Monthly Archives: April 2005

No Fad Left Behind

It’s all too familiar. When I started teaching school forty years ago, public education was at the beginning of one of its Great Leaps Forward, out with everything everyone believed for centuries to be true about teaching and learning and in with everything that might make a kid less resistant to the effort, it was previously thought, required to master reading, writing and arithmetic.

Tests were described as arbitrary and racist, and so were the rules of grammar and punctuation. Instead we were told to employ “alternate means of evaluation” and to encourage fluency in writing which was allegedly frustrated by grammar and punctuation rules.

A few years later, it was discovered that the schools were promoting and graduating innumerable illiterates, which then produced a “back to basics” backlash. Suddenly we needed to follow a new “unified” curriculum,” having previously trashed the mere idea of a curriculum as racist and elitist . There was also talk of doing away with “social promotion,” which lasted until the experts warned that large numbers of students would be held back and denied diplomas which would surely raise a political firestorm and a plague of “public interest” lawsuits against the supposedly racist, elitist school system.

Bush’s No Child Left Behind law is another back to basics turn of the dial: an attempt to bring some accountability to a system that always bends with the political winds. But now that the local and state politicians are feeling heat from parents and teachers, the Bush administration seems to be caving in. The result is Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings introduction of “flexibility” into NCLB.

A letter to the Wall Street Journal printed below describes what is surely going to be the result:

Ms. Spellings makes the statement that “From now on, more students with academic disabilities will be allowed to take tests that are specifically geared toward their abilities. . . .”

I have the gnawing suspicion that this is educational gobbledegook meaning that lazy or unintelligent children will no longer be held to the same standards as the intelligent and industrious ones, and that tests will be dumbed down enough so that everybody is able to get a passing grade. (And, naturally, once these tests become meaningless, the argument will be put forth that they should be abolished, with the result that social promotions will become de facto mandatory.)

Presumably the motivation behind the intense effort (and expense) to cram education down everyone’s throat whether they can benefit from it or not (or whether they even want to benefit from it), is that society expects to realize some future good from it, some sort of payback. If that is the case, it is lamentable that all the emphasis is on raising the lower echelons up to some arbitrary standard at any cost, while no mention is made of helping gifted children reach their full potential.

I would suggest a “No Child Held Back” policy. A program to unshackle gifted children from the level of the sluggards and, while they are still young, to allow them to enjoy the pleasure of working at one’s full potential. (I anticipate that some will make the argument that this would not be “democratic.”) But looking at it simply from a cost-benefits basis, it is obvious that helping gifted children in this way will have a far greater payback to society than keeping them systematically stifled until they get to college, by which time the damage done may be irreversible.

Also, educators and bureaucrats alike should keep in mind that at some point those children who have been on these artificial support systems throughout their educational lives will have to pull the plug and compete in the real world, where they will be judged on achievement, not mere activity. How will they cope when they meet with failure for the first time, when they are told, “It’s just not good enough”?

Donald Sordillo
Litchfield, N.H.


Judicial Modesty

A sane view on judges.

Is There a Mustache in Mexico?

Should the Pope be Catholic?

What Roe Hath Wrought

David Brooks shows how the Roe versus Wade decision has poisoned American politics and threatens to destroy the Senate.

Sleeper Redux

Go on and eat that Big Mac.

Who's He Think He Is…Carmen Miranda?

John Bolton – disloyal to his subordinates.

On the Sidelines

A rare bit of common sense from a New York Times editor.


Dan Henninger describes why the Democrats have lost it:

Somehow in the U.S., the waters parted in recent years, and now Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, are wholly on opposite shores. This divide has a lot to do with the decline of any shared idea about what constitutes an appropriate American social order. While it drives Democrats crazy to hear this, the burden for the decline falls on them…

But it was precisely this same sense of something important being lost–“some standards and values”–that brought forth the formerly apolitical “religious right” 25 years ago, culminating in the Democratic meltdown in 2004 among most traditional families…

This didn’t happen last year. From about 1970 onward, Democrats deployed a strategy of constant cultural and legal challenge, successfully upending a lot of tradition in the U.S., often overnight with a ruling from the bench or a university administrator waving a new policy into existence. Co-ed dorms? Did anyone seek the advice and consent of …parents on that?

The erosion of social tradition happened in the long-ago “due process” lawsuits that effectively took control of decorum in public schools away from principals who’d held it for most of the 20th century–when there was no “schools” problem. It came in the battles over the tradition-obliterating notion of what’s appropriate in museum exhibitions, with the sudden claim that Manhattan’s community standards must prevail in Cincinnati. The breach came over patriotism, an American tradition from 1775 to 1975, when progressive Democrats turned that over to the yahoo “conservatives.”

Unelected Elites and Technocrats

Why Bolton is good for the UN and us.

David Brooks gets to the heart of the matter:

The Bolton controversy isn’t about whether we believe in the U.N. mission. It’s about which U.N. mission we believe in.

From the start, the U.N. has had two rival missions. Some people saw it as a place where sovereign nations could work together to solve problems. But other people saw it as the beginnings of a world government.

This world government dream crashed on the rocks of reality, but as Jeremy Rabkin of Cornell has observed, the federalist idea has been replaced by a squishier but equally pervasive concept: the dream of “global governance.”

The people who talk about global governance begin with the same premises as the world government types: the belief that a world of separate nations, living by the law of the jungle, will inevitably be a violent world. Instead, these people believe, some supranational authority should be set up to settle international disputes by rule of law.

They know we’re not close to a global version of the European superstate. So they are content to champion creeping institutions like the International Criminal Court. They treat U.N. General Assembly resolutions as an emerging body of international law. They seek to foment a social atmosphere in which positions taken by multilateral organizations are deemed to have more “legitimacy” than positions taken by democratic nations.

John Bolton is just the guy to explain why this vaporous global-governance notion is a dangerous illusion, and that we Americans, like most other peoples, will never accept it.

We’ll never accept it, first, because it is undemocratic. It is impossible to set up legitimate global authorities because there is no global democracy, no sense of common peoplehood and trust. So multilateral organizations can never look like legislatures, with open debate, up or down votes and the losers accepting majority decisions.

Instead, they look like meetings of unelected elites, of technocrats who make decisions in secret and who rely upon intentionally impenetrable language, who settle differences through arcane fudges. Americans, like most peoples, will never surrender even a bit of their national democracy for the sake of multilateral technocracy.

Reaming Out a New One

Watching the Senate hearings on the Bolton nomination, I couldn’t help but wonder what world these people (senators and the media) live in. We were supposed to be outraged by Bolton’s “reaming out” of a lower level State Department intelligence analyst who tried to undercut Bolton’s position on possible wmd programs in Cuba.

Listening to jappy Barbara Boxer and that supremely self-important windbag Joe Biden, I found it incredble that neither of them ever “reamed out a new one” of a subordinate or ever fired anyone.

Either Boxer, Biden, Kerry and the rest of the outraged Democrats on the committee are full of it (my preference) or they inhabit a world few real people who work for a living ever have the privilege to visit.

Lost in the debate over Bolton is the context. Everyone knows that the State Department is the mecca of the “liberal internationalist” school of foreign policy and that whenever the Republicans or Democratic defense hawks like Kennedy and Johnson are in power, State does everything in its power to undercut those who consider military force a viable option. Bolton was sent to the State Department to serve as a counter-weight to the anti-force State bureaucracy to which former Secretary of State Colin Powell was more than sympathetic.

Yes, I know Carl Ford, the “whistle blower,” is supposed to be a conservative Republican. Yeah, and so was Anita Hill, or so we were told. I’m skeptical.