Modern compassion is less about the love of the other and more about the relief at not being among the unfortunate, caught between a proverbial rock and a hard place.
During COVID, I felt great compassion for parents who could no longer outsource their kids to an educational establishment of medium-at-best competency.
Now Labor Day is behind us, summer is over, and it’s back-to-school time for our nation’s citizens-in-the-making.
While it is certainly a great relief to get your kids out of the house again, don’t delude yourself as to the quality of the education your kids are getting. Zoom gave many parents a window to see and hear what really is going on in the classroom, so there’s no longer any credible excuse. The three Rs have long ceased to be the focus. And this is not a new development. How you think—which requires rigor—has given way to what you think—which requires mere feelings. Sanctioned opinion, not free and rigorous thinking, is the desired and rewarded classroom activity.
I was born at the tail end of the Meritocracy Era in American education. Kennedy’s “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” was still in the air—even after he, his brother, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were dead. Elementary and grammar schools still lived up to the reputation of the brand. We learned, most often by rote routine, our mental chopsticks—multiplication tables and math formulas, parts of speech and the key dates of our civic experiment—and let’s not forget the daily pledge of allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands.
The fruits of rational liberalism—a meritocracy of the mind—died in my lifetime. When I went to university, two books captured in their titles and their pages the consequence of the new Zeitgeist taking over—Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. Today, the American mind is closed and united in its commitment to disunity.
It was a different time, and if we were to take a genuine Pepsi challenge with it, our present Woke Coke would be found grossly wanting.
The old commitment to the three Rs has a new trinitarian focus: Race, Class and Gender, and—spoiler alert—it has a pre-K through PhD curriculum. The Jesuits would be impressed at the scale of the enterprise. If you can shape minds at scale, the future is yours.
How is this new ruling orthodoxy doing? They are certainly doing well—for their own. If we look at the money per child that we are spending on education, we demonstrate that lack of money is not the problem. According to the Reason Foundation, inflation-adjusted K-12 education spending per student has increased by 280 percent since 1960—four-fold since 1955 —the majority of it going to administrators and a new Mandarin class of educators without classrooms.
But how are the consumers of education doing? Are American students 280 percent smarter now than they were in 1960? Sadly educational outcomes—student achievement—has remained flat-to-down. Our outcomes are worse than Cuba’s. With no money to spend, Cuba, we are told, has achieved impressive literacy rates. As important, and possibly, as a result, their people know that communism is a lie. We, on the other hand, spend profligately to get a level of illiteracy and innumeracy that puts us at the bottom of the free, advanced world. In our educators’ defense, they graduate generation after generation who drink, salute, and defend the ideological Kool-Aid served up on ice.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. We have lost our American mind. We are not creating the citizens we need to rise to challenges, but a generation of illiterates. And every generation gets worse. Although parents are starting to stand up to protest in school-board meetings, most adults do not want to get involved with their children’s education. Soon, the parents will be so poorly educated they won’t know how to do so even if they have the will to do it.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at Planned Man.