Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My Sentiments Exactly

By Drew

Over at NRO, Peter Robinson struggles with his five-year-old daughter's announcement that, after two days, she's had it with kindergarten. In response, Fr. George Rutler, one of my favorites, comes up with this (dryly humorous) opinion:

I'd encourage your youngest one to abandon kindergarten altogether. Almost everything I learned was learned outside the classroom, and school itself interrupted my education. Moreover, school locks you in with your peers. That is a mistake. One's social circle should never include one's equals. From my earliest years I found children uninteresting and always preferred the company of adults. This was an advantage, because I got to know lots of folks who are dead now whom I never would have known if I had waited until I was an adult. - So I have a collective memory - and oral tradition - that goes back to the eighteenth century, having spoken with people who knew people who knew people who knew people who lived then. - The only real university is the universe and a city its microcosm. That is why an expression like "New York University" is foolish. New York City is the university….Instead of school, children should spend some hours each day in hotel lobbies talking to the guests. They should spend time in restaurant kitchens and shops and garages of all kinds, learning from people who actually make the world work….One day spent roaming through a real classical church building would be the equivalent of one academic term in any of our schools, and a little time spent inconspicuously in a police station would be more informative than all the hours wasted on bogus social sciences. Formal lessons would only be required for accuracy in spelling and proficiency in public speaking, for which the public speakers in our culture are not models, and in exchange for performing some menial services a child could learn the violin, harp, and piano from musicians in one of the better cocktail lounges, or from performers in the public subways….So I urge you to keep your child out of kindergarten, because kindergarten will only lead to first grade and then the
grim sequence of grade after grade begins and takes its inexorable toll on the mind born fertile but gradually numbed by the pedants who impose on the captive child the flotsam of their own infecundity.

Wonderful stuff! It's very hard for me to disagree with any of it. Fr. Rutler may be speaking humorously, but I think at the same time he's trying to make a serious point about education - not just here, but everywhere.

I never liked school. Not from the first day of kindergarten to the last day in college. I wouldn't pretend that it was because I was too smart for my classes (although this does date back to the beginning of the "lowest-common demoninator" style of education), nor would I say that there were any particularly traumatic experiences associated with school.

No, in my case it was pretty much a case of being bored with the classroom. Like Fr. Rutler, I found much of my education outside of school (I learned more about American history from Alistair Cooke's America and my own reading than anything I was taught), particularly the freedom to develop and pursue my own intellectual interests. Some will say that school is necessary to broaden your horizons, but I think that, if this was ever true, it is surely false today. Instead, school often serves to stunt the imagination, kill intellectual curiosity, and teach conformity to a false standard. One only has to look at the inane "zero-tolerance" policies put in place by foolish administrators and school boards, and how teachers' unions habitually kill any real hope of education reform, to see how a lack of discernment and critical thought, a sacrificing of intellect in favor of PC-mumbo-jumbo, permeates every level of the system.

Also, like Fr. Rutler, I preferred the company of adults during my youth. I can't pretend to have associated myself with such varied and esteemed company as he did, but I can't complain about it, either. There was something about adult company that gave one an adult sensibility - again, people may suggest that this atmosphere forced kids to grow up too soon - didn't leave enough time for "kids to be kids." Back then, growing up too soon meant you might be engaged in adult conversation about politics, religion and the world, instead of romping around in the back yard, tossing the football; you might be thought of as too "serious," or even be called "precocious." Nowadays, it means drugs, sex, dressing like a pimp or a slut. I don't know about you, but I still think I got the better of the deal. Better to be precocious than promiscuous, I always say.

My contempt for the public education system in this country is pretty much complete (perhaps the single most damaging institution in our society today), and based on what I've read there are a lot of private schools that aren't much better. (However, I base this mostly on my own experience, public grade and high school, private college.) But I don't think that we can say education elsewhere is immune from that which has so damaged education in this country. There were, as I recall, schools in England that were going to stop making Churchill a mandatory part of their curriculum (in defending this position, a spokesman said that these were merely guidelines, that it wasn't meant to be inclusive as to what would be taught in the classroom, which shows more confidence in teachers than I'd be willing to have.)

(And actually, at this advanced age I wouldn't mind going back to school; I think I'd be emotionally and intellectually ready for it, seeing it as something to augment my education, rather than provide it entirely. However, what with modern economics and the need to make a living, I don't see it happening any time soon.)

The inflated importance attached to the acquisition of a college degree is yet more evidence of this; it's a mark of how far we've fallen into a service mentality that a sheepskin is valued so much more highly than a useful trade. I don't suggest you can lay the blame for it all at the feet of the education system, but you can enough of it. The growth of homeschooling is one of the great education movements we have; like anything else, it's not perfect, but I think it's a darn sight better than the mess we have now. And it's nice to know that there's at least one person out there who just might agree with me.

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