Manic progressives

By Erik Jay
web posted December 20, 1999

All right now, right off the bat: Anyone remember the Sheridan play "School for Scandal"?

Of course, it was, among other things, a broadly witty send-up of the empty, misdirected, decadent and elitist attitudes of our blue-blooded betters. I say "our" figuratively, meaning all of us who don't have hereditary titles and diapers monogrammed with a crest and some really mean looking birds. I suppose you could say "our" literally if you were a 200-and-something-year-old working-class Cockney.

There I go, starting out with a digression, for Pete's sake. So anyway, for no better reason than the words "school" and "scandal" go together so nicely, and to have a gratuitous Mensa-qualifying reference to an 18th century English play, you're through six sentences and nearly three paragraphs before you find out what is so vexing as to require such an elaborate warm-up: it's the government schools.

They're a scandal.

Now let's agree up front that the only honest term for these sorry institutions is government schools or state schools; public schools, although it does claim the advantage of reminding one of public restrooms, seems to imply that the public at large actually has some influence on how affairs are conducted at these places or, as in a public restroom, can enter and exit freely. That would be a knee-slapper if it weren't a tear-jerker.

Fact is, government schools are run by -- the government! Of course, owing to the political realities of late-20th century America, the state is in league with the unions, scores of them, as they cooperate in the micromanagement of our children's lives. Certainly there are many, many dedicated teachers and administrators (probably a few too many of the latter, frankly) who try to do their best for their schools and their charges. But isn't it quite clear, after fifty years of manic progressive education, that large chunks of several generations of students have exited the graduation ceremony with diplomas they could not read?

And how could it not be by design? I don't mean to suggest a scheme from an episode of the "X-Files"; I do mean to suggest that not all of the experimentation done in the name of Dewey to American schoolchildren in this century has had the aim of making them better informed and more critical thinkers. The mass dumbing-down of the last 50 years wasn't accomplished by Stalinist cliques and zealous cadres; it was done by intensely ideological individuals through associations and conferences and informal networks. With like-thinking social engineers working in the schools, the teachers' colleges, the unions, the legislature, the media, television and films, we got pancultural warfare long before we got the term for it.

This isn't crazy right-wing thinking anymore; in fact, come to think of it, since the fall of the Soviet Union a whole lot of things that used to be crazy right-wing thinking aren't crazy or even necessarily right-wing anymore. Like Alger Hiss being guilty. And the Rosenbergs. And the infiltration of Hollywood and the U.S. government through the 1930s, '40s and 50's (and...?). And, sadly, the Tuskegee experiments. The Ultra programs. Waco and Ruby Ridge.

Here's a bumpersticker for you: CONSPIRACIES HAPPEN. I'm not a pack animal, so I don't subscribe to any single group's unified field theory of world domination -- the "insiders", the history of the hidden hand, the so-called protocols of some old robed conspirators, etc., etc. Neither do I discount everything these people have to say. (Don't many of us wonder about Korean Air Line Flight 007? And TWA 800? And then there's always Roswell.) Can't we simply agree that there will always be people around who are up to no good?

Over the past century, education has become a monstrous assault on the children of America. No more proof is needed that better educations are had at private schools, particularly faith-based ones. The verdict on education has been in for some time. But the vast power and resources of the federal and state governments, plus those of the teachers' unions, are arrayed against parents who fight in larger and larger numbers for choice in their children's education.

When schools are attended by willing students; when parents are full partners with teachers and administrators; when the marketplace inevitably supplies various kinds of institutions -- religious, atheist, college-preparatory, trade-oriented, left-wing, right-wing and hot wing -- for various constituencies (make that customers); when the one-size-fits-all mentality of the manic progressive educrats is consigned to the same dust bin that had plenty of room for that wasted old 74-year-old USSR -- then the parents of this country can reclaim half the deed to their kids' minds and hearts.

They can then turn their attention to the the entertainment industry, which owns the other half.

Erik Jay is editor of What Next? The Internet Journal of Contentious Persiflage which you can subscribe to by sending mail to with "subscribe" in the subject line.

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