The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
11.1 (Winter 2011)
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Which End of the Funnel?
Several of us associated with Praesidium have been discussing casually of late the notion of a private school forged with the collaborative efforts of home-schooling parents. Such institutions have been springing up like benign and happy little mushrooms. Unshackled by bureaucratic red tape and incompetence-friendly teachers’ unions, they begin life with a low budget and hence, of necessity, focus on such basic skills as reading, writing, and solving math problems. At most, their products enter college with extraordinary expressive skills and a level of mature good manners unheard-of in these times; and at the vey least, the home-school graduate is in one bodily piece and has no drug addiction or STD gnawing away at his youth. Flip the coin to its other side, and we may phrase it thus: public schools all too often fail to produce analytical, independent, imaginative students (a failure which seems directly proportional to the amount of money poured into them), and they are furthermore moderately-to-extremely harmful to the child’s moral and physical health, especially in metropolitan areas.
Yet our Utopia Academy must not simply have as its charter, “Not a public school!” This, alas, is where all too many private schools end up. Parents like us sink a huge portion of our savings into private schooling because we know (or think we know) that there, at least, our children will be safe. Otherwise, we often proceed to slide into the same traps that have made public-schooling so lethal to mind and spirit. Indeed, how much private-school recruitment literature will actively proclaim, “We prepare your child for the modern world”? No doubt, such boasts are often a hidden jab at home-schooling–a reassurance to the parent that children will be taught plenty of science in state-of-the-art facilities (as opposed to making do with whatever sits in the home-schooler’s kitchen cupboard and garage closet).
Nevertheless, the initial bearing taken upon the “modern world” is a grave error: it prepares a wrong course. The modern world, as people with humane values and a belief in universal principles understand (all those things, that is, that can’t be taught in public school), is a mess. Everything is digitalized and sound-bitten. Experience is reduced to packets that machines can easily handle, and people are expected not only to work with these machines, but even to refine their play until it becomes fully mechanized. High-end private schools (and public school districts that soak their tax base without shame) therefore cram classrooms with computers–all classrooms, not just the science lab. Other features of the curriculum reflect the same utilitarian dullness. Foreign language must be “real”, “actual”, “working”–not “dead” like Latin or “irrelevant” like the literary classics (from Cervantes to Unamuno) that none of our Hispanic neighbors could read if Donald Trump offered a fat prize on a reality show.
These schools are turning the funnel the wrong way. Our dumbed-down kids are being dumbed further down; for since no ready market exists for great writing or fine music, building websites and synthesizing sounds must be the way to go. It will be fun–the kids can quickly relate to it, because they have grown up pushing buttons that do all the lifting for them; but in any case, it will also be absolutely necessary, because only button-pushers will find a good job in the twenty-first century. As our aptitude shrinks under the influence of our restrictive technology, we must shrink it yet further, for the people to whom we must sell have no aptitude. The inept must serve the inept.
Imagine a lunatic society, its silos full of grain, whose new passion is setting fields afire and watching them burn. We all know that the highest silo, eventually, must come up empty; but in the meantime, nobody is paying the farmer or the botanist a living wage–only fireworks and flame-thrower manufacturers are doing well.
In ensuing issues, we wish to suggest some of the curricular attributes of Utopia Academy (i.e., the ideal private school). For now, we insist upon an observation about the funnel: turn it around, so that it widens rather than narrows minds. Teach children all of that which the “modern world” is NOT doing–which, in many case, it has killed. Prepare them again to read and write great literature, teach them the science behind growing food as well as (or even, for now, at the expense of) the science behind making boxes walk and talk. Help them to grasp, not that any inherited body of habits is as valid as any other, but that certain laws of conduct are binding everywhere. Go against “popular culture”: give instruction in types of music and art that are hard to create and challenging to penetrate. Labor to regenerate a human world from the modern world’s ashes.
For wages and salaries will take care of themselves, if only we produce young adults who are truly adult. A market for portrait-painters will reemerge if children are taught the rudiments of painting: even the talentless will learn to appreciate talent. Of what earthly use is skateboarding–and yet how many adults earn a wage producing, marketing, and distributing skateboards, as well as advertising and staging competitions on national television? If the public can take an interest in skateboards, then why can it not also be stirred by Rembrandt? What prevents this from happening, other than the failure of our educational system? ~ Staff