Bad Students not Bad Schools, by Robert Weissberg – book review
Bad Students not Bad Schools
Published by Transaction Publishers, 2010 ISBN: 978-1-4128-1345-7, 303pp (Hardcover). Available for $39.95 from Transaction Publishers, 35 Berrue Circle, Piscataway, NJ 08854-8042 or online from www.transactionpub.com Or from www.amazon.co.uk for £36.05
This is not a book with a happy ending. Yes, the author does try to outline how change may yet come, although he is far from convinced of its possible achievement. And, so, what we have before us is largely a lament, albeit, a lucid diagnostician’s lament. It makes for painful reading, this 300-plus-page dirge on the state of education in America and, by implication, throughout the West where contemporary American dogmas hold power. But read it we must if there is to be any hope of understanding what has befallen us and might still be done to save our descendants from the follies we have unleashed upon them.
Bad Students Not Bad Schools describes in excruciating detail the perfect storm that has hit public and private education in America over the last sixty or so years. It is a storm with two primary elements. First, there was the triumph of what used to be referred to as “progressive education”, with its abandonment of standards and discipline, choosing to forever focus on making youngsters “feel good”.
This methodological change was then followed by the racial integration of America’s schools and the growth through immigration and differential birth rates of its non-white populations. Thus, the radically changed conception of what a school is came to dominate, just as the very identity of the students was being altered.
According to Robert Weissberg, himself a retired university professor, each of these changes fed on the other. Since the non-whites seemed doomed to academic under-achievement, the very notion of standards has been and continues to be shelved. A increasing tendency to coddle, when schools were still largely white, has now become a tidal wave of psycho-babble as “self esteem” and “self image” have become the goal of “education” as opposed to the imparting of knowledge and skills of earlier generations.
The situation has been rendered most difficult to rectify in the author’s thesis. A vast bureaucracy of administrators, social workers, incompetent teachers and government overseers is staked in the process of ever lowering the few remaining standards. This is coupled with the “unquestionable” dogmatic credo of our mind-controllers – all races are the same in intelligence and aptitude. Thus we reach the “inescapable conclusions” that should different peoples perform differently on tests of either ability or knowledge then there are only two possible explanations: Either the tests are somehow wrongly constructed or the non-whites perform poorly because sufficient funding has not been given or appropriate methods discovered.
Further, even after the ever-increasing expenditures and the adaption of ever more bizarre teaching and evaluating methods have been employed, yet results still remain differentiated by race, we are still forbidden by the powers that be to conclude that intelligence might just be an inherited reality. The answer must lie in yet to be uncovered subconscious “racism,” the need for yet more funding and further lowering of standards.
Although Weissberg does not spend too much time on the first wind of this perfect storm, the liberalization of schooling, even before multi-racialism became the brutally enforced social and legal law of the land – it is very much worth looking back at that first alteration of the educational landscape. If the old standards, teachers and evaluations would have been firmly in place when the racial tidal wave hit, its effects might have taken a bit longer to destroy education and made a counter-revolution a stronger possibility.
In the first two decades of the post-war American “conservative movement” there was much gnashing of teeth over the decline of educational standards. This was coupled with another complaint, that America’s schools were presenting a specific world view which was antithetical to “Americanism.” This latter critique often fused seamlessly with the former. Would we be educating with the methods and using the textbooks of previous generations, such as the slowly eliminated McGuffey readers, then Americans would be patriots as well as properly educated, or so went the litany of that time.
All this may sound a bit strange in the very different world of twenty-first century racial nationalism. The reader is cautioned, though, to enter the world of mid-twentieth century America in order to get a handle on the struggle as it was then understood. Americans on the right at that time saw their constitution and its liberties, their free-enterprise economic system, their Christian faiths and their nation’s patriotic history as one. They further saw this symbiosis as linked to European culture, primarily Anglo but also stretching back to Classical Greece and Rome. It was this vaguely Christian, rugged individualism that defined America to its mid-century patriots. Now, would you have asked those defenders of “Americanism” whether there was a racial element to all this, their answers would have varied. In their heads was to be found a weird amalgamation of Enlightenment notions of personal rights and liberties, where all men are to be seen as separate individuals combined with a largely unstated assumption that the whole thing was really only relevant to and do-able with white folks. This would have been said far more explicitly prior to the 20th century, after which it was driven to the background, with the exception of a brief flowering during the anti-immigration movements and acts of the 1920’s, the eugenicist studies of the 1930s and the final gasp of the defenders of southern segregation in the 1950s.
(In the early sixties, for example, Western Islands, a “far right” publishing house, offered a series of books, called The Americanist Library. The Library claimed that it is “for readers of every clime and color and creed and of every nationality . . . each alike can become a good Americanist.” One wonders what the rest of mankind was to think of this messianic mission!)
Thus, there was no conscious racial element to the defense of, for lack of better term, traditional education in post war America. There was, however, the inchoate but never articulated sense that in back of all the “rugged Christian individualism” and “education for good citizenship” there was an identity. Conscious realization of this would have to wait several decades.
When reflecting on the battle as it was then engaged we find in 1951 the career-launching work of William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925 – 2008), God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of Academic Freedom. This book, by the recent Yale graduate, argued that significant numbers of the university’s professors were propagandizing their students against Christianity and “individualism” in the name of atheism and “collectivism.” Of course what Buckley had stumbled on here was the very nature of the educational endeavor. To what extent should or could it be neutral? May it advocate a world view? Buckley managed somehow to avoid this question, which has continued to confuse all discussions of education throughout subsequent decades, by centering his claims on the notion that Yale benefactors did not share the professors’ penchant for secularism and socialism, thus they should withhold support from the university until it taught in accordance with their beliefs.
(The analysis that American education was leading its students away from “real Americanism” was a theme of conservative critics of the fifties and early sixties. It is this writer’s impression that until the mid-sixties there was a sense amongst conservative “movement” types that there was an organic identity and a culture of some coherence which was America. This is gradually lost in later years as “movement conservatives” come to retroactively embrace the multi-racialism of a Martin Luther King and the state collectivism of a Franklin D. Roosevelt. This gradual transformation became a virtual stranglehold when the “neo-cons” seized control of the “respectable American right” in the eighties and nineties. This takeover meant the end for old school, paleo-conservatives bemoaning the “anti-American” nature of state education.)
A bit of reflection, it seems, should yield the conclusion that all education must be propagandistic. Every parent is teacher. Every teacher is a bit of a parent. No one has or ever will view the world with utter neutrality. We are all from somewhere and pledged to something. Thus, it should come as no surprise that an America, committed to Christianity and European culture and “individualism,” would teach the same to its children. Beginning in the twentieth century the elites of America began slowly to deny and then reject these assumptions. It is only natural that they would impose this change on their children. Just as today multi-racialism, feminism, heterosexual-phobia are dogmas taught by the state and enforced by its legal and cultural apparatus, so too was it in the other direction just a few decades ago. The question of how and why elites change is an important question although beyond the scope of our current inquiry. What remains is that all education imposes a world view.
A literate and prolific defender of old time education on the American right of that time was Dr. Max Rafferty (1917-1982), whose books Suffer Little Children, Classroom Countdown: Education at the Crossroads, Just a Minute Junior! and many other works depicted an educational system gone wild with leftism and progressivism. Rafferty even served for a time as Superintendent of Public Education for the State of California during the 1960s when the southern part of the state was still white and staunchly on the political right. He ran, unsuccessfully for Senator of California and ended his career as president of Troy University in Alabama
As many on the political right, before and since, Rafferty thought that victory was just around the corner. He failed to understand that his entire civilization was in mortal crisis and although describing much of the rot, remained convinced that a new day was dawning or returning.
Consider this from Rafferty’s Suffer, Little Children of 1962, published by the hard right Devin Adair Company (long defunct) as he satirically describes progressive education and then posits a return to that which was:
Poor old Subject Matter, though! Undervalued, despised, kicked into the gutter and left to shift for itself. ‘Adjustment to the peer group’ – that was the watchword. Teach only those things that are ‘meaningful’ to the pupils. . .
Ah, but those other things – the things children never learned from us. The cold, clear, beauty of Euclid; the tingling patriotism which Longfellow wrote into the midnight ride of Paul Revere; King Lear out on the heath, defying the fury of Fate and the roaring of the elements; the fascination of the star dusted light years that stretch from green earth to far Centaurus – what were all those wonderful, magical things to us when compared to ‘educating the whole child,’ ‘meeting felt needs’ and, of course, ‘bridging the gap’?
But unable to withstand the temptation to wax lyric about what, in retrospect, seems an unbalanced optimism, Rafferty concluded some fifty years ago:
“Within the last year or two, we have witnessed the beginning of the Conservative Revolution in Education. Children are being grouped according to their abilities. Homework is being assigned to elementary children. Foreign languages are being taught down in the grades. Eighth graders are studying Latin and algebra. Kindergartners in a few places are being taught to read. In California, teachers now must have an academic major or minor before they can qualify for credentials.
But although much has been accomplished, infinitely more remains to be done.”
Was this just wishful thinking in the early sixties? We shall never know, for shortly thereafter came the triumph of leftist politicization of the campuses in the late sixties and racial egalitarianism, both of which extinguished any hope for the counter-revolution envisioned by Rafferty.
Another right-wing hero of the education wars of that forgotten time was E. Merrill Root (1895-1973) whose two volumes on the decline of American education, Brainwashing in the High Schools and Collectivism on the Campus were quite popular among “movement” rightists. Here too we find the same themes. There is a decline in discipline and standards and an active anti-patriotic bent in our schools.
But in Root, as in Rafferty, we are struck by the sense that the tide is turning. America of old is re-emerging. Listen to Root writing in 1958:
“Those sporadic revolts by students and teachers [The reference here is to mid fifties revolts against leftism!] are healthy signs of a new day. They show that those who are really awake and aware know that collectivism is only the dead yesterday that men forgot to bury. They speak again in the words of Henry David Thoreau ‘there is more day to dawn. The sun is but morning star.'”
The belief that a day was dawning may also be found in The Romance of Education. This work, authored by Robert Welch, the founder of the ardently right-wing and for a time quite successful John Birch Society, offers a rigorous and romantic defense of traditional liberal arts education. The book was consistently offered for sale by the Birch Society.
All these works were standard fare for America’s Future, a nationwide organization dedicated to ferreting out leftist impulses in the schools and advocating reforms such as a return to the McGuffey Readers. These books, standard in American schools in the 19th century, were geared to teaching youngsters to read at increasingly higher levels. They began at elementary grades and continued through high school featuring very advanced literary selections, a large vocabulary and plenty of patriotic, moral and religious exhortations. Eventually there were replaced by Tom, Dick and Jane and their vapid mother and father. This identity-less, faceless and soulless family became the vehicle to teach Americans of the fifties and later how to read and, obviously, how to view the world.
(Truth be told, revolutions do tend to devour their progenitors and poor Dick and Jane have since been relegated by our ever more Draconian mind-controllers to the dustbin of history for being insufficiently inclusive of the usually favored peoples and races.)
By this point, we have a sense of how the educational battle was seen by the American nationalist right shortly after the turn of the century. What these critics, for all their good intentions, could never have foreseen or comprehended was the dire nature of the threat they faced, and how utterly that which they cherished would soon be routed.
One thinks in this regard of probably the most famous of that generation’s cultural and educational critics, Russell Kirk (1918-1994). The author of a column in Buckley’s National Review magazine for a quarter of a century, “From the Academy,” the self-styled “Bohemian Tory” wrote voluminously on matters of education. How sad it is in retrospect to read his summing up autobiography, The Sword of Imagination (1994) in which Kirk sees his life as devoted to a conservative revolution which resulted in a great triumph with the election of Ronald Reagan! Although Kirk does make reference to defeats along the way, the book concludes as it begins with descriptions of many victories and hope for America’s future.
It is with tender sympathy that we view all these educational battlers. But their struggle was doomed to failure for they lacked two tools via which that might have successfully strategized. One, they thought they were involved in literary and political quarrels with those who shared their desire to see their own way of life, by and large, continued. This was a fatal mistake. The left in America (and today the neo-conservatives as well) despise themselves, their ancestors and their very way of life. But, to avoid making this mistake would have caused our warriors to step beyond the confines of permissible debate even in the fifties, for not only did the left hate the way of life of European Americans, it hated their very existence. By some strange form of suicidal self-loathing they wanted the European people of America to be overwhelmed, abused and displaced by other races and peoples. Could Doctors Rafferty and Root or even Robert Welch have grasped such depravity? And without grasping it they were rendered powerless before it. The battle over education was a far more fundamental affair than they imagined.
And then the racial tidal wave came crashing down upon their heads. For decades their enemies had largely succeeded in having Americans come to hate themselves. For decades they had lowered standards of discipline, learning and respect. What remained, whether of the right or the left, was no match for those non-Europeans unwilling and incapable of playing by the old, now largely eroded rules.
It is at this point that Weissberg’s analysis begins. He introduces it by raising the elephant in the room question that we are now forbidden to even ask. “Do awful students produce dreadful schools or are these schools created by bad students?” We are then told that which we already are sadly aware, that “current mainstream ‘expert’ opinion thinking always asserts schools are the evil doer . . .”
This leads to the bizarre conclusion that formerly excellent schools “can ‘go bad’ as if an impersonal toxic plague-like force – not new students – struck them.” We are forever being told ever more inventive theories as to how these bad schools are created. Once again, always remember, we are forbidden to think that students themselves are ever to blame or that changing racial identities of student bodies might be the cause. Thus, notes Weissberg:
“especially popular [explanations] are physical deficiencies, insufficient supplies, overcrowding, distracting noise, hungry students unable to concentrate. . . More modern educators seem partial to instructional materials as the culprit: antiquated, too boring textbooks, non-inclusive ‘too white’ curriculums and lousy pedagogy such as (for conservatives) whole word reading (for progressives) teaching mathematics by rote learning, or (for everybody) one size fits all learning.”
What is missing in all this silly analysis, as Weissberg points out in great detail, are two factors, lack of native intelligence and normative discipline are probably the real cause of the abysmal state of American schools today.
And no matter what is tried or how much money is expended, Asians and eastern European Jews will always do better, followed by whites in general. Nowhere ever have blacks or Hispanics been able to achieve anywhere near equal results with the above-mentioned groups. Now, in a saner age this might be attributed to intelligence and cultures geared to discipline and learning. But these answers are now forbidden, not only to be advocated but even haltingly suggested. In fact, even hinting at them will result in job loss and social ostracism. Generally speaking the more preposterous a dogma is the more it has to be enforced by terror. The fact that the entire educational, governmental and media establishment in America will not allow these questions to be explored is singular proof that they must be a threat to these imaginary sandcastles.
Weissberg does not offer much hope for the future.
Educators have long discovered how to quiet restless consumers – inflated grades, meaningless diplomas, generous honor roll standards. inclusive definitions of ‘gifted,’ and all the rest that puts psychological satisfaction above the rewards of hard work. . .Who will organize rallies on behalf of teachers who flunk half their class? By contrast, real graduation standards are to be overcome with litigation, not greater diligence.
Weissberg points out that in all efforts or endeavors where real results are desired, all the gibberish of professional educators falls away. From medicine to sports to the military, when reality of some sort is on the line, there is a demand and acceptance of real standards, work and discipline.
At the book’s conclusion Weissberg sketches what a speech by a true educational reformer might look like:
“Ladies and gentleman, for the last half a century America has been addicted to endless educational reforms, gimmick after gimmick with negligible success. Despite glittering promises, matters get worse while we spend ourselves into bankruptcy.
“There are no easy answers. To be frank, many – perhaps most – of our problems are self-inflicted. Millions of students abhor learning while making education impossible for others. . .
“Our present generous system, sad to say, keeps on rewarding the failing students, and as any economist will tell you, if you reward, you get more. . .
“Nor must we be obsessed by closing gaps between blacks and whites, rich and poor, boys and girls. . . people will always differ in talent and inclination, and to pursue leveling after this is to be found impossible, brings everybody down. This may make some uncomfortable, but it is reality.
“None of this may be successful. . .In the meantime, students, since the magic ‘smart pill’ has yet to be invented, should just hit the books, and parents stop taking to the streets to demonstrate for ‘better education’ and just help Junior.”
Ah for a breath of such fresh air from our mind-controllers! Rest assured it is not to come. Neither scrutiny of the shibboleths of egalitarianism nor of education for “self esteem” is in the cards. Ours is a society with a deep-seated self-loathing death-wish. It will have to be played out a bit longer.
In the baby-boomer generation, of which I was a part, New York City public schools were terribly overcrowded. Classes numbered close to 40 students. There were no computers, smart boards, copy machines, movies or similar paraphernalia. Yet somehow, classrooms and halls were always orderly and what would today be seen as “impossibly” high levels of learning took place.
My mother related that in the 1930s overcrowding was such that in high school (!) students sat two to a chair with righties and lefties paired up to allow both to be able to write simultaneously!
These schools were composed of children of Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants with a handful of the old Anglo and Dutch New Yorkers mixed in. The teachers were taskmasters and grading was real. Parents were part of a general culture of respect and effort. There were no non-whites in attendance.
It is impossible to envision how this picture could possibly be restored. The patriotic songs and symbols of those eras have long gone. Standards are largely nonexistent. Work and the focus needed for it is very difficult for the cyber plagued generation.
But more than anything else the citizenry is rapidly being replaced. So even if by some miracle a political and cultural revolution would take place, what might it set out to do in America’s non-white future?
Weissberg has done us a great service by saying all this explicitly. But I suspect he, too, knows that the game is over. Survival such as there is to be will have to take place in private schools with a clear cut religious and/or racial identity and via home schooling.
Will there be some civilizational revival for European man, a catacomb like existence or relocation elsewhere? It is very difficult to say. Ours is an age of transition. In the meantime, though, it is time for all European men to educate their own. This may well do more in the long run than supporting political efforts that garner less than ten per cent of the vote. Don’t get me wrong. These efforts have their place but they are not the primary means to survive and persevere.
Reviewed by Hugh Perry, Worcester, Massachusetts