The Telegraph just published a list of Dangerous Ideas for 2006. Among them are the normal assaults on religion by science and on science by religion. Further down is Oliver Morton, the features Editor at Nature, claiming that Greenhouse Warming is a hoax (for more on the Republican War on Science, see Chris Mooney's new book by that name).
More provocative and unusual, from one of the least acclaimed voices on the roster, comes a dangerous idea that is gaining credit in the United States:
School is bad for children. Schools are structured today in much the same way as they have been for hundreds of years. Schools should simply cease to exist as we know them.
The Government needs to get out of the education business and stop thinking it knows what children should know and then testing them constantly to see if they regurgitate whatever they have been spoon-fed.
We need to stop producing a nation of stressed-out students who learn how to please the teacher instead of pleasing themselves. We need to produce adults who love learning, not adults who avoid all learning because it reminds them of the horrors of school. We need to stop thinking that all children need to learn the same stuff. We need to create adults who can think for themselves. Call school off. Turn them into apartments.
-- Roger Schank, Chief learning officer, Trump University
Absolutely absurd, you think. Yet the nation's cookie-cutter elite of "stressed-out students" have been a common complaint of cultural critics since David Halberstam began writing about the administrative disasters they caused by group-think in the 1960s, and David Lynch diagnosed the elite as embroiled in a Culture of Narcissism.
And demotivated students are a familiar case to every graduate student, particularly those of us cursed with the job of drilling state school undergrads in the basic points of lectures. Imagine a classroom of forty or fifty students, either too bored or too embarrassed to engage in conversation; imagine being told by your advisor that any number of these youth are probably illiterate and that you'll be required to give a third of them A's for effort. You try to motivate; you want to engage. But you feel as if the marks are stacked against you, and you glumly begin to recall that your advisors and mentors in the academy are all great minds who take their own research and writing much more seriously than the theologically invigorating calling to teach.
States like Louisiana are now offering full university scholarships to their high schools' C-students; a college degree has become necessary for temp and manual work, and worthless as a result of the inflation of bodies in the seats. Education isn't the word for what we've produced. Christopher Lynch called it the "lengthening of adolescence". More recently, the librarians of America have reported that only 31 percent of college graduates can read proficiently.
The appalling statistics on college-level illiteracy were reported mostly in out of the way places like Detroit and Baton Rouge. This particular dangerous theme is unlikely to be brought up by liberal intellectuals. Instead, Republican intellectuals are plotting a new kind of education, based on an aggressive laissez-faire corporatism that abandons the ancient democratic ideas of a well-educated, inherently equal populace.
Charter schools represent the very ideal model of the neocon to-the-rich-belong-the-spoils model of the free-enterprise-only anti-society. Charter schools now proliferate in the rebuilt New Orleans, where only one public school is currently open in the entire parish.
Charter Schools are much more of an issue in Detroit, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, because they go along with a NeoCon agenda to destroy public amenities and open up all realms of community involvement to the Free Market.
But Charter Schools, with the Republican agenda they imply, are currently the only solution to the problem of our failed education system. Which is a pity, because it means that liberals and progressives -- the most likely groups to care about how access to education reinforces racial and class stagnation -- will have the least say in talking about what kind of a system will replace our ailing public schools.