Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Role of 'Educators'

Thomas Sowell

Many years ago, as a young man, I read a very interesting book about the rise of the Communists to power in China. In the last chapter, the author tried to explain why and how this had happened.

Among the factors he cited were the country's educators. That struck me as odd, and not very plausible, at the time. But the passing years have made that seem less and less odd, and more and more plausible. Today, I see our own educators playing a similar role in creating a mindset that undermines American society.

Schools were once thought of as places where a society's knowledge and experience were passed on to the younger generation. But, about a hundred years ago, Professor John Dewey of Columbia University came up with a very different conception of education -- one that has spread through American schools of education, and even influenced education in countries overseas.

John Dewey saw the role of the teacher, not as a transmitter of a society's culture to the young, but as an agent of change -- someone strategically placed, with an opportunity to condition students to want a different kind of society.

A century later, we are seeing schools across America indoctrinating students to believe in all sorts of politically correct notions. The history that is taught in too many of our schools is a history that emphasizes everything that has gone bad, or can be made to look bad, in America -- and that gives little, if any, attention to the great achievements of this country.

If you think that is an exaggeration, get a copy of "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn and read it. As someone who used to read translations of official Communist newspapers in the days of the Soviet Union, I know that those papers' attempts to degrade the United States did not sink quite as low as Howard Zinn's book.

That book has sold millions of copies, poisoning the minds of millions of students in schools and colleges against their own country. But this book is one of many things that enable teachers to think of themselves as "agents of change," without having the slightest accountability for whether that change turns out to be for the better or for the worse -- or, indeed, utterly catastrophic.

This misuse of schools to undermine one's own society is not something confined to the United States or even to our own time. It is common in Western countries for educators, the media and the intelligentsia in general, to single out Western civilization for special condemnation for sins that have been common to the human race, in all parts of the world, for thousands of years.

Meanwhile, all sorts of fictitious virtues are attributed to non-Western societies, and their worst crimes are often passed over in silence, or at least shrugged off by saying some such thing as "Who are we to judge?"

Even in the face of mortal dangers, political correctness forbids us to use words like "terrorist" when the approved euphemism is "militant." Milder terms such as "illegal alien" likewise cannot pass the political correctness test, so it must be replaced by another euphemism, "undocumented worker."

Some think that we must tiptoe around in our own country, lest some foreigners living here or visiting here be offended by the sight of an American flag or a Christmas tree in some institutions.

In France between the two World Wars, the teachers' union decided that schools should replace patriotism with internationalism and pacifism. Books that told the story of the heroic defense of French soldiers against the German invaders at Verdun in 1916, despite suffering massive casualties, were replaced by books that spoke impartially about the suffering of all soldiers -- both French and German -- at Verdun.

Germany invaded France again in 1940, and this time the world was shocked when the French surrendered after just 6 weeks of fighting -- especially since military experts expected France to win. But two decades of undermining French patriotism and morale had done their work.

American schools today are similarly undermining American society as one unworthy of defending, either domestically or internationally. If there were nuclear attacks on American cities, how long would it take for us to surrender, even if we had nuclear superiority -- but were not as willing to die as our enemies were?


British pupils to learn Byron and Blake by heart in poetry drive

Teenagers will be encouraged to learn classic works by Byron, Blake, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats off by heart under new plans designed to improve understanding of poetry in schools, it was announced today.

A new anthology featuring 130 poems has been published as part of a Government-backed programme designed to promote the subject at the end of secondary education.

Thousands of 14- to 18-year-olds will be expected to learn and recite the poems from their memory in a competition led by Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, it was announced.

The collection – featuring a range of poems from the 14th century to the present day – is intended to present schoolchildren with a broad sweep of the genre over more than 600 years.

It includes pieces such as John Donne’s The Good-Morrow, extracts from Paradise Lost by John Milton, William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence, Lord Byron’s The Destruction of Sennacherib, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias and John Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale.

The anthology also includes modern poets such as Benjamin Zephaniah, Simon Armitage and the current Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said the move was intended to pass the nation’s “cultural legacy on to the next generation”.

It comes after claims from Sir Andrew that many schools were shunning more “difficult” poems in favour of verse that narrowly appealed to their interests.

He suggested that teachers needed to be equipped with a “wider range” of poetry needed to inspire pupils instead of using English lessons as a “means of ticking yet another set of boxes”.

Ofsted, the education watchdog, has also previously warned that classical poetry was losing out to nonsense verse in the classroom.

Launching the competition on Monday, Sir Andrew said the anthology was intended to feature “familiar poems from the canon alongside less well-known pieces”.

“In every case, we preferred poems that make a powerful impact when they are heard aloud – not because they are theatrical, but because they dramatise experiences that surprise us into a new apprehension of ourselves and our capacity for imagining, thinking and marvelling,” he said.

Mr Gove added: “The richness and diversity of this anthology will ensure that more children than ever will be captivated by the work of many great poets.”

As part of the competition, pupils will be encouraged to memorise one poem published before 1914 and another after 1914. Pupils will be judged on their recital skills at a school and county level before a final at the National Portrait Gallery in London in April.

More than 250 schools and colleges have signed up so far.

The Department for Education, which is providing £500,000 funding to The Poetry Archive to develop and run the competition, said the scheme was intended to promote an understanding of the subject and enable pupils to develop “self-confidence and creative understanding”.

It is also hoped that it will give teachers the opportunity to extend and develop their teaching of poetry and allow children to cover a more broad range of verse, officials said.

Tom Payne, the Telegraph's poetry critic, said the anthology was a "good-looking list" but insisted some pupils and teachers would "hate some of the poems here".

"I do think the list looks a little on the serious side – students do need reminding that poetry is fun," he said. "A good many poets here have written good and memorable comic stuff, but even Betjeman is represented by something elegiac."

He also said that there was a danger presenting more modern poems alongside earlier verse.

"It's a real risk offering contemporary work, however wonderful it seems now," he said. "We don't yet know how vital it will be to these children, who will, after all, be carrying this stuff in their heads into their nineties and beyond."


Primary school league tables 2012: Combining shows with studies at England's top school

No black or Asian faces.  Putnam would understand

From putting on a performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat to achieving the best test results in the country, everyone at Ashurst Church of England Primary gets involved in the school’s success.

The tiny rural village primary near Steyning in West Sussex was the only school in England where every 11-year-old pupil exceeded the expected standard for their age in both English and maths this year.

Janet Williams, the head teacher, said the school of 61 pupils aged between four and 11 was “more or less one large family”. The staff know all the children very well and support their individual needs.

Pupils also take part in a wide range of non-academic activities, from the chess club, which has beaten much bigger schools to reach the finals of the Sussex junior tournament three times in the past 15 years, to the annual spring music festival and Christmas play, which this year was Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about the Biblical story of Joseph.

Mrs Williams said: “You want to make sure your children are sufficiently prepared for the tests, but they form just part of the children’s curriculum.

“We have a wholly enriched curriculum. We do a huge amount of work by way of the performing arts - theatre, drama, music, plays. The children will do all of them.

“Each and every person contributes wholly. We’re trying to look at the whole child and potential can lie in various places.”


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