It’s been a pretty steady refrain, from Bill Whittle to CNN that the reelection of Barack Obama proves that the Right has “lost the culture war”. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over how this happened, but it’s been apparent to me that it started in our public school system, and here’s an interesting article to that point.
From City Journal, Spring of 2009 edition, Pedagogy of the Oppressor:
Like the more famous Teach for America, the New York Teaching Fellows program provides an alternate route to state certification for about 1,700 new teachers annually. When I met with a group of the fellows taking a required class at a school of education last summer, we began by discussing education reform, but the conversation soon took a turn, with many recounting one horror story after another from their rocky first year: chaotic classrooms, indifferent administrators, veteran teachers who rarely offered a helping hand. You might expect the required readings for these struggling rookies to contain good practical tips on classroom management, say, or sensible advice on teaching reading to disadvantaged students. Instead, the one book that the fellows had to read in full was Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire.
For anyone familiar with American schools of education, the choice wasn’t surprising. Since the publication of the English edition in 1970, Pedagogy of the Oppressed has achieved near-iconic status in America’s teacher-training programs. In 2003, David Steiner and Susan Rozen published a study examining the curricula of 16 schools of education—14 of them among the top-ranked institutions in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report—and found that Pedagogy of the Oppressed was one of the most frequently assigned texts in their philosophy of education courses. These course assignments are undoubtedly part of the reason that, according to the publisher, almost 1 million copies have sold, a remarkable number for a book in the education field.
The odd thing is that Freire’s magnum opus isn’t, in the end, about education—certainly not the education of children. Pedagogy of the Oppressed mentions none of the issues that troubled education reformers throughout the twentieth century: testing, standards, curriculum, the role of parents, how to organize schools, what subjects should be taught in various grades, how best to train teachers, the most effective way of teaching disadvantaged students. This ed-school bestseller is, instead, a utopian political tract calling for the overthrow of capitalist hegemony and the creation of classless societies. Teachers who adopt its pernicious ideas risk harming their students—and ironically, their most disadvantaged students will suffer the most.
Read the whole article. If you have children in public school, ask their teachers if they’ve read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and if so, what they think of it. Remember, this book was mentioned prominently in the “Raza Studies” fight here in the Tucson Unified School District.
Now, here’s an interesting coincidence:
As a case in point, consider the career of Robert Peterson. Peterson started out in the 1980s as a young elementary school teacher in inner-city Milwaukee. He has described how he plumbed Pedagogy of the Oppressed, looking for some way to apply the great radical educator’s lessons to his own fourth- and fifth-grade bilingual classrooms. Peterson came to realize that he had to break away from the “banking method” of education, in which “the teacher and the curricular texts have the ‘right answers’ and which the students are expected to regurgitate periodically.” Instead, he applied the Freirian approach, which “relies on the experience of the student. . . . It means challenging the students to reflect on the social nature of knowledge and the curriculum.” Peterson would have you believe that his fourth- and fifth-graders became critical theorists, interrogating the “nature of knowledge” like junior scholars of the Frankfurt School.
What actually happened was that Peterson used the Freirian rationale to become his students’ “self-appointed political conscience.”
AKA, their political officer.
After one unit on U.S. intervention in Latin America, Peterson decided to take the children to a rally protesting U.S. aid to the Contras opposing the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. The children stayed after school to make placards:
LET THEM RUN THEIR LAND!
HELP CENTRAL AMERICA DON’T KILL THEM
GIVE THE NICARAGUANS THEIR FREEDOM
Peterson was particularly proud of a fourth-grader who described the rally in the class magazine. “On a rainy Tuesday in April some of the students from our class went to protest against the contras,” the student wrote. “The people in Central America are poor and bombed on their heads. When we went protesting it was raining and it seemed like the contras were bombing us.”
These days, Peterson is the editor of Rethinking Schools, the nation’s leading publication for social-justice educators. He is also the editor of a book called Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers, which provides math lessons for indoctrinating young children in the evils of racist, imperialist America.
Rethinking Schools, if you remember, was the source of the piece that inspired my education überpost The George Orwell Daycare Center.
Partly thanks to Peterson’s efforts, the social-justice movement in math, as in other academic subjects, has fully arrived (see “The Ed Schools’ Latest—and Worst—Humbug,” Summer 2006). It has a foothold in just about every major ed school in the country and enjoys the support of some of the biggest names in math education, including several recent presidents of the 25,000-member American Education Research Association, the umbrella organization of the education professoriate. Its dozens of pseudo-scholarly books, journals, and conferences extol the supposed benefits to disadvantaged kids of the kind of teaching that Peterson once inflicted on his Milwaukee fourth-graders.
And now you know why schools can’t teach algebra, as detailed in The George Orwell Daycare Center.
Again, read the whole piece. Do you understand now how we “lost the culture”? And why we aren’t going to get it back?