Back to School…D’ya Think?


After the spring from hell, and two months of summer staycation, families across the land anxiously await the very dubious reopening of the school year. The Covid-19 virus has revealed structural cracks in the mighty fortress of public education. Some districts remain closed, or only tentatively and partially open. It’s easy to see where this is going.

I got a letter this week from a high school physics teacher in New England — who wants to remain anonymous. He writes:

“…Covid has initiated the death of public ed in America…. The state cannot decide whether we should start full remote or whether we should try some weird hybrid schedule. Nobody can make a decision. The union is pissed. They know most of the classrooms are poorly ventilated and too small and they see nothing but a ‘cruise ship’ scenario unfolding. Remote is terrible, but it is better than nothing….”

Before we go further, remember the first principle of the long emergency: anything organized at the giant scale is liable to fail. During the post-war growth spurt, we consolidated all the nation’s schools into giant districts serviced by the yellow bus fleets bringing thousands of kids together in buildings designed to look like insecticide factories. And when that project was complete, what did we get? Two decades of mass shootings in schools. I don’t think we got the correct message from this — which is that this manner of schooling produces so much ennui and anomie that some kids turn homicidal by the time they hit their teens.

The fact that this condition remains unrecognized, and certainly absent from public discussion, says a lot about our disastrous collective psychology of previous investment: having set up this miserable system at titanic expense, we can’t even think about changing it. Now, as is usual in human history, the process will happen emergently, on its own, whether we like it or not, because circumstances demand it.

Another matter absent from news media is what happens when falling tax revenues start to bite the giant consolidated school districts. My physics teacher correspondent in New England writes:

“School finances are in full reverse mode. Whispered in the hallways before every school committee and in every town council chamber is the awesome reality that sales tax and property tax collections are down 25 – 30 percent. The fear is palpable…. It seems to me that Public Ed as we currently know it will be history in about four years. It is a big edifice. It will take a few years to fully implode, but not a decade. There’s no money left to keep it going as it is.”

And so, “technology” steps in to save the day: remote learning. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the unintended consequences are pretty grim. Is it realistic to park little kids, say 1st to 6th graders, in front of computer screens for six hours a day? I doubt it. And now that we’ve set things up so that many households need both parents to generate income, who’s around to supervise the remote learning? Personally, I doubt that a majority of even high schoolers will stick to that regimen.

What about the many poor households? The schools may dole out laptops and tablets to them, but what if there’s no Internet service in the home. What if the parents are computer illiterate? What if there are several kids and the household is chaotic? That is the actual reality where many single mothers are on public assistance. As it is, the kids already do badly in regular schooling.

So, then there’s home schooling. A parent buys a curriculum and follows it. Swell. How many parents are actually equipped to do this? And who are the parents — mothers mostly — who get to stay home with the kids at least half the day? I hasten to add that the next iteration of schooling in America probably will grow out of home-schooling efforts, as groups or pods of families organize small ad hoc schools that resemble in structure the one-room schoolhouses of yesteryear. But the journey to that outcome is likely to be messy and rocky, and a lot of children will be left behind. Well, Abe Lincoln managed to get an education with little more than a Bible, a volume of Shakespeare, and a pile of law books.

The colleges have their heads so deep in the sand that you can barely see the ankles of the people-in-charge. It’s absolutely worst at the top of the heap. Case in point, a letter lately sent out to the whole of the Princeton University “community” of students, staff, and faculty by President Christopher Eisgruber (read the whole thing here). Such a reeking dumpster-load of cowardly and disingenuous race-pander has hardly been seen before, even at Harvard, Yale, and Brown, where insincerity flows like Amontillado sherry. Eisgruber writes: “We must ask how Princeton can address systemic racism in the world.” The grandiosity is really something — like, the world has been just sitting around waiting for Princeton to fix it, and now the time is ripe! And, of course, as if quixotic crusades against political hobgoblins will save Princeton.

I have news for you: the colleges and universities are going down hard and hardly just because Covid-19 has interrupted their business plan. Rather, because of the stupendous and gross dishonesty that higher ed has fallen into. The racketeering around college loans was bad enough but the intellectual racketeering around fake fields of study, thought-crime persecutions, and an epic sexual hysteria has disgraced the very mission of higher ed, turned it into something no better than a sick cult, and infected the rest of the culture by seeding many institutions and business enterprises with cultist graduates bent on subjecting the whole of American society to a never-ending Maoist struggle session.

If remote learning is for you, take five free online courses a semester at the Khan Academy and don’t fork over seventy-large to an Ivy League University for pretty much exactly the same thing. Right now, the schools are in turmoil as the students show up, get to partying — or merely convening in small social groups — and whaddaya know, things go all cruise ship. That’s what happened at SUNY Oneonta and Indiana University this week. More to come, I’m sure.

Eventually, you see, thousands of colleges and universities across the land will close or at least downsize severely — if the Maoists don’t torch them after the election. The destiny of many young people today lies not in the hallowed halls of Google, Microsoft, and Goldman Sachs but rather in the fields and pastures across the fertile parts of the country where food must be grown for a dwindling population. Sssshhhh. Don’t tell them that. They’ll just have another tantrum, scream in your face, and cancel you. But the world goes as the world goes, and that’s probably where it’s going.

Reprinted with permission from