YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 17, 2014

Improving “race relations”: Left, Right, and Middle

racerelationsThe race riot in Ferguson, Missouri (August 10, 2014 onward), is a reminder that we have made little progress in resolving the vexed question of “race relations” in America. This blog suggests that neither Leftists, Rightists, nor Moderates have a clue as to how to proceed in ameliorating what are called “race relations.”

I became interested in this subject while researching my book on the so-called “revival” of Herman Melville, universally lauded for his allegedly advanced position on prejudice and “race.” So I read a book published during WW2, by Gunnar Myrdal, assisted by Ralph Bunche: An  American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy (Harper, 1944), a massive research project funded by the Carnegie Corporation in order to fend off the depression-instigated race riots that were anticipated at the end of the looming conflict with Nazism and other fascisms.  Immersion in the Bunche Papers at UCLA and related materials alerted me to this volatile, incendiary, and unresolved subject.

First, an outline of the positions as put forth by American political factions and organizations:

The New Left: Unlike old Lefties (who viewed the bourgeoisie as developing the productive forces, but doomed) American history is essentially racist and destructive; propertied white males have abused indigenous peoples, blacks, Nature, immigrants, and women. There is no solution to the race problem short of revolutionary transformation achieved through [inter-racial] class struggle directed against finance capital (the master puppeteers). After the revolution, all particularisms (e.g. “identity politics”) will disappear in an internationalist commitment to communism and true individuality.

Liberals and other anticommunist social democrats: It must be noted that Bunche and Myrdal were at odds over prior strategies to solve “the Negro problem.” Bunche was infuriated by the liberal solution of “better communication” between whites and blacks. At that time, Bunche was writing from the left of Myrdal (a Swedish social democrat), and urging that blacks join unions to overthrow autocratic union bosses and all other bureaucrats toward the objective of worker’s control. At times, he (or more likely Myrdal) called for a more effective welfare state. Myrdal’s responses to Bunche’s militant memoranda resulted in mischaracterizing Bunche as an “economic determinist,” while leaning on him to separate troublemaking black “betterment organizations” from the harmless ones. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/08/04/carnegie-corp-and-the-negro-problem/.) Bunche correctly identified the Marcus Garvey movement and its offshoots as fascist and escapist, while criticizing such venerable organizations as the NAACP and Urban League as indifferent to the cause of Labor.

[But during and after WW2, Bunche was successfully co-opted by the liberal establishment and became an ally of the State Department and its British counterparts in his mediation of the “insoluble” Jewish problem (see https://clarespark.com/2014/06/18/how-ralph-bunche-sold-out-and-failed-in-palestine/.)]

Since the acceleration of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the repertoire of non-solutions has been added to by liberals: affirmative action, separatist curricula in academe, multiculturalism, whiteness studies (the latter adopted by the far left since it damns Amerikkka and the West). Through dwelling on the errors of the  past, while ignoring present-day education and other practical solutions, black rage has probably accelerated, though prominent black writers were angry enough (e.g., James Baldwin, Chester Himes). Since writing this blog, I have reviewed the Johnson administration recommendations now known as The Moynihan Report. See https://clarespark.com/2015/08/08/the-moynihan-report-march-1965-and-instability-in-the-black-family/. This might upset those conservatives who see the reconstituted nuclear family as the solution to black poverty and illegitimacy.

The Right: There is no cohesive conservative movement on this subject, but the most persistent call for relief from race riots, a threatening black underclass, incomplete transition to middle class status by American blacks, and female headed households (with excessive illegitimacy in “the black community”) has been a call for the rehabilitation of the patriarchal black family along with a religious revival, presumably headed by strong father figures willing to discipline and inspire children to study, to renounce gang membership, and to adhere to traditional religious principles. (The latter is expressed in support of school vouchers that would include sectarian religious schools, hence this strategy implicitly rejects “secular” solutions to group antagonisms.)

Given the sharp disagreements over strategy within the fighting factions of American politics, it is not surprising that Masters of Sex delivered a muddled episode on August 10, 2014 (see https://clarespark.com/2014/08/16/ferguson-mi-masters-of-sex-and-the-dilemma-of-the-white-liberal/).

Clare’s advice: Had the phrase “move on” not been sullied by the ultra-liberal George Soros forces, I would advise concerned Americans to stop dwelling on past failures and errors, but to focus on a quality education for all children, neither idealizing nor demonizing those aspects of the Western past that are irrefutably “racist” and demeaning to non-whites. There is a heated debate right now regarding whether or not “race” even exists as it is currently imagined; a revival of Lamarckianism may be in the works, thanks to epigenetics. As for the father-led family, that mostly conservative strategy seems utopian to me, and would take to long to demonstrate results, unlike potential changes in school curricula and in the media. [Update 8-29-14: it has been objected on Facebook that women may be inadequate parents too. This is true, but it is one feature of conservative ideology to drastically separate male and female roles in the family: men are the disciplinarians, while women offer unconditional love. Why should parenting be taught in the schools to prepare youngsters for the likely road ahead? Both parents should be setting boundaries and educating their kids for real life which is always a struggle, whatever the period in which kids must function.]

One thing is for certain: Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools in Harlem have established that black and brown children can “succeed” beyond our wildest dreams if there is strong cooperation between school staff and parents, and a challenging curriculum.

Hope looms on the horizon, but we are all responsible, white and non-white alike, for pushing Eva Moskowitz’s agenda forward, notwithstanding opposition from entrenched interests such as teachers unions (see comments below).



July 20, 2013

Obama’s intervention 7-19-13

LBJ signs Voting Rights Act

LBJ signs Voting Rights Act

The day of the scheduled rallies protesting the not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman case, the Wall Street Journal led with a news article by Coleen McCain Nelson entitled “Obama Speaks Frankly On Race.”

The word Race was devoid of inverted commas, signifying that there was nothing suspect about the concept of ‘race’.  Just as problematic, the news article described Trayvon Martin as an African-American, and we all are taught that “perspectivism” is the correct epistemology.  No need for inverted commas there either, for there is no truth, only points of view that are incomprehensible to other groups. Such are the wages of multiculturalism, the preferred liberal policy for dealing with group conflict as the acceptance of “diversity” based on race and gender.

On this website, nothing has been so frequently described as ‘race,’ racism, and how a covertly racialist discourse has dominated public debate since black supremacists hijacked the integrationist movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. For a sampling, see any of the following blogs:

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/, https://clarespark.com/2013/07/02/groupiness-group-think-and-race/, https://clarespark.com/2011/02/27/remembering-ralph-bunche-american/ https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/, and especially https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/.

It appears that the most we can expect from Rupert Murdoch’s publications (The Wall Street Journal and “fair and balanced” Fox News Channel), is the namby-pamby pseudo-moderation of approved journalists and some sociologists.

On the jump page (A-5), WSJ quoted sociologist Abigail Thernstrom, who viewed the President’s intervention as inappropriate. Thernstrom is a brave voice in the wilderness, who puts the same priority on progress in the black population as I and my readers do (though her writings on that issue are not mentioned in the WSJ article. See her thoughts on progress here:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304723304577369913528826798.html ).

What about education for black children? I have yet to see a single discussion on Fox News Channel on the shocking neglect of inner-city public schools. Reform in that quarter has been blocked by the teachers unions and the NAACP that demonstrated against one of Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools in Harlem.  The American Right, following the Daniel Moynihan Report  has put much emphasis on reconstructing the black family with fathers at the helm. It is time that they put comparable energy into rectifying the major institution outside the family that is socializing our black children. There are dozens of rallies in support of Trayvon Martin scheduled today. Will any of them put the word ‘race’ in inverted commas? Will anyone criticize “African-American” leadership for obliviousness to the education of young black males? See https://clarespark.com/2013/05/26/eva-moskowitz-and-the-charter-school-movement/.

Namby-pamby pony

Namby-pamby pony

May 26, 2013

Eva Moskowitz and the Charter School Movement

Eva Moskowitz

Eva Moskowitz

Last week I attended the first benefit gala for the Success Academy Charter schools initiated by Eva Moskowitz. My son Daniel S. Loeb was being honored, and Chris Christie, Governor of the State of New Jersey was the keynote speaker. Wall Street heavies and some major Republicans were present by the hundreds, as were many of the young principals of the various Charter Schools.

The Governor said flat out that if we did not rescue America’s public schools, the republic was finished, and I could not agree with him more. Christie, like many other activists on behalf of quality free education for all, sees the teachers unions as the chief obstacle to achieving this goal. Sadly, teachers unions have defended teachers, no matter how inept and unqualified, at the expense of learners in our country. Indeed, the teachers unions are major supporters of the Democratic Party, and numerous authors have identified the powerful wealthy Democrats (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg, Bill and Melinda Gates) who have poured wasted money into ed reform, for none of these billionaires will go up against the teachers unions or their defender Diane Ravitch. (For my blogs on Ravitch and Democratic Party reformers see https://clarespark.com/2012/05/03/index-to-blogs-on-education-reform/ Steve Brill’s book is mostly about Eva M. and worries that she will burn out. Brill, a Democrat, thinks that Randi Weingarten can be reformed!)

I find it very mysterious why the high priority given to free public education by Governor Christie and Dan Loeb (like Charles Sumner and other enlightened Americans who came before us), is not widely shared. One can understand why unqualified, underperforming teachers defend tenure and pensions, but how to account for the indifference of parents and grandparents, or of all citizens, many of whom complain about the great dumbing down of our culture and sense an irreversible decline of American leadership in the world?

A brief recollection: when I moved to Los Angeles in 1959, I taught chemistry and biology at Los Angeles High School. Noting that there were no after-school clubs like the one I enjoyed at Forest High School in Queens, New York, I proposed a Philosophy Club, with much student support (and LA High at the time was black, brown, Asian, and Jewish mostly). I was called “that commie Jew from the East” in one anonymous letter deposited in my mailbox, which appalled me as I was mostly apolitical at that time. I recall that my best student was a black boy in chemistry. I never thought that there was anything wrong with the brains of my “colored” students, either in Los Angeles or at Jamaica High School in Long Island where I had taught in the Spring semester of 1958. Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools in NYC have borne out my views that lazy teachers and inadequate expectations for performance of minority children, not racial differences in intelligence, are responsible for low graduation rates and poor student performance in inner city schools in America.

Here is how Wikipedia describes the pioneering efforts of Eva Moskowitz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Moskowitz

And here are the objectives of Moskowitz’s “lesson plan” in a booklet handed out to all attendees of this inspirational gala on May 22, 2013:

[Item:] Make schools magical places—warm, colorful, joyous—where the curriculum is rigorous, the pace is fast, the bar is high, and boredom is banished.

[Item:] Inspire kids to read, to write, to imagine, to build, to invent, to work, to think. [Eva told me once that early on, students read poems and extract the message of the poem: could anything be better than reading comprehension, including understanding the subtext and messages of great literature?]

[Item:] Invest in excellent teaching, with support and coaching and an unprecedented commitment to professional development.

[Item:] Introduce children to the creative disciplines and elations of art.

[Item:] Enlist parents as partners in schooling and as advocates for education reform.

[Item:] Teach chess and daily discovery-based science, so that scholars grow up to find better ways forward.

[Item:] Give every child access to great public schools and provide every family with great educational choices.

[Item:] Empower a generation of children to achieve their dreams.

[Item:] Transform a nation at risk to a nation of hope and opportunity.

[Item:] Change public education—for good.

In New York State testing, this is how Success Academy Charter Schools have performed: 96% passed 2012 NYS Math Exam; 88% passed 2012 English Exam; 100% passed 2011 Science Exam. In Math, English, and Science, Eva’s schools were beaten only by Anderson, “the most selective Gifted and Talented public school in NYC.”

For more sources on this subject, see the following references:



http://socialistworker.org/2009/11/13/charter-school-charade ( A Trotskyist organization attacks Eva Moskowitz and her project.)

Success Academy

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!








https://clarespark.com/2011/08/31/review-steven-brills-class-warfare/ (Read this one first)



https://clarespark.com/2011/06/23/the-u-s-history-establishment-divided-and-failing/ (my correspondence with Ravitch, contrasting Ravitch with Gary Nash)

https://clarespark.com/2011/05/28/who-is-a-racist-now-2/ (retitled Diane Ravitch and the higher moderation)


https://clarespark.com/2011/10/09/vox-populi-vox-big-brother/ (A review of Terry M. Moe’s new book)


https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/ (On the great dumbing down)




https://clarespark.com/2013/01/05/american-fascism-and-the-future-of-english-and-american-literature/ (On Common Core curriculum)






Arne Duncan and Obama at play

January 21, 2012

The persistence of white racism

Willie Horton

[This is a  companion piece to https://clarespark.com/2011/05/26/who-is-a-racist-now/ and https://clarespark.com/2012/12/01/petit-bourgeois-radicalism-and-obama/.]

Hollywood liberals along with other liberal elites take great pride in their rectified conduct regarding minorities, especially blacks. It is amazing how quickly an overwhelmingly “white supremacist” country overcame its racism. A few assassinations, a few urban riots, a few token reforms, positive images of “African Americans” in the movies and television, a national holiday for the martyred MLK Jr. and the problem disappeared from view. The media, academic multiculturalists, and the Democratic Party (with the selection of Barack Obama) did their part in maintaining the fiction that white people were, or were about to be, cleansed of the national sin. Even the South was redeemed, thanks to those politicians who, overnight it appears, became Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, Charles Sumner, Thaddeus Stevens, Wendell Phillips, and Frederick Douglass. (This last contention is refuted by many of my Southern Facebook friends.)

During my youth I never saw blacks as authority figures, nor did any of my teachers at two Ivy League institutions (Cornell and Harvard) fret about the race problem (nor were there black or female faculty). Nor did I have Communist relations who would have told me I was a racist, or otherwise educated me about race relations in the country of my birth. I can still recall my revulsion at the sight of a black male arm in arm with a white woman in Greenwich Village during the late 1950s. And was not miscegenation the linchpin in the racialist repertoire? That, coupled with scary images of angry, murderous black men. (Lee Atwater knew what he was doing when he summoned the image of Willie Horton to defeat Dukakis in 1988. It was my horror at that move that led me to ask the question “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” in a new series on KPFK. For a detailed account of the ad and its behind-the-scenes politics, see http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1990-11-11/features/1990315149_1_willie-horton-fournier-michael-dukakis.)

It was only during the civil rights movement as transmitted on Pacifica Radio in the 1960s that I had ever heard a black intellectual, and I heard plenty. That led me to James Baldwin’s Another Country, from which I gleaned the lesson that women were so boring that it was understandable that any sensitive male might prefer the company of other men, even in bed.

My education in race and gender only began in the 1960s, and it shook my psyche to its foundations. In my own defense, I remember thinking about my own negative views of black people that perhaps I was a bigot, that were these not humans like myself, with only one life to live? Were we not all in the same boat? During the years at Pacifica radio, I began producing programs about the development of American culture, focusing on such matters as artistic freedom from censorship, and the ecology of artists and the institutions that interpreted their work. By now it was the 1970s, and middle-class blacks were organizing themselves (as were women) to demand more space in galleries and museums for black and women artists. I remember the story of one art world Waspy socialite on the museum board, overheard by a friend, complaining on a telephone call, “Now we are going to have to show all that crappy art.” I also remember the pugnacity and defensiveness of the current director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, referring to these black and female outcasts as “my people.” Because I had given them air time, I was now similarly a pariah in the world of the haute bourgeoisie. It was good for my character to be thrown out with the trash.

During that period of radio production, I remember the first demands by media reformers from minority communities that Pacifica and all other media outlets must dispense with “negative images” of their groups in order to provide “role models” of strength to the children, who presumably would remedy their self-esteem deficits. (This demand was in sync with prior rules in the movies that entertainment should neither be offensive to any group nor propagandistic.) Nobody was demanding an entirely reoriented education from early childhood on, with the exception of a few visionaries. Nothing has changed since then, except that the visionaries (see Eva Moskowitz’s chain of charter schools in Harlem) are proving their claims that urban minorities, properly educated in the basic skills of literacy, numeracy, science, and such, are indeed not mentally or morally deficient, as racist propaganda would have it; nor were their self-images to be confined to white America’s most potent racist and sexist images: the Willie Horton rapist/murderer/star athlete/rapper, the blackface minstrel entertainer with a populist message, the femme fatale (Medusa, Gorgon, the “despicable” hag/witch Marianne Gingrich, disposable ex-spouse out for revenge, hence lacking in credibility), or her antitype: Mammy a.k.a. “Nigger Jim” in Huckleberry Finn. Cross-dressing may be cool, but it does not rectify the condition of women.

I would love to believe that all the white supremacists, North, South, and West, had not only had a change of heart, but were, more importantly, rectifying their own education with studies of black history, women’s history, and especially labor history, for competition between black, brown and white workers is a crucial element in our politics, past and present. Just as the competition between women for the favor of protective and powerful men is the engine that keeps many women focused on sex and appearance above their abilities to function either as healthy individuals, or as effective parents, or as proper citizens in a republic; i.e. women (including minorities of either gender) who are not averse to the study of military history, economics, accounting, political maneuvering, and the deciphering of all forms of authoritarian propaganda.

I am aware that many Americans in all sections of the country are working to change inherited attitudes toward “race” and gender. This blog is mainly about a public complacency that I find intolerable. Complacency and a distressing turn toward social relations that are not only irrational, but sadomasochistic. See https://yankeedoodlesoc.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/huck-finn-and-the-well-whipped-child/.

August 31, 2011

Review: Steven Brill’s Class Warfare

Eva Moskowitz and Joel Klein

Steven Brill, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix American Schools. New York. Simon and Schuster, 2011. $28. 441 pages.

[Added, 3-16-12: thanks to Larry Sand for this reference: http://reason.com/archives/2005/12/01/the-father-of-modern-school-re. It is about Milton Friedman’s campaign for school choice.]

I have spent many days reading Brill’s book, and my free copy (sent to his followers by education reformer Whitney Tilson) is heavily dog-eared, annotated with objections, and exclamation points. Since it purports to be an inside account of attempts “to fix America’s schools” that will appeal to those interested in the interactions between bureaucrats, government or union officials, and other technocrats operating within the Democratic Party, this review will focus on the major message of Brill’s efforts. I should also preface the review by saying that Brill’s attempt at moderation, along with his careful distancing from [union-busting] conservatives, may be a ploy, for he is appealing to union-loving liberals, including teachers, to reform themselves to the point that accountability and a meritocracy may be furthered by his revelations of shocking behavior all around, shocking at least to those not familiar with the education wars in their latest manifestation: the teachers’ unions offensive against the charter school movement.

The headline for my readers is this: there is a hard-fought battle within the Democratic Party (along with Republican moderates such as Rupert Murdoch and Jeb Bush) going on, regarding the failure of American public education. Powerful Democrats, egged on ostensibly by our education president, Barack Obama, and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, are outraged that students in developed countries are way ahead of American students when tested for proficiency in science and math. Several liberal foundations, most famously the Bill and Melinda Gates and Eli Broad Foundations, along with hedge fund managers such as Whitney Tilson, have been attempting to impose a business model upon the profession of education. That is, they would like the 3.2 million schoolteachers, K-12, to be measured for their performance, and held to high standards. Brill, in conversation with Diane Ravitch, described their objectives as accountability and meritocracy, as opposed to the current heavily unionized profession that protects teachers’ jobs, not student learning.

There is a heated interchange on C-SPAN Books, August 1, 2011 (linked here: http://hnn.us/articles/8-31-11/school-reform-grudge-match-diane-ravitch-vs-steven-brill.html), in which the redoubtable Ravitch, in her own words an ex-conservative (!)* attempts to diminish Brill’s heroes, such as charter school founders, e.g. Eva Moskowitz, whose remarkable Harlem Success charter network has demonstrated that minority children can, through a well-thought out set of strategies (for instance, learning to discern the main message of a text), ace tests that their public school competitors fail; indeed her remarkable accomplishments and tenacity fill out his book. But Brill, as his long book ends, worries that Moskowitz’s rigorous demands on teachers and students alike will cause her [and her victims] to burn out. That leads him to suggest that 1. teachers in K-12 schools get higher pay, but 2. that they also sign on to no more than five or ten year careers, for he can’t imagine either Moskowitz or her teachers making a lengthy career of teaching school, virtually defying the low expectations that prior educators have had for blacks and Latinos in such neighborhoods as Harlem and environs.

There are theoretical and practical problems with Brill’s general approach. 1. He can’t make up his mind as to whether teachers are professionals or workers, to be lumped in with firemen, policemen, and other state sector employees. Yet on the C-SPAN dialogue with Ravitch, he wants teachers to be professionals, like other pros, measured for their performance. In my view, teachers should see themselves as middle management, dependent on social forces and institutions that attempt to dictate their methods and aims, sometimes ambiguously, so that they may be left to drift in a sea of uncertainty, hence unable either to help students learn or to please their supervisors. In a country like ours, filled with religious, sectional, and other long-standing conflicts, there is no curriculum that will please everybody.  Like other social democratic band-aid measures, the entire enterprise of education reform fails to examine the big picture that puts teachers in double binds: are they to prepare their students for a life of independent, critical citizenship, or for conformity to unknowable or shifting “standards” for the sake of “social cohesion”? Should there even be a federal Department of Education, or should all education be locally managed, with major funding derived from property taxes? If teachers are a profession, should they not be relatively autonomous in their classrooms, or are they to be cogs in a vast machine constructed by non-professionals?

And 2. Brill actually has a fantasy that Randi Weingarten, hitherto a reform-resistant teachers union leader and stalwart, should be appointed chancellor of the NYC school system, for, as an astute operator, she is most likely to be able to raise up the mediocre (or sub-mediocre?) majority of current teachers to heights that would please the Big Money education reformers, saving American progress in science and technology. Meanwhile, although Brill has demonstrated ad nauseum the intransigence of the union establishment,  he trashes Republicans such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or “so-called right to work states” that defy Big Labor.  Given the hostile “interview” conducted by Ravitch for C-SPAN, it is hard to follow Brill’s logic of one big happy family, redeemed by such as himself, a non-teacher who has latched onto a scandal that can have no solution, given the premises of Big Government, its beneficiaries, and its electoral base.

By the end of their 59 minute sparring match on C-SPAN, Brill and Ravitch had come to an amicable ending, as Ravitch called for “collaboration” as opposed to competition [between charters and traditional public schools].  Such are the ways of “moderates.” There is no easy fix to the education problem. Both Brill and Ravitch adhere to a management-labor model of class warfare. Is it not time to leave this model behind as a relic of an earlier period of industrialization? Might not teachers look to new forms of solidarity? But that would mean a massive change of consciousness, and the relinquishing of such elite-driven intiatives as multiculturalism. The curriculum is everything. If Eva Moskowitz’s students can learn to decipher textual messages, study science in the earliest grades, along with chess (!), what might our youngsters accomplish with the encouragement of a student-focused teaching culture?

[Added 9-3-2011:] Larry Sand, education writer (see http://city-journal.org/2011/cjc0825ls.html) and founder of the Facebook group California Teachers Empowerment Network, has written this statement to suggest new directions for teachers dissatisfied with the unions: ” If teachers want to be thought of as professionals, they should resign from their union and convince as many of their colleagues as possible to join them. They should do everything in their power to eliminate collective bargaining, fight for an accountability system that would include teachers and administrators, fight for performance pay and fight to eliminate tenure and seniority. Teachers will lose some of their perks – notably all the safety nets that unions have provided for them, but they will gain a professional status that could rival that of doctors. They will have a chance to make a lot more money than they do now. Additionally, they will know that they are part of a system that is about educating children, not a jobs program for those who at this point graduate on average at the bottom of their college class. They will know that if they are good and layoffs are necessary, they will keep their jobs even if they have less seniority than a less effective colleague. They will have much more say in how their schools are run because they won’t have a one-size-fits-all bloated district-union contract monitoring their every move.”

*Ravitch may have been, in her own mind, a conservative Democrat, but she always floated above the fray, crafting a career that was just critical enough to qualify herself as an objective, analytical scholar. See my blog on her “higher moderation” here: https://clarespark.com/2011/05/28/who-is-a-racist-now-2/.

May 16, 2011

Questions for education reformers

Bernard Mandeville’s most famous work

I have been corresponding with Eva Moskowitz,  a leader in NYC education reform. She is involved with the Charter School movement (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_schools), and has a well-researched critique of the “therapeutic” culture that has distorted our education system since the late 19th century, most recently in the emphasis on “self-esteem” in the multicultural curriculum. Her book illuminated for me some of the “progressive” precursors to New Age thinking, a psychology cult that is particularly strong in California, and which is both silly and dangerous.

What follows are some of my initial thoughts about obstacles to reforming our schools, with some special attention to the charter school movement, though that is not the focus of this blog. I have included links to earlier blogs on this website.

1. Fragmentation of the professions:  because of the way that college education evolved, the holistic “philosophic” approach of such thinkers as Bernard Mandeville (an influence on Adam Smith) or Locke or other enlightened thinkers has gone out the window. None of the greats would have looked at schools in a vacuum. See for instance my notes on Charles Sumner (https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/) or my posting on Walter Lippmann (https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/).
For instance, can we talk about schools without a consideration of the welfare state and its particular policies? Or the aim of many “liberals” who seek “stability” and “social cohesion” at the expense of learning how to master life skills? And what about those religions that teach submission to authority without ever distinguishing between legitimate authority and arbitrary authority? In a pluralistic society, are vouchers the only solution to the problem I have posed? Are some religious schools enemies to an intellectually vigorous polity?

2. Is teaching a profession, or are teachers workers? When I was in school (first round, mid-50s), the burning question was whether or not teachers were a profession. In medieval times, there were artisan guilds that strictly enforced the quality of their product and there were tight restrictions regulating entry into the guild. But teachers unions do not aim for a better product (do they?) but seem to be focused on protecting teachers from measurement. Are teachers like factory workers in the 19th century? I don’t think so. Charter schools are reforms within the public education system, and were the offspring of Albert Shanker of the AFT.  Should the teachers unions be broken, or can charter schools fire incompetents and reward energetic and effective teachers?

3. On overcoming multiculturalism. See https://clarespark.com/2011/02/11/undoing-multiculturalism/. But there is another one that lays out the precursors to today’s institutionalized MC: https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/.  The remedy to MC, I believe, is the teaching of fact-based science, but also the history of “scientific racism.”That would uncover the racialist premises of MC. Moreover, it could clarify the difference between national identity based on a common set of laws (Gesellschaft), versus “national identity” based on group cultural character (Gemeinschaft and its exuded “Zeitgeist”). The latter is mystical and collectivist, the former is materialist and concrete. As I have shown in all my work, the German Romantics, from Herder to Hegel to Fichte, advocated a philosophy that led to state worship and ultimately laid the basis for the Nazi racial state. There was a big Herder revival in the Third Reich, while the new “race pedagogy” supposedly inspired by Franz Boas relied on Herder at the same time (1916) that Randolph Bourne was advocating hyphenated Americanism in opposition to the melting pot of the big cities.

4. On curriculum development and rigor. With the exception of some of America’s Founding Fathers, no elite has ever been unequivocally dedicated to an excellent popular education for all. The liberal foundations were organized to prevent revolution from below, even before the second world war. Redistributive justice (as opposed to commutative justice) was their mantra. They didn’t care about learning and uplifting the population to become responsible citizens in a democratic republic.  Enter social studies and the “progressive” rejection of the 19th century as dominated by heartless laissez-faire capitalists who mowed down everything in their paths.

A high school graduate who does not understand markets, monetary policy, accounting (including cost-benefit analysis) and competing economic theories cannot vote with wisdom or even defend her or his own interests. They will be prey to demagogues practiced in promoting conspiracy theories (e.g., antisemitism/”the money power”, “white skin privilege”) and diverting the masses from understanding how wealth is created and how economies expand.

Are today’s “experts” in child development competent to instruct the reformer about what is possible to teach at different ages? According to my correspondent, the “experts” discourage strong content at early ages. Speaking personally, I was hugely bored throughout my public school education. From at least the French Revolution on, European and American elites have feared the effect of mass literacy and numeracy, and did not sit idly back while new classes and individuals threatened them with dispossession. I am not writing this with my old red hat on. It applies to everyone. Compare contemporary American education with that of the education of European aristocracies. From early childhood on, they were made aware of world affairs, learned foreign languages, music, art history, read great essayists, poetry, and learned the art of managing the lower orders (politics). They detested America as the land of savages (i.e., those who had escaped their control and were rising to challenge them from afar).

The point of this last paragraph is to suggest that we are systematically underestimating the capacity of “ordinary people” to learn. There were many dumb aristocrats (see Disraeli  novels for a good yuk), and yet they managed to reproduce their rule through clever co-opting of threats from below. American elites did the same with the civil rights movement, fusing the integrationists with the black power militant types. The result? Victimology and the dumbing down of American education, with a spicy dash of primitivism—the rejection of Puritanism a.k.a. middle class values enforced by women, and the fantasy that [orgiastic] tribal societies unleashed the repressed instincts. There are critics from the Far Right who are tirelessly attacking American education for its shallow content; Charlotte Iserbyt is one of them. Like Nesta Webster, a fascist and antisemite (see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/20/jungians-on-the-loose-part-two/), for Iserbyt the enemy is “materialism,” an epistemology that she believes erases “free will.” Within such a pseudo-critical framework, fundamentalist to the core, it is impossible to teach history or science, and Iserbyt, for one, is hotly opposed to the charter school movement. Such persons should not be shrugged off as fringe critics, for a large part of the American electorate shares similar anti-intellectualism–it is the legacy of populism.

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