Thursday, December 1, 2022

Hillsdale Goes To War On Education

It's a lot, but we're going to learn about how babies are made and get a warning about the violence to come.

I am not a fan of war-and-violence rhetoric. The word "war" has been thrown around a lot as a political tool, and its use in so many causes minimizes actual warfare, in which people try to kill each other and plenty of death and maiming ensues. And when people insist on using that kind of rhetoric, they tell more about themselves than about the conflict they're attempting to describe. 
So when Imprimis, the Hillsdale College inhouse publication, runs a version of a speech by its chief Larry Arnn under the title, "Education as a Battleground," I'm certain that mostly what's about to happen is we're going to get a view inside Arnn's head, which as an influential christianist right wing player in the education debates, is a view worth considering. I've read this so you don't have to. Let's see what's going on in Arnn's dark little view. This may take a while.

We've got trouble right here

He opens with the stats showing that administration in education has grown far greater and faster than the growth in number of students or teachers. That's really worth looking at (especially since the charter sector that Arnn loves is generally even more top-heavy than public schools). It's actually a statistic worth mulling, but he's going to use it as an Ominous Sign of other changes in our whole nation-- "a change in how we govern ourselves and how we live."

He then plays with the words fundamental and foundation in order to build a long rickety bridge over to the notion that it is education that "has changed everything else."

The next paragraph is something special.

One way of describing the change in education today is that it provides a different answer than we have ever known to the question: who owns American children? Of course, no one actually owns the children. They are human beings, and insofar as they are owned, they own themselves. But by nature, they require a long time to grow up—much longer than most creatures—and someone must act on their behalf until they mature. Who is to do that?

In other words--this raises a really important question, except it doesn't because we all know that isn't a valid question, so let's talk about this other question instead. On the page this is a crazy self-contradiction, but remember this was originally a speech, in which one can ring a bell, announce that the bell shouldn't be rung--but the bell cannot be unrung.

But he's not done. Because he goes on to explain that the "who must act on their behalf" question isn't one anyone asks, either, but, he argues, that question is implicit "in the question: who gets to decide what children learn? It is contained more catastrophically in the question: who decides what we tell children about sex?" So he's laid out a chain here, whereby making decisions about whether students should be taught about the Spanish-American War, prepositions, and pregnancy is pretty much the same thing as claiming you own the child.

Are these decisions the province of professional educators, who claim to be experts? Or are they the province of parents, who rely on common sense and love to guide them? In other words, is the title to govern children established by expertise or by nature as exhibited in parenthood? The first is available to a professionally educated few. The second is available to any human being who will take the trouble.

Look, I'm a parent four times over, and have been through more than a few experiences in which I have felt the need to make sure my judgment overrules the judgment of the school or the people in it. But the notion that anybody who makes a baby is naturally imbued with common sense and love for that child--well, it is not aligned with reality. 

Where babies come from

Arnn is going to lean into the "natural" part of his point. 

Prior to recent scientific “advances,” every child has been the result of a natural process to which people have a natural attraction. “Natural” here does not mean what every single person wants or does—it means the way things work unless we humans intervene.

Stay with me here. Because people like sex and sex makes babies--well, actually, he admits that "not every human is attracted to the natural process of human reproduction but nearly all are" and "nearly all" is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. Anyway, this process works, he says, because we are better than other creatures especially because we can talk. (You gorillas and dolphins in the back just hush up). And because we can talk and reason, "we are moral beings" who can distinguish right from wrong. And since we are social beings, we can explain stuff to each other that other creatures don't which "draws us closer together than even herd or swarm animals." Sure.

So. We are unique in having those capabilities, which is what the framers meant by "all men are created equal." Arnn argues that "this equality has nothing to do with the color of anyone" and I'm sure the spirits of the people that the framers kept enslaved or gave on a fraction of a full vote (though Arnn reports on his old prog who replied to animal rights activists by saying that "one must not be cruel to any creature, but ...only those who can talk are entitled to vote").

Okay--second reason that human reproduction is unique is "our especially long period of maturation," which I'm thinking is not that unique at all. But he's trying to get somewhere. Newborns would die without attention (which is not a segue into a call for national paid parental leave) and they must take years to develop the skills and knowledge needed. 

Modern educators often mistake the work of helping them to learn for actually doing the learning for them.

I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. I have never met a human, let alone a professional educator, who made that mistake.

The skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic are direct exercises of the rational faculty. They are in principle the same thing as talking, and in principle every child will learn much of them unassisted.

Hey, look! Arnn supports Balanced Literacy and thinks phonics are bunk! Also, Arnn doesn't grasp that learning to speak and learning to read and write are two completely different things, one largely natural and one largely not. But here comes this word salad to wrap up section one of this tome.

Raising a child has always been difficult and expensive. With rare exceptions, it has always been true that the parents who conceive the child raise him the best. And throughout American history, it has been thought that the family is the cradle of good citizenship and therefore of free and just politics. Public education is as old as our nation—but only lately has it adopted the purpose of supplanting the family and controlling parents.

"Rare exceptions" is working hard here, but it's just a stop on the way to wrapping up the first section of the speech with the charge leveled against public education.

The commie nazis are coming

Arnn cites DeSantis and Youngkin as governors who won "on this battleground of education." Also, "supplanting the family" gets us the stuff that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and Communist China, and don't forget Orwell's 1984. We're not there yet, he warns,
But we do have children being turned against their country by being indoctrinated to look on its past—of which all parents, of course, are in some way a part—as a shameful time of irredeemable injustice. We also increasingly have children being encouraged to speak of their sexual proclivities at an age when they can hardly think of them.

The premise, as always, is that nobody would become a socialist or LGBTQ on their own, but they have to be seduced to these unnatural views by evil grownups. And even though we disposed of this question, here we go

Who “owns” the child, then? The choice is between the parents, who have taken the trouble to have and raise the child—and who, in almost all cases, will give their lives to support the child for as long as it takes and longer—or the educational bureaucracy, which is more likely than a parent to look upon the child as an asset in a social engineering project to rearrange government and society.

There are all manner of absurdities here. There's the not-insignificant number of parents who have not and will not give their lives for their children. And this massive social engineering project? There are certainly people with such aspirations out there, like the folks who think we can engineer a cradle-to-career pipeline to churn out and track employers' dream meat widgets or the folks who believe that if they keep their children in a bubble, they can make them grow up to be dutiful religious followers. What distinguishes these groups is their remarkably low level of success. And meanwhile, teachers are just trying to "social engineer" students to bring a pencil to class and keep their hands to themselves.

Arnn goes on to echo a speech by Chris Rufo at Hillsdale last April. The thesis is that there is an administrative state (a really deep one, one might say) composed of elites who are well paid and permanently employed, who have in turn taken over colleges and universities and turned them into indoctrination camps. These faceless bureaucrats are supposedly dispassionate and nonpartisan, but Arnn doesn't buy it (and I'm not sure I blame him on this one). Arnn argues that this administrative state can and should be reined in by the law (as interpreted by conservative judges). 

The deep state and the school system

The administrative system, with roots in DC and "tendrils" in "every town and hamlet that has a public school." The result has been to move money and authority away from the schools and toward the bureaucracy. It's an interesting observation that puts Arnn directly at odds with the standards movement, and ought to prompt a serious conversation about the choice movement, which pretends to put power in the hands of parents but actually moves it to private vendors and leaves an awful lot of it with the government.

But Arnn is not interested because "the political battle over this issue is fraught with dishonesty." He's chuffed because he thinks any attack on the system is styled as an attack on teachers, but dammit those teacher unions are at least half devoted to growing the administrative state. 

Ge decries the seductivity of bureaucracy, because we like knowing that there are processes in place that give legitimacy. A history curriculum is adopted not because "it gives a true account of unchangeable things that have already happened, but because it has survived a process."  This is a solid religious right view--there is a Truth, it is set in stone, and only adherence to that Truth should be a measure of legitimacy. This is the root of why the religious right is actually anti-democracy; the legitimacy of a government does not come from any democratic process, but from its adherence to the Truth As I Understand It. 

Arnn criticizes the involvement of "stakeholders" in education, brushing away the notion that parents are not the only people who have a reason to care about the kind of education children are getting.

Bring on the violence

Arnn believes that the key political contest of our time is between two clear sides. On one side, parents and "people who make an independent living" (by which I assume he means people who don't get paid by the government). On the other side, the administrative state "and all its mighty forces" (because it's important that we understand that Arnn's side is the underdogs, the true victims here). 

Then we get this.

As long as our representative institutions work in response to the public will, there is thankfully no need for violence.

Yikes. As long as you do what we want, nobody has to get hurt. 

Arnn wraps up with some de-contextualized quotes from the Declaration of Independence and ends with his own declaration:

And so it is our duty to defend our American way of life.

Still here? Good for you. Let's take it home.

This speech serves as yet another window into the religious right's education manifesto. The deep state has taken over the government, all the way down to your local schools, which it is using as a tool of indoctrination to create more socially engineered tools for the deep state itself. So, to fight back against the deep state, they must take over the education system (either by commandeering the public system or replacing it with their own system) as a means of destroying the deep state from the roots up. 

They're pretty clear and straightforward and consistent about this message, and the use of battlefield language shows how seriously they take the struggle. 

This is one of those times when it's wise not to lump education reformers together. The Hillsdale crowd is really at odds with some reformsters, like every federal approach from NCLB onward. It's also important to note that, unlike some folks in the reformy camp, these folks are not interested in a better conversation nor anything else remotely resembling negotiations. They know what they want, they are assured in the certainty of their own rightness, and they are not prepared to alter their view of The Truth. 

We should take them at their word. Government is to be driven out of education and it is to take its place in a marketplace dominated by right-thinking christianists. Until that day comes, they will not put down their swords or leave the field of battle.

1 comment:

  1. And your comments are well made. Now here's an incredibly important question; does your view have more credibility than his?