The vagaries of deadlines and publishing dates are such that columnists in newspapers such as this one are often at a disadvantage. As I write this, I have no way of knowing how various school board elections turned out. Be that as it may, it’s a topic that cries out for comment.
There was a considerable amount of disconcertion among some elements over what was perceived as the injection of partisan politics into what is ostensibly a non-partisan contest. This view is, of course, either blatantly disingenuous or stunningly naive.
Few issues could be less politically charged than the education — perhaps nowadays, as Albert J. Nock predicted, better labeled “training” — of up and coming generations. This is a fact the left has cleaved to for quite some time, going back to the progressive era. The reason is simple: teachers possess, by virtue of their position, the unique ability to impart bias. Furthermore, they can do so under the aegis of authority.
Back when education was about imparting knowledge for its own sake, this wasn’t much of an issue. Cicero and Milton, for instance, wrote what they did regardless of whether you leaned liberal or conservative.
A predicate was a predicate no matter what your views on society might be.
But it was perhaps to be expected that sooner or later the temptation to redirect the purpose of education toward a desired social end was too much to avoid. And so we have seen over the course of the last several decades that education became about something other than knowledge as social engineering and leveling became the new focus.
Suddenly, education became “child-centered” rather than “knowledge-centered.” Equality became more important than result. Group projects took the place of individual achievement. Relativism replaced fact. Colleges that trained teachers were more concerned with establishing “professional disposition” rather than making sure teachers knew the subjects they were teaching.
The main result of inculcating the leveling impulse into public education has been a reduction in standards, as education gradually trends towards the lowest common denominator. Children who can’t read are advanced because it’s unfair to hold them back. Children with exceptional skills are fettered by a system that despises distinction.
And so we end up with kids going into college who ask questions like the one George Will reported in a column some 30 years ago, when he recorded the instance of a student who asked his college professor if Julius Caesar had been upset at what Shakespeare had written about him.
Today, you might be hard-pressed to find high school graduates who could accurately identify who either man was, let alone what century they lived in or what they did.
The combination of egalitarianism, disdain for individual excellence as being “unfair” or “elitist” and a contempt for all things past (and particularly Western and Christian) is how we end up with the system we now have. It’s a system in which the great books, as Allen Bloom elucidates in his seminal “Closing of the American Mind,” are replaced with ephemeral authors — at least those who fall in line with the professional disposition of the teaching profession in which history, if taught, is done so through the prism of cultural relativism and even the art of handwriting is sidelined.
Also not to be overlooked is the role teachers unions, by whatever name they wish to call themselves locally, have to play in all of this. The teachers unions frustrate education in primarily two ways. First, they are the facilitators of the “professional disposition,” with its emphasis on such scholarly pursuits as “social justice” that disseminates the values of leveling, equality and relativism over and above the value of knowledge for its own sake. Second, like all public- sector unions, teachers unions are inherently corrupted by the singular ability to hire, through campaign donations, their own bosses — the people establishing their pay and benefits.
So there exist clear ideological divisions in regards to education, whether we like it or not. One of these divisions revolves around school choice.
The solution for arresting the devolution of American education lies predominantly in encouraging, through vouchers or a similar system, competition in education. This competition would come from schools that aren’t bound to the teachers union and dare to place the preservation of societal and cultural knowledge above the advancement of a political social goal.
So, yes, school board elections have been, are, and will always be, very, very political in nature.