Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Less Love, Show Me Some Money

As a teacher, the funniest thing every four years is how important my profession becomes. Each election cycle, politicians bloviate on the importance of education, and the need for qualified teachers, and how more money must be spent on schools. All this in ignorance of the fact that American students perform woefully on tests, find it difficult to write a sentence in English, much less read one, and have forgotten how to behave themselves with any dignity or self-regard.

Not that I mind the desire to drop more money into the open hole that is public education. Except for one fact. I don't see a dime of it. I teach at a Catholic high school. If the government is intent on flushing taxpayer's money down the toilet, there seems to be little I can do about it. I'd just like to wet my beak a little.

As it is, teaching in a Catholic school, I am earning about $10,000 less a year in salary (this does not include pension or health care benefits) than I would were I to work in a public school. And yet I perform a public service, at least according to the politicians, bloviating quadrennially as they do. Add to this the fact that I have placed my children into a private school, thus relieving the state of the burden of educating my darlings.

What I propose is this: let me write off the difference in salary as a charitable donation. I am forgoing this salary, and yet I am still providing the service, therefore I am making a donation to the good of the community. And as I am not requiring the state to provide for the education of my children, perhaps we can make that expense deductable as well, because the state is not required to expend resources for my babies.

This doesn't put extra money in my pocket, perhaps, but it does help me keep more of the money that I do earn. This way those loquacious public servants, who wish to deify every teacher they meet, including the good ones, the ones not marking time, putting in their hours until the summertime, the ones not cruising the high schools to score a date, the ones who actually know and understand their subject matter, can provide for all teachers, not just the ones who pay dues to a union.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Why Would You Want to Learn?

I was reading an article about Jesuit education the other day, and it occured to me how far we have fallen. The object of Jesuit education was cultivating the whole person, mind, will, and soul. They sought to teach children to think for themselves, and be able to tackle whatever task that confronted them, and take up the vocation meant for them. Jesuit education turned out people able to use their natural reason and willpower to accomplish anything they set themselves to.

To argue against Jesuit education then, is to argue that we have something bettter. Higher test scores? A body of young people who are better suited to meet any challenges? Youth who are able to live lives of discipline, making good decisions? Do any of these seem familiar? Not to me, either.

Jesuit education was truly "liberal" education: its purpose was to free our minds and our will from the bonds of animality. The focus of a Jesuit teacher was to make his charges into a human being. What do we have now?

We have an educational system that wants to make people happy. We have an educational system so infected with a spirit of Capitalism, nothing can be taught that is not immediately and apparently useful for use in a factory or for programming computers.

Gone is the day of the educated man. One who knew and understood history, philosophy, economics, religion, mathematics, music, language, but was not tied to any one of them. That was the day of education for the sake of liberation.

What do we have now? Education for the sake of slavery. We teach our children to read just enough to understand the computer manuals. We teach them just enough to make better use of machines that drive industry. Once they go through the process of education, they are spit out onto the workforce, found a job in a cubicle, and set to the task of working forty to sixty hours a week on someone else's dream to produce more money for others. Vocation plays little part in this; "What am I best suited for?" is a question no one dare ask.

After the 40 hours of soul numbing labor, our grown children will crawl home, and seek to dull the agony by television, or drinking, or some other form of consumption. Do they rest? Certainly not. Reflection and rest do not put money into the coffers of industry. They consume. They attempt a lifestyle that has been promised and held out of reach, like food from Tantalus. To feed this desire, an offer is made. Free money. Just sign here, and the money will be free. Only it isn't. It is bought at a price: 23 cents on the dollar. Sometimes less, frequently more. So now, their time and labor is sold at too low a rate to their employer on one end, and on the other, their money is taken from them by bankers. Who is truly free in a system like this?

Is a communist? Please. Replace the banks and the industrialists with the state, and you have the same picture, only less pretty. At least the capitalists keep us happy with bright colors. It is as if we are living in the Matrix. We live to provide energy (read money) to the system, and it uses us as if we were batteries, keeping us in a state of fantasy, to make sure we play along.

Panem et Circensis. Bread and Circuses. Beer and Football. Reality shows and Starbucks. And the absurd part of it is that we are paying for the methods used to enslave us. That is the advantage of capitalism over communism. The communists failed because they couldn't make the system pay for itself. The capitalists answer "Make the slaves pay for the things they want!"

And the purpose of education is to throw our children into this world. How many times have you asked "When will I need to know..."? This is a mercantile attitude to education. Who cares if you ever use it? You are training your brain to think, to think in a methodical, careful way. You are learning to approach reality as it is and understand it for what it is, not for the fantastic construction on the part of modern "industrial" education. True, you'll never have a chance to talk to Caesar. But you should learn Latin anyway. Latin is careful, it is methodical, it is orderly. Master Latin, and you have mastered the art of thinking.

So what would happen if a segment of the population checked out of the industrial education game? What happens when an old-fashioned, Jesuit trained mind is confronted by an undisciplined product of the public schools? If we want our children to have a distinct advantage in the world, perhaps it is finally time to recognize the hideous farce of modern education, and turn back to the ways that are time-tested. A person with a keen intellect, supported with an iron will, is always a force. What do we see now in our schools, even at the admission of most teachers? Weak willed, weak minded slaves to fashion and consumption. They deserve better from their parents, from their teachers, and from the leaders of their communities and their nation. But we have ensured they will be unable to perceive that, or if they do, act on it.

And we should be damned for that failure.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

"Your name is Toby."

A curious thing happened while listening to the testimony of Dr. Rice before the Senate. I flashed back to a scene from Roots. Kunta Kinte is being whipped because he refuses to answer to his new name, "Toby". The overseer would stop and ask, "what is your name?" And Kunta Kinte would answer, "Kunta Kinte". Eventually, the beating becomes so unbearable that he finally answers "Toby".

If I were a cartoonist, I would draw a cartoon. Only Dr. Rice would play the role of Kunta Kinte, and Barbara Boxer would be the overseer, wielding the whip. The rich plantation owners, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, would be watching on, "They've got to know their place" would be on their lips. And the question would be, "What is your political party?"

Dr. Rice has the temerity to be a black woman who is not grateful to the Democrat plantation owners, and seeks her own identity instead. How else can we explain the behavior of the sensitive and tolerant and culturally diverse and nuanced, except to say that she is not acting as she should: she is not grateful to the Optimates for the gifts they have given her, and so they will have to castigate her publically, to teach a lesson to all the other members of the Democratic "plantation". "We own you" they seem to say, "you will do what we tell you to do." So much for freedom of expression.

If you think about it, Dr. Rice is an exemplar of "minority identity politics". She grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the last truly vicious spate of racial violence. One of her closest childhood friends was killed in the infamous church bombing. She rose from Birmingham to earn a BS in Political Science from the University of Denver, a master's from Notre Dame, and a Doctorate from University of Denver. She is a Phi Beta Kappa, she speaks Russian so fluently that she corrected her translator on a recent visit to Moscow, and she is a concert level pianist. What part of this makes her unqualified? What part of her resume wouldn't have members of the NAACP glowing with pride as they recited it from a dias?

Add to this that she is the first black woman to be Secretary of State. I would expect to hear plaudits pouring forth from official blackness authorities. Nothing but silence. It seems she lacks the central most important qualification: nomination by a Democrat. In the eight years of the Clinton Administration, the highest a minority got was Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Not exactly a cherry spot, that one. The three key Cabinet postings are Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and the National Security Advisor, becuase they meet with the President on a more or less daily basis. HUD? Once a month, tops.

It really is a joy to watch the dusty old crowd on the Senatorial commitee attempting to lecture Dr. Rice, especially Joe Biden, who can't hasn't found an original thought that wasn't worth stealing. Or Teddy Kennedy, the first Kennedy in his family not to graduate Harvard (kicked out for cheating on a Spanish exam). We're not talking intellectual lights, here. When confronted with a person possessed of profound insight and critical thinking, they fly up in a tizzy.

I really hope she could be convinced to run for President, especially against Hillary, if only for the spectacle of the mainstream media and all the official black people attempting to prove she is neither black nor a woman.