The Clare Spark Blog

July 14, 2015

“Depraved indifference” to Education Reform?

State Government Leadership Foundation come-on

State Government Leadership Foundation come-on

A dispute broke out last night on my Facebook wall regarding education reform, with some conservatives expressing abhorrence over any national control whatsoever. Instead, all deficiencies would be remedied with “local control,” as if our citizenry (so-called) really cares about schools in this “fallen world.”

I am no fan of Arne Duncan or the teachers unions. Duncan is Secretary of Education and I wrote how Harvard was honoring his appointment here (they presented him as a savior): As for teachers unions and their opposition to merit pay in tandem with their support for tenure, I got some, but insufficient, support given the gravity of the problem, for Campbell Brown’s ambitious reform program when I shared her announcement on Facebook.

Regarding Common Core, my initial fear that the humanities would disappear in favor of math and science proved groundless. I see nothing wrong with national standards and testing in math and science to map how various schools are keeping up with international competition. But teachers unions oppose close scrutiny as to teacher competence.

Social conservatives have several claims that will be criticized in this blog: 1. The problem of (progressive) education will be solved if Big Government is halted by abolishing The Department of Education; 2. Father-headed families will instill appropriate discipline (and jingoistic patriotism?) in American children.

Here are my objections, which are heated:

America is an unevenly developed country with respect to the value of education. It was only New England’s puritan tradition that fought for free public education (along with Protestant pluralism). The slave South was militantly opposed to anything that prepared their minions (including poor whites) to participate in a democracy. The New South made inroads in order to industrialize, but their bourgeois efforts toward equal opportunity were met with resistance from Bourbons and other regionalists (Agrarians).

Does local control mean that it is up to (backward states) to resist the demands of a competitive, globalized world? Are we, in any sense, a democratic republic, determined to lay the groundwork for an educated populace?

Given the uneven commitment to a “secular” education that could turn children away from their ancestors, it is understandable that “local control,” plus the stern father in the home, signifies for many the desire to keep their straying children in line, as if adolescent rebellion was some kind of new-fangled invention foisted upon them by “progressives.”

When I was an undergraduate and then a graduate student in the 1950s, the cry was for discipline and order in my required education classes. The exact content of student learning was irrelevant. It occurs to me now that there is massive confusion regarding the tasks assigned to families versus schools regarding student conduct. This was not something that was ever discussed. Rather we had nonsensical courses at Harvard (for instance) that stressed the poor and working class as a “sub-culture” that was focused on “trouble.” The less said about the unruly urban mobs and their living conditions, the better.


I find it hard to understand why persons my age or slightly younger (my Facebook friends), would be so distracted by aging and  health care that the future of their descendants takes little space in their imaginations. I wonder if they were ever attached to their offspring except as narcissistic extensions of themselves.

There may be more concern about dogs these days than kids.

Claude Joseph Bail (d.1921) painting

Claude Joseph Bail (d.1921) painting

January 5, 2013


common-core-standards-turtleSegments of the Right are correctly worried that the reading of government pamphlets will displace the classic works of English and American literature as currently taught in the schools. Some, including Pajamas Media and Fox News imagine that such “classics” as Orwell, Huxley, and Hemingway will disappear from the curriculum in favor of progressive propaganda as disseminated by the CORE STANDARDS, sometimes called Common Core.

What these popular rightist media fail to understand is 1. that for the standards to be enforced in every classroom, government surveillance would have to accomplish what may be impossible; i.e., a form of terror; and 2. that statist progressives have long dominated the teaching of literature and the humanities in general, twisting texts to elevate the “moderate” solution to social conflict. What these progressives want, like fascists before them, is acquiescence to state directives and the obliteration of extremism, whether the hotheads targeted are communists on the Left or laissez-faire capitalists on the Right.

Hence, the rightists and liberals who look askance on the wide state support for the Core Standards, fail to teach their followers how to recognize ideology in the arts, particularly those aspects of the humanities that appropriate past cultural artifacts for present-day partisan purposes. No political faction is innocent in this culture-deadening scenario.

The first nine references (very alarming)  below lay out the controversy over the Core Standards, which threaten to diminish literary texts in order to include readings in history and science. The professed aim of these “Standards” is to prepare high school students for life and work in the modern world. But the authors of the Core Standards neglect to acknowledge that the works chosen from history and science are likely to reinforce as true and normal what are in fact policy initiatives of the evermore left-leaning and incompetent Obama administration.  The next six links are my own research, published and unpublished, on the consensus of the moderate men in the teaching of American literature with the goal of managing or obliterating class or gender conflict. Their mutual aim is the substitution of scientific, materialist history by an organicist discourse that reunites master and man/ President and the “middle class” (including “the working class”). In other words, the teaching of English is already ideological. (And on the left and liberal left, teaching is generally fiercely averse to anything that smacks of Freudian analysis, with its emphasis on ambivalence, ambiguity, and uncertainty.)

Poe's Raven

Poe’s Raven (The Great Dumbing Down in two parts)

May 3, 2012

Index to blogs on education reform

ad for Spinoza toy

This series of blogs not only reviews  recent work on the reform of our education system, but points out disagreements in what is wrongly considered to be a unified establishment. Some of the blogs also insist upon the materialist epistemology of the Constitution. Culture warriors take note! (Read this one first) (my correspondence with Ravitch, contrasting Ravitch with Gary Nash) (retitled Diane Ravitch and the higher moderation) (A review of Terry M. Moe’s new book) (On the great dumbing down) (On Common Core curriculum)

Arne Duncan and Obama at play

January 28, 2012

Popular sovereignty on the ropes

I restarted my study of the making of the Constitution last summer, by reading the Federalist papers. I was very excited by Hamilton’s insistence on popular sovereignty as the fountain of authority that must guide the entire national government. (See “…The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.” [Federalist #22. Hamilton’s emphasis, pp. 106, 110, The Federalist, edited by Max Beloff, 1948, second ed. 1987]  Hamilton stressed the power of the House of Representatives as the most direct route to popular control of government.  I was somewhat shocked as the prevalent [Jeffersonian] line on Hamilton is that he was an aristocratic thinker, a quasi-monarchist, who declared at a banquet that the people were “a great beast.” This latter slap at popular sovereignty was disseminated by medievalist Henry Adams and no one has found any source to confirm Adams’s claim. And unlike Stephen Douglas (1813-1861), Lincoln’s opponent in the election of 1860, Hamilton was an abolitionist, and would not have approved Douglas’s version of popular sovereignty as a route to the expansion of slavery.

So popular sovereignty is linked, not to Rousseau’s notion of the general/popular will (an idea taken up by the Jacobins and by many leftists today), but to the deliberations of a representative republic in which, presumably, the House of Representatives is recognized by the other branches of government as the “pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.”

We find ourselves in campaign season 2012, in a condition where “the consent of the people” is a dream. In this polarized polity, characterized by a mish-mash of religious, class, ethnic, and gender politics, plus a stunning ignorance of political science, economics, and American and European history and its bevy of authoritarian social movements, “the people” is a convenient fiction of demagoguery, trotted out as counterpoint to special interests/”the nanny state.”

What is a writer with a popular audience to do? What can educators, including parents do to instill the mental habits that would make a representative republic more than a recruiting slogan for conservatives wishing to restore the divine origin of such innovations as the separation of powers and checks and balances, all treated in The Federalist? “God” is barely summoned in The Federalist; rather these pamphlets were a scientific, materialist proposal and defense of an unprecedented national government that would halt the slide to chaos and failure under the Articles of Confederation. In other words, the U.S. Constitution, and before that, the Declaration of Independence were products of the Enlightenment. “We” were “Nature’s nation” and for many, bearers of a providential mission to lead the world in political democracy. When Charles Sumner asked “Are We A Nation?” in 1867, he envisioned “the people” as the repository of those rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence, and these “human rights” were universal, and, quoting James Otis, “without distinction of color.” (Sumner also nodded to The Federalist and Alexander Hamilton). For more on Providence and American mission, see  Rooseveltian internationalists, leaders of the American Studies movement, were fond of trouncing the Founders and Herman Melville’s character Captain Ahab as messianic and rabidly imperialistic. Thus “American exceptionalism” has come to signify the overweening desire to dominate the globe, rather than the invention of a nation grounded in natural, i.e., universal human rights: life, liberty, and property. However guided by “Providence,” Sumner, echoing Hamilton, insisted that “We the people,” not “We the States” were the source of legitimacy for the Constitution.

Although the President, along with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has called for the beefing up of “education,” neither one suggested a debate about the curriculum, particularly who decides what is the proper training for would-be citizens. And by citizenship, I refer to a person with the critical tools to read the messages that affect all our choices. Here is where “protestant pluralism” founders on the rocks of neo-tribalism, “local control,” anti-intellectualism, populism, proto-fascism, and other man-traps. We are cathected to leaders who pander to our pre-existent prejudices or to reverence for ancestors, to the fear of an eternity in hell, to the presidential horse-race that the media promote, and to groupiness and partisanship in general. (See We are constantly agitated and may enjoy the inner turmoil and suspense that a political campaign offers. Or we may feel helpless and permanently unrepresented in both high and popular culture, so turn inward to self, or to family, friends, employment, sports, and sex/personal appearance as primary sources of identity and purpose. Patriotism is taken to be a tic of “the Right,” not exemplary loyalty to human rights without distinction of color.

What I complain about here regarding our distorted and irrational political culture may seem so cosmic, so impossible to rectify, that a sane person must give up on this country and its survival as a representative republic. Indeed, the powerful historian Edmund S. Morgan denies that we ever had anything resembling popular rule, nor does he appear to be sanguine as to its prospects. (See his 1988 publication: Inventing the People, in which he concludes that we have moved from the politics of deference to the politics of leadership, i.e., the manipulation of public opinion.) So to be concrete, I suggest that each person concerned with her or his child’s education, encourage that child to look up the phrase “popular sovereignty” and to urge her or his teachers to discuss it in the appropriate grades. But first, look inside, and what do you see?  A terrified conformist, a romantic renegade, or a competent voter–a faithful seeker after truth, the universal truth that is the foundation of human rights and the glory of American nationality?  Captain Ahab, arousing his crew to find and fight Leviathan, echoed Milton’s Satan in Book 9 of Paradise Lost, when Ahab/Satan declared “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.” Are We a Nation? For more on Alexander Hamilton and the search for truth see (retitled Limbaugh v. Fluke).

October 7, 2009

Premature Ejaculations

shooting hoops 001    This blog is about the hastiness with which media pundits and bloggers rush into print with the latest scandal or portentous event, quick either to condemn or elevate persons and policies. I found this especially true of the Polanski scandal, which in my view is far more mysterious and complicated than those who quickly joined “the people” in their outrage and vindictiveness would admit. The same could be said of the polarized responses to “Obamacare,”  a subject that requires both expertise and diligence in investigating the accuracy of contending “facts” as interested parties make their public cases.

One of the reasons I went back to school after years of being in the situation of most journalists–on a deadline and on my own, without time to adequately digest and do background research, let alone examine my own feelings–was my uneasiness over the judgments I was making to an audience of working people that trusted me not to mislead them. It is also true that I was dependent on activist journalists of the Left for news and public affairs programming while I was program director at KPFK, and since I had studied primarily science as a young woman, I felt an obligation to study competing theories of history and politics after my two purges from Pacifica. For at that time (the 1970s), I traveled in entirely left-wing circles and trusted these intelligent and impressive personalities to do much of my thinking for me.

In graduate school at UCLA, I began as a rather pure Marxist (but not a Leninist), believing that it was an axiom that there was a structural antagonism between capital and labor, and that class analysis would be the primary tool in my study of culture and politics in the interwar period, also in the study of nineteenth-century reform movements. At that time (1983-93), the U.S. field in the history department seemed less interested in preparing us to do pathbreaking research that might modify or even shatter existing paradigms (the task of research scientists), than indoctrinating us in the evil deeds of white-male dominated Amerika and in supporting separatist movements that I have described in prior blogs as cultural nationalist and even protofascist. “Class” had been collapsed into “race” and “gender,” while the “cultural anthropological” approach to science was pushing a Foucauldian notion that science was indeed a plot to advance universal surveillance, and that “science is a swindle.” And there was no mention whatsoever of embedded antisemitism of the kind I have described here in nearly all of the earlier blogs, particularly in my discussions of progressivism.  Nor was there much discussion of intellectual history, particularly the history of political thought, for such fields were tainted by “elite sources”: bottoms-up history was in fashion, even though there were few records of what ordinary people were thinking and feeling. One had to rely primarily on court records or similar recondite sources, and the conclusions drawn would be collectivist, not revealing of the psychology of the forgotten men and women as individuals. Furthermore, the field was so fragmented into specialties (economic history, diplomatic history, social history, black history, women’s history, labor history, chicano history, cultural history), and it was so rooted in events on the North American continent, that it was difficult to form an overall synthesis for all of U.S. history in its global context that would help us evaluate our own limited researches that led to the dissertation.

What rescued me from impotence as an historian was my dissertation topic. Because Alexander Saxton had once been a proletarian novelist and liked Melville for his description of the work process as carried out by common sailors, I was allowed to combine history and literature while getting a history degree. It was the breadth of Herman Melville’s interests and preoccupations that led me inevitably into the study of European intellectual and political history, and later into the hitherto almost forbidden realm of conservative political theory. Moreover, before Freud, Melville, unlike most men perhaps, was examining his innermost, very powerful, feelings and exposing them and their switches to the reader.

Because Melville’s views on race were considered to be advanced for his time (1819-1891), I looked into the state of race relations and racial theory during the interwar period, especially at a turning point in estimations of Captain Ahab (1938-1939). It was this interest that led me to the voluminous papers of Ralph Bunche, housed at UCLA. As I was reading his correspondence with other black intellectuals along with his extensive memoranda to Gunnar Myrdal (for Bunche was Myrdal’s most important and informative collaborator in the writing of An American Dilemma), I noticed that there was no difference in the quality or scholarly tone of  Bunche’s writing or that of his colleagues at Howard University from that of the white intellectuals responsible for the Melville “revival.” I also remembered that I had taught many black youngsters both in Queens and in Los Angeles when I first arrived here, and there was nothing wrong with the brains of little black children in my experience.  My best chemistry student at Los Angeles High School was a black male, and until I encountered the arguments of those arguing for deep racial differences in aptitude and mentality–differences that demanded a different “race pedagogy”– I had no inkling that my view would be considered “racist” at UCLA when I criticized separatist ethnic or women’s studies programs; I thought that those histories of women and minorities  should be integrated into an overall synthesis. [Added later: I had become so accustomed to the ghetto drawl affected by black nationalists that I must have thought that I would find some deviation from standard English in the Bunche Papers.]

So if I have given much attention in prior blogs to Arne Duncan or Howard Gardner or any of the other leaders in the formulation of educational policy, contrasting them with the policies advocated by such as Charles Sumner, who in 1849 argued for school integration in Boston (see the blogs on Sumner’s writings or Margoth v. Robert E. Lee, you will understand the high priority that I place on science education. Niall Ferguson has been presenting a class at Harvard on the Western Ascendancy, 1600–present, and several reasons for the ascendancy of the West over many competing empires were the invention of the printing press and the publicizing of the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the power of related Enlightenment ideas, while in America, the presence of religious pluralism, high literacy (led by New England educators, including Sumner, by the way), and a Constitution that stressed the separation of Church and State, the separation of powers, and checks and balances, including the high premium placed on “liberty,” were important factors in American success. (In the description of Ferguson’s class, I blended his lectures on the West with my own application to the U.S. scene. Don’t blame him for my additions.)

So if I am wary of jumping into controversies without adequate preparation, and if I am reluctant to take sides, be warned. The scramble for celebrity, combined with the lingering effects of New Left ideology,  has corrupted journalism and the educational system. Serious intellectuals betray their readers when they ejaculate without thorough research and reflection, including the most stringent self-examination. Go back and read if you have stayed with me so far. E. Mark Cummings is wildly successful and influential in his profession, and the New York Times Book Review has noticed the book about his research written by his promoter, Bo Bronson. And don’t miss the paragraph on Freud’s essay of 1915: it is my prescription for avoiding undue optimism about social engineering (with its perfectionist Rousseauvian underpinnings that privilege “natural virtue” over civilization) and related follies. Remember Lysenko!

October 5, 2009

Arne Duncan’s Statism, part two

Image (64)

Don’t miss the Howard Gardner encounter described at the bottom of this blog. It is shocking and revealing about the practice of multiculturalism by a “genius” educator.

Here is what you will not find in this issue of Ed.: any mention of multiculturalism or identity politics. For the numerous photographs in this edition, introducing the new Secretary of Education to alumni of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, demonstrate beyond a doubt that the faculty is diverse with respect to ‘race’, gender, and sexual orientation. Indeed Harvard, like other elite universities, was a pioneer in the production of the group-think that favors bureaucratic collectivist thought.  As for science, that word is sprinkled through the issue, but only in the sense that managerial “progressives” use it, as the gathering of statistics that will guide the next step in “incremental” reform. Dean of the Ed school, Kathleen McCartney, tells us that “Duncan made difficult choices that were based on evidence and driven by data.” (p.3)

But you will find no exploration on how science education is faring in the republic. The closest we come to “science” is the essay on the use of a medical model: just as doctors and interns make rounds in the hospitals, “instructional rounds” will help managers to find “common ground” in evaluating teaching effectiveness. They give an example of a “diverse” network for evaluating the “good” classroom: Whereas in  Connecticut only superintendents make the rounds, ” some rounds are more diverse and also include principals, teachers, staff members, and local union leaders….Once the group forms, they identify a problem that the school or district is struggling with, observe classrooms, debrief, and then focus on what needs to be done next.” (p.24)

The assumption here is that the scientific knowledge, rigor, and relative certainty that comes with advanced medical training is automatically applied when persons who may or may not have had a training in science and its methods are making decisions that will affect the ability of students to learn the skills necessary to participate as citizens in a democratic republic. For we are faced with unprecedented challenges and polarizing controversies, such as the value of science itself (the Foucauldians say it is bourgeois conspiracy), or what to do about the related controversies that confront us, particularly the measures to be taken with respect to climate change, pollution, and public health. Without training in critical thought and the separation of fact from opinion, no sane consensus can emerge on the policies that will remedy our numerous emergencies. Am I too “secular” here? Nowhere in this issue of Ed. is the anti-intellectualism of numerous communities confronted as a gigantic obstacle to the reforms Duncan and Harvard wish to initiate. But then top-down thinkers do not consider the condition of communities where religiosity trumps creatively adapting to the modern world, and where all eggheads are suspect as totalitarian thinkers, stealing their children from them and insulting their ancestors.

Allow me to digress for a moment. I trained to be a science teacher in the mid-1950s in the Cornell State College of Agriculture, with my tuition state-supported. It was assumed that we future science teachers might be the only science teacher in a remote rural high school that had no study specimens, so not only did we study chemistry, physics, the biological sciences (including zoology, botany, human physiology, microbiology, etc.), and geology, we learned to make our own slides of cells (using rats), to trap and stuff small animals, and to pick up a fragment of a bat skull or a piece of fur from the woods and meadows and identify it by order, family, genus and species. I also took a course in nature literature that alerted me to “nature fakery” or the sentimentalization of Nature by numerous popular writers from the late nineteenth century on. The few required education courses alerted us to the problem of discipline (i.e., obedience)  in the classroom: I would say it was an obsessive concern that seemed an end in itself, perhaps outweighing mastery of one’s field. (I got to practice teach at Ithaca High School in a chemistry class; the male science faculty complained to my Cornell supervisor that I wanted to join them at their brown-bag lunches, thus hampering their alacrity in telling dirty jokes.)

    My own beliefs about classroom order were tested in my first teaching job at Jamaica High School in Queens, where I was given a class of young people who had already failed biology and were now forced to repeat the course. They were working-class kids, many were black, others were tough veterans of the streets with Polish and Italian names. I was twenty years old (having finished college in 3 1/2 years), and my first few classes were filled with conflict as these rough boys were testing my resolve. I looked at the biology curriculum that was given to me, and quietly tossed it away, instead concentrating my first efforts at finding out what these youngsters had experienced with drug peddlers, alcohol, and other matters related to their survival. [Today I would have added other health concerns and how to identify mental illness in their peers.] They responded well to an emphasis on real-life immediate concerns and at the end of the semester one of them came up to me as representative of the group and asked me to be their teacher the next semester. (That I remember this moving gesture so vividly speaks to its force in shaping my outlook as I grew older.)  And the principal, to reward me for my “baptism by fire” promised me the honors class in chemistry if I would return. Alas, it was not to be. I had a prestigious fellowship for the Masters of Arts in teaching science at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and went off to paradise for husband-shoppers.

    Because I had already had teaching experience, I was invited to audit the graduate class in methods for teaching science conducted by one Fletcher Watson. The very first session, I asked this leader in science education, “what would you recommend to a young woman teaching science in a rough inner city school?” The answer: “That could never happen.” That was the end of my love affair with Harvard, though they offered me another  fellowship if I would return to take a Master’s in “guidance.” (This on the basis of my final exam where I might have startled them with the assertion that teachers wishing for order in the classroom should meet the intrinsic and pressing needs of students, and “order” would follow.) So if this blog sounds a bit testy, you know where I am coming from. [Added 8-25-11: Harvard probably spotted a potential child-centered progressive.]

Back to Ed. There is a lovely photo of the Dalai Lama, seated in Harvard’s Memorial Church. His speech, “Educating the Heart,” was co-sponsored by the Education and Divinity schools. Here are the quotes they published, preceded by “In particular, he questioned whether education and intelligence alone bring inner peace. ‘Those people who are more compassionate, those people are religious man, community man, family man…Much peaceful, much happier.’  In contrast, ‘there are very smart scholars and professors who are full of competition, full of jealousy, and full of anger. Sometimes they even commit suicide,’ he said, pausing when he realized who was in the audience. ‘I don’t mean disrespect to the academic community.’ The Dalai Lama also stressed that compassion starts at home. ‘If you see people who are more calm and ready to show love and kindness toward others, those people probably had a mother who provided  more affection at a young age.’ ” The article closes with a mention of his watering the roots in a tree-planting ceremony attended by deans and Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, “in addition to blessing a pregnant woman’s belly….” (p.11) The link to Arne Duncan’s inspirational mother Sue is completed here.

I could stop, but in fairness to Arne Duncan, I should mention his objectives as described in the McQuaid article: “The Obama economic stimulus package contains a huge windfall for education, approximately $115 billion–more than double the department’s annual budget…Most of those funds are going to avert catastrophic school budget shortfalls caused by the recession. But the stimulus also includes an unprecedented $5 billion in discretionary funds. The largest share belongs to the Race to the Top program, in which states will compete for grants by showing they’re innovating. Duncan’s hope is to leverage that cash to create a brushfire of reform at the local level: funding and ultimately “scaling up” successful reforms and seeding them elsewhere. But his window of opportunity is quite narrow–the money will run out in two years.” (p.18) Elsewhere, “The agenda spans proposed changes in preK to college, pounding the bully pulpit to promote charter schools, merit pay, and national standards, and what’s likely to be a contentious fight over No Child Left Behind.” (p.20) [Added 9-6-09: AD appeared as guest on Stephen Colbert last night. He mentioned two other objectives, also described in Ed.:  lengthening the school year as the long summer break was suitable to an agrarian society, not an urban one, and creating the school site as a community center where adult learning could take place, as well as other student activities. Colbert did not ask him where the necessary funding would come from. The interview was preceded by a film showing the pair’s, but mostly Colbert’s, prowess in shooting hoops.]

Remember McQuaid’s characterization of Duncan as an “outsider” like his close basketball pal Obama in “Arne Duncan’s Statism, part one”? Here is how the article ends: Education may lose out if Obama is too distracted, but “Duncan’s membership in the close-knit group of Chicago transplants in the Obama administration–including top advisors David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, and social secretary Desiree Rogers (John W. Rogers’ ex-wife)–will help him keep his issues in the mix.” (p.21)

File this article and the entire Harvard Ed School apparatus/organism under the heading “the Machine that is not a Machine though it resembles one to the naked eye.”

A postscript on Howard Gardner. HG, a protege of Henry A. Murray(yes our Henry Murray, though you won’t find him on Gardner’s Wikipedia entry),  was a recipient of the MacArthur “genius” award, and in the late 1980s he came out to visit the HGSE alumni.  At UCLA he gave an illustrated lecture on his famous theory that there are “multiple intelligences.” The slides I remember in particular were one of a black youngster shooting hoops, and the one female represented staring at herself in the mirror. I confronted him for deploying these stereotypical images as if sports served as the route to learning for black kids, while girls kept journals, indulging their narcissism. The smiling mask suddenly disappeared and he snarled at me, whispering “Why did you come here?”  I have not emphasized enough in these blogs the emphasis on sports and “active learning” in the issue of Ed. that I have  presented here. I could have included the photo of Duncan and Obama playing basketball together, used in the McQuaid article.

Arne Duncan’s statism, part one

U.S. Secretary of Education
U.S. Secretary of Education

Meet Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, as depicted by Ed. (The Magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Fall 2009, Vol. LIII, No.1). Is it my imagination, or is there a white crucifix shown on the upper-right hand section of the page facing the text of  John McQuaid, “Will Obama’s Choice Change Education in America?” Here is a quote that suggests I am correct: “…Arne Duncan is a bona fide idealist. He talks not just about putting kids first, raising test scores, and the relationship of education to economic opportunity–the standard rhetoric of his predecessors–but also about education as a tool for social justice, not a phrase heard very often in Washington policy circles or even among his fellow technocrats in the Obama administration. He believes that government has an obligation to right the wrongs of poverty–or at least, to do everything possible to mitigate the damage it does to individuals. ‘In so many places we’re  not giving every child a chance, we’re not giving children the chance they need to be successful,’ he says. “And where we don’t, I really believe we are part of the problem. We perpetuate poverty. We perpetuate social failure.’ ”

Opponents of “the nanny state” will enjoy the next sentences: “Chicago investment banker and philanthropist John W. Rogers Jr. met Duncan playing on South Side basketball courts as a teenager and later gave him his first job running an educational mentoring program. ‘I think he sees this as the fulfillment of his mom’s legacy and his own,’ Rogers says. ‘It’s the opportunity to take his mom’s values and his values and share them with the entire country.'” [Mom, we learned in the second paragraph, ran “The Sue Duncan Center…attended by kids from elementary to high school, nearly all of them African Americans struggling with the grind of urban poverty–crime, drugs, gangs, absent parents.” Her children worked there from childhood on. “The gulf between their own comfortable circumstances–their father was a professor of psychology at the university–and those of their contemporaries on the South Side bothered the Duncan kids. It became a kind of puzzle, a mental nut they all tried to crack as they grew older. Why did such glaring inequities exist in Chicago, in America? Who or what was to blame?….Arne contained “a huge amount of anger…at the local public schools….”]

The author then proceeds to describe the obstacles to Duncan’s idealistic plans to rescue inner city schools: “The job of secretary is hostage to the basic structure of the U.S. educational system, with its system of  local control and the sway that powerful interest groups hold over national education policy.” What did he just say? How can “powerful interest groups” (unnamed!) hold “sway” if the locals control the “system?” And what is “national education policy”? And would not Duncan know, as he was CEO of Chicago Public Schools from 2001-2008, with an outstanding record of achievement, according to the website of the Department of Education?

It should be noted at once that Sec. Duncan has never been a classroom teacher, nor does he hold any advanced degree. His educational credential consists of a B.A. from Harvard in sociology, where he graduated magna cum laude. Since his father was a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, I thought I should find out what kind of psychology he was teaching. This is from the short biography produced by the U. of Chicago upon his death: ““Starkey was one of the pioneers in the field of nonverbal communication, though he preferred to think of his research as studying face-to-face interaction,” said David McNeill, Professor Emeritus in Psychology at the University of Chicago. “He looked at gesture, gaze and other aspects of interaction as an integrated whole and through time.” Readers of this website should recognize the buzz words of organic conservatism: “Interaction” was the focus of the new cultural history as introduced to the American Historical Association in 1939, abolishing the potentially fragmenting practice of “scientific history” that entailed following the evidence wherever it might lead. There were no more free standing individuals, but rather the “individual-in-society.” As for “integrated whole…through time,” that is a functionalist term. “The whole” (whatever that is) runs like a well-calibrated machine. There are no internal conflicts, and if any exist, they were introduced by the beetle-browed and mustachioed outside agitator. [On the sea change from scientific history to cultural history see my article, )

Duncan, fils, is no outsider, though he portrayed as one by the author of the article we have been reading together: “Like Obama, he’s an outsider who has never quite wholly belonged to any of the worlds he moved through, nor to any particular interest group or camp, yet who could be comfortable anywhere : basketball courts, the streets, political meetings, and policy salons.” I.e., Duncan, like his basketball pal Obama, is the neutral mediator who will negotiate conflicts between those who want national standards in public education and those who fight for local control. Such public interest progressives inherit the ambitions of (British) Christian Socialists or Fabians and (U.S.) proponents of the Social Gospel. All were anticapitalists with a strong antisemitic subtext: they would substitute a Christianized capitalism for the Jewishly exploitative variety. Would Charles Sumner (see next blog) have agreed with them? I don’t think so. For more on Sumner the modernizer see my blog “Margoth and Robert E. Lee: Rival Visions of National Unity.”

[In the next installment, I will report on his policy innovations and more on the discourse of Ed.]

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