The Clare Spark Blog

August 29, 2014

LABOR DAY 2014

KOLsealLabor Day was a counter-revolutionary exercise in its very foundation during the administration of Grover Cleveland. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day. Revolutionary socialism was the last thing that the AFL or the less well-known and long defunct Knights of Labor desired.

This blog will focus on those aspects of our dominant sociology that seek to defang the labor movement. [For a blog that shows resistance to New Deal labor codes as dished out by the State by one black radical, see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/02/labor-day-2013/.%5D  But since I, unlike Sam Dorsey,  am not writing from the revolutionary Left (see https://clarespark.com/2014/05/10/why-i-left-the-left/), I will focus on those features that deter workers from acting in their own interest, for instance in their mindless capitulation to union bosses (a bureaucracy that is rarely mentioned these days).

  1. Populism versus revolutionary socialism. As I have written before, populism is a petit-bourgeois radical movement that seems to offer upward mobility to ambitious persons from humble backgrounds. Populism deploys such phrases as “the masses” or “the people” as if all but ruling elites formed a compact entity with identical economic and social interests. I don’t see why class analysis should be the monopoly of the Left. Clearly, small business and big business have different structures and problems; the same applies to male and female workers, especially with respect to child rearing and housework. (As to whether or not “class collaboration” between “business” and “labor” is a good thing or not, I leave to economists and other historians. The labor movement made its peace with capitalism during the 1930s and 1940s, and “big labor” has no revolutionary aspirations, to the disappointment of Leninists. The “labor movement” as it once existed, no longer exists in this “post-industrial” service-oriented economy.)

But even worse, populist politics, early on co-opted by “progressives” pervade popular culture, and are promiscuous in their antagonism toward “elites”. In its original form, populism was heavily antisemitic (i.e., bankers, like “Wall Street” were generically a Jewish cabal with ambitions to control the world), a fact brushed out by its New Left defenders. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/02/02/the-legitimate-aspirations-of-the-___-people/.)

I noted during the art world upheavals of the 1970s that protesters defined themselves as “populists”, not as “socialists,” for  the term “populism” however tainted by its initial anti-Semitism, was acceptable (for such intellectual celebrities as Hannah Arendt, “the people” was the opposite of a mob, implying that individuals believed in their particular individual rights; hence “the people’s” critique could apply to the supposed crimes of any elite suspected of taking away such rights, no matter how competent the elite’s members might be in their particular field). A particularly grotesque example is found in the Chomsky-ite attack on Walter Lippmann (again an antisemitic gesture) that spread the canard that Lippmann’s influential book Public Opinion (1922) called for the “manufacture of consent” in the newly developing mass media, in order to hornswoggle the gullible people-becoming-mobs. ( See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.) A similar condemnation of mass culture can be found in Hannah Arendt’s “must-read” tome The Origins of Totalitarianism (1950, 1958). And yet Arendt is worshipped by many academic radicals, as are other “critical theorists.”

A similar outrage was found in the counter-culture that continues to delight in technophobia and representations of mad scientists (see https://clarespark.com/2014/06/25/penny-dreadfuls-sinister-significance/.)

Indeed, when I defended the Enlightenment on a Pacifica radio popular morning show in the 1990s, I was accused of being a CIA agent, hence the lowest form of animal life—this from listeners who believed themselves to be anticapitalist and pro-labor.

night-of-the-living-dead

 

Cultural pessimism. What could be more detrimental to working people than the current mood of doom and gloom? Is it any wonder that they seek refuge in sports and other forms of mass entertainment, that are predictably primitivist and (stylishly) loud?

Where does this doom and gloom originate? Surely not in the aspirations of the Founders, most of whom were avid followers of the various European enlightenments, and who were guardedly optimistic about the future of the republic. I locate the apocalyptic, technophobic, and anti-intellectual mood to the regnant populism and 1960s counter-culture that arguably never had the welfare of working people as their goal, but rather emancipation from their parents—stand-ins for the evil “jewified” bourgeoisie. Enter “youth culture” as revolt against “suburban sadness.”

Materialism and the working class. American reactionaries (among whom I count the populists and faux “liberals”) come out of German (philosophical) Idealism, which was always antidemocratic and protofascist. “Materialism” is now widely understood as an addiction to consumerism and similarly shallow values, whereas materialism used to signify a retreat from mysticism to the power of the individual to use her or his senses, to reason, and thus to defend her and his interests through making sense of the world and its institutions.  This older view of “materialism” is now blamed by culture warriors of the Right on “secular progressives”—meaning persons like me who praise cultural pluralism and stand up for education in the sciences, economics, and history, putting children ahead of teachers unions and their narrow interests.

I will end this Labor Day blog by observing that teachers are petit-bourgeois and definitely NOT working class, despite their enthusiasm for their “unions” in which they ape the organization of real laborers. When I trained to be a science teacher in the 1950s, we were constantly asked “is teaching a profession? And if so, should they strike for higher wages?” It is our teachers who are preparing their students for real life as mature adults. The least they could do is not succumb to those administrators who joyfully participate in the Democratic Party urban machines and the collectivist ideologies that these mobsters dispense to kids and their parents who could and should know better.

Postscript: I got this comment from a Facebook friend Stuart Creque this morning after I asked what was interesting about Labor Day: “ My dad was a trade unionist, which is funny because he was a high school teacher, not a laborer. Teachers unionizing is rather like Hollywood writers unionizing: it has nothing to do with collective bargaining power and everything to do with self-image as “working men and women.”

But what really fascinates me about labor today is the death of solidarity. My dad exposed me to what labor solidarity was. And the interesting thing is that nowadays it seems almost nonexistent. Each union seems out for its own interests, and more likely to focus on poaching from other unions than coordinating with them or even honoring their picket lines.

In the Writers Guild of America strike a few years ago, the union actually counseled its members to write and earn as much as possible in the days leading up to the strike deadline. They had no concept that they were giving management inventory to work on during the strike, reducing pressure for a settlement. They had no concept of collecting a strike fund over time and then ordering a work-to-rule slowdown leading into the strike. They also had no stomach to hold out for synchronizing contract deadlines with other Hollywood guilds and unions.” I can only add to Stuart Creque’s comment that writers are competing with each other and thus have little motivation for solidarity in protecting the quality of their work. They form a guild, not a union.

MightisRight 

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September 2, 2013

Labor Day 2013

Alison Saar sculpture palma y palmara

Alison Saar sculpture palma y palmara

On the history of this holiday see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day. For a conservative response to the crypto-communism seen in this celebration, see http://www.nationalreview.com/article/357369/red-monday-kevin-d-williamson. President Grover Cleveland made the first Monday in September a holiday to avoid May Day associations with the Haymarket Massacre, the latter an event that has taken religious tones for some Leftists.  Since the Knights of Labor were involved in Grover Cleveland’s decision, I suspect that the initial modern labor movement was nostalgic for medieval guilds that excluded tyros and enforced standards of craftsmanship that are now gone with the wind. In the early days of the American Republic, it was customary for the various occupations to mount parades celebrating their contributions. Such parades are lovingly resuscitated and honored by academic historians of the labor movement; such scholars are generally devoted to “the new labor history” that confines itself mostly to the “culture” of the industrial working class as opposed to its internal politics and hierarchies. Nestled in academe, with tenure and necessarily silenced and dependent students, these academics can be regarded as aristocratic radicals, blue jeans and work shirts notwithstanding.

I know a bit about the decorative arts and modernism in general, and American craftsmen, once ignored as too severe or kitschy, are now admired as “folk artists, a.k.a. primitivists.  But this blog is not about the collecting habits of New England WASPS, or the ways some modern artists had adapted old forms for political purposes in such redoubts as the East Village of NYC in the name of a reinvigorated “spirituality” (opposed to bourgeois “materialism”).

The academic left is assiduous in documenting the spectacular strikes of industrial workers in the 19th C, the Pinkerton operatives who mowed the strikers down like rabbits , the popularity of Eugene V. Debs, the ferocity of A. Mitchell Palmer and his confederates in destroying the IWW, and the sit-down strikes of the 1930s. Indeed, John Dos Passos’s trilogy USA is surely one of the great American novels, though the reputation of Dos Passos has taken a hit after he exposed the criminal infiltration of big labor in his novel Mid-Century (1961).  No one on the Left will forgive his defection, a process that began with his break with Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War over Hemingway’s indifference to the fate of the murdered Jose Robles (Dos’s translator). But USA readers should have noticed that he was always hard on Communist organizers.

The 1930s are frequently lauded as a decade of amelioration for the working class under the guidance of New Deal legislation, but see this letter from Emmet (“Sam”) Dorsey, Ralph Bunche’s colleague at Howard University (not dated, but 1933):

[Dorsey to Bunche:] “This town is in an uproar. Labor is raising hell. There are thousands in Union Square every night denouncing the N.R.A. and “Yankee imperialism in Cuba.” An epidemic of strikes are breaking out all over. The government is being driven to the position of opposing all strikes. If this policy of the (gov.) continues labour will be just out of the picture. It’s an anomalous situation. Roosevelt is begging labor to organize! He wants labor to police his codes. Labor is incapable of organizing because of its reactionary and unwieldy craft structure. And Bill Green is pitiable. One of the best and also most tragic stories is the one concerning Swope and Green. Swope asked Green to organize his industry! Such an organization would be an industrial union. Green said that he couldn’t do it because he would have to interfere with the autonomy of the several unions in his (Swope’s) industry. The test has come and the structure, tactics, and ideology of the A.F. of L. [are] found to be terribly outmoded and inept. Only the radical unions are able to move. But they because of the strangle hold the A.F. of L. has upon the Amer. labor movement can’t do the job. If labor were intelligently organized now it could really bargain but as things now stand all that it can do is to call shop and plant strikes which have no national labor support and therefore are treated by the government as attempts to sabotage its program. If labor doesn’t get itself together and seemingly it can’t what can the result be but complete monopolized control from above? Well, it’s their U.S.A. Let them mess it up.” (Swope was a progressive and President of General Electric. Enter the CIO, industrial unionism, and sordid affiliations with gangsters.)

I quoted Dorsey’s  letter, because Bunche (during his radical period in the 1930s) was enraged by the power that union bosses had over the rank and file. Such analysis is missing today by labor historians, who have plumped for “the labor movement” (along with the anti-globalization movement), but have not dwelt upon its abandonment of its original noble goals: to ensure the health and safety of its members, to improve their material condition, and to guard the consumer from faulty, even dangerous, merchandise/products. Indeed, government unions are not criticized for internal corruption or for their very existence. Nor has the academic left worried its head over the decline of public education (surely the bedrock of longstanding worker demands). Rather, it has stigmatized the “white working class” as nativist while supporting teachers unions against charter schools or vouchers.

Thos. Hart Benton: The Twist

Thos. Hart Benton: The Twist

In a short blog, I cannot dwell upon the absence of women’s work in the home as only a recent concern of labor historians (e.g. Alice Kessler-Harris), but it is worth pointing out that technology has made the old glorification of “the dignity of labor” obsolete, for many men, but not for mothers whose exhausting tasks in rearing children go largely unrecognized except on token holidays such as Mother’s Day.

Indeed, it was a communist claim that science and technology had created a revolution in productivity that the social relations of capitalism could not handle, hence the drive to obscene waste and war by profiteers. But the record of the Soviet Union, that bastion of “socialism,” discredited its claims that the future worked.  Today, the industrial working class has largely disappeared, thanks to automation (though sweat shops in Los Angeles exist, along with farm labor and food preparation in Southern and agricultural red states). Bureaucrats in civil service, or low-wage service employees, domestic labor and/or janitors are now targets of lefty organizing, while our populist POTUS wants to make everyone “middle class,” even if there is no money to pay for the innovations of the New Deal and the Great Society.  The old industrial working class is no more, and it is hard to see how communist agitation directed toward the overthrow of “exploitative finance capital” can deliver the leisure and higher culture that such communists as R. Palme Dutt promised in 1934. We seem hardly to know what to do with the leisure we do have.

On a personal note: though my European ancestors were apparently not proletarian or engaged in farming, but seem all to have been rabbis or small craftsmen, I have always identified with those toward the bottom of the totem pole: labor, whether these be enlisted men in the armed services, construction workers, plumbers, garment makers , domestics, or mothers/ housewives whose work is never completed. One of my father’s cousins died in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire) .

Today I look around and see a shocking disengagement from politics, economics, and the future of our country in favor of apocalyptic cultural pessimism, meaningless chatter/kvetching in social media as in most social gatherings, and few ideas about what should constitute informed and effective political action. Sex (including S-M), fashion, celebrity-worship, raucous popular music, and the culture wars have replaced the once vibrant and contentious political culture that characterized the US from the Revolution onward.  Political correctness countered by religious and political fundamentalism and conspiracy theories substitute for a detailed, accurate knowledge of the flawed social movements that brought us to this sorry pass.

Are we not cannibalizing the bones of our ancestors?  A cause for national atonement, I dare say.

quote-a-truly-american-sentiment-recognizes-the-dignity-of-labor-and-the-fact-that-honor-lies-in-honest-grover-cleveland-38560

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://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/nyregion/seeking-teachers-support-mayoral-candidates-pledge-education-reform.html?ref=evasmoskowitz&_r=0

http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/04/christie_town_hall_raritan_val.html

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/2010/09/22/links-to-arne-duncan-blogs/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/01/perfectly-progressive-parenthood/

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/

https://clarespark.com/2010/01/02/jottings-on-the-culture-wars-both-sides-are-wrong/

https://clarespark.com/2010/06/15/the-classics-as-antidote-to-science-education/

https://clarespark.com/2011/08/03/jobs-program-for-education-reformers-or-the-new-prometheus/

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/

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

https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/

https://clarespark.com/2011/05/16/questions-for-education-reformers/

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/2011/07/17/literary-criticism-ravitch-variant/.

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

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/28/popular-sovereignty-on-the-ropes/.

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

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/15/prometheus-bound-but-good/

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/19/bullies/

https://clarespark.com/2012/11/09/race-and-the-problem-of-inclusion/

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

https://clarespark.com/2013/02/27/american-exceptionalism-retold/

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/

https://clarespark.com/2014/02/01/harvard-ed-school-leads-in-vaguely-dumbing-down/

https://clarespark.com/2015/07/09/harvards-advocacy-of-simplicity-as-remedy-for-failing-schools/

https://clarespark.com/2015/07/14/depraved-indifference-to-education-reform/

Arne Duncan and Obama at play

March 31, 2012

Nell Painter’s History of White People

Rather than summarize the scope of Nell Painter’s book, I ask you to read this review by a sympathetic colleague. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/books/review/Gordon-t.html?pagewanted=all.

As  Linda Gordon’s NYT review makes clear, Nell Irvin Painter, a much honored historian, has written The History of White People (Norton, 2010), directing this synoptic intellectual/cultural history to a popular audience, hence biting off too big a chunk of history. Not so surprisingly, Professor Gordon, a well-known left-feminist, does not launch an ideological critique, for she shares the same social democratic/New Deal belief system. Gordon is a noted historian of the welfare state and feminist issues, but since she is of the same faction as Painter, she could not identify the slant of Painter’s book, which mocks the notion of cultural syncretism and the melting pot in favor of a salad bowl or multiplicity of American identities, defined in terms that rooted cosmopolitans would recognize: see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/).

Briefly, Painter reiterates the left-progressive (but not Marxist*) story of American identity, one defined in racial terms: American identity, the echt example of Manifest Destiny masquerading as universal messianic liberator, was in fact racist, imperialist, classist, sexist, etc. Howard Zinn could have written this book, and did. American identity is nowhere related to the revolutionary character of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, or to the uniqueness of the conception of popular sovereignty—a notion of popular participation that would require several centuries and bitterly fought conflicts to be worked out, and even then, thanks to the unhelpful interventions of many progressives like Painter and Gordon, was undermined by boundaries to education established by corporatist liberal elites and their allies and pets, the teachers unions. For a chronology see https://clarespark.com/2011/10/24/turning-points-in-the-ascentdecline-of-the-west/.

The corporatist liberals are a movement of patricians who attached themselves to “intercultural understanding” as a solution to looming class politics from 1900 on, and who were especially threatened in the 1930s, when materialist analyses were prominent and popular. (See my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/. Ralph Bunche and other anti-racist blacks—especially Abram L. Harris–writing in the materialist tradition and in opposition to German Idealism, are absent from her book, along with such as white antiracists Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens and many abolitionists, also Anglophiles in the sense that they celebrated libertarian ideals.)

In Painter’s account, New England Puritans were the bad guys whose ancestors framed the Magna Charta (dissed by Painter), and whose descendants were (with the exception of Ruth Benedict) nativists associated with the Republican Party. All other Americans (obviously blacks, but also non-Aryans) were  their victims.  But recent trends in intermarriage have blurred the sharp racial lines that were established by “scientific racism.” The latter is an ideology forged in Germany and England, and then eagerly taken up by American Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt and those she associates with him, Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant  [although Zangwill dedicated his The Melting Pot to TR]. Into the brew add a host of American eugenicists and evil statisticians, who not only persecuted Appalachian whites and ethnic groups from Eastern and Southeastern Europe, arbitrarily designating themselves (the WASPS) as the natural elite and true white people, but originated, avant la lettre, some of the most repellent Nazi practices and beliefs.

Along the way, Professor Painter, like other social democrats, presents herself as a sympathizer to the working class and to anarchists and communists absurdly hounded by the proto-Nazi Republicans in the riotous and strike-ridden year of 1919. (Readers of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism will find some of the same miscreants, e.g., Margaret Sanger, only in his widely admired book, it is progressives who are the fascists and Nazis.) And yet, Painter does not recognize or acknowledge the German Romantic predecessors to multiculturalism and Nazism alike. Nor does the term “organic conservative” darken her palette. (See these take shape in the interwar period in numerous venues as I laid out in several blogs: https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, https://clarespark.com/2010/03/05/organic-conservatives-and-hitler/, https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/.  In other words, the progressives and Southern Agrarians were as enamored of “Anglo-Saxon” collectivist/corporatist categories as the uniformly racist Republicans she taunts throughout.

I do not know why Painter wrote this book unless it was meant to lure Reagan Democrats away from the Republican Party, back to the Democratic Party as it has evolved under President Obama. Her work reminds me of a common designation by 1930s Stalinists whereby all Republicans were Fascists, whereas the multicultural Soviet Union was the home to the most amply realized freedom of the individual.

One or two last words: Although Painter is hostile to antisemitism, she is not sympathetic to Israel, or to “Jews” who insist on “having the last word.” I did find her description of Hiram Powers’s “The White Slave” to be a useful key to identifying the erotic appeal of Katherine McPhee’s big number in the last episode of Smash. Dressed in white drapery, country mouse McPhee as Marilyn Monroe, is hounded to death and caged by her [Jewish?] masked promoters/fans, with her allure defined by whiteness and the chains (bars of the cage) that link purity, sex, and submission. But any hip feminist would have seen through that one.

Hiram Powers' White Slave

*Marx admired the American Civil War as one of the great world revolutions. His communist supporters, writing in The New Masses during the 1930s, admired America for having developed the productive forces that would make the transcendence of capitalism a practical possibility. In those days, one could find radicals who admired the bourgeoisie as a progressive class. The New Left, mesmerized by black nationalist militants and Afro-centrists like Nell Painter, scrubbed away that interpretation of U.S. history. I rather  like her paintings however.

"Plantains 3" Nell Painter

October 9, 2011

Vox populi, vox Big Brother: Terry Moe’s new book

In a prior blog (https://clarespark.com/2011/08/01/alexander-hamiltons-rational-voice-of-the-people/) I quoted from Federalist #22, written by Alexander Hamilton. The last paragraph is especially striking:  [Hamilton:] 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.” [Hamilton’s emphasis. p. 110, The Federalist, edited by Max Beloff, 1948, second ed. 1987]

[My comment on the prior blog:] “…what inspires me is the “elitist” Hamilton’s final remark affirming popular sovereignty (see Gordon S. Wood’s The Creation of the American Republic, for commentary on what he calls a “hackneyed” expression. I look at Wood’s book here: https://clarespark.com/2011/10/30/collectivism-in-the-history-establishment/). Throughout The Federalist we find the same commitment to reason, specifically to concrete analysis of the material challenges that faced the new nation. Though they are often labeled as elitists by those who identify with the debtor class, Hamilton, Jay, and Madison did not appeal to “tradition” that had ever favored King and Church as the fountainhead of “legitimate authority.” Even though the men who argued for the Constitution were sharply at odds over some policies, they agreed that the American republican experiment was unprecedented, and the most enlightened in human history. Measures for educational reform, insofar as they construct a better curriculum, cannot ignore the fundamental rationalism and materialism of the Founders. “Live free or die,” is not merely the motto of New Hampshire; it is the very essence of American exceptionalism.” [end prior comment]

Now comes Terry M. Moe’s recent book, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2011). The author is a Stanford U. political scientist and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, who offers an institutional analysis of teachers unions, identifying them as the single most powerful special interest in the country affecting education, one that has successfully blocked efforts at education reform of the kind that would put the interests of students ahead of jobs for teachers. But the book ends on a hopeful note: not just globalization that has highlighted the deficiencies of American public education will turn the tide, but the internet will, over time, destroy the heretofore unbeatable teachers unions, through an unprecedented decentralization of power, accountability and choice for learners.

Here is where I find Moe’s utopia short-sighted, though of course I am on his side. Because he is an analyst of institutional structures and political power, and also, between the lines, a self-described progressive (he subtly aligns himself with the achievements of the New Deal, p.345), he is unable to identify the damage done to American children and their [progressive] educators over the last 120 years or so. For unlike the Founders, modern educators, fed by populism, statism, and ethnic or racial politics, have been anti-materialist and anti-rational; my website has been preoccupied with documenting this flight from science and from critical thought throughout the populist and progressive movements.

Terry Moe does not tackle either the curriculum that is everywhere contested, nor the fragmentation of vox populi, nor the nonstop partisan propaganda issuing from a multiplicity of groups, each vying to control what their children learn about past and present, almost invariably identifying the enemy as “narcissistic.” Big Brother is alive and well, and not just on the social democratic left that Orwell was worried about. Moe addresses a constituency that is dangerously polarized: the inevitable outcome of irrationalist political/social movements that do not always say directly what they really want.

Nevertheless, authoritarianism, whether it comes from the Left, Right, or “moderate middle”, is threatened by the proliferation of computers and the increasing possibility of self-education;* Moe is right about that. But before the much anticipated revolution in learning can be realized, students will have to learn to read and decode, i.e., comprehend,what they are seeing, whether words or images, or admired personalities, including their parents, teachers, and other idols.

*Larry Sand reminds me: “The change that Moe and most other online learning enthusiasts envision is one of ‘blended learning.’ In this model, students still attend school but  learn from online teachers and then have back-up from a live in person teacher.” He is correct, so the online research, properly conducted, does make it possible to become more self-directed and informed about competing historical narratives for all controversial events and partisan interpretations, including the words we use every day. See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/15/making-mobs-with-bad-words-and-concepts/.

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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