For the sake of argument, then, one must never let a euphemism or a false consolation pass uncontested. The truth seldom lies, but when it does lie it lies somewhere in between.”
― Christopher Hitchens, “For the Sake of Argument: Essays and Minority Reports”
In a world where prison construction, whitewater parks, and beleaguered international sporting events fall under the aegis of the “education” budget, acknowledging failure in public education appears no longer tenable for Alabama’s political leaders. There will still be plenty of systemic failure in Alabama’s public schools, mind you, it’s just that leadership is sick of acknowledging their failings amid calls for reform and parental choice.
Alabama's top education experts and lawmakers, including State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey, are now insisting that the “failing school” designation is an abject humiliation to teachers and students in the bottom 6% of Alabama’s public schools, and that a language shift is needed.
It’s humiliating to witness Alabama’s leadership pursue this line again, shielding themselves from criticism by the state’s most vulnerable populations. It’s almost as embarrassing as celebrating the false consolation of no longer being last in math and reading scores last year.
Mackey’s aim to “shift the language” is nothing new. Gov. Kay Ivey herself supported such a change in 2019.
“The governor wants every student in every school across the state to achieve success,” Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said in an official statement at the time. “She believes that hardworking students and teachers at struggling schools should not be blamed for systemic problems.”
Taken at face value, this mentality is noble sentiment, but like most noble sentiments, it is a recipe for disaster.
Education is a lifelong personal quest of give and take full of inevitable failures. Good news: failure is often a better teacher than most school instructors. Kids should be allowed to fail so they may learn from their mistakes. Unfortunately, the future of Alabama’s children is intimately tied to the public mission of the state’s education bureaucracy, a system which never truly admits its failures and never seems to learn from its mistakes.
Have you wondered why the nation’s public education system, especially in Alabama, continually fails most of the population at exorbitant expense to the citizenry's wealth and basic dignity? Ponder the question long enough, and you’ll realize systemic failure is a feature, not a bug. In fact, the purpose of America’s compulsory education system is not to foster a free-thinking, well-informed, independent citizenry, but a docile and domesticated herd of obedient workers, consumers, and voters easily manipulated by government and corporate propaganda.
“Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history,” former New York teacher John Taylor Gatto wrote in his famous 1991 “Wall Street Journal” opinion piece, “I quit, I think.” “It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents.”
“An exaggeration? Hardly. Parents aren’t meant to participate in our form of schooling, rhetoric to the contrary. My orders as schoolteacher are to make children fit an animal training system, not to help each find his or her personal path.
School has become too vital a jobs project, contract-giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be ‘re-formed.’ It has political allies to guard its marches.
That’s why reforms come and go — without changing much. Even reformers can’t imagine school much different.”
Essentially, public education is built on too big and too noble a lie to truly address its systemic failure to educate individual children. No surprise. The noble lies of yesteryear may be easy to see through — imagine the absolutist divine right of kings being taken seriously today! — but today’s noble lies or euphemisms are of utmost necessity for a political system’s stability and order. And we are hardly free of peculiar political pretenses here in Alabama.
As nobly intentioned as it may be, our public education system often demands falsity. The plain-spoken truth is never of primary value in such a system and can even become an existential threat if left unchecked. The government’s education experts all agree: a world of bare-naked truth-telling would lead to educational anarchy. Your livelihood (and especially theirs) is dependent on you going along with their narrative and trusting their excuses.
Citizen! Failing schools aren’t failing! They just need your full support, especially more of your money!
Citizen! Don’t be greedy and don't blame the hardworking teachers and students for the system’s problems!
Citizen! Don’t you know “self-evident” truths are the stuff of revolutions? Best to let the experts tell you the truth!
Citizen! Don’t you know how to watch for disinformation and conspiracy theories? Trust the authorities!
The truth of the education system’s failures lies somewhere in between everyone and no one's responsibility, citizen, which means you must believe the lie for the nobility of the system to survive. What other choice do you have, citizen?
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.
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