made clear to me, “Assumption is the mother of all f-ups!” Then there is another angle. Asking the “did you call …” question is a great way for principals to avoid taking the problem on their own shoulders.

Let’s examine this “Did you call the parents?” phenomenon. What presumptions underlie it?
  1. That the student has parents (notice the often inaccurate plural) active in his or her life? That they are not, for example, a foster child, or being raised by a grandparent, or aunt or uncle, or someone who exploits them, or even someone who just took pity on them and took them in.
  2. That the “parents” can be reached. Foster children, for example, can move from “home” to “home” two or three times per year. Reaching them is problematic. Also, some schools rely on the kids for their “parent’s” current phone number. Troublesome kids are smart enough to make them up.
  3. That the parents can speak English. (Try explaining Junior’s behavior in Slovenian.)
  4. That the “parents” will answer if they think the school is calling. They often won’t.
  5. That the “parents” care. Every child deserves a parent. Not every parent deserves a child.
  6. That the “parents” will not be drunk, high or otherwise preoccupied when they receive the call. They can be.
  7. That the “parents” will know what to do. If the people raising children knew how to get them to cooperate they would already be doing it.
  8. That the “parents” won’t do something to make the problem worse — perhaps much worse. My first grade teaching wife once asked a parent to help his child practice her addition skills. She gave him a short practice sheet to work with. Next day the child showed up with swollen, black and blue fingers. Dad had “helped” by smacking the child’s knuckles with a ruler every time she got something wrong.
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in the ArmyLet’s  look at this whole calling the parents thing more closely. 

The CON-MAN’S DELIGHT: SEX EDUCATION

Gary K. Clabaugh, Emeritus Professor of Education, La Salle University 

Many, perhaps most, Americans are decidedly weird when it comes to sex. American culture has always had a secret love/public hate relationship with sexuality; and that isn’t about to go away any time soon. Yes, even though our culture is utterly obsessed with sex, blue-nosed Puritanism is still very much alive.

This gives rise to some very strange phenomena. For instance, most American children are exposed to murder as “entertainment” day after day, and their parents rarely object. But imagine, if instead of detailed murders, a network showed realistic sexual acts — enthusiastic intercourse instead of an excited strangulation, for example. The outrage would be so thick Dumbo could walk on it. In short, depictions of deadly violence are regarded as tolerable for youngsters; but portrayals of intimacy and mutual pleasuring are an abomination. What kind of values does that represent?

Then there is the remarkable preference for ignorance over knowledge when it comes to sexuality. Sure, most parents don’t want their kids to be sexually ignorant all of their lives. But by the time this type of parent thinks their child is ready for the birds and bees, thanks to the internet their kids could teach them a sexual thing or two.

What is one to make of this remarkable American uneasiness with sex? There are a lot of possibilities, one of which is spelled O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y. This is what demagogues and religious con men make of it. It’s a rare opportunity for picking the public’s pocket by exploiting their fears. Mix these unscrupulous flim flam artists together with guilt-ridden religious fanatics and a healthy blend of ordinary ignoramuses and you have a highly unstable compound that can, and does, blow up in well-meaning educator’s faces.

 

Hitler and the Romanticism of Destruction

 

Gary K. Clabaugh, Emeritus Professor, La Salle University

“It is futile to judge the viability of new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises.”

                                                                                                                         The True Believer

Eric Hoffer

Gripped by romantic imaginings, Hitler dreamed himself into a murderous buzz and millions paid the ultimate price. This essay investigates the key romantic fantasies dominating his thoughts and shaping his actions. First, though, let’s define what we mean by “romantic.”

What Does “Romantic” Mean?

Romantic(ism)can be defined in a startling number of ways. In fact, in his Decline and Fall of the Romantic Ideal (1948), F.L. Lucas identifies 11,396 different meanings. There is, for instance, the mid 18th Century English definition, “tender, sentimental, melancholy and gentle;” as well as the classic, “a reaction against neoclassicism.”

This monograph makes use of a different meaning. For it we turn to the Oxford English Dictionary — widely regarded as the accepted authority on the English language. Here is that usage:

romantic, adj. and n.

  • of an idea, plan, etc.: fantastic, extravagant, quixotic; going beyond what is customary or practical. Of a person, personality, etc.: given to or characterized by such ideas; responsive to the promptings of imagination or fancy regardless of practicality.
  • that gives free rein to the imagination; indulging in fancy or fantasy; fanciful; sentimental; idealistic.[1]

(The OED defines “romanticism” simply as “a romantic idea or conception.”)

Note there is no requirement that the fantastic idea or plan be positive. And so far as the “idealistic” aspect is concerned, one man’s ideals can be another man’s abominations. Hitler certainly had ideals. Mein Kampf is full of them. Consider his, “Life is struggle. And he who does not struggle, has no right to live.” This expresses an ideal. But not one most people want to frame and hang on their wall.

Romantic nationalism is the second romantic aspect involved. This conception of nationalism was a key element of romanticism and one of its most enduring legacies.[2] Here, the legitimacy of the state is a consequence of the degree of cultural unity.[3] Instead of focusing on royal families, territory acquired through aristocratic marriages and the like, the focus is on shared language, myths, and folklore, national identity, race, religion, and the spiritual value of local customs and traditions.

Romantic nationalism was a powerful movement, encouraging calls for self-determination of nationalities and ultimately reshaping the map of Europe. Hitler’s vision of a greater Germany — a Reich uniting all German-speaking people —was romantic nationalism in fullest flower. It emphasized common language and an inherited cultural patrimony including myths, which, Hitler claimed, were uniquely and authentically German. Common “blood,” or shared gene pool, was even more important.

Reification

Reification is a key ingredient of romantic nationalism and it was centrally involved in Hitler’s thinking. To reify means to regard an abstraction, say a nation state, as if it were a concrete, even living, thing. When Hitler calls on Germany to awake, for instance, it’s as if this highly diverse union of some seventy million individuals were a single person.

Hitler reified the Jews too. He viewed them as a single malevolent entity in which innocent children and aged grandmas were indistinguishable from bloody Bolsheviks and money grubbing pawn brokers. With this style of thinking, individual differences and shades of gray lose all significance. And Hitler did not limit his reifications to Aryans and Jews. He packed all of humanity into tidy reified clusters that included categories fatal to those so labeled. These included: “racially inferior,” “undesirable,” “sub-human,” “unworthy of life,” and “asocial.”

Hitler’s reifications were a deadly substitute for thought. And when combined with his predilection for dichotomous (black/white) thinking, romantic fables and romantic nationalism, the mixture proved utterly toxic.

Enter the Hero

Hitler’s fantasies include the same plot elements as a trashy romantic novel. There are selfless heroes, malevolent arch-villains and a world in mortal danger.[4] It is hard to believe that the death, destruction and misery Hitler caused derived from such nutty simplifications. One longs for more rational reasons for all that. But the fact is romantic nonsense informed the bulk of Hitler’s actions.[5]

For instance, a key romantic delusion of Hitler’s was that Germans were the lineal descendents of a tall, strong, blond, blue-eyed, ancient race of heroic Aryan supermen. These archetypal romantic heroes were noble, tough, far seeing, deeply spiritual, and selflessly devoted to the needs of the community. In sum, these god men were the personification of physical and moral perfection.

This fantasy was not original with Hitler. The Austrians Guido von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels invented the basic elements in the late 19th and early 20th Century during a period of general occult revival. Their so-called Ariosophy, (wisdom of the Aryans),[6] was greatly influenced by Germanic paganism, theosophy[7]and, most of all, German romantic nationalism.[8]

Casting about for evidence of the Aryans superiority, List and Liebenfels pointed to the Germanic tribesmen who overwhelmed Rome, Charlemagne’s warriors, the Teutonic knights and Siegfried who, when all other champions failed or fled, supposedly slew Fafnir, the supposedly invincible dragon.

Already enraptured by Richard Wagner’s romantic operas celebrating Germanic mythological figures such as Wotan, (ruler of the Gods), and Siegfried (a heroic knight), Hitler fanatically embraced racism in general and Aryanism in particular. [9] He fervently believed that the physical and spiritual heritage of this Aryan people, who were the “highest image of the Lord,”[10] was preserved in the body and soul of Germans in general and German peasants in particular.[11]

Hitler was certain that if “racial polluters” were dealt with, a guard mounted over “the Holy Grail of German blood” and selective breeding initiated, these supermen could be re-established. In fact, he believed that restoring these god men was his particular “truly high mission” supernaturally assigned by what he variously referred to as “Providence” the Almighty” and “the Creator.” [12]

Portentously, he also believed that his special mission was achievable “… only when . . . the international poisoners are exterminated.”[13] He was, of course, referring to the Jews.

A soon as he was in power, Hitler began his “restorative” mission. At first he forbade racially mixed marriages and imposed compulsory sterilization or euthanasia on those deemed “unworthy of living.” He resorted to industrialized killing after December 1941. Hitler regarded these measures as a form of racial hygiene that was necessary to avert the onrushing Jewish induced apocalypse and, instead, usher in the Aryan millennium. [14]

Hitler’s Aryanism was not limited to eugenic measures. It extended to practically every aspect of life in the Third Reich. Even German natural science, once world renowned, was warped to match Hitler’s extravagant “Volkish” fantasies.[15] Consider this assertion by the pro Nazi Nobel Laureate, Johannes Stark:

“The spirit of the German enables him to observe things outside himself exactly as they are, without the interpolation of his own ideas and wishes, and his body does not shrink from the effort which investigation of nature demands of him. The Germans love of nature and his aptitude for natural science are based on this endowment. Thus it is understandable that natural science is overwhelmingly a creation of the Aryan-Germanic blood component of the Aryan peoples.”[16]

The Necessity of the Devil

The longshoreman/philosopher Eric Hoffer observes: “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.”[17] For Hitler, “the eternal Jew” was that devil — a precise metaphysical opposite of his imagined Aryan god men.

In Hitler’s view the Jew’s iniquity exceeds that of the most thoroughly malevolent villains of romantic fiction. He puts it this way in Mein Kampf:

To break decent souls, the Jew “… stops at nothing; and in his vileness he becomes so gigantic that no one need be surprised if … the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.[18]

Hitler’s romantic fantasy continues,

“In the political field he (the Jew) refuses the state the means for its self-preservation, destroys the foundations of all national self-maintenance and defense, destroys faith in the leadership, scoffs at its history and past, and drags everything that is truly great into the gutter. Culturally he contaminates art, literature, the theater, makes a mockery of natural feeling, overthrows all concepts of beauty and sublimity, of the noble and the good, and instead drags men down into the sphere of his own base nature. Religion is ridiculed, ethics and morality represented as outmoded, until the last props of a nation in its struggle for existence in this world have fallen. Now begins the great last revolution. In gaining political power the Jew casts of the few cloaks he still wears. The democratic people’s Jew becomes the blood-Jew, the tyrant over peoples.”[19]

Hitler’s image of “the Jew” embodies all of the elements of the romantic described in the OED. It is “fantastic, extravagant, beyond what is customary or practical and responsive to the promptings of imagination or fancy regardless of practicality.” It even involves sentimentality in the sense that, for Hitler, Jews aim to destroy everything worthy of sentiment.

Subhumans

Another of Hitler’s extravagant ideas involved the conquest and colonization of Slavic lands — particularly Ukraine and Russia. This would provide the necessary lebensraum (living space) for his millennial Reich; and, from Hitler’s perspective, those already living there were not even human beings, but an undifferentiated sub-human mass fit only for enslavement or liquidation. Consequently, it made sense to seize their land, exterminate their bloody “Judeo-Bolshevik” leadership, enslave or liquidate as many as necessary, then shove the remainder into the subarctic wastes of Siberia.

A pamphlet titled Der Untermensch, edited by SS Reichsfuhrer and Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler, reveals the specifics of this homicidal flight of imagination:

“Just as the night rises against the day, the light and dark are in eternal conflict. So too, is the subhuman the greatest enemy of the dominant species on earth, mankind. The subhuman is a biological creature, crafted by nature, which has hands, legs, eyes and mouth, even the semblance of a brain. Nevertheless, this terrible creature is only a partial human being.

Although it has features similar to a human, the subhuman is lower on the spiritual and psychological scale than any animal. Inside of this creature lies wild and unrestrained passions: an incessant need to destroy, filled with the most primitive desires, chaos and coldhearted villainy.

A subhuman and nothing more! Not all of those, who appear human, are in fact so. Woe to him who forgets it!“[20]

Nearly four million copies of this fifty-page pamphlet were printed.

Possessing Absolute Truth

Hitler was convinced that his racial fantasies were absolute truth; and Eric Hoffer observes, “To be in possession of absolute truth is to have a net of absolute familiarity spread over the whole of eternity. All questions have already been answered, all decisions made, all eventualities foreseen. The true believer is without hesitation. … The true doctrine is a master key to all the world’s problems. With it the world can be taken apart and put together.”[21]

Hitler was, in fact, without hesitation and did set out to take the world apart. His romantic goal was to create a new man and a new type of society.[22] This prompted him to commit crimes and aggressions of monstrous proportions and, vitally, caused his biggest blunders. For instance, Hitler’s dreams of lebensraum for a greater Germany triggered his invasion of Poland. And he was genuinely surprised when his action triggered World War II.[23] Hitler imagined that Britain would tolerate German dominance of Europe so long as he did not interfere with their colonial empire. Both nations, after all, were Aryan.

When World War II began, blitzkrieg finished off all his antagonists save Britain. But the Brits ultimately won the air war. So Hitler, half reluctantly, had to cancel his planned invasion. Then, notwithstanding this unresolved situation with Britain, heedless of his general’s grave misgivings, and despite the crucial six-week delay required to rescue Mussolini’s army in Greece, Hitler launched his long-planned planned invasion of the Soviet Union — an action he clearly telegraphed in Mein Kampf way back in 1925.

Here again, Hitler’s romantic fantasies played a key role. He was certain that his thousand-year Reich required this living space. And he was equally certain that his racially superior forces could easily defeat a rabble of alleged sub-humans squirming under the thumb of Judeo-Communist Commissars. He prophesied, “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”[24] Blinded by his racist fantasies, Hitler fatally underestimated the vast distances involved, the severity of the Russian winter and the skill and tenacity of the “sub-humans” he scorned.

Initially, he won easy victories. The Germans were even welcomed in Ukraine and the Baltic states, thanks to the previous savagery of Joseph Stalin.[25] But Hitler heedlessly threw that advantage away, and perhaps the success of his invasion with it, when he spurned this welcome and heedlessly implemented his romantically inspired racial policies.

As the invasion progressed, victories over the Red Army became more and more difficult. Eventually the “master race,” (without winter uniforms because Hitler was certain the war would not last that long), bogged down in snow and bitter cold just outside Moscow. Then the Soviets launched a powerful counter-offensive that took Hitler completely by surprise.

The war was taking an ominous turn. Nonetheless, five days after the Soviets launched their devastating surprise offensive, and with the German army still in tumultuous retreat, Hitler declared war on the United States of America.

He issued this declaration four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course, the U.S. had subsequently declared war on Japan. But there was no follow-up declaration of war on Nazi Germany. Many Americans remained deeply opposed to joining the war in Europe.

President Roosevelt regarded Nazi Germany, not Japan, as the principle enemy. But he knew it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to get Congress to declare war on Germany. But Hitler solved the problem for him.

Why did he do this? Well, Japan was an ally; and if Hitler failed to honor the Axis pact it could destroy the alliance, neutralize the Japanese threat to the Soviet Union and free up Red Army troops.[26] On the other hand, Hitler’s relationship with Japan was distant and there never had been much cooperation. Plus, in Hitler’s view, Japan was racially inferior.

So Hitler had military reasons for declaring war on the U.S. But he probably had better reasons for not doing so. Namely, America was the world’s mightiest industrial nation, possessed vast natural resources and outnumbered an already over-extended Nazi Germany almost two to one.

In Hitler’s romantic, profoundly racist and virulently anti-Semitic view, however, the United States was a loathsome mongrel nation that was no match for Aryans. Plus, he thought that although the Jews might not rule the U.S. directly, they certainly controlled it. In fact, in Hitler’s mind, it was a key center for all the Jews world destroying machinations.

Hitler had already launched what he regarded as the world’s final battle — a struggle to the death between world-saving Aryans and world- destroying Jews. So war with the U.S. was necessary. How else could international Jewry finally be crushed?

The Limits of Credulity

The extravagant romantic thinking involved in Nazi racial fantasies is highlighted when we compare the character and physical appearance of Nazi Germany’s principle leaders with their imagined Aryan god men.

Consider Reich Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Joseph Goebbels. Described as having, “a high intellectual varnish covering the emotional world of an adolescent,”[27] Goebbels was the very antithesis of an Aryan god man. Standing just 5’4” tall and weighing a little over 100 lbs,[28] this supposed descendent of fair, blue-eyed, blonde, giant Teutonic conquerors was dark complexioned, brown eyed, had coal black hair and a disproportionately large head. (His enemies surreptitiously referred to him as the “shrunken Teuton who turned brown.”) [29] Childhood polio also left him with a shortened leg, disabled foot and pronounced limp. Plus his nasty, dishonest and manipulative nature, fell comically short of the knightly, honest, straightforward primal superman’s imagined character. Nonetheless, he was a fanatic Nazi and remarkably effective cheerleader for Adolf Hitler until the bitter end.

Conclusion

In the beginning Hitler’s tendency to dream himself into a romantic buzz actually worked to his advantage. It sparked an audacity that conveyed the element of surprise. But as the war progressed, his predisposition to ignore facts and embrace fantasy became more and more counter-productive. At the very end, trapped in his bunker in the ruins of Berlin with the Red Army just yards away, Hitler was issuing orders to non-existent armies, appointing “successors,” expressing no contrition and blaming the entire catastrophe on “… international Jewry and its helpers.”[30]

Considering all the pain and destruction this malignant dreamer caused, we might at least expect shrewd, self-serving motives. But when we lance this ideological boil, only make-believe gushes out.

 

[1] OED Oxford English Dictionary: The Definitive Record of the English Language, © 2013 Oxford University Press, http://global.oup.com/?cc=us

[2] Romantic Nationalism, Metapedia, http://en.metapedia.org/wiki/Romantic_Nationalism

[3] Romantic nationalism, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romantic_nationalism

[4] Lisa Gardner, Secrets of Romantic Suspense: a series of eight lectures, http://lisagardner.com/wp-gardner/wp-content/themes/lisagardner/downloads/toolbox/romanticsuspense_pdfs/lecture4.pdf

[5] Exactly how and when Hitler’s basic fantasies formed is difficult to determine, but they are more or less complete by 1925 when he revealed them in Mein Kampf.

[6] Ariosophy was called “Armanism” by Von List.

[7] Theosophy, the late 19th Century creation of Helena Blavatsky, asserts that humanity has seven “Root Races,” the fifth of which are the Aryans who supposedly originated in the lost continent of Atlantis.

[8] Ariosophy, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ariosophy

[9] Sigurd in Norse mythology.

[10] Hitler, Mein Kampf, (Houghton – Mifflin, Boston, c1927). pp. 383-84.

[11] Ibid., pp 138 and 234.

[12] Robert G.L. Waite, The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler, (Google Books, http://books.google.com). p. 94

[13] Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s Second Book: the unpublished sequel to Mein Kampf, translated by Krista Smith (Enigma Books, New York, 2003), p. 231

[14] Whether Hitler actually ordered the killing of the Jews is a subject of debate among some holocaust scholars.

[15] In an unpublished masters thesis titled Ahnenerbe and It’s Scholars: manufacturing evidence, Elgina Zakarova describes a research project, begun in 1935 by Heinrich Himmler that “investigated” the early origins of the Aryans. elgina zakirova@hotmail.com

[16] From Johannes Stark, National.sozialismus und Wissenschaft (Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP, Frz. Eher Nachf., 1934), pp 10-11.

[17] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: thoughts on the nature of mass movements, (Harper and Row Perennial Edition, New York, 1966), p. 91.

[18] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, translated by Ralph Manheim, (Houghton Mifflin, Boston), p. 324

[19] Adolf Hitler, op cit, p 326.

[20] Der Untermensch (The Subhuman), Translated by the Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team, http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/holoprelude/deruntermensch.html

[21] Eric Hoffer, op cit, p. 82

[22] Stanley G. Payne, Facism: comparison and definition, (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, c1980), pp. 12-13.

[23] From the beginning of the war until its end, Hitler maintained the Jews started it. Perhaps he actually believed this.

[24] Voices of Barbarossa, http://www.oocities.org/weiwen_sg/voices.htm

[25] Stalin’s ruthless actions motivated these joyful greetings. In Ukraine in order to crush nationalism, as well as peasant opposition to agricultural collectivization, Stalin ordered a merciless man-made famine that killed millions. Stalin had also invaded the Balkan nations, absorbed them into the USSR and liquidated their leadership, both military and civilian.

[26] Norman Rich, Hitler’s War Aims: Ideology, the Nazi state and the course of expansion, (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, c1973) p. 246.

[27] American Experience: People and Events, Joseph Goebbels, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/holocaust/peopleevents/pandeAMEX98.html

[27] Joseph Howard Tyson, The Surreal Reich (Bloomington Indiana, iUniverse, c2010),

[28] George Mosse, Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich (Madison WI, University of Wisconsin Press, c1966), p. 20.

 

[30] Adolf Hitler’s Last Will and Testament, http://www.auschwitz.dk/Will.htm

Reforming Teacher Education: “Tinkering Around The Edges”

An earlier form of this article appears in educational Horizons, Volume 88, Number 2, Spring 2010.

Gary K. Clabaugh, Emeritus Professor of Education, La Salle University

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach teachers.” —  Anonymous

RETURN
edited 11/10/16 

Teacher education has long been a lowly activity, and former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan didn’t add to its status. He asserted that many, if not most, of the nation’s teacher preparation programs are second-rate. He claimed that they attract inferior students and weak faculty. And he charged that colleges and universities use them as “cash cows,” bleeding off the revenues they generate.[1]

Politics, Not Logic 

Oddly, at the same time Mr. Duncan demanded increased rigor in teacher preparation, he praised alternative quickie routes into teaching. Logic demands that if teacher education lacks rigor, it needs to be tougher. But Mr. Duncan favored bullshit over logic even though he himself said, “It’s no surprise that studies repeatedly document that the single biggest influence on student achievement is the quality of the teacher standing in the front of the classroom.[2]

Secretary Duncan claimed he favored getting to the root of the nation’s alleged educational problems. Time magazine, for instance, quoted him as saying, “It’s obvious the (educational) system’s broken. Let’s admit it’s broken, let’s admit it’s dysfunctional, and let’s do something dramatically different, and let’s do it now. But don’t just tinker around the edges. Don’t just play with it. Let’s fix the thing.”[3]The trouble is, at least when it comes to teacher education, Mr. Duncan didn’t follow his own advice. Now we’ve got Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education. So we can safely bet that rigor will not be introduced to teacher preparation. After all, she, like former Secretary Duncan, lacks any professional preparation herself. Which is proof positive that none is necessary.

Letting State Officials Off the Hook 

Critics of teacher preparation conveniently ignore the fact that state government sets, and enforces, those standards. So if programs are lousy, Duncan’s quarrel is, first and foremost, with state officials. Instead the critics ignore state government’s central role. In fact many of them even applaud when state after state embrace still feebler “alternative” routes into teaching. 

Professional Schools of Education

Actually, if the critics were truly serious about improving teacher education, they would advocate the complete abolition of undergraduate programs. Instead, they would favor professional graduate level schools of education modeled on the training required by other established professions. Right now it’s a great deal harder to learn to remedy people’s bunions, much less treat their pets, than it is to teach their children. What kind of sense does that make?

Yes, consider what is demanded of aspiring physicians, attorneys, architects, optometrists, dentists, podiatrists, veterinarians, chiropractors and CPA’s, for example. All of these occupations require selective, tough, graduate level schooling in a specialized environment. To qualify candidates first have to grow up, get a college education, pass a tough examination, and master professional training. In contrast, teacher education programs usually involve a mere undergraduate major (or minor) that must compete for the student’s attention with other undergraduate requirements and campus social life. Most teacher education programs can’t even select their own applicants. They must accept anyone the university admits who says they  want to major in education. In consequence, teacher educators have to deal with many immature, unfocused, marginally committed youngsters who aren’t developmentally ready for serious study much less being entrusted with the lives of children. By what magic is such raw material to be transformed into skilled, dedicated, professionals? 

Money Talks

Why this enormous difference between training in the true professions and teaching? Is teaching easy? Just give it a try. Is there little to learn? Not the last time I checked. Is nothing really serious at stake. I don’t think so. No, the reason these other occupations can charge a higher price for admission is because of the generous benefits that await at the end of the process.

Forgetting his secret tape recorder was on, Richard Nixon once candidly observed, “Money talks and bullshit walks.” In contrast Former Secretary Duncan’s speeches were all bullshit. He specialized in lines like this: 

“There is no question that our country needs you. Our children need you.”

“If you care about promoting opportunity and reducing inequality, the classroom is the place to start.”

“Great teaching is about so much more than education; it is a daily fight for social justice.”

“This call to teaching is the great public mission of our time ..[4]

Resorting to this flowery symbolism suggests that the substantial benefits of teaching are not what they should be — particularly when we consider how hard it is. That doesn’t mean symbolic benefits are unworthy. But they certainly don’t offer the same degree of comfort, safety and security as a full wallet. And, quite frankly, they don’t generally attract the best and the brightest.

Given present rewards for teaching, professionalizing entrance requirements would cause the candidate pool to dry up. Then where would we find the roughly 200,000 new teachers per year that the U.S. needs? Remember, it has been a long time since sexism forced top drawer women into teaching. Today’s competent woman have many other options. That’s why public officials privately worry that even the present low standards are too demanding — hence, alternative certification — to insure there is a supply of warm bodies for America’s educational Calcuttas.

Former Secretary Duncan said, “Put plain and simple, this country needs an army of great, new teachers.[5] What he does not say is that this country is not about to pony up sufficient rewards to attract many of the best and brightest, nor to require truly professional preparation. In fact, since our politicos discovered that teachers make great scapegoats — an approach pioneered by the Reagan administration — and since the Federal government came lurching through the school house door fixated on test scores and teacher “accountability,” teaching has become considerably less attractive to top rung people. 

               Mr. Duncan’s suspiciously overblown rhetoric makes one wonder if he, or any of the Trump era reformers, would encourage his own kids to choose the occupation. A quote from William C. Bagley comes to mind:

When will men who would never for a moment encourage their own sons to enter the work of the public schools cease to tell us that education is the greatest and noblest of all human callings? [6]

Teacher Power

               Another issue is at work here as well. Professionalizing teaching would increase teacher power. A body of mature, well-trained professionals who are confidant and know what they are doing would make it much harder for school board amateurs to have their way. 

Principals would no longer have the same leverage either. Some of them now walk the halls like Little Caesar. That wouldn’t sit well with confidant, self-respecting teachers.

Politicians, would also find it harder to ram top-down “reform” down teacher’s throats. State officials would be similarly constrained. Moreover, parental bullying and blaming would find a less receptive environment. In short, real teacher professionalization would cause a major power shift in public schooling. And there are a lot of people who have a vested interest in keeping teachers as supine as possible.     

Pretense

The truth is all this talk about high quality teacher preparation is just so much blather. If we really wanted to accomplish that we would immediately stop tolerating incompetent and irresponsible state regulation, ever-easier ways to become a teacher and exploitation of the teacher education cash cow by short-sighted college officials. But given the present costs and benefits of being a teacher, it is absolutely necessary to continue to make it cheap and easy to enter the occupation.

Of course this slapdash approach creates many difficulties, including poor instruction. But those problems can be papered over by focusing still more blame on teachers and teacher educators rather than on underlying causes such as poverty and family disintegration. And today’s “reform” rhetoric provides a perfect example of this political sleight of hand.

It’s the Cancer, Stupid, Not the Pimple! 

Now, here is the most disturbing aspect of this whole situation. While reformers distract us with their nattering about school choice, alternative certification and the like, they simultaneously ignore a problem that screams for immediate solution. The cancer on our education system is the disordered and unjust way we fund our schools. All else is merely a pimple on our educational system’s backside compared to the devastation this causes,

In SAN ANTONIO SCHOOL DISTRICT v. RODRIGUEZ, 411 U.S. 1 (1973) Supreme Court Justice Stewart said this about that system, “The method of financing public schools … has resulted in a system of public education that can fairly be described as chaotic and unjust.” Justice Marshall, with Justice Douglass concurring, added that the present system, “… arbitrarily channels educational resources in accordance with the fortuity of the amount of taxable wealth within each district.” Such a system, Marshall emphasized “… deprives children in their earliest years of the chance to reach their full potential as citizens.”[7]

Nearly four decades later this asinine system remains; and “reformers” ignore the havoc it causes. Why do they ignore such a fundamental problem? They know that it is the third rail of education politics. Touch it and very bad things can happen. Blaming teachers and teacher educators entails no risk at all.

The Bogeyman of Foreign Competition

Mr. Duncan claims to have been motivated in his criticisms by an alarming problem. He alleges that revolutionary change is necessary in teacher education in order to prepare today’s children to compete in tomorrow’s ever more competitive global marketplace. 

This is just Reagan era shtick from A Nation At Risk, warmed over. The idea that poor quality teacher education is causing us to be eclipsed in international competition is far-fetched at best. In fact, when one tours the literature on U.S. international competitiveness, education is rarely even mentioned. And so far as teacher education is concerned, it doesn’t even merit a footnote. However, a badly deteriorated infrastructure is described as a major player in America’s declining competitiveness. Health costs also are said to put American business at a disadvantage. So does the America’s business practice of not looking beyond the next quarter, under-investment in plant modernization, declining spending on research and development, one-sided trade agreements, living beyond our means, and over-spending on military adventures (at least 2 trillion dollars for the Iraq war alone). And let’s not forget greed and irresponsibility in the upper echelons of corporate America. Watching these corporate fat cats goble everything before them while screwing the people who do the actual work reminds one of a quote from that great American thinker, Daffy Duck, “Consequences, Schmonsequences, as long as I’m rich!”[8]

Let’s not forget the most important chokehold on US international competitiveness — our inability to get off the dime politically. While Democrats and Republicans remain locked in endless, tedious, counter-productive, bickering and posturing, America’s competitors are on the march. 

Here is one, of many, many, examples. Japan, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, South Korea, Taiwan and China all have developed, and now are rapidly expanding, super fast train networks. In fact, China is spending more than $1 trillion on this technology — the second largest public works project in history.[9] Meanwhile the U.S. has yet to build a single mile of ultra high-speed rail. And, to make matters worse, our highways and bridges also are falling apart. 

Yes, our government’s inability to function rationally plays a much, much greater role in America’s diminishing international competitiveness than mediocre teacher education, even mediocre schools, ever could. And despite Donald Trump’s adjective rich baloney, that looks to continue until our government and corporate officials are as competent as theirs. 

Conclusion

Let’s be honest about this. When it comes to teacher quality, we get what we pay for. As a matter of fact, given the abuse, disrespect and stupid top-down “reform” that we heap on teachers, we’re getting more than we pay for. That’s an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Tinkering around the edges of teacher education is not going to significantly change the effectiveness of the occupation or the performance of our schools. Only professionalization and de-politicization of the teaching force can accomplish that. Yet that is not in sight — even on the most distant horizon.

 


[1][1] A Call To Teaching, Secretary Duncan’s Remarks at the Rotunda of the University of Virginia, October 9, 2009, “”http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/10/10092009.html”

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1920299-4,00.html#ixzz0XcUm99Mq

[4] Idem.

[5] Idem.

[6] William C. Bagley, Quoteland.com, http://www.quoteland.com/author.asp?AUTHOR_ID=562

[7] SAN ANTONIO SCHOOL DISTRICT v. RODRIGUEZ, 411 U.S. 1 (1973), http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=411&invol=1

[8] From Looney Tunes Ali Baba Bunny (1957, Chuck Jones), http://thinkersandjokers.com/thinker.php?id=1503

[9] High Speed Rail in China, The Transport Politic, http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2009/01/12/high-speed-rail-in-china/

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