Thinking into the post-public school era: Ending control of the cartel

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1204 Darthy Allen and her son Quisk Palmer work on the billboard at Greater Tucker Missionary Baptist Church, with Brainerd high school nearby.

The purpose of Compulsory Education is to deprive the common people of their commonsense.

— G.K. Chesterton

For local economy to succeed, it will have to suggest ways to reform the educational marketplace in Chattanooga. The local market is run by Hamilton County under authority of the 1870 constitution and the 1909 general school law creating a system of statewide free schools.

Nowadays when people hear the word cartel they think of the Mexican drug cartels, such as the Sinaloa and the Los Zetas gangs. The word cartel isn’t exclusive property of these vertically integrated enterprises delivering cocaine to denizens of American night life. Government schools are also a cartel. They are union-controlled clubs of managers and hangers-on who maintain prices at a high level and restrict competition. As a cartel that survives by use of force, the school is not required to be responsive to the needs of the consumer.

Market failure has always been one of the public school’s main intellectual defenses. The premise of the cartel in Hamilton County is that the civil magistrate has had to take on the job of education as a benevolent rescue operation. The magistrate’s intervention is marketed as a service to residents who, as victims of an injustice or malfeasance long ago forgotten, are incapable of tending to their own interests. The evidence of incompetence has been rolling in since the look-say reading crisis of the 1920s. The owners of the system hope to continue the profitable game a few more years if they can find ways to forestall a revolt.

The Sunday edition of the Chattanooga Times Free Press puts us in the hallways of Brainerd high school, a so-called “inner city” facility marked by a dysfunctionality that no tinkering can mend.

Under the headline, “Young and black in black and white [;] Brainerd High School principal warns of a threat more sinister than gangs,” journalists Joan Garrett and Kevin Hardy tell of an atmosphere of despair in which indifference is held forth as the chief villain.

APATHY IS SAID to be more perilous than gangs, whose baggy-panted membership adds up to 35 percent of homeroom roll. The story reveals chronic problems that haven’t changed since President Johnson’s Great Society welfare program:

➤ Parental involvement is minimal. The school’s heroic principal, Charles Joynes, says 5 percent of moms and dads are daily involved with school activities. Six hundred students are enrolled, but 35 parents have shown up for meetings. No involved parent figured in the story.

➤ Meals at home are rare. Lacking the civilizing gift of a family table, students act so badly that much time is spent at the school on their discourtesy rather than math or reading.

➤ Sexual relations are common. At any one time, a dozen girls at the school either are pregnant or cuddling tots born out of wedlock.

➤ Group bonding and turf violence are widespread.  “[Joynes] wants to reach teens sooner, before they build the relationships that could kill them. He wants to tell them to stop having sex if they don’t want to be parents. And if they father children, he wants them to own up to it. He wants to tell them that gangs will use them up and spit them out. He wants to tell them that if they look like thugs people will be afraid of them.” The school resource officers made 50 arrests in 2011.

Short-term time horizons are a characteristic of many students at Brainerd high school. Edward Banfield, in his 1970 book The Unheavenly City, analyzes the lives of inner city people and finds that their short-term horizon and self-seeking orientation keep them in poverty and liable to use unlawful means to earn livings or attain their ends. The long-term time horizon is one of the great benefits of Christianity, which encourages a man to temper his desires, think of the advancement of others and pursue rewards that can’t be stuffed into one’s pants’ pocket.

THE NEWSPAPER’S EXPOSE seeks to create a sensation in the claim that apathy is the most powerful force at Brainerd high. Yet paralysis is a rational response to life in the factory school.  Paralysis is not aberrant, but a natural condition. The people who exhibit it have at least ordinary wits and probably more than a lick of common sense, and their dozing off at school assemblies and ignoring a chemistry experiment are eminently human but (perhaps) hardly a sin. If you were stuck in their situation, you would probably do the same thing, and mutter the “never mind” of the dejected rock star Kurt Cobain under your breath.

Until the cartel is broken up and we can welcome local economy in education, the deadness will persist. More Friday pep talks, more pleadings from Mr. Joynes to use good grammar and leave the pistols at home, new programs to peddle graduation and diplomas will make no difference and will just annoy the very worldly wise students at Brainerd.

Look again at the seven lessons of schoolteaching,” says John Taylor Gatto, former New York public school teacher of the year, “ — confusion, class position, indifference, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, surveillance — all of these lessons are prime training for permanent underclasses people deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius. And over time this training has shaken loose from its own original logic: to regulate the poor. *** Young people are indifferent to the adult world and to the future, indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence. Rich or poor, school children who face the twenty-first century cannot concentrate on anything for very long; they have a poor sense of time past and time to come. They are mistrustful of intimacy like the children of divorce they really are (for we have divorced them from significant parental attention); they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction. All the peripheral tendencies of childhood are nourished and magnified to a grotesque extent by schooling, which, through its hidden curriculum, prevents effective personality development. *** Nobody survives the seven-lesson curriculum completely unscathed, not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it. In one of the great ironies of human affairs, the massive rethinking the schools require would cost so much less than we are spending now  that powerful interests cannot afford to let it happen.

Local economy envisions a closing down of the jobs program called state-certified teaching. It envisions an unshackling of the smart people in Brainerd and throughout Hamilton County, an eventual return to self-government. It sees nonprofit groups, charities, churches, religious associations, trade groups, for-profit technical teaching and certifications systems, individual tutors such as David Bird at Foundations Collegium in St. Elmo — all offering their services to the poor families of Brainerd’s 600 inmates.

Capital consumed by government operations would be available to families to spend once more on their own charges. As the city learns how to inhale the air of liberty, parents mentioned in the newspaper story can stop working two and three jobs; they can come home for supper, take charge of their folk, make their life-changing decisions and dream big dreams for the coming generation.

The many troubles at Brainerd high school are the fruit of a long road the U.S. has taken to national economy.

Sources: Chattanooga Times Free Press; John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down; the Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, pp. 17-21, New Society Publishers, 1992; Edward C. Banfield, The Unheavenly City Revisited, 1974, Little, Brown and Co.