Back to School

All the fresh-faced youngsters in these parts are already back in class, judging by the emptiness of the parks and the flashing yellow lights that are once again slowing us to a 20-mile-per-hour crawl through the school zones, and we can’t help feeling a bit of sympathy for the little bastards. Way back in our school days the glorious Huck Finn freedom of summer vacation lingered into the early days of September, and the thought of being stuck behind a cramped desk while the days are still long and hot and full of possibilities seems tantamount to child abuse.
A friend of ours shrugs off such complaints about the extended school year, saying that there’s more for the kids to know these days. He has a point, perhaps, but there has always been more to know than could be fit into any amount of schooling, and we’re not at all sure the kids will be learning any more of it in a classroom than they could on their own. Our summer vacations always proved more educational than our time in school. We were fortunate enough to have parents who provided plenty of books, museum visits, and permission to stay up all night for the invaluable history lessons on the late, late movies, but any kid with a yearning to learn won’t stop when the class bells rings and will likely begin to learn with even great enthusiasm after it does. When you take into account the desultory sorts of schools we attended, and what we can make of the schools the kids are trudging off to nowadays, those extra days of summer vacation seem all the more valuable.
All of the teachers we know assure us that the schools are much better now than when we were stuck there, and to back it up they cite all the same test scores and statistics that the school board and teachers’ union lobbyists use to justify their budgets, but we have our doubts. Our friends over at the wichitaliberty.org web sit delight in debunking the inflationary methodologies behind those encouraging numbers, and their conclusions are almost always corroborated by our occasional conversations with young folks, most of whom we regret to say are every bit as stupid as they look. It’s not so much what they don’t know, which is voluminous enough to fill a lifetime of year-round schooling, and includes the basic facts of 20th Century history and a rudimentary understanding of economics, but rather the blissfulness of their ignorance that is so appalling. There’s almost a sense of pride in not being the sort of bookwormish dork who would know who Winston Churchill is or have read about the consequences of Marxism, and after so many of the self-esteem fad they’re fully assured of their right to an opinion no matter how uninformed it might be. They know all about how global warming is killing the poor polar bears and the venal racism of the founding fathers and the oppressiveness of western civilization, and they know that governments exist to take stuff from people who have it and give it to people who don’t, but they don’t know enough to question whether any of that is true.
We know some smart kids, too, most of them home-schooled or privately educated, and in some cases they’re smarter than the smart kids we knew in our youth and have since become successful in life, but for the most part they don’t seem to question much. The smart kids of today got an early start of highly regimented education, and by first grade were checking their day planners and telling a classmate that they’d love to do the sandbox thing but are booked up with violin lessons and French lessons and Pilates, and while the results are often impressive this lifestyle does not encourage a necessary degree of rebelliousness in a child. Our classmates of the ‘60s and ‘70s were rebellious far beyond that necessary degree, and took a healthy skepticism of authority into a sickly cynicism, but it seems that educators have now gone too far in rectifying that.
This combination of ignorance, unquestioning obedience, and unearned self-esteem is perfectly suited for the modern age, when politics make improbable promises and imposes ever-expanding restrictions and assures the people who fall for it that they are the ones we have been waiting for. All the virtues required for a different sort of politics — freedom, self-reliance, and suffering the bumps and bruises of a mean old world and realizing one’s small role in it — seem absent from modern education. Those lessons are best learned during summer vacation, though, and even though our own school days have long since passed we still hate to see it end.

— Bud Norman

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