A note on the ambitions of the New Paltz school district

I managed, in bits and pieces, to hear most of the recent New Paltz school board discussion of their plan to ram a new school building down the throats of local taxpayers. They’re going through the pretense of determining whether the Middle School building (at South Manheim and Main) can be successfully renovated “for the 21st Century!” or whether a new building will be required. Their mouths are watering, of course, for the new building. They can barely contain their “commitment to the children.” How they long to create a legacy, with other people’s money.

During the discussion school superintendant Maria Rice, whose semi-conscious goal seems to be to bankrupt the community before moving on, referred to “21st Century!” education almost compulsively, and at one point wondered about what kind of space will be needed to effect learning in the “21st Century!” That wonderful new Middle School building is so clearly dancing like a sugarplum in Rice’s mind that I’m reluctant to disturb the fantasy. I don’t want to be responsible for any “21st Century!” chemical imbalances in one of the heads of the Five Families (village, town, school district, SUNY, county) of local government.

Although it was hovering right there in front of them throughout the discussion, the school board steadfastly refused to look at the “21st Century!” learning space. That’s because the “21st Century!” learning space only marginally involves physical space, and the school district is already a decade and a half behind the “21st Century!” learning curve. I have total confidence that their effort to catch up will leave them another decade, or two, behind. And that within just a few years they’ll be turning out kids who can be plugged right into lifetime nanny-state dependencies of all sorts.

Cyberspace is the learning space of the “21st Century!,” and school districts, let alone school buildings, are dinosaurs. They’re about warehousing “the children” in the interest of teachers unions and along the way will insure the stupefaction of “the children” in order to satisfy that interest.

If the schools could possibly advance the cause of reading, writing, and math, then students would have the tools they need to tackle almost anything, but then the schools have a very busy political agenda that diverts their focus away from basics (they sometimes call that political agenda “diversity,” which essentially means “we’re replacing your values with ours,” but its gagging limitations and rotten objectives are becoming so obvious that they’re increasingly hiding it from the public). So, meeting standards in the most basic skills that are required for learning gets derided as “teaching to the test,” i.e., “we can’t meet the standards even if they were worth meeting.”

Unable to meet standards, schools invent new things (remember “affectiveness training?”) that don’t have objective standards, but that do divert attention from the stupefaction of “the children.” That eats up a lot of time, as the windows of learning opportunities are serially shut down and the kids’ peer groups, which are immature conspiracies against adult reality, take control of school culture. That’s a by-product, and in some cases the main product, of massing the kids together, and recreates the unreal sophistries of the prison yard. Education bureaucrats sometimes refer to this as “socialization,” but in fact it compounds states of boredom, immaturity, and resentment. That’s one-half of the reason why parents often find that the sweet eager-to-learn child they sent off to school is delivered back to them some years later a desolate idiot, who they then must rationalize as going through a “stage.”

It’s not a stage; it’s what they got back on their investment in the schools. Some parents are too good at their job to let the schools get the better of them and manage the project well, but there is little room for error, and the schools are always ready to get in the way.

Hence, we hear about such absurdities as “educating the Whole Child.” To which any parent should reply: Don’t go anywhere near the Whole Child, because that’s not any of your business; you don’t have anything, at all, to do with the Whole Child. Just try to handle the 20% of the child that involves a few basic skills. We’ll handle values, character, spirit, family, health, and love of country. Stick to what you’ve already demonstrated you can’t really do, and we’ll try to pick up the slack on that as well.

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