When one declares oneself to be a conservative, one is not, unfortunately, thereupon visited by tongues of fire that leave one omniscient. The acceptance of a series of premises is just the beginning. After that, we need constantly to inform ourselves, to analyze and to think through our premises and their ramifications. We need to ponder, in the light of the evidence, the strengths and the weaknesses, the consistencies and the inconsistencies, the glory and the frailty of our position, week in and week out. Otherwise, we will not hold our own in a world where informed dedication, not just dedication, is necessary for survival and growth.

William F. Buckley Jr., Feb 8, 1956, NR

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A New Generation

A guest post, by Mustang

Kathleen Parker’s recent article in
Jewish World Review does a good job assessing the average American’s understanding of civics, and she was equally credible tying this lack of understanding in to our recent presidential elections. She does overlook one or two things, however. The first is that American education today is precisely where socialist educators wanted it to be from the beginning of their efforts ninety years ago. We cannot expect the American people to choose wisely (from a conservative point of view), when liberal educators have been busily dumbing down our children for more than three generations. I agree American voters did not choose wisely in the past election, but they do have a right under our Constitution to throw off the manacles of freedom in exchange “free” government programs. Our forefathers didn’t trust popular wisdom, and this explains why they created a republic, rather than a democracy.

Last week Victor Hanson wrote a typically exceptional essay, during which he reminded us, “Failure is not an option.” I had to laugh. Failure is most certainly an option. It has always been an option . . . just not one that we older Americans selected for our Nation, our families, or future generations. Failure is always possible, and perhaps even likely in the most difficult endeavors. But we should note the difference between the failure of men who tried to do well, but fell short, and those who failed because they were lazy, inept, or corrupt. Republicans failed when they promised us smaller government, when they reneged on their contract with America. One cannot achieve smaller government while maintaining massive spending, and I think spending less is the key to conservative, smaller government.

The other day, I watched a YouTube
video with Mary Katherine Ham participating in a Heritage Foundation forum. The entire focus of the discussion surrounded the question of how to attract younger voters to the conservative camp. They discussed video presentations and ‘chic’ gadgets, and massive text messaging ala Barack Obama. I suppose that’s our direction these days. But I wonder how much substance one can possibly put in 140 characters of text messaging? Not much; but then, how much substance can younger people retain for more than thirty seconds? As I listened carefully to the discussion, it suddenly dawned on me these people were discussing almost everyone in the United States below my age bracket. The “new generation” consists of people content to know, rather than to understand . . . they would rather amuse themselves with video games than read a book.

The new conservative leaders are people like Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindel, and Mark Sanford . . . and while they may recall Ronald Reagan for his contributions, they speak of Reaganism as something that occurred in the “olden days,” somewhere around time when Davy Crockett “kilt his self a bar when he was only three.” I cannot help but wonder if Ham’s post-election discussion would have pursued a different track had John McCain not demonstrated how irrelevant or “out of touch” older people are.

I wish the new generation luck, of course. The new conservative leaders will be dealing directly with people who are the product of liberal education, who do not know the fundamentals of American government, and true to form, don’t really care. Liberals, of course, understand it is easy to lead the ignorant . . . and this is why I believe so much effort has gone into dumbing down the American people. Conspiracy theories always raise eyebrows, but I can find no other explanation why extraordinarily expensive school systems are only able to produce woefully uninformed people who lack the capacity of critical thinking. Well, it did seem to work well enough for socialists in Europe; we Americans just happen to be the last great society to trade government oppression for human dignity and liberty.

After the new generation of conservative political leader finds out how to send text messages, wrap themselves in attractive packaging, and learn how to speak to vast crowds in small sound bites, I hope someone will do something important for the American education system, if it isn’t too late. Since only thirty-four percent of the American electorate is conservative, the failure of our new political leaders to woo moderates toward traditional ideology can only mean one thing: the end of conservatism.

Social Sense


Robert said...

I also view with disdain the current educational system. It is painfully obvious, having children in the modern school system. Despite my best efforts I have not been able to raise the bar very high for them.

The current level of AP, or advanced placement classes barely equates with the level of regular classes I expereinced in the days before AP was available in every subject. Further, my children are being taught around a standardized test. They aren't being taught any critical thinking.

I don't fall for conspiracy theories often, but the way in which education is conducted is an intentional plan for equality of outcome. By its very nature, that means everyone is equally cheated of education.

I saw the Ham video as well. I think conservatism is not on the brink of extinction, but is needing a massive transformation. It maybe that the newer generations are limited to soundbites and we need to create podcasts to reach them. However, liberal policies will continue and one day this generation will realize that they can't afford iPods, or that no one is bothering to create new products because businesses can't make profits.

An analogy is the end of the Cold War. We spent the Soviet Union out of business and on to the endangered species list. After the end it was determined that much of their military hardware would not have functioned as thought. Quality control was virtually absent in Soviet production, and missile silos were full of water from lack of maintenance and even apathy. American business will eventually reach the same point when there is no profit motive.

TAO said...

Civics....yes, a subject of interest for me as I taught American Government for a couple of years at the University of Oklahoma over 28 years ago. Kids didn't know crap then and they do not know crap now.

Our schools focus on science and math all in an effort to achieve some sort of goal on standardized testing system and parents believe that their opinions ARE FACTS and thus they pass on these opinions and interpretations as civics, history, and geography to their children.

Thus, the dumbing down of society is something that is inherited. Its something that is passed down from one generation to another.

I served on a board of the local college here for a couple years as one of the business community representatives and I pushed for more requirements in English and Philosophy rather than more classes on accounting, finance, and human resources. As I told them, you give me a graduate who can THINK then I can benefit from hiring them but if you keep turning out students who have taken all these non thinking but rather memorization classes then there is nothing I can gain from hiring your graduates. I am interested in new ideas not knowing what some textbook says.

As far as Robert's comment about "profit motive" we have already reached that point...most businesses are more focused on cash flow needs than they are on profit and sales. It is not about growth but rather about treading water. Just pay the bills and leave the profit to the Chief Financial Officer....thus we have had a bunch of companies reporting earnings that beat estimates by a penny or so....but if you look at the details it has all been due to financial tricks not true profits.

Since I left academics I have found my home in business and having watched enough tricks of CFO's over the years I decided a long time ago that I would never hire a CFO...and to this day I do not have one...and I will be damned if I ever do. The hiring of a CFO is the kiss of death for any business at worse and at best it is nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.

Dave Miller said...

But Robert, in the education system, conservatives complain about that which they think they want.

You mentioned a desire to see critical thinking taught. Inherent in that is a complaint against the "liberal" stuff being taught in classrooms around the country.

But if we teach people how to think, what happens if they then reject, with their new critical thinking skills, the very conservatism you are espousing?

Are conservatives really calling not for critical thinking skills to be taught, but for the truths, values, and morals they find important, and vital, to be taught?

Watchman Steph said...

I myself am amazed at how many people my age that have said things to me lately indicating that they do not know America's history. If we are not teaching history or rewriting history then how can we expect American's to understand our government system. So many people have no idea what the constitution says, the Christian heritage behind our foundation etc. It amazes me and I'm not sure what the answer is to fix it. I do know that when I have children I will have to teach them myself because they will never be taught otherwise.

LASunsett said...


First of all, allow me to apologize for not taking a more active role in the discussions of this outstanding blog. But my life gets hectic at times, with work and other commitments. I do plan to get more active as time allows.

I believe the topics you have put forth for discussion are some of the things that will need to be discussed now, not in 2010 or 2012. By that time, the message needs to be formulated and the only debates should be about how to deliver it and implement it.

Per your statement, I don't fall for conspiracy theories often, but the way in which education is conducted is an intentional plan for equality of outcome.

Not only can we see this in education, but athletics as well.

One example is the fact that last place teams in children's sports get trophies. No need to work hard to win, just show up and you'll have something for your self-esteem.

Now, I am all about promoting self-esteem and self-worth to kids. But I think we miss the opportunity that is afforded to us (in those teachable moments that adults have with kids, from time to time), when we reward everyone in a competition. Isn't the opportunity to compete enough anymore? Evidently not.

Kids need to be taught the skills they need to succeed. The idea of everyone being equal is a myth and if we advance this myth by reinforcing it with actions like this, we fail to prepare our children with how to deal with failure, which Mustang mentions in his stellar post.

All of us fail at things from time to time and we must deal with it. But failing does not disqualify us from life, nor does it mean we are worthy of the label, "failure". I have always believed that failure is positive feedback. It tells us "something is wrong" and allows us to adjust, it allows us to improvise, adapt, and overcome the obstacle that we have created for ourselves. It's not the act of failing that determines anything, but how we respond.

I am of the school of thought that all behavior is conditioned. There may some predisposition for some behaviors, but behavior is primarily learned and without more positive role models giving adequate preparation for failure and success, these kids will never be able to persevere through the kinds of adversity this world may have to face, someday. And these kids will soon be adults charged with running this world, as guys like us go off the scene.

Anonymous said...

I understand what Dave is saying, but I think either he is missing the point, or he has formed an erroneous conclusion about critical thinking.

Raw history testing asks students to identify the correct answer from a list of credible alternatives. In the United States, this is most often achieved in a multiple choice (or even worse, a true or false) test. Do you realize that Europeans and Asians never test their children in this manner? Critical thinking comes from critical reading and writing. Even young students can benefit from this strategy, but because it takes “too long” to test and especially grade, teachers cling to the old multiple-guess stratagem.

Assume for a moment that American schools (6-12) taught civics and history combined, and that they did it by reading and writing out their answers. Training in critical thinking skills comes from asking students such things as “what other courses of action” might so in so have pursued. And then require students to “defend” their answers.

That isn’t happening anywhere outside homeschooling. Maybe it’s a numbers thing; too many students in classrooms for teachers to deal with in only 50 minute class periods. Maybe it has something to do with mainstreaming children who simply aren’t capable of keeping up with the pace of a quality education.

I do know this, though . . . and would ask Dave to think about it a little while. Political bias is evident when teachers browbeat children who essentially know what their parents tell them. I have seen too many instances of this over the past fifteen years, and it makes me sick to my stomach. I have seen teachers with an anti-war bias belittle children whose parents were serving in Iraq. More recently, a liberalist browbeat a child because her parents happened to support John McCain rather than Barack Obama, and another group of young children satisfied the sick ego of their liberal teacher by putting together a musical rendition about why Barack should be president.

Mustang can defend his own article, but when I speak of “liberalist indoctrination in schools,” I am referring to these kinds of examples, all of which are unsatisfactory (to me).


Dave Miller said...

Sam, I am not arguing that there is not a liberal bias in our schools. There may, or may not be, and both sides I am sure can point to evidence to buttress their arguments.

What I am arguing is what, from a conservative standpoint, are people asking for?

Since we are not talking about mathematics, or an area where the results are always factual [2+2 always equals 4], the rest is open to interpretation.

This includes history and humanities.

Again, I ask, aren't conservatives really just arguing for their versions and interpretations to be taught?

Dave Miller said...

Sam, one of the reasons the type of testing you advocate is not happening is because of No Child Left Behind.

Needing a "objective" way to evaluate students, we have standardized testing that is or course, multiple guess, oops, choice, as opposed to essay questions.

Teachers hate it, but it sounds good to parents as a way of evaluating the skills and learning of students.

I would love to see more essay type questioning, and I am sure that would help on the factual stuff in our schools.

But as you noted, and several of my teacher friends back me up on this, they do not have the time at 25 - 35k a year to grade 240 essay tests after 40 hours of regular classroom time.

Anonymous said...

I naturally cannot answer Dave’s question for all conservatives, but from my own perspective, most American schools no longer teach civics the way they used to. At one time, there used to be a syllabus for each grade level beginning in the sixth or seventh grade, and extending all the way through high school.

Today, states mandate history from about grade six but not civics. And it is true that both curriculum and measurement is inadequate for the development of critical reasoning skills with the possible exception of IB/AP level studies. It isn’t a matter of teaching students to value one political ideology over another; it is rather about teaching students about fallacious argumentation, about propaganda, and giving them the skill set to analyze information as part of the process of developing conclusions.

When students can do this, they will step into adulthood as informed citizens — and an enlightened society is a healthy society. I submit this would be much preferable to exposing children to, or making children the victims of their teacher's biases and it would certainly produce a much better educated high school graduate.

Robert said...

Dave, I am looking for an honest approach to teaching. My oldest had a history teacher who handed the kids each day a copy of the notes that they needed. The day before each test he reviewed not the chapters to be tested, but the notes. The test came directly, questions for question, from the notes.

They spend a significant portion of their year preparing for their standardized tests. They aren't rested on what they are taught, they are taught what they are to be tested.

I am not asking to teach conservatism, I am asking to teach a way of thinking and a way to reason. In grad school I had many essay tests that weren't graded on the final answer or upon my thesis, but on the logic and supporting materials used to make my point.

Adequate homework assignments would go a long way to closing the knowledge gap. My daughters tell me that some of their teachers tell them not to read the chapters in the text, as it might confuse them when compared to the lectures. I think fewer tests, more lecture, and more critical thinking skills would go a long way.

Robert said...

Steph, it is good to see you here. While we can't necessarily expect christian values to be taught, we can expect that they not be undermined.

LA, no apologies necessary. You are a value added when youa re here, and I appreciate the time you take to participate.

I agree with you, particularly about sports. If there is only one trophy, you can feed the hunger to get it. If you don't keep score, what is the point in even playing?

I refuse to give in to the "self-esteem" crowd. Positive self-esteem isn't created by giving false awards and fake compliments. It is achieved by earning something, of having something to be proud of because you did it better than anyone else. On the battlefield, in the corporate boardroom, in the national title game, there are no first place awards for "tried real hard."

TAO said...

I do hope that any parent of a child who was scolded or ridiculed by a teacher for whatever political beliefs they expressed would immediately raise all sorts of hell with the school system.

In cases like these the teacher is either totally unqualified and or insecure.

There really is no reason to even discuss personal political beliefs in a classroom. A teacher of history and or civics should be able to present the information and engage the children in a discussion...with the teacher presenting whatever "other side" is necessary.

I found when I was teaching that at first everyone was conservative then when I started presenting the liberal side then quite a few switched and then I presented the conservative side...I was even asked what my political beliefs were and I told them that my political beliefs were irrelevant to the purpose of the class which was to get them to think.

I am not real sure what teaching high school is like...I did have kids inform me that they would not do an assignment because the class I taught was required but not important to their major....today I can imagine kids spend more time on Facebook and Myspace or downloading music that they end up cutting and pasting from the internet any papers they have to do.