---Otto von Bismark, Chancellor of Germany (1862-1890)
When I was a little girl, the birthday wish was the great, unspoken secret of childhood. To break silence and tell another living soul a birthday wish was to break a sacred compact and tempt the fates. My wish was always the same, year in and year out. I hoped in earnest for something I knew would take a very long time to achieve, if in fact I would ever be able to achieve it. Before blowing out the candles, before closing my eyes, and before making that wish, there was always a sneaking glimpse made in the direction of my grandfather. I use the word sneaking because I thought if anyone saw me look his way they would quickly surmise the nature of my perennial hope and the jig would be up. With the mystical power of the wish thus broken, the chance of my birthday wish ever coming true was nil. So sneak I did, and then with the full force of childish fancy, and the power of young lungs, I blew out those candles with the hope that I would one day be as wise as my grandfather. Joseph Hyland, barber to many in our small town, was the most knowledgeable, kind, sensible, humorous, well-read human being a little girl could know, and from a tender age I wished to be as knowledgeable, kind, sensible, humorous, and well-read as he.
Being a teacher I have taken this long view of wisdom. It is active both inwardly and outwardly while centered on the individual. Each student has the potential to be wise, but it is up to them. Their perspective is key yet without rigorous intellectual engagement on their part, it is an exercise in futility. Our American nation, founded as a constitutional democratic-republic, is centered on the individual. We are born with the natural rights of life, liberty and property and the government was designed to protect these God-given rights. Aside from that, the individual is the director of their own show. Life is a struggle, but where there is struggle there is fertile soil for the tender roots of wisdom. As educators we can help students in this pursuit, give them as much background information as possible, but ultimately they will leave the cozy nest of childhood and have to confront the adult struggle that is the human existence. It’s best to know as much as possible before the journey, and teachers can help pack the tools in the suitcase, but the student, ultimately, has to decide to pick up the tools and get to work.
As a student, I remember the frustration I felt with the endless rows of desks placed in straight lines that adorned the typical classrooms of my youth. That they modeled the factory system the last turn-of-the-century did not escape me. We were but cogs in a great industrial machine designed to churn out young workers bees on an enormous conveyor belt that was the public school system. Our knowledge was disseminated by way of an assembly line, without regard to our personal interests, talents, or goals. Everyone got the same schooling in the same amounts and in the same way.
In hindsight, those were the musings of a cynical teen. Today, as a teacher, I see those desks in neat rows as islands of individuality, where the goal was productive citizens capable of standing on their own two feet. Graduates left the cozy nest with grounding in the fundamentals, with the tools to succeed, including the knowledge that the American political system, our grand national experiment, functions best under the watchful eye of the individual citizen. Whereas back in high school I saw sameness, in reality my teachers were providing the basic building blocks of knowledge to us all. These days, public schools have become a factory of a different, worrying sort. Instead of producing individuals with the indispensable knowledge necessary to participate in our great democratic republic, the powers that be have swapped out the individual for the group. Schools are presently great factories, industriously churning out future liberals that rely upon group-think and communal decision-making more than developing the wise individual. This is the utopian vision of our collectivist future.
How do liberals do it? Crises are useful things. There has been a perpetual crisis of one sort or another in our public schools going back decades. Keeping the public education system in crisis mode allows the state to step in to solve problems, and as it does so, the state takes more control away from teachers and, ultimately, parents. The obvious, simple, inexpensive solution to what ails our educational system is parental involvement. Greater cooperation between school and home is the obvious fix, but it is at odds with what progressives truly desire, which is for the state to take over as the child’s ultimate father and mother (read: nanny state). If you think that’s too outrageous, then consider this: Recently, comedian Chris Rock caught flack from conservatives over the issue of gun control. According to Politico, Rock explained why the President’s opinion should be the final arbiter in the debate over the Second Amendment saying, “The president and the first lady are kind of like the mom and the dad of the country…And when your dad says something, you listen. And when you don’t, it usually bites you in the ass later on.”
While not eloquently expressed, Rock makes the point: the experts know what is best for you and your children. Liberals, whose progressive lineage traces back through FDR and Woodrow Wilson, find their roots in German socialist thinkers like Otto von Bismarck, who advocated statism, colloquially known as the nanny state. Statism is “the principle or policy of concentrating extensive economic, political, and related controls in the state at the cost of individual liberty” (dictionary.com).
Progressive politicians do not especially like democratic-republics where they must answer to the run-of-the-mill rabble each election cycle. Ours is a style of government that is messy, noisy, controversial, and, I think, beautiful. Remember, if liberals know what is best for the masses, it must be a real slap in the face for them to take their marching orders from the average Joes on the street. If statist government is staffed by experts, what need is there to encourage children to pursue wisdom? Classrooms instead are increasingly engaged to implement the liberal worldview, as has been the case for progressive policy-makers going back over a century. Today when educators are legally obligated by federal and state laws to implement the Common Core Curriculum much control is taken from the teacher to personally determine what is best for the individual child. When teachers are told to slow down studies and forgo a broad-based education in favor of one with less breadth but with greater depth, red flags need to be raised. When educators are told that students make their own knowledge and are admonished to be less “sage on the stage” than “guide on the side,” it begs the questions of where does wisdom come from if not from those adults who have acquired it? And how will younger generations benefit from the lessons of the past if not from wisdom of those around them? (The excesses of the Chinese Cultural Revolution come to mind.)
Currently, group work and collectivist thinking are seen as more valid than individual pursuits to prepare students to be college and career ready. And while we can acknowledge the necessity of learning how to cooperate with co-workers, the individual also needs to be able to stand their ground and be able to think for themselves. Ask around at your child’s school how curriculum is being implemented. Today’s students often hesitate when asked to work on their own. They are timid to leave the security of the tightly clustered desks that have adorned their classrooms. Over the years their leaning has repeatedly involved the assistance of a learning partner or been achieved through the communal embrace of the group in task after task. In the Internet age, rote, or essential, knowledge of the basics is viewed as a dusty vestige of an antiquated system when penmanship and recitation passed for learning. The hyper-focus of schools on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to the detriment of the humanities, and the scaling-back of history classes in particular, comes with a price.
The price to be paid for the progressive vision of
future will be calculated by the next generation in terms of civic engagement
and individual liberty. Will this generation remain perpetual youths, lost in a
communal dream, disinterested, disengaged, and incapable of addressing the real
goals of the nanny state or will they be mature adults, citizens capable of wisely
questioning mommy and daddy, and thinking for themselves? If the former is to
be the outcome, then the slow death of liberty will continue, unabated, in our
once free republic. But if it is to be the latter, it will take more than
wishing to make it so. It will require us all to dive into the fog of
controversy and fight for the principles our great nation was founded upon. America