Monday, February 19, 2007

The tao of public education

One of the more unfortunate parts of the political liturgy of the 1960s, the silly and shiftless reproach to "listen to the younger generation," is being tossed around a lot again these days, particularly in connection with environmentalist politics. This time around, however, a guileless and unwashed youth is not so much trying to call attention to itself as it is brought to you by their political elders as a modern marketing device, of which two baleful examples are found here and here. This cynical appropriation of youth not only imbues political environmentalist agendas with a faux-sentimental veneer, it also harps at adults to accede to policies they would not otherwise agree to for themselves because children are supposed to have "learned things" in their education that they did not… which is true enough, especially if the children received a public education; they certainly have learned "things" if not much else.

The chain of accountability from parents to the education their children receive in a centralized, universal and public system is attenuated by so many teachers' unions, ministry bureaucrats and politicians that parents can bring little of their children's time in school to actual account. Having effectively nothing at all to do with the preferences of parents, the "things" of education — ie., what do we do with these little buggers for thirteen years? — becomes subject instead to a kind of political triage where practises, the curricula, are decided by the political advertising requirements of its practitioners. Schools become message campaign centres for politically fashionable crusades and "appropriate behaviour" according to elitist prejudices: revisionist culturalism, anti-bullying, public health, environmentalism, and so on. But it is a trial of sanctimony, platitudes and prejudices that ultimately deadens enquiry and occupies so much time that students graduate either utterly disinterested in their education or able only to parrot the preconceived messages without the literacy to defend or to expound on them. Like anything else, the results of a system decided by the competency of unions, bureaucrats and politicians should come as no surprise to anyone. What is suprising is that we should be expected to listen to their products.

1 Comment:

l'ilmax said...

After reading this post I sat and wept.
You are sadly all too correct in your take on our public indoctrination system.
I toil valiantly against the drivel which my children describe they have been exposed to every day.
Crikey, my boy in grade four was marked wrong because he answered 14+17=31 instead of "estimating" around 30.
Just a small point but the thin edge of the "social science" wedge.
Keep up the fight!