School and Society: A Conservative Perspective

Article excerpt

  Happy, if learning, not debauched by ambition, had been satisfied to
  continue the instructor, and not aspired to be the master!
  --EDMUND BURKE

THE CONTINUING CRISIS in public education also sees a continuing pattern of reform proffered by minds bent on solving what are now decidedly fixed problems. There is no end to strategies for remedying educational ills and improving students' academic performances. One plan being advanced is that of offering teachers salary incentives tied to performance-based pay. Bonuses and other rewards would also be given to teachers who qualify, the amount to be decided by a committee of administrators and other teachers.

Not surprisingly teachers of language and literature tend to be overlooked, which reflects a mischievous attitude towards the discipline of English studies on the part of educational reformers. At a time when students read less and write poorly, this attitude points to some of the deeper reasons why educational troubles are unceasing. That the language of instruction itself is being challenged or compromised in order to accommodate the rising number of non-English speaking students further depletes the instructional process of what is being taught, how it is conveyed, and what standards are to be met. In short, respect for a common standard of language and achievement is something that is being disregarded by the authorities who contend that material correctives can put an end to educational troubles.

We choose to subordinate intellectual seriousness to a reliance on numbers and figures as the way of going to the heart of the difficulties. In paying inadequate attention to matters of substance, we choose to circumvent basic educational needs. That is, we refuse to begin with principles of improvement and educational values in the belief that we can mend corrosive phenomena. To begin with, we insist on dislodging the place of the humanities in the curriculum, as we embrace schemes of reform created by imprudent theoreticians who, since the time of John Dewey, have contributed to the growth of educational wastelands in the United States.

Social adjustment and social engineering in tandem remain the criteria of our educational purposes and effectiveness. We seem to hear next to nothing about traditional literary texts or axiomatic ideas that need to be preserved and passed on; and though a plethora of statistics and techniques affect educational policy, any substantive reference to moral character or to moral virtues is considered politically inappropriate, and any mention of the tradition or the existence of a sacred patrimony is muted.

In the midst of concerns and proposed cures for the ongoing educational crisis, little heed is paid to humanistic precepts, or to the core value of the humanities, or to the Judaic, Christian, and classical tradition. We are encouraged instead to accept prescriptions developed by postmodern minds loyal to quantitative reductionism and the worship of abstract concepts of perfection that dissipate the meaning of civilization in historical continuity.

The meaning of humane civilization is something scarcely acknowledged by politician and reformer alike, part of the dead past and of the irrelevance of the moral life and the ethical life. Solutions now revolve around the things of the world without spiritual roots or reference, oblivious of an organic view of the world, stubbornly mirroring the iron-clad views of the perennial calculators and geometricians who beckon a new morality.

The emphasis and the changes that regularly assault our ears and our minds stress monetary rewards based on measurements and salvific theories of teaching and learning. Ignored in the continuous empirical process and vocabulary of educational reconstruction is any reference to the civilizing potencies of the changes that are offered. To review some of the reports detailing educational reorganization makes for mostly dreary reading, spawned as they are in educational laboratories and framed by "economical politicians" impervious to the art of teaching as a discipline of thought, analysis, and judgment. …