Friday, April 11, 2008

Education Confrontation - The Interlude

Since putting up my last post, I experienced a blogger's rite of passage: I got my first comment that consists of hateful and hysterical personal attacks. I consider it a badge of honour. I had been feeling neglected by the absence of such posts. Maybe if I work hard, one day I can actually make it into the big leagues and get onto Richard Warmans' AntiChristmas card list!

Note to RebelAngel: I tip my hat to you for stepping into the fray. I had already written the first draft of this post before reading your comment, and I wish I could have made the points below as eloquently and succinctly as you did.

I'd like to be able to say that I reacted to the hostile comment with grace and maturity from the outset. However, that would not be true. I have to admit that I had two immediate reactions, neither of which I'm proud of.

First I considered just deleting it, on the "my house, my rules" principle. That impulse only lasted a second, though. The comment, although certainly hysterical, is not profane and actually makes some attempt to deal with at least one issue raised in my post. The spelling and grammar are pretty good. These facts move the comment head and shoulders above what I see surfing around some of my favourite sites hosted by conservatives. Looking around the web I often wonder whether liberalism breeds illiteracy, or illiteracy breeds liberalism. My angry commenter is certainly hateful and irrational, but not illiterate.

Second, for a longer moment that I care to admit, I considered doing a full-on sarcastic takedown of the post, responding to each point with barbed wit and insults. That is, respond to it in kind. Instead, I realized that the high road, the right thing to do, would be to dial down my snark level. I've tried to do that, but readers will probably detect the passages where it becomes a strain.

As I've noted before, crankiness is my weakness. I am certainly capable of hurtful words - I'm quite adept with them, in fact - but I'm trying very hard to put them behind me. I am going to respond to the comment, because I believe in dialogue and because I hope that I can help my anonymous critic, or perhaps others with similar anger management issues, to face their own anger and, dare I hope, maybe even start thinking about more constructive ways to deal with people with whom they disagree. I really enjoy columns by Dr. Mike Adams. However, once I set aside my unseemly amusement, I don't find his sarcastic takedowns of his critics constructive. I don't see how his barbs could encourage introspection and personal growth of the part of his readers/victims. As much as I like Dr. Adams' columns, I do not wish to emulate that aspect of his writing.

I'll be responding to the comment as though its writer were the reader (that is, in second person). I don't believe that will be the case. Short of severe masochism, I can't imagine why they would come back to read any more on a site that upset them so. This is the Internet, though, and some people seem to take perverse satisfaction in such maladaptive behaviours.

I will not believe that any further comments that claim to be from the original writer actually are so. There's no way for someone to prove to me, after having left an anonymous comment, that they are the same person back again. If this person had actually been interested in any constructive dialogue, rather than drive-by hate spewing, they would have signed their comment.

On to what they wrote (the indented bits):

As someone who has been a college professor and was raised in a family of teachers,

I have several family members who work in the educational system as well. Some are teachers, some serve in other roles. That doesn't change my opinion of the system they work in. It does, however, allow me frequent glimpses behind the curtain.

Let's deal with a logical fallacy at this point. Maybe it has a more formal name (which I would be pleased to learn), but I'll call it the Fallacy of Family. It goes something like this: My (Loved One X) is / does (Topic Of Discussion Y). Therefore, (Topic Of Discussion Y) cannot be wrong. In fact, (Topic of Discussion Y) is immune to all criticism, and any attempted criticism will be responded to as an attack on (Loved One X).

Thank you for providing us with a textbook example of the Fallacy of Family. I had always intended to write about it sometime, but hadn't yet contrived an example.

My loved ones sometimes use their freedom in ways I don't like. I disagree with plenty of political and religious opinions that are strongly held by people I hold dear. There are people who love me, and there's not a single one of them who would say they wholeheartedly agree with every one of my opinions.

The fact that your relatives are teachers, while it explains some of your vitriol onto which I'm about to shine a light, doesn't change anything.

In fact, and I mean this without a trace of sarcasm (it's hard to tell on the Internet sometimes), I sincerely hope that your relatives are / were among the good ones. There are lots of great teachers out there, who inspire their students to greatness of their own. I admire those teachers very much and wish we had a whole lot more of them. I very fondly remember one of my high school teachers, and speak well of him at every opportunity.


As for the many others...let's just say they were in the majority.

Another point that I hadn't yet made explicit (remember, this article was part 1) is that I don't assume all school systems are the same. Maybe some places are better than here. I hope you're in one of those places, and that's why you're so quick to condemn dissent. Maybe you don't understand it because you've never seen a really dysfunctional, broken public educational system firsthand. If so, I envy you, and I urge you to stay there for their sake if you have children, because you could be somewhere far worse.

I'm talking about the school system where I am. I came up through it, I have friends and family working in it (and they are very supportive of private schools or homeschooling; that should tell you something), and I'm dealing with it firsthand on a regular basis as my son gets ready to (maybe) enter it. It's broken. Irrevocably, unacceptably broken. I'm not happy about that, and if I could wave a magic wand to fix it I would, but that's not an option.

I think there are a lot of good teachers. Not a majority by any stretch, but they're out there and they're trying. Sometimes they even succeed. However, the system does not help. The good they do is almost entirely in spite of the bureaucracy that surrounds them. They work and sweat and weep and bleed for their students, but ultimately they're only one cog in the meat grinder.

I really do hope that's not the case for any of your family.

As for you being a former college professor, I certainly hope that you handled contrary opinions from your students with more grace and maturity that you handled mine. Your post - and I say this not out of reciprocal hostility but out of honesty - was nothing short of a tantrum. You wished personal harm on me, over a political disagreement. That is not how civil adults behave. I hope your post was out of character and that you would have the humility to regret it after some contemplation.

If this was an example of how you dealt with disagreement from your students, then all I can say is that's why organizations like FIRE are so important. Far too many "educators" want to tell their students what to think, as opposed to help teach them how to think. I'm glad that most of my university professors were in the latter category (I graduated with Dean's List standing from the top-ranked university in Canada, so I had occasion to spend many hours under the direct tutelage of many fine professors).

I'd just like to say that while I visited this blog expecting to read your "Walking Dead" review,
Which you got, assuming you also read that post. If you were dissatisfied, by all means feel free to ask the cashier for a refund on your way out.

(That may well be the only joke I put in this entire post, and it's not much of one. I ask the forbearance of my readers for the momentary indulgence.)

And, hey, what did you think of the book? I didn't see a comment from you on that post.

My condolences if your further reading led to your seeing opinions contrary to your own, because they evidently upset you a great deal. Unfortunately, that's the way the world is, and the Internet is even more like that than most places.

what I got was an entirely different sort of brain-dead zombie, and further proof some people shouldn't breed.
Here begin the hateful and entirely uncalled for personal attacks. Again, you and I disagree on some political and philosophical matters. I'm honestly not sure why you would feel the need to be so hostile over that, and I hope this isn't what you're like in real life.

You are utterly unwilling to help the teachers educate your child, to the extent of ignoring homework (which by the way, always has been sent home; I had some in kindergarten as well, back in 1974) and undermining the teachers and faculty. Well done, pal.

No, no, no. You've missed the point (which I admit hasn't been fully made yet - Part 1, remember). I am entirely willing to help the teachers, when they are actually teaching. I will undermine them wherever and insofar as they attempt to undermine my parental rights. The good teachers will have my full co-operation. And I fully intend to stay abreast of what my son is learning, largely by getting him to review with me what he learned each day at school. I won't, however, pretend that educational bureaucrats have any right to determine how he spends his time outside school.

And you apparently didn't read the next section, where I discussed situations when homework is arguably appropriate.

I didn't fully discuss how and why I came to my positions in my article. That wasn't the purpose of the article. I just intended to write about what happened on that one day, not to present any philosophical treatises. However, in hopes of lowering your blood pressure a bit, I'll elaborate on the homework issue just a bit.

My position on homework came as a surprise to me as well. I hadn't thought about the matter in many years, and had blandly accepted homework as part of the natural order of things. It was only when I really thought through the matter from my current perspective, with the knowledge that comes from life experience that the state is not always right or just, that I realized the implications of public schools being permitted to assign homework. I was not entirely comfortable with the conclusion - no homework just seems a bit wrong somehow, but I think it's only because we've been raised to think so and the idea is very rarely challenged. A goldfish does not envision life outside the bowl.

Being opposed to homework was simply the logical conclusion of the principles I understand to be valid. I have to follow the logic where it leads me, whether I like it or not. Failing to do so is nothing more than intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy.

My larger concern now is whether my justifications for some homework in some situations (the part you don't seem to have read) is a cop-out. Whenever I compromise a principle, it comes back to bite me. I'll have to deal with this more fully at some point, but not today.

Your kid will likely be a juvenile delinquent whose dad thinks teachers can do nothing right, and whose bad behavior undercuts the other students who try to learn.
Now an attack on my child. Very nice.

As I've stated repeatedly already (I'm not going to keep doing this every time, so the reader should feel free to insert repetitions of my earlier points as necessary throughout this article), there are lots of good teachers. There are far more bad ones. (By the way, feel free to replace the word "teachers" in the first sentence of this paragraph with absolutely any other profession. The point will hold true.)

The good ones deserve full respect and cooperation, and I will ensure that my son is aware of that. The bad ones deserve nothing, but I make a point of not expressing that to him. I'm teaching him to play the game and get along (although hopefully without teaching the overt cynicism).

He is as yet too young for such concepts.When he is old enough, I decidedly will teach him more caution and discernment. It will break my heart to do so. Now he is innocent. He believes that people are good and trustworthy, especially if they're in some position of authority. The truth is that life isn't like that. Some people, even people you should have been able to trust the most, do not deserve your trust.

Even some people with backgrounds as college professors, who should be rational and comfortable with intellectual exchange and different ideas, will launch into personal attacks over differences of opinion.

You seem like a mouthy jerk and a poster child for birth control.
Again, unwarranted personal attacks. You are not helping yourself seem mature or persuasive.

While I'm a libertarian who believes in smaller government and less rules,
See, at this point I have to confront you directly. That sentence is a lie, as proven by the rest of what you wrote.

Libertarians respect differences of opinion. They do not launch into personal attacks without personal provocation. They understand that different people may choose different paths and envision different ideals for the education of their children, and are not threatened by those differences of opinion. They believe in freedom of thought, freedom of belief and freedom of expression.

Granted, that's in the abstract. Libertarians are as prone to failings and lapses as anyone else. Still, unless your screed was truly out of character, your hysteria and hatred over a difference of opinion are far from libertarian.

Second, the educational system around here (as noted earlier, your area may vary, which may explain your drastic overreaction) is the antithesis of smaller government and less rules. What could be more intrusive than the government demanding control of your child's activities, not just during school hours but beyond? How could the state possibly make any more effort to micromanage your household - your sovereign realm - than to dictate where you send your child after school, what they can eat for lunch, or whether and how they pray in the morning?

A total overhaul of the school system (in those geographical regions where overhaul is needed - I hate to keep repeating points, but I have a feeling they won't be heard otherwise) with proper recognition of parental authority may not be the top priority for true libertarians, but it's high up on a very short list.

believe me, I will point to your essay as to why some parents should face criminal charges for neglect when they actively ignore or undermine the schools they send their kids to by their own choice.
Your grammar is ambiguous in this sentence. I'm not sure whether "by your own choice" modifies "ignore and undermine" or "schools they send their kids to".

If it's the latter, then you're missing my point. Most people have no choice in what school their children attend. Private school and home schooling are not options that are feasible for everyone. Most people have to accept whatever school is dictated by their residence address. School choice, or more accurately the lack thereof, is a major issue in the United States. Liberals are fighting it tooth and nail, insisting that the state knows better, in all cases, than a child's own parents. Most Canadians are too complacent to care, but the same problem is in full effect here.

If it's the former, then, sure, I'll proudly plead guilty to choosing to deliberately ignore or undermine the schools where appropriate. I am not a sheep, and lies do not become truth just because spoken by a bureaucrat. People like me are who keep this society somewhat sane and functional by refusing to blindly follow so-called authority. I'd be proud to have "Did not suffer fools gladly" as my epitaph.

Now, though, I have to deal with the disturbing hyperbole.

Feel free to point anyone you like to my essay. I could easily point to your response as an example of hysterical leftist ranting. I don't think there's any question which one of us is coming off as more rational and reasonable in this exchange. Not an attack, just a fact.

Do you even realize the enormity of what you wrote? You have suggested that I should face criminal charges - the wrath of the state - because you disagree with my educational philosophies.

You would like armed, uniformed government agents to seize me by force and incarcerate me because you don't like something I wrote.

Read that again, and hang your head in shame.

To put it very lightly, your wishes do not square at all with your claim to be a small-government libertarian. Instead, you're taking an utterly fascist stance that owes far more to Hillary Clinton than Ronald Reagan. It doesn't even approach the middle of the road, unless the road is in Saudi Arabia.

Do us all a favor, and home-school the kid so you can convince him the Earth is 6,000 years old and dinosaur bones are a trick the Devil played to make us believe in evolution.
Funny, I don't remember bringing up the age of the earth or evolution. In fact, I could probably write a hundred essays about the broken educational system (and I may) without touching on those topics. You're projecting your prejudices onto me. Remember the bumper sticker: "Home Schooling: Not Just For Crazy Fundamentalists Anymore!"

I hope you don't honestly think that any objection to the derelict state of our educational system is attributable solely to religious fundamentalism. Pointing out that the emperor is naked doesn't mean you want him to burn in Hell for exposing himself.

Granted, that is an easy way to dismiss all legitimate citations of the hypocrisy and incompetence that runs rampant in the school board office (it should be noticed, although you didn't seem to and perhaps wouldn't care, that the vast majority of my criticisms are aimed squarely at bureaucrats who never set foot in a classroom, not the teachers). Write them all off as non-issues, only cared about by extremists who think the Earth is flat. "There's no reason to listen to anything those folks say - they believe differently from us." Unfortunately, discrediting the messenger actually works to discredit the message for many people who don't understand the concept of critical thought.

You sicken me.
That's interesting. We've never met, and even if you read over every post on this blog, you really know very little about me.

My personal opinion of you is not particularly negative, despite your repeated personal attacks. I expect that if we were to meet in person, I could quite enjoy a fairly deep conversation about political and philosophical matters with you. I'm not threatened by those who disagree with me, and I expect you'd be considerably more civil in person.

For one thing, I suspect you'd be much less likely to insult me and wish specific harm on my family, as you do in a passage I'll quote (hopefully to your embarassment if you've come back) shortly. You're probably less likely to get that bold when face to face with someone who could punch you in the mouth (which as an adult and a respecter of differences of opinion I would never do, no matter how deserved - but the thought might cross your mind and encourage you to keep a civil tongue in your head).

It's more likely you're providing an example of John Gabriel's Greater Internet theory. I won't link to it, since I try to keep even my links to PG-13 or lower. It's pretty well known around the web and very easy to Google up, with what I've given you, if you don't already know what it states.

I note too that you posted anonymously, which does not indicate that you have the courage of your convictions. Yes, I'm using a pseudonym, but I use it consistently (including on websites other than this blog). You could probably deduce my e-mail address pretty quickly by putting a couple of facts together (I keep meaning to actually put it on here anyway). I'm easy to find. Part of why I use a pseudonym is that I anticipated some great proponents of diversity might latch onto some of my opinions and wish harm on my family on that basis. Seems I was right. I see no compelling reason to give people who wish my family harm a map to our front door.

I see jerks like you make caring teachers like my Mom and Dad work far too hard to educate kids whom you don't even care enough about to assist when they need to learn. You have a role, too, in your child's education, and ignoring his homework is child abuse, pure and simple.
Again, I really do hope your parents are good teachers. Their son or daughter (you gave no indication of your gender, and it's not relevant for this discussion anyway) certainly hasn't retained any lessons about tolerance for differing views, or manners, but that can't be placed solely on their shoulders.

Second, you're not paying attention. I'm actually far more concerned with my son's education, and far more willing to be directly involved, than most parents I know personally. I'm 100% behind the good teachers. I just wish there were more of them.

I certainly do have a role in my children's education. A primary role, in fact, far more important than that of the school. School is to teach socialization (good until confused with conformity), adherence to routine, and other such virtues. My personal experience was that I learned very little, in the academic sense, at school. I was a reader, and my parents took an interest in my education. By the time we got around to discussing a subject at school, it was already old news for me. That was fine with me; I was a very quiet, compliant child, and would never have dreamed of being the least bit disruptive for the first decade or so of my formal education. I often found it unnerving, though, that it was very often clear that the teacher did not understand the subject as well as I did. Again, to stress: I would not have dreamed of pointing that out. I just found it puzzling and worrisome, rather like being on board an airplane and hearing the pilot ask if anyone knows how to land one of these things.

My role in the education of my children is crucial and central. I am absolutely committed to working with anyone else who is trying to teach my children, be they bureaucrat or teacher, who realizes and respects that. The ones that I will fight (and I will fight them, make no mistake) are the ones who want to shut me out of the process, thinking they know better for my child. They don't.

They know statistics and averages and the results of the latest controlled longitudinal studies. So do I. I'm not getting too far into my educational credentials, partly because I'm not interested in revealing a whole lot of my personal identifying information, and partly because by doing so I'd feel a bit like I was in a "let's drop our pants and get a ruler" competition. Let's just say that I own - and, yes, have read, understood, and frequently been tested on my knowledge of, a whole lot of books with various combinations of words like "educational", "developmental", "methods", and "theory" in their titles.

Those are fine starting points, and that sort of knowledge will suffice for teaching most students. Once a child is more than a standard deviation or so away from the mean in any characteristic, though, they need individualized attention that the public school system is simply not equipped to provide. Being one kid in an overcrowded classroom with an overstressed teacher doesn't cut it for anyone who is exceptional in any way, and just about everybody is exceptional in some way. Almost every family I know has a story about how one of their children "almost fell through the cracks" in one way or another. Some have stories where there's no "almost" about it.

Around these parts they practice "mainstreaming". This means that all kids of the same age are crammed into one classroom like clowns into a Volkswagon, regardless of academic capability. There are no special programs of any kind for anyone, from the profoundly mentally handicapped to those who would have been something special given some opportunities. And everyone advances to the next grade the next year, no matter what. Each teacher - and they have my sympathy, they really do - needs to try to give the same curriculum to every student. This guarantees that some will be overwhelmed, some will be desperately bored, and only the truly mediocre will thrive. For a while, that is, until they get a bit ahead of the curve (which is good), get bored, and drift back to the mean. Then the cycle repeats, ad infinitum. No one is well served by this.

That, not evolution, not school prayer, not sex education, not any of the other boogeymen that may be conjured up, is probably my single biggest problem with the current educational system.

The kids who give your parents headaches are not the ones with parents like me (unless your parents are bad teachers, and there is no reason for me to assume that they are. Even if they were, I would be far more trouble for them than my children). The kids who give your parents headaches are the kids who are bored and need more challenge, the kids who are struggling and need extra help, the kids who have never been disciplined, the kids who have had no principle instilled into them more strongly than self-esteem and so think the whole world should revolve around them, and the kids of parents who simply do not give a damn.

(Apologies to my readers for the cuss. It's part of the language, though, and sometimes nothing else conveys quite the same nuanced meaning. I had a really hard time not saying "I call B.S." - uncensored, of course - in response to the earlier claim of small-government libertarianism. This is also not a licence for people to start talking like the cast of the Sopranos in comments.)

And it simply makes you sound foolish to equate "neglecting homework" with "child abuse". Why not go all the way and say I'm just like Hitler?

Darn. I'm using up my material that was intended for Part 2. Oh, well, it'll be shorter now.

You should be arrested, your wife should leave you, and you should lose custody of your child. Do us a favor: Don't breed again.


Another hysterical, hyperbolic (I hope; surely you aren't this completely irrational) personal attack. This one is truly hateful, and expresses an explicit wish that my family be harmed.

You may not even know how hurtful your closing words are (which again suggests that you would be much less rash in person). For all you know, I may buried a child and the one I'm talking about here is the only one I have left. I hope for your sake and the sake of those around you that you practice a bit more humanity in your daily life, and I'm willing to extend the full benefit of the doubt that that is the case.

I really do hope you understand this point, if nothing else: my primary concern here is that each child be given the education best for them and that the rights of their parents be respected (these points are strongly correlated). Those things do not happen in the current educational system, at least where I live. They are barely even possible under the structures and procedures now in place.

You claim to be a small-government libertarian, but express hope that I will be incarcerated by agents of the state for daring to question authority (or, perhaps more accurately, for offending your apparently delicate sensibilities). That's a lot like claiming to be a strict vegetarian but eating a steak dinner every night. The claim and the stated position cannot peacefully coexist without causing a great deal of stressful cognitive dissonance. For the sake of your mental health, I hope you can work through this, one way or the other. That will mean either learning to tolerate differing opinions, or admitting to and embracing the fascism you espouse. In the latter case I would oppose you, but I could respect your integrity.

My anonymous friend, here is what I truly wish for you: to be allowed to raise your family in peace, as you see fit. If ceding responsibility (and therefore rights, since they must always go together) for your child's education to the state-run school system is what you want - and I'm not saying it is, I don't know you and could not say that - then I would stand up for you and defend your right to do so.

I would stand up and defend your right to whatever positions you may hold on such matters, regardless of how antithetical they may be to my own, without casting aspersions or hatred on you.

I would not wish you any harm whatsoever, despite our obvious differences of opinion as to how much involvement the state should have in the raising of children.

Why do I not merit the same respect from you?

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of Timbits.

1 comment:

HomeSchooler said...

Yeh. Probably should have read this before responding to Mr. Andersen in my comment on "Education Confrontation Part 1." It might have miraculously made me more concise. Nah... maybe not!

I found it very interesting to see where we covered the same ground in practically the same way.

And I cannot help but be impressed as to your shocking lack of sarcasm and hyperbole. Kudos!