The good old days at Tulsa Public Schools


Found this in the archives of the Underground Grammarian, as a result of a Google search on "Tulsa Tribune". The column sheds some light on the state of public education in Tulsa in the late '70s and early '80s. I'm quoting at length, but you still should go and read it all -- it's brilliant, and I don't say that lightly.

Indeed, we have to begin our sixth year with a couple of the most sickening documents we have ever seen. We found them quoted, and appropriately, although not sufficiently, derided, in an editorial in The Tulsa Tribune.

What documents? The Grammarian quotes one:

Students do not read, write and do arithmetic as well as they used to because they can get along quite nicely without these skills. . . . Americans are finding that they need to rely less and less on "basic skills" to find out what they want to know and what they want to do. Our basic skills are declining precisely because we need them less. [Peter Wagschal, Futurist, University of Massachusetts]

And the Grammarian comments:

YEAH. And that’s not all! Just you take a good look at the standard American dogs and cats. They live pretty damn well, tolling not, neither spinning, and they’ve never even heard of stuff like reading, writing, and arithmetic. They "do quite nicely without those skills," and so do tropical fish and baboons. And so, too, did black slaves and Russian serfs, and all those marvelously skillful and industrious ancestors of us all who gathered nuts and roots and killed small rodents with sticks. They all knew everything they needed to know.

Why was the Tribune interested in Massachusetts futurist Peter Wagschal? Because Larry Zenke, Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, brought him to town to help explain declining test scores.

The Grammarian quotes Zenke:

Then, having (by proxy) brought light to the benighted fuddy-duddies of Tulsa, Zenke, who obviously knows more than he lets on, laid a little groundwork for the defense of next year’s test scores: "Wagschal even suggests that 50 years from now we could be the smartest, most knowledgeable society that has ever existed, and yet be largely illiterate."

The italics are Zenke’s, not ours, and we’re grateful for them. We have often wondered what kind of an idea it would take to make a school superintendent excited about the life of the intellect. ...

And how, you ask, will people who are "largely illiterate" come to amass all that knowledge? Well, don’t you worry, bless your heart. Someone will probably be quite willing to tell them what to know, even if it means all the trouble and expense of attaching loudspeakers to every lamp-post in America.

The teachers, then, will be liberated to do what the teacher academies train them to do. Zenke foretells:

Teachers, for example, will no longer be disseminators of cognitive information—machines will do that. Teachers will be program developers and/or facilitators of group membership, helping students develop interaction skills. Some educators, of course, will be found too rigid to survive this metamorphosis, but those who do will find excitement and fulfillment in their new "teaching roles."

And that will be just dandy too. Happy, happy, the teachers of tomorrow, at long last fulfilled and excited! Freed forever from the stern constraints of the tiny smatterings of mere information still incongruously expected of teachers, the facilitator-trainees of the future won’t have to take any of those dull and irrelevant "subjects" that now impede their growth as professionals and their group membership development. They’ll be able to spend all their time in the enhancement of their interaction skills, so that they can go forth and facilitate the same for little children.

The Grammarian takes Tulsans to task for putting up with a superintendent who would write such things, and in the process nails the connection between dumbed-down education and serfdom.

The most dangerous threat to your liberty, the one that has by far the best chance of turning you all into docile clods, is right there in Tulsa. Think, dammit! Do you imagine that foreign enemies of this nation could devise for your children a more hideous and revolting destiny than the one so blithely envisioned—and as an exoneration, no less—by the superintendent of schools? Do you yawn and turn to the sports section, citizens of Tulsa, when the man whom you have hired to oversee the growth of understanding and judgment in your children airily tells you that in a palmier day they will have no need of the literacy that alone can give those powers? Do you shrug when he tells you that the children will be spared the burden of whatever "cognitive information" they don’t actually need, which must obviously, since the children will have no powers of judgment, be chosen by someone like Zenke? Do you, like Zenke, dream of the day when no one will be able to read our Constitution, but it won’t matter, because the machines provided by the government schools will tell us all we really need to know about it? Can you think of something to say to those teachers, and superintendents, who are not excited and fulfilled with leading young minds into the ways of understanding and thoughtful discretion, and who are unrigid enough, flaccid and limp enough, not only to survive but to hail as liberation their metamorphosis into developers and facilitators? Does it not occur to you that the inculcation of "interaction skills" for the purpose of "group development" is exactly the opposite of an education, by which a mind can find its way out of group-think and the pet promulgations of collectivisms? And in short, Tulsans, what are those strange black boxes we see on your lamp-posts? What soothing message have they recited, even as you slept? How is it, O Pioneers, that you are not mad as hell?

Brilliant. But I suspect that Zenke's ideas are now mainstream among public education administrators, but perhaps better disguised behind a veil of Educanto.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 7, 2003 12:32 AM.

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