Friday, August 19, 2016


     The “education establishment” is in full revolt against education.

     What’s that, Gentle Reader? I should tell you something you don’t already know? Well, perhaps a bit later. It’s still early in the ayem, and I need a few keystrokes to warm up the old bile ducts. (Yes, they’re only as old as the rest of me, but they’ve got a lot of miles on them.)

     Education – “to lead out,” from its Latin roots – is one of the few occupational areas whose “practitioners” deliberately resist the practice thereof. We all know the horror stories: the fads and fashions that have displaced proven methods; the elevation of “fairness” and “equality” over results; the deliberate dumbing-down of course content to prevent the slightest of bruises to anyone’s “self-esteem.” We also know about the use of the government-run schools – I refuse to call them “public” schools, as they’re openly averse to any inspection or criticism by the public – as indoctrination centers and institutions by which children can be separated emotionally from their parents. It’s all deplorable, and at great cost at that.

     Trouble is, with roughly 90% of American students incarcerated in the State-run schools, the 10% of educational institutions outside the State’s direct control are nevertheless pulled along in their wake. They can’t avoid partaking of the pool of “teachers” not currently employed by the State. They can’t afford to commission special textbooks for their use. They can’t evade the “social justice” influences that have reduced State schooling to the level of day care. Only the determined parents who elect to homeschool have a chance of preserving their kids’ most precious possession: the opportunity to learn and grow.

     Homeschooling puts its practitioners under intense pressure. It requires a financial commitment that can badly strain a family. It often puts parents at odds with their kids, who frequently resent the separation from the experiences of the coevals. And of course, the educrats purely hate it for its superior performance and would love to see it made impossible. American parents that homeschool deserve profound admiration for their grit.

     But that’s all yesterday’s news. What I had in mind this morning derives from this commemoration of a remarkable educator:

     In 1990, the Navajo students of Window Rock High School in Fort Defiance, Arizona, asked the author of their calculus book, John Saxon, to be their graduation speaker. The class sponsor had suggested the governor as their speaker, but the students wanted Saxon.

     A story in The Arizona Republic explained, “At this high school, as at thousands of other schools around the country, Saxon’s name is spoken with reverence by pupils who credit him with changing completely their views about math.”

     The educrats hated John Saxon. They still do. They routinely revile his memory. (He died in 1996.) Why? Because he reintroduced old methods of mathematics instruction and proved that they outperform the fashionable fads. In doing so, he demonstrated something the educrats regard as the vilest heresy:

     In 1992, an Atlanta, Georgia, newspaper wrote about a conflict around “Saxon Math” being put on the state’s approved adoption list. They said a “heretical yearning for ‘learning by heart’ was creeping across the land…relying on old-fashioned memorization and repetition…Proponents don’t see this as a retreat into the past, but a post-modern appropriating of traditions for the effectiveness in the present.”

     The results his students achieved demonstrated that Saxon’s “old-fashioned” methods outperform the trendy ones: in other words, that we’ve known how to teach mathematics to teenagers for a long, long time.

     Educrats have a great deal in common with art and music critics. Both groups aspire to higher status than their trades deserve. Both groups have adopted a radical technique: to disavow what works in favor of something “innovative.”

     “Modern art” – ugly crap that displays neither effort, nor skill, nor insight into the human condition, practically the antithesis of art as art was known and judged a century ago – is “popular” only with professional critics. Similarly, the methods of “modern education” are popular only with those who vend them. Educrats, and the special colleges from which they emerge, ceaselessly promote pedagogical innovations that fail in practice. The rationale for each is the failure of the previous edition: “Yes, we got it wrong last time, but we’re confident we can do it right now.”

     The kids aren’t learning. Their dismayed, frustrated parents feel powerless to compel critical examination and improvements. But the educrats are happy. They’ve created a jargon-laden priesthood that allows them to feel special, intellectually superior to the grubby groundlings whose kids are at their mercy. Better yet, by clever political maneuvering and the amassing of allies within state and federal “education” departments, they’ve succeeded in insulating themselves against correction.

     Only the emergence of a John Saxon or a Jaime Escalante, or the superior performance of homeschooled kids whose parents employ the “antiquated” methods of decades past, can threaten their bastions.

     The entire American educational system is a failure and worse. Our kids emerge from these expensive institutions knowing very little and presuming a whole lot more. Worse, these institutions function as transmission systems for vile ideas and prejudices, including this one: that they should reject the wisdom and experience of their parents by default. Glenn Reynolds and I concur that at this time, for a parent to submit his child to an educational institution is a form of child abuse.

     But as with most State enterprises, the mandarins of the government-run schools maintain that “they’ll get it right” if only:

  1. They’re given more money;
  2. They’re freed from externally imposed standards;
  3. They can suppress competition from homeschoolers and the remaining religious schools.

     Under no circumstances will the educrats allow into the discussion the simple fact that a century ago, the schools worked smoothly if not flawlessly. Yea verily, even the government-run schools. They avoided the “social justice” cant of our time. That allowed them to employ methods that today’s educrats will not abide:

  • Drill;
  • Testing;
  • Correction;
  • Discipline;
  • And most important of all, failure.

     A child who tested poorly wouldn’t be fawned over for the sake of his “self-esteem;” his parents would be notified; they’d compel him to drill longer and harder. A child who resisted correction by his teacher would receive it from his parents, often at the end of a peach switch. A child who proved to be too unruly to teach, disruptive to his classmates’ instruction, would be expelled to make his way uneducated. And of course, a child who failed repeatedly would be examined closely to determine whether he was educable at all, and relieved of the pressures if the answer was negative.

     What worked in 1900 works equally well in the Twenty-First Century...but the educrats don’t want you to know that, nor to listen to any of the apostles of the proven methods of yesteryear.

     Which is why the name of John Saxon, may he rest forever in peace in God’s arms, is revered by those who appreciate his insight, and reviled by those whose priesthood is threatened by the success of his methods.


Unknown said...

Thanks, Fran... I needed that. I got some catchin' up to do. I have been a proponent of home-ed since my boys were little 'uns, and you know in Kansas it was a constant fight against the state board. But, I can't remember much about Saxon. So, let me bow out for a while as I fill in the gap about that hero.

Anonymous said...

Yes, even with the youngsters in non-state schools a large portion of education, especially critical thinking, falls to the parents. Unfortunately critical thinking skills are not the norm. We thank God that we are well educated scientists who can assist with critical thinking skills in all facets of education/life. Somewhere along the line many parents decided that they are not their child's primary teachers and this does a great disservice to all.