School starts in less than three weeks. In Cobb County, teachers start work on July 24. Students report on Aug. 1. The American summer continues to fade. How dare we think children and teens can learn at home, or from a summer job, from grandparents, or from family trips. Get them to a school building. Learning is best when formalized.
Well, tell that to Abe Lincoln, who it seems turned out pretty well. Tell it to my daughter and son-in-law who work in their restaurant six days a week and still manage to home-school three children, whose knowledge and intellectual and social skills are incredibly advanced for their age. In addition to book learning, sweeping floors and talking to restaurant customers are excellent ways for children to learn about people and life in general. We should be thankful for public schools, but why would we not accept the fact that some parents simply desire for their children something other than public schools?
Most citizens probably view their own local school as the full extent of public education. If they like their local school and their children’s teachers, and are appreciative of all the school’s efforts, they most likely don’t give much thought to outside powers and influences on their children’s educational development. Citizens understand there is a local board of education that sets policy. They know there is a state department of education and a state school superintendent. Beyond that — and there is much beyond — they generally think their concerns end.
Oh, how they should think again. The closest and most powerful “beyond” lies right at the school. The greatest influencers of children and teens today are other children and teens. Peer pressure, however, is a misnomer. It’s not that there is pressure on our children. It’s that the influences of the ebb and flow of so many other children or teens in one place cannot be controlled. Children and teens see and hear things that even teachers cannot always be aware of, whether it’s bad language, rebellious attitudes, bullying or bad habits of any stripe. It takes strong parents and an intentional, loving home to prepare children for this undertow at school, an undertow that students are often hesitant to mention to their parents or teachers.
This undertow is only one facet of education’s deep state. The other facets most parents know little to nothing about. One is the teachers’ organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Council for Social Studies, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and, of course, the teachers’ unions, the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers. These and several others like them are private organizations whose existence and mission stands, rightly, outside the purview of elected school boards or of parents. Their voices are loud.
Another facet is the state and national organizations of school administrators — superintendents and principals — as well. These groups are far more in touch with the citizens they serve than are the classroom teacher groups or unions. They are far less likely to say “We don’t teach subjects; we teach students.” They are not as prone to speak of “life-adjustment,” that oldie but baddie that puts subject matter in second place, emphasizing socialization and self-esteem instead. They are less inclined to call school subjects anything but what they are, though they might try to push “authentic assessment” and “cooperative learning,” the latter of which is often simply shared ignorance.
But why call all of these groups the deep state of education? Because they are unknown but influential entities. They propose and dispose. When an English teacher attends a national conference of the NCTE, as I have done many times, he or she will get a good dose of educational progressivism that decries teaching facts, memorizing and learning sentence structure, but emphasizes such virulent viruses as “whole language” or “holistic learning.” Like Darwin, Marx and Freud, their hero, John Dewey, is very much alive.
American schools are in the partial grip of powerful, unseen groups. Ever wonder why today’s college students are so concerned with “safe space”? It could well be that their public school teachers were disciples of educational psychologist Carl Rogers, who argued that schools should be “personal growth centers” marked by “psychological safety” and “a facilitating function.”
Yes, there’s more going on than just a nice, effective principal and his or her dedicated faculty. If ordinary citizens knew more about their hidden influencers, they could better understand what’s going on at the school house.