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

April 14, 2013

Pretend you are a Nazi

From Julius Streicher's Der Sturmer

From Julius Streicher’s Der Sturmer

Immediately above, I have compiled some of the stories about an assignment that asked three sophomore classes in English at Albany High School to pretend that the student was persuading a Nazi who had power over him or her,  that s/he acquiesced in the core principle of Nazi propaganda: that Jews are evil. Subsequent to this assignment, students were to read Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night. (On Wiesel’s memoir, see On Wiesel’s generally conservative politics, see  According to one report, the “pretend you are a Nazi”assignment was a response to the Common Core curriculum mandated by the federal government that English students be able to write about problems usually taught in history classes. (I have written previously on the Common Core curriculum, noting its critics and adherents:

The teacher’s name is not given, but has been put on leave, and there is talk of potential termination.

I find this incident very disturbing, as this unnamed teacher is being harshly disciplined before all the facts are in. And  no group holds the moral high ground in this scandal.

We do know (or should know) that antisemitism took a new turn in the 19th century, and that in addition to the usual accusation of deicide, Jews were now held responsible for all the revolutions and other dislocations of modernity. It is dubious that the Albany high school classes in any subject whatsoever taught a single word about antisemitism, though some European countries (Sweden for instance) have dealt with the mechanics of the Holocaust, and I would hope that they include the politics of those countries that participated in the extermination of European Jewry, and that such courses explored the mass appeal of Hitler. I would also hope that teaching about antisemitism is not diluted by inclusion on the general subject of “diversity” (On my blogs on antisemitism, see, but especially this one: The illustration for this blog was taken from a Suffolk England “diversity” program that misspelled Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer.)

From the press reports listed above, I have seen no evidence that the anonymous teacher adequately prepared her or his students for the performance of such an obviously provocative assignment. It appears that liberal Jewish organizations are quick to condemn the assignment. One might ask, however, what have they ever done to insist on the accurate teaching of European history after the French Revolution, with special attention to Jew-hatred and finger-pointing? Or have these same organizations cowered in their own little corners, hoping not to “make trouble” but simultaneously adding to the international silence over a history that should have been uncovered and thoroughly publicized long ago?

Finally, to those who find the assignment, no matter how carefully prepared, distasteful and even verboten, may I suggest that it is impossible to do history at all without projecting oneself into the brains and hearts of even the most horrifying characters in our specie’s usually rotten history. Every artist understands this, so why is the goody-goody general public so inadequately prepared, emotionally and intellectually, to understand their opposition? It appears that our adulation of the military is missing the key ingredient of victory: know thy enemy.

[A note on the illustration from Streicher’s pornographic rag: out of the ten ugly Jews depicted on Streicher’s poster, five are wearing the caps of the working class. Recall that anticommunism was the chief appeal of the Nazi Party, and that Bolsheviks were held by Hitler to be lying Jews who were mere fronts for finance capital. Hitler presented himself as the true protector of the German working class/the Volk, while (he claimed) Jews were their worst exploiters and enemies, the anti-race par excellence. It not enough to say that Nazis viewed the Jews as evil, as did this surely well-meaning, but undereducated, high school English teacher.]

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)

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