[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
Revenge Should Have No Bounds 014
Chapter 6 (1 of 4): The Educators
It’s a little after four when I emerge from the hotel. My head is still filled with the world of Velázquez. I am much too preoccupied with my thoughts at the time to register anything but the most fleeting of impressions of the inconsequential little man in the rumpled K-Mart suit who leans against the wall just outside the hotel and scribbles something down in a pocket-sized notebook and then pulls out his cell.
I saunter along slowly, turning over my comments to Hoacman about the painter. His art haunted me. I guess I had never put it in so many words, but his El Aguador did send out the proverbial ripples. About Hoacman and me. And everybody else too. Especially, I told myself, Hooper, who was trying with some measure of desperation to maintain connections to the trust funds that were his past and the future that his troubled daughter represented. With the exception of maybe one or two, I have never quite fallen in love with any client, but, the assholes aside, some have affected me more than others. Both Hoacman and Hooper do that.
My final appointment of the day is at The Parisian at seven. I have time to do a little walking and catch a salad at a decent cafeteria not far from La Ville. The Saturday shopping rush has abated somewhat, but in a few hours the streets will be thronged with elegant bar hoppers and the dinner crowd dressed to the nines.
The entrance to the cafeteria looms just ahead, and as I approach I stop briefly at the door to read the posted menu. I enter. It is not busy at this hour. I have free passage through the food line and get myself a small Caesar salad and seared tuna. A corner table by the window will give me solitude to continue some desultory thoughts provoked by my talk with Hoacman.
Tacitus will stay in my tote bag for now.
I graduated from a fairly rigorous high school in 1988 at the age of sixteen. It had cost my parents a pretty penny, but they could afford it. I’ve always been grateful for that solid start that so many kids lacked in today’s chaotic school environment. I let my thoughts meander along familiar, uncomfortable lines.
Given my considered views about education most people would, I imagine, consider me a Neanderthal or even a dinosaur. For sure is that no electorate in the country would elect me to any local school boards.
There is now a no longer plausibly deniable recognition that too many high school grads really can’t read and really can’t do simple arithmetic. Since taxpayers pour uncountable billions into education each year, it is certainly strange that after putting in twelve years in public education some people have trouble reading a menu at McDonald’s and certainly can’t add up the cost of their meal. They have been flashily educated for a lifetime in the dark.
My own take is that what goes on in schools is no longer education but meta-education – everything possible about and around education but not actual education. I suppose it depends on what you mean by education. And I am not persuaded by the red herring that stinks to high heaven and excuses poor performance on the basis of the foreignness of so many of the students in today’s schools. Unmitigated nonsense – in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the public schools in America taught millions upon millions of children — brought up in a large variety of non-English speaking homes — at the least how to read and write English and how to do addition, subtraction, multiplication, long division. This no doubt involved a certain amount of pain and agony for students who had to learn how to parse a sentence, distinguish a verb from a noun, write coherent sentences, learn principal parts of verbs, memorize multiplication tables, memorize Latin paradigms, memorize English vocabulary, and endure many other similar outrages and cruelties at the hands of oppressive teachers utterly indifferent to – if they had even heard of it – the children’s self-esteem.
The place is starting to fill up now, and I decide to secure myself a cup of coffee before the crowd gets too big in the line.
On my heartless understanding, the current mess is at least a partial consequence of the now triumphant notion that it is the emotional well-being of students and not their intellectual health that is of supreme, indeed the only, importance, that they are to be taught not Latin or calculus or English composition but their own sense of worth and uniqueness, that what they know is an irrelevancy and that how they feel is paramount. The intellectual component of education having gradually dwindled into insignificance in favor of the privileging of these protean and fuzzily articulated forms of ‘social adjustment’, it is surely a mordant irony lost only on the educational establishment that so many of today’s students have such overwhelming numbers of emotional and social problems. The mushrooming proliferation of acronymic alphabet soups of ‘disorders’ and ‘syndromes’ and their pharmacological palliatives abets this vicious trend, effectively putting the lie to the alleged effectiveness of this relentless pseudo-education in the emotions. It just goes to show that one of the most frightening realities about contemporary schooling is that children are taught by people who majored in education.
That grades should be based on actual intellectual achievement is today considered to be another one of those quaint ideas from the benighted past, even in colleges and universities, and if not illegal certainly unfair, and devastating to individual self-esteem. But I simply cannot get my head around the mathematical (but, then again, who bothers with mathematics today) concept that the majority of individuals in a given cohort of abilities can be above average. If a B is above average and an A is far above average, how can something like 80% of a class get As and Bs? It strikes me as self-evidently absurd, a contradiction in fundamental terminology, a screaming paradox – but what do I know? I’m a college graduate and I even have an M.A.
I won’t even go into the challenges of un- and under-educated teachers, schools top-heavy with mindless administrative superstructures, legal sanctions against any kind of discipline enforcement, rights trumping responsibilities, and so forth and so on ad nauseam – that’s Latin, by the way, and means something like “until I could throw up!”
You were forewarned that I was a dinosaur or, at best, a Neanderthal, and now that I have finished being very unfair and very mean, what, you ask, would I do about this pathetic disarray? I can’t tell you that, because I might get in trouble for advocating the psychological endangerment of children. What is true, however, and especially in a democracy, is that we all get what we vote – or in our infinite sophistication don’t vote — for in national and state elections and, here even more to the point, local school board elections.
I’ve gone over this material a thousand times, and it tires me. I get up to leave and walk away from my scant meal before my seven o’clock.
TO BE CONTINUED