"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, April 13, 2006

"Cannon Fodder in the War on Thinking"

A beautiful piece by Chris Clarke at Creek Running North:

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Last night

Public school teachers make up the largest, most accessible sector of the United States’ intellectual class.

They are the cannon fodder in the War on Thinking.

Public school teachers are the largest constituency that represents a government-funded social program.

They are the cannon fodder in the War to Starve Government.

They time my wife with a stopwatch. The government curriculum must be followed! An afternoon behind schedule, or ahead, and the warning letters come. No matter that the children struggle, or that having mastered the material, they sit despondent, bored. If her students learn too quickly, she is deemed out of compliance. If she takes time to explain, she is deemed out of compliance. If she is far enough out of compliance, she is deemed substandard.

In June 1862 the Harper’s Weekly published the following:

THE conduct of Mr. Stanly, the new military Governor of North Carolina, has naturally excited great attention it has raised the profoundly important inquiry whether the United States makes it a penal offense to teach any person to read and write. Doubtless the authorities at Washington will have disposed of Governor Stanly’s action before these lines are read. But the principle involved ought to be clearly understood by every citizen. The law of 1830 in North Carolina forbids all persons to teach “slaves” to read or write. Mr. Stanly’s order assumes that all blacks in the State are slaves. But they are not so, so that even upon his own technical ground his proceeding is unjustified. The United States, whose agent he is, does not assume that any man is a slave or a criminal until he is proved to be so.

It is now legal to teach the great-great grandchildren of slaves to read and write: it is merely made near impossible. Thus we enjoy the fruits of a century and a half of Emancipation.

The rich bring their children up to speak confidently, with the assumption of privilege to come. The poor duck their heads, assume their lot is unceasing, give up or explode in righteous, misdirected anger. The rich can better survive an alcoholic parent, a distracted parent, an absent or abusive or dead parent. The poor do not have ten-dollar copay childhood counseling included in their health plans, nor SUV rides to private tutors.

The ideologues dismiss the peeling paint, the nonexistent books with a wave. They declaim the futility of throwing money at problems caused by lack of money.

I graded tests for her last night, a trivial bit of help on a bad night, a gaze into the abyss. Every Scantron bubble wrongly darkened, every miscalculated fraction a mark against a birthright, and the viscid, monstrous trash who chase their tax cuts would deny the children even the pencils with which they make their mathematical errors. We bought the pencils instead.

I am a strong man. I could not bear her burden. Not one in fifty of you could, and I mean no insult. We who expect our jobs to end by nine P.M., we who do not mark a day as special when we can eat lunch or use the bathroom, we who do not have the lives of thirty people in our hands each day and watch them slip through our grasps: we cannot know the soul-gnawing that is a good day at work for Becky.

A few paragraphs down in that 1862 issue of the Harper’s Weekly, the reportage continued:

Whenever any especially inhuman and repulsive measure is proposed in Congress or elsewhere it receives the support of people who call themselves, and are called by their friends, “the conservative party.” Whenever a base and disgraceful interpretation is given to any clause of the National Constitution it is called by the same persons “the conservative view.” Whenever any rigorous and radical means of suppressing this cruel rebellion are suggested, they are malignantly resisted by the same “conservative” party and papers.

The best advice to give a new teacher: learn how not to cry until you are at home. I have known people in a thousand professions, and routine weeping is associated with but one. Sometimes the veterans chuckle through the tears. Sometimes, as last night, one tear erodes the penstocks, and ragged howls of anguish echo off the walls, nails clenched deep and cutting into palms.

The conservatives’ disdain for Becky’s work, their negligient hatred for her students, twists a dagger in her gut. I try to take the long and jaded view, but I do not lightly bear injury to my love, even in the abstract.

I do not wear hatred comfortably, but sometimes love compels it.

Posted by Chris Clarke on 04/06 at 02:02 PM


  1. Wow. And, yes, a tear.

  2. "The ideologues dismiss the peeling paint, the nonexistent books with a wave. They declaim the futility of throwing money at problems caused by lack of money."

    FLASE! The correlation (% minority enrollment, $/pupil) is positive in every single US State with five or more districts over 15,000 (or 20,000, depending on which year of the __Digst of Education Statistics__ you use). Some of the top-performing US States (as measured by NAEP 8th grade Math scores) spend the least per pupil. Some of the top-spending districts get truly wretched results. Dilapidated buildings and obsolete textbooks are not due to insuficient taxpayer generosity; the bureaucrats steal taxpayers' money and poor kids' life chances.