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Liberal_Jihad_Cover.jpg Forward USA

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Soul of the Machine

Liberal-socialism’s obsession with bureaucratic mechanics misses the most fundamental requirement.

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Today’s Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page features an article that you probably can’t access if you are not a subscriber to the Journal’s online edition.  Under the title “Would You Want to Study at a Bloomberg School?” Diane Ravitch dissects the dead corpus of educational reforms promised by New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Ms. Ravitch’s credentials are first-rate.  She is a life-long liberal, but has recanted liberalism in education (see her excellent book, “Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms”).  Moreover, she was one of the major voices at Columbia University’s Teachers College, where American socialist educational theory originated early in the 20th century.

Ms. Ravitch’s message is summarized in the following paragraphs:

“Michael Bloomberg, one of the most successful businessmen in the United States, pledged to fix the public schools when he ran for mayor of New York in 2001. He said that he could get better results without any additional money, just by applying proven managerial techniques. He promised a back-to-basics curriculum and an end to bilingual education…...

“Neither Mr. Bloomberg nor Mr. Klein knew about the war of ideas that had been raging among educators for many years. On one side, beloved by schools of education, are the century-old ideas of progressive education, now called “constructivism.” Associated with this philosophy are such approaches as whole language, fuzzy math, and invented spelling, as well as a disdain for phonics and grammar, an insistence that there are no right answers (just different ways to solve problems), and an emphasis on students’ self-esteem. Constructivists dislike any kind of ability grouping or special classes for gifted children. By diminishing the authority of the teacher, constructivist methods often create discipline problems.

“On the other side are those who believe that learning depends on both highly skilled teachers and student effort; that students need self-discipline more than self-esteem; that accuracy is important; that in many cases there truly are right answers and wrong answers (the Civil War was not caused by Reconstruction); and that instructional methods should be chosen because they are effective, not because they fit one’s philosophical values.

“Messrs. Bloomberg and Klein embarked on school reform knowing nothing of this heated debate. Mr. Klein selected Diana Lam as his top deputy. At the time she was superintendent of schools in Providence, R.I. More important, she was a constructivist and a proponent of bilingual education. At her urging, the mayor expanded bilingual education instead of eliminating it. Ms. Lam picked citywide reading and math programs that no one would describe as “back to basics.” The reading program, called Month-by-Month Phonics, is akin—despite its name—to the whole-language philosophy.”

*****

Mr. Bloomberg is really a liberal-socialist in Republican’s clothes.  Playing on the public admiration for departing mayor Rudy Guiliani, both for his performance in office and for his calm, take-charge reaction to the 9/11 World Trade Towers attack, Mr. Bloomberg nominally switched allegiance from his life-long membership in the Democratic Party.  That was enough to win the mayoralty election.

But it hasn’t been nearly enough to govern the city as effectively as did Mr. Guiliani.

Mr. Bloomberg is not an evil man, he’s just a to-be-expected product of the culture of extreme left-wing socialism that permeates New York City.  He is only one of countless examples of men who have made fortunes in Wall Street then turned 180 degrees against the very system that made their fortunes for them (consider the former co-heads of Goldman Sachs, President Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin and United States Senator Jon Corzine). 

Such people have been raised to believe with all sincerity that individuals really can’t fend for themselves and that only the collectivized power of government can improve people’s lives.  Such people have an extraordinarily narrow view of human existence that leads them to believe that all that counts is the mechanical structure of government. 

The point I wish to emphasize is that there is a blank in their mental makeup where the human soul resides.  As a consequence, Mr. Bloomberg’s instincts tell him that reforming education consists simply of streamlining the bureaucracy, while leaving the teachers’ unions free to inculcate the secular and materialistic socialism that he knows and loves.

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Posted by Thomas E. Brewton on 05/12 at 03:15 PM
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