Friday, August 06, 2010

Don't Quit Your Day Job, Dennis-- Whatever that is

As a teacher, there are some things that scare me more than the average person. School shootings, various super-contagious child-borne illnesses, and idiotic meddling from well-meaning boneheads who don't understand how education works come to mind.

But none of these are quite as painful or terrifying as the idea that Dennis Prager could, in an alternate universe, be my principal.

As we know, Dennis is a fan of both thought experiments and imaginary worlds where he actually has power and influence. Typically his "What-If" scenarios have at least some modicum of introduction. Not this time. This time, he just goes for it:
If every school principal gave this speech at the beginning of the next school year, America would be a better place.
What an opening. I give you an F for effort.

To the students and faculty of our high school:
I am your new principal, and honored to be so. There is no greater calling than to teach young people.

So... why do you bitch about things and shill for Goldline for a living?

I would like to apprise you of some important changes coming to our school. I am making these changes because I am convinced that most of the ideas that have dominated public education in America have worked against you, against your teachers and against our country.
First, this school will no longer honor race or ethnicity. I could not care less if your racial makeup is black, brown, red, yellow or white. I could not care less if your origins are African, Latin American, Asian or European, or if your ancestors arrived here on the Mayflower or on slave ships.

Ok, first of all, I'm not sure you're using "honor" the way most people think about it. It's not like race or ethnicity are airline miles you can cancel out or something. Second, I've encountered this argument a lot from conservatives-- the idea that since they personally "don't care" about people's background, that somehow this annuls any issues of society as a whole privileging or discriminating against groups of people. Because that's totally how things work.
The only identity I care about, the only one this school will recognize, is your individual identity -- your character, your scholarship, your humanity. And the only national identity this school will care about is American. This is an American public school, and American public schools were created to make better Americans.
Hang on, can't we all agree, as a general baseline, that the purpose of schools is to educate people? I mean, you can bring the "make better X" argument in, too, but then aren't you justifying the same kind of ideologically-driven education you rant against when it's done on the left? And who decides what's "better?" Now we're just back to subjective definitions again.
If you wish to affirm an ethnic, racial or religious identity through school, you will have to go elsewhere.
How are we defining "affirmations?" What about clothes or speech? What if a student wears a yarmulke to school? Or if some Latino kids call each other "esse?" How could you possibly enforce this, O Clueless Leader?
We will end all ethnicity-, race- and non-American nationality-based celebrations. They undermine the motto of America, one of its three central values -- e pluribus unum, "from many, one." 
So... we can celebrate people coming together to be "one" (however that's defined), but we can't acknowledge or recognize the origins of the different groups that have created the "one" in the first place? You might want to re-seat those two sentences away from each other before they start fighting. Incidentally, what standard are we using to decide when a "non-American-nationality-based celebration" becomes American? Because I'm pretty sure Ron Karenga came up with Kwanzaa in Los Angeles. Just saying.
This includes all after-school clubs. I will not authorize clubs that divide students based on any identities. This includes race, language, religion, sexual orientation or whatever else may become in vogue in a society divided by political correctness.
Wait, isn't the whole point of clubs to encourage group identities, which would necessarily be separate from non-club members? How is this any different from the football team dividing students who play football from those who don't?
Your clubs will be based on interests and passions, not blood, ethnic, racial or other physically defined ties. Those clubs just cultivate narcissism -- an unhealthy preoccupation with the self -- while the purpose of education is to get you to think beyond yourself. 
So, again, the football team is exempt from this definition... why? Also, I didn't realize that you, Dennis Prager, had defined "the purpose of education" while I was out. Good to know.
So we will have clubs that transport you to the wonders and glories of art, music, astronomy, languages you do not already speak, carpentry and more.
Wait, you just said we couldn't have clubs based around languages! Are you even paying attention to your own speech? (Also, carpentry club? Really?)
 If the only extracurricular activities you can imagine being interesting in are those based on ethnic, racial or sexual identity, that means that little outside of yourself really interests you.
This coming from a guy whose job is talking to himself and coming up with bizarre pronouncements and moral codes that everyone should listen to. Such as, for instance, this "speech."
Second, I am uninterested in whether English is your native language. My only interest in terms of language is that you leave this school speaking and writing English as fluently as possible... We will learn other languages here -- it is deplorable that most Americans only speak English -- but if you want classes taught in your native language rather than in English, this is not your school.
So I guess we're just not going to talk about statistics that show that bilingual students who get high-level instruction in both languages do significantly better than students who drop one? Or the fact that not being able to communicate with your family in your home language can lead to alienation, emotional and social problems, and even contribute to dropping out of school? Nope? Well, I guess you were right, looks like schools aren't about educating. Moving on then...
Third, because I regard learning as a sacred endeavor, everything in this school will reflect learning's elevated status. This means, among other things, that you and your teachers will dress accordingly. Many people in our society dress more formally for Hollywood events than for church or school. These people have their priorities backward. Therefore, there will be a formal dress code at this school.
So... the best way to show how much "we" care about learning isn't in making sure we all have the resources and supplies we need, funding clubs and activities, or even trying to motivate students by, say, offering scholarships or class rewards for excellent performance, attendance, etc... Instead, it's to punish, stifle, or otherwise harass students (and faculty!) through a dress code. Wow, I can't believe no one's asked you to be their principal yet.
Fourth, no obscene language will be tolerated anywhere on this school's property -- whether in class, in the hallways or at athletic events... It is my intent that by the time you leave this school, you will be among the few your age to instinctively distinguish between the elevated and the degraded, the holy and the obscene.
Decent intent, but again, the implementation is key. Also, "holy and the obscene" is mighty lofty talk for a SECULAR public school.
Fifth, we will end all self-esteem programs. In this school, self-esteem will be attained in only one way -- the way people attained it until decided otherwise a generation ago -- by earning it. One immediate consequence is that there will be one valedictorian, not eight.
Sigh. Dennis, let's agree to disagree. Self-esteem, like most things, is best in moderation. The ideal is to have students be self-confident without being narcissistic and to find that sweet spot between resiliency and total disconnected douchy-ness. How about this: I'll concede that there should be just one valedictorian, and you'll concede that, as part of the goal to "make better Americans," school should try to encourage, support, and, dare I say it, INTEREST students, as opposed to being like, I don't know, a prison?
Sixth, and last, I am reorienting the school toward academics and away from politics and propaganda. No more time will devoted to scaring you about smoking and caffeine, or terrifying you about sexual harassment or global warming. No more semesters will be devoted to condom wearing and teaching you to regard sexual relations as only or primarily a health issue.
I don't understand, these are things their parents already spend all day being scared crapless over by the 24-hour news media (which includes you). Are you saying kids should be immune from the scare-cycle, or just that the information should be presented in a less partisan manner? I like the thought of trying to reduce partisanship in school, but you're sort of all over the place here. Global warming should be taught within the confines of a science class, if appropriate. Smoking and sex ed should certainly be discussed if you have a health class. Sexual harassment isn't "terrifying," it's an important issue that kids, particularly young women, need to be aware of, and know how to properly respond to. If you think people are teaching something wrong, that's one thing. But saying kids shouldn't learn about a topic because it's "political" is a lazy cop-out. Should we cancel all history and government classes while we're at it? There's plenty of potential for bias there!
There will be no more attempts to convince you that you are a victim because you are not white, or not male, or not heterosexual or not Christian. We will have failed if any one of you graduates this school and does not consider him or herself inordinately lucky -- to be alive and to be an American.
I'm guessing this will be a special elective class, taught by the eminent Dr. Prager? Let's see, it will probably be called  "Get Down On The Ground, Kiss That Sweet American Soil, And Thank God You Weren't Born in Sweden 101". Or something.
Now, please stand and join me in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of our country. As many of you do not know the words, your teachers will hand them out to you.
Hey Dr. Dumbass, these are kids in PUBLIC schools. They say the pledge every day. You actually meant to imply that they don't believe in it or understand it. This joke, like your whole essay, gets one big F. I'd give you a do-over, but I don't want to read it again.

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