Sunday night was Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s turn through the CBS 60-Minutes wringer of censure with a visibly frustrated inquisitor Lesley Stahl trying to hector her into self-incrimination.
Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos struggles to answer fairly basic questions on school performance on 60 Minutes pic.twitter.com/lFVq3USwUW— Axios (@axios) March 12, 2018
The sad truth about American schools is that they’re a mirror for the painful collapse of the society they supposedly serve - a process ongoing for decades before Ms. DeVos came on the scene.
The expectation that some uber-regent can or ought to fix public education is bound to disappoint a news media searching for saviors. The further we leave the 20th century behind, the more anomalous its organizing principles look, especially the idea of preparing masses of young people for mass, regimented work at the giant corporate scale.
There’s a big divergence underway between the promises of schooling and the kind of future that the 21st century is actually presenting — of no plausible careers or vocations besides providing “therapy” and policing for the discontented masses stewing in anomie and compensatory pleasure-seeking, with all its nasty side effects. In the meantime, we’re stuck with wildly expensive, out-of-scale, giant centralized schools where the worst tendencies of human status competition are amplified by smart phones and social media to all but eclipse classroom learning.
Education in the years to come is destined to become more of a privilege than a right, and it will probably depend more on how much an individual young person really desires an education than just compelling masses of uninterested or indisposed kids to show up everyday for an elaborate and rather poorly supervised form of day-care. But it’s difficult to let go of old habits and obsolete arrangements, especially when we’ve spent countless billions of dollars on them.
I call the future a World Made By Hand because it is going to be entirely unlike the sci-fi robotic fantasy that currently preoccupies the thought-leaders in this culture. A lot of what will be required in this time-to-come will be physical labor and small-scale skilled work in traditional crafts. There never were that many job openings for astronauts, not even in the 1960s, but in the decades ahead there will be none — notwithstanding Elon Musk’s wish to colonize Mars.
Even if you believe the current model of education must be defended and “fixed,” two issues stood out in Ms. DeVos’s interrogation.
One was the question of behavior in the classroom. The Dept of Education under Mr. Obama put out a directive to reduce suspensions of black and Hispanic students because they were being punished at a greater rate than whites and Asians and it looked bad. Lesley Stahl tried to put over this idea as if it were just a matter of racial animus.
“…let’s say there’s a disruption in the classroom,” she said, “and a bunch of white kids are disruptive and they get punished, you know, go see the principal, but the black kids are, you know, they call in the cops. I mean, that’s the issue: who and how the kids who disrupt are being punished.”
I doubt that it happens that way. Rather, it’s probably the case that there is more disruption among the black student demographic, and probably more violent disruption. The reasons may range from bad parenting (especially absent fathers), inability of students to express themselves (and subsequent frustration) due to poor language skills that are not corrected in school, and the victim narrative that emanates from the universities and distorts culture everywhere else. But to actually state that would be branded as “racist,” so the authorities have to dissemble acrobatically to evade the truth, and in the end it’s learning that suffers.
The other issue was the Obama-era directive (“guidance,” they call it) that sexual misconduct be prosecuted more aggressively by colleges and universities. That led to an era of campus kangaroo courts in which due process of law was cast aside in favor of medieval-style star chambers where the accused had no right to a lawyer, or cross-examination of their accusers, and other established legal protections. Apparently, the producers of 60-Minutes thought that was a good idea, and that Betsy DeVos should not attempt to change it.
Of course, school shootings are the most shocking symptom that something has gone terribly wrong in the system we’ve set up for occupying children and teens. It will be very hard to do anything about that without turning the buildings into something like medium security prisons. We’ve already managed to design them to look like that, but now we’re seriously talking about turning teachers into armed guards. And I’m sure we’ll be spending additional billions to fortify the entrances with metal detectors and officers to mind them. That will only shove the school districts a little closer to bankruptcy.
I felt a little sorry for Ms. DeVos. She seems to understand, at least, that the trend is taking us away from the system we currently know to some uncharted territory of social organization.