March 11, 2014

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Since the 1960s we have spent trillions to uplift the bottom. All nostrums, whether liberal or conservative, free market or statist, have failed and there is nothing on the agenda that offers any hope. The latest, President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper scheme to help struggling young men of color, is similarly doomed. 

Why? All such methods avoid imposing painful hard work. As the old slogan tells us: no pain, no gain. Achieving anything in life entails some discomfort, but this simple fact is unspeakable for today’s social engineers. No politician dares endorse measures that cause discomfort to recipients. Imagine training today’s impulsive poor to steel themselves against temptation by electrically shocking them if they open the fridge too often. Better to put a smile on their faces with free meals, free cell phones, subsidized housing, and yet more pointless social services.

Nowhere is this pain-free, work-averse mentality more evident than in education. Sesame Street perfectly captures today’s pedagogical orthodoxy: happy multicultural “€œfun”€ where nobody is ever disciplined for screwing up. Imagine the outrage if Big Bird had to sit in the corner with a dunce cap for his chronic tardiness. Millions of parents would protest that doing so would traumatize Junior and leave him unable to do his homework. What’s next? The sugar-addicted Cookie Monster starved until he finished his broccoli?

“€œAchieving anything in life entails some discomfort, but this simple fact is unspeakable for today’s social engineers.”€

The misguided quest for pain-free learning is a hopeless progressive fantasy. School is inherently painful. Merely showing up requires getting out of bed no matter how tired you are. It requires traveling, sometimes in bad weather, five days a week, 180 days a year. It demands that you eat school cafeteria food for at least 10 years to satisfy legal requirements and then returning home, again occasionally under unpleasant conditions, all while foregoing more enticing alternatives. Worse is sitting still for long periods, being bossed around by teachers, fighting off boredom, and most of all having one’s self-esteem lowered by repeated academic mistakes. Why else have compulsory education?

But rather than accept the pain/learning nexus, today’s educators seek to mitigate it, and what better way to make it all “€œfun”€ than to hamstring discipline-minded teachers? The Blessed Sister Anna Marie Godzilla, the 4″€™9″€™”€™ Dominican from hell who taught Latin to terrified dolts, would never make it past the first week of school. Woe to the teacher who uses shame, stigma, and ridicule to impart knowledge. This even includes teachers rewarding stellar performances”€”a gold star to the smartest only makes others feel rotten. Better to praise everyone, bestow inflated grades, and boost everybody’s self-esteem. Especially in today’s Hobbesian inner-city schools, savvy teachers will not punish the chronically disruptive”€”just call the police or have the school nurse prescribe Ritalin.

And if this “€œkindness”€ still does not relieve the pain, dumb everything down. After all, why psychologically scar children for life by making them feel stupid? Let scrapbook-like portfolios replace essays, forget about rote learning (so-called “€œdrill and kill”€), while books give way to video games and films. If too many students fail the test, drop the test. In an emergency, teachers can falsify the results and hardly anyone will complain.

Today’s education reforms perfectly reflect this fear of punishing students. When it comes to helping the bottom, absolutely nothing entails reversing lethargy, let alone combating disorderly behavior. Instead, “€œeducation reform”€ safely focuses on curriculum, school choice, unionization, standardized tests, funding levels, teacher incentives, and technological gimmicks, even ending inequality as the pathway to greater learning. Zero about cracking the whip while the official orthodoxy assumes that students, even the most uncivilized, naturally crave learning, so everything is about feeding these knowledge-hungry minds.


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