Monday, December 14, 2009

Hollywood and Howard Zinn's Marxist Education Project

by Michelle Malkin

The two most important questions for society, according to the Greek philosopher Plato, are these: What will we teach our children? And who will teach them? Left-wing celebrities have teamed up with one of America's most radical historians to take control of the classroom in the name of "social justice." Parents, beware: This Hollywood-backed Marxist education project may be coming to a school near you.

On Sunday, Dec. 13, the History Channel will air "The People Speak" -- a documentary based on Marxist academic Howard Zinn's capitalism-bashing, America-dissing, grievance-mongering history textbook, "A People's History of the United States." The film was co-produced and bankrolled by Zinn's Boston neighbor and mentee Matt Damon. An all-star cast of Bush-bashing liberals, including Danny Glover, Josh Brolin, Bruce Springsteen, Marisa Tomei and Eddie Vedder, will appear. Zinn's work is a self-proclaimed "biased account" of American history that rails against white oppressors, the free market and the military.

Zinn's objective is not to impart knowledge, but to instigate "change" and nurture a political "counterforce" (an echo of fellow radical academic and Hugo Chavez admirer Bill Ayers' proclamation of education as the "motor-force of revolution"). Teachers are not supposed to teach facts in the school of Zinn. "There is no such thing as pure fact," Zinn asserts. Educators are not supposed to emphasize individual academic achievement. They are supposed to "empower" student collectivism by emphasizing "the role of working people, women, people of color and organized social movements." School officials are not facilitators of intellectual inquiry, but leaders of "social struggle."

Zinn and company have launched a nationwide education project in conjunction with the documentary. "A people's history requires a people's pedagogy to match," Zinn preaches. The project is a collaboration between two "social justice" activist groups, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

Rethinking Schools recently boasted of killing a social studies textbook series in the Milwaukee school system because it "failed to teach social responsibility." A Rethinking Schools guide on the September 11 jihadi attacks instructs teachers to "nurture student empathy" for our enemies and dissuade students from identifying as Americans. "It's our job to reach beyond this chauvinism." And a Rethinking Schools guide to early childhood education written by Ann Pelo disparages "a too-heavy focus on academic skills" in favor of "social justice and ecological teaching" for preschoolers.

Teaching for Change's objective, in Obama-esque fashion, is to train students not to achieve actual proficiency in core academic subjects, but to inspire them to "become active global citizens." Today's non-achieving aspirants are tomorrow's Nobel Peace Prize winners, after all.

No part of the school curriculum is immune from the social justice makeover crew. Zinn's partners at Rethinking Schools have even issued teaching guides to "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers" -- which rejects the traditional white male patriarchal methods of teaching computation and statistics in favor of p.c.-ified number-crunching:
"'Rethinking Mathematics' is divided into four parts. The first part is devoted to a broad view of mathematics that includes historical and cultural implications. Part Two includes nine classroom narratives in which teachers describe lessons they have used that infuse social justice issues into their mathematics curriculum. Included here … an AP calculus lesson on income distribution. The third part contains three detailed classroom experiences/lessons. These include a physical depiction of the inequitable distribution of the world's wealth, the results of a student investigation into how many U.S. presidents owned slaves, and a wonderful classroom game called 'Transnational Capital Auction' in which students take on the role of leaders of Third World countries bidding competitively for new factories from a multinational corporation. …

"Short lessons, provocative cartoons and snippets of statistics are scattered throughout 'Rethinking Mathematics.' A partial list of topics includes racial profiling, unemployment rate calculation, the war in Iraq, environmental racism, globalization, wealth distribution and poverty, wheelchair ramps, urban density, HIV/AIDS, deconstructing Barbie, junk food advertising to children and lotteries." (from a review by James V. Rauff of Millikin University)

Our students will continue to come in dead last in international testing. But no worries. With Howard Zinn and Hollywood leftists in charge, empty-headed young global citizens will have heavier guilt, wider social consciences and more hatred for America than any other students in the world.


House Leaders Vote to End D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program

It’s turning out to be a lousy Christmas for D.C. children. Late last night, the House dealt a hefty blow to the future of school choice in the District of Columbia. House leadership passed an omnibus appropriations bill which includes language to phase-out the successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships of up to $7,500 to low-income children to attend a private school of their choice. The omnibus prohibits any new students from receiving scholarships, phasing it out in the coming years. The omnibus now moves on to the Senate for consideration, and if passed, will effectively end the D.C. OSP – and the hopes of thousands of District children of receiving a better education.

Despite President Obama’s pledge to support “what works” in education, he and Secretary Arne Duncan have stood idly by as the future of the Opportunity Scholarship Program grows dimmer and dimmer. Lawmakers know the OSP works, D.C. residents know the OSP works, and families know the OSP works. Yet weeks continue to tick by as low-income D.C. children wait to hear the support of their President for their continued educational success.

Some members of Congress understand what’s at stake for District families. In a letter to Senator Richard Durbin and Representative José Serrano written on Monday, Minority Leader Boehner and Senator Joseph Lieberman others wrote: "This program has the overwhelming support of D.C. residents, parents, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, former Mayor Anthony Williams, and the D.C. City Council….Five years after the first scholarship students walked into their new schools, we know that the program is helping them both academically and socially…Local D.C. officials and residents have been very clear – they want this program to continue…In fact, during his sworn testimony before the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia, Mayor Fenty stated that he supports adding new students to maintain the current cap."

As members contemplate the future of school choice this weekend, they should inform their decision by watching Let Me Rise: The Struggle to Save School Choice in the Nation’s Capital. Perhaps seeing the faces of the children and families so greatly impacted by the opportunity to receive a quality education will move them to support school choice in the District.


British children have never worked so hard and learnt so little

For all the time and money put in, the education system is fundamentally flawed, says Charles Moore

Exams in the summer are well known for high stress, but mid-December is the time of the school year when everyone is at their most tired. What John Donne called “the year’s midnight” coincides with the end of the longest term. Look at the strained, anxious faces of mothers on the school run. Look at the pale, exhausted children who totter out of school into the mid-afternoon darkness. Look at the teachers, writing reports, filling in forms, snuffling with incipient colds and trying to smile through the Nativity play (where “diversity” policy still permits it).

What is it all for? Never in history have politicians talked more about the importance of education. Never has it been more generally agreed that the modern world is a “knowledge economy”. The famous Clause Four of the Labour Party’s constitution referred to securing for “workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry”. Everyone realises that nowadays brain usually secures fuller fruits than hand.

And yet, does the average pupil end up knowing more or knowing things more deeply than, say, 50 years ago? Could the average pupil of today do long division, or speak French, or write an English paragraph, or explain the Great Reform Bill, or find Valparaiso on a map, or operate the laws of thermo-dynamics better than his or her equivalent half a century ago?

Perhaps not, the defenders of current education would say, but modern pupils know much more about saving the planet, safe sex, Eid, and challenging racism, not to mention things not even thought of in the 1950s, such as the internet. They learn more that is “relevant”. They also, modern educationalists argue, acquire more “skills”. Instead of being crammed with sterile facts, they know how to engage with a subject. They learn less mere “what”, but more “why” and “how to”.

This is not all rubbish. Looking back on my own (mostly good) education, both state and private, in the 1960s, I can see some of its deficiencies. We were not taught where history came from. It was just a series of facts and stories: no one taught me the idea of sources and evidence until I was about 15.

We learnt grammar – both Latin and English – well, but we never quite knew what grammar was. Grammar was considered so important that it gave its name to the best state schools in the country, but why was it considered so important? We were not really told. The aim of modern education to teach children to ask more questions, and not simply to stuff them with information, is surely right.

But that promise has been broken. We seem to have devised a system of curriculum and examination which pulls off the incredible double of being very hard work but very low quality. There are endless projects and modules, and endless ways of re-marking to upgrade one’s results, but no definite test of what is known and understood.

In this process, a strange thing has happened. For all the patter about diversity, education has become more hostile to things that are outside the immediate experience of the pupil. Much less pre-20th-century history or literature is taught. Fewer pupils learn foreign languages, let alone dead ones. Individual sciences have been conflated into the easier “dual science” paper. We heard this week that a quarter of primary schools never teach pupils the Lord’s Prayer, partly (presumably) because the words of a Jew who has been dead for 2,000 years are considered out of date.

Because of my current war against Andrew Marr’s TV history of The Making of Modern Britain, I went on the Today programme yesterday to argue with the historian Tristram Hunt. He said that 14-year-old London pupils who had watched Marr had pronounced it boring because, despite all Marr’s costume capers and silly accents, it was not relevant enough to them. Hunt wanted Marrxism squared – yet more japes to get the wandering teenage attention.

In the end, though, how can anything be taught if the test is whether pupils who know very little find it boring? One of the worst things about being badly educated is that you are easily bored. If somebody asks, “How could Jane Austen/Plato/Mozart/William the Conqueror/Einstein or whoever be relevant to inner-city kids?”, the answer is surely that it is the kids, not Jane Austen etc, who have the problem. It is the job of teachers to help them out of it.

There is a nice bit in Boswell’s Life of Johnson when Dr Johnson stops a poor boy and says, “What would you give, my lad, to know about the Argonauts?” “Sir, I would give everything I had,” the boy replies. But we have given up teaching poor boys about the Argonauts. We have despaired of the transformation which education can bring about.

Schooling is now effectively compulsory from the age of four to 18. But too often, the people who emerge from those long years have not learnt the “what” or the “how to” or the “why”. You can see this in the practical things of daily life. Huge numbers of drugs, it turns out, are wrongly administered in hospital because nurses have not followed the instructions precisely. No one taught them the habit of accuracy.

How many people can draft, unaided, a letter or email that coherently makes an argument? How many people can calculate their own tax, or work out whether they are choosing the right pension? How many people can begin to understand the legal system or argue successfully with a bureaucrat or comprehend with any accuracy what their doctor is telling them?

More important still, how can people enjoy the richness of our civilisation if no one has introduced them to its glories? It is possible to go to school now without ever learning why those large buildings in every town have plus signs on them, or to look at a pound coin and not to know why it says “D.G.REG.F.D” on it, or to catch a train at Waterloo station without knowing why it is so called.

None of this can improve so long as politicians are so heavily engaged in education. Ed Balls can no more work out what our children should be taught than he can bring them up for us. Education is essentially a contract between parents, who want their children to acquire knowledge, and teachers, who must have their own independent idea of what that knowledge should be. The role of the state is only to support it, not to order it.

And that, in embryo, seems to be the policy that the Tories are developing. I sometimes wonder if they really know how radical they are being, and therefore how fiercely the bureaucracy will resist them.


1 comment:

Robert said...

After reading about Howard Zinn's Marxist "education" project, I find the lyrics from the parody "Vader Boy" that go "...and Sidious' evil grin, kind of like Dr. Zinn..." a very appropriate comparison.