Tulsa Education: May 2010 Archives

It's rare that you will find me quoting, with approval, a lesbian, atheist, leftist East Coast professor, but Camille Paglia's love of Western Civilization and her critique of what passes for education in America warms my heart. Paglia's recent interview with Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail reads like a commercial for the classical education movement. A few choice quotes:

I've always felt that the obligation of teachers is to have a huge, broad overview and to provide a foundation course to the students. The long view of history is absolutely crucial. There are long patterns of history. Civilizations rose and fell, and guess what! It's not a fiction. I believe in chronology and I believe it's our obligation to teach it. I've met fundamentalist Protestants who've just come out of high school and read the Bible. They have a longer view of history than most students who come out of Harvard. The problem today is that professors feel they are far too sophisticated and important to do something as mundane as teach a foundation course. So what the heck are parents paying all this money for?...

I want world culture taught. I believe in Hollywood and jazz. Those are America's great contributions to the world. But I don't want this ideology that the West is the great rapist of the world. The Western art tradition is incredible. Then feminism came along and decided greatness was a conspiracy foisted on us by men. People would criticize me by saying, "She's writing about Michelangelo when the really important person was this woman...." But wait. There's no way she came up to Michelangelo's ankle. So what we're getting now is people who never heard of Michelangelo or Leonardo because they are dead white males. They think it's better to read minor works by African-American or Caribbean writers than the great literature of the world....

The kids are totally in the computer age. There's a whole new brain operation that's being moulded by the computer. But educators shouldn't be following what the students are doing. Educators need to analyze the culture and figure out what's missing in the culture and then supply it. Students find books onerous. But I still believe that the great compendium of knowledge is contained in books....

Wente asked Paglia: "But in education today - even in primary-school education - all we hear about is 'critical thinking.' All the facts are available on the Web, and everybody has a calculator. So why make kids memorize the times tables or the names of the biggest rivers in Canada?" Paglia's reply (emphasis added):

"Critical thinking" sounds great. But it's a Marxist approach to culture. It's just slapping a liberal leftist ideology on everything you do. You just find all the ways that power has defrauded or defamed or destroyed. It's a pat formula that's very thin. At the primary level, what kids need is facts. They need geography, chronology, geology. I'm a huge believer in geology - it's all about engagement in physical materials and the history of the world.

But instead of that, the kids get ideology.

There are an increasing number of options for parents who want their children to get a foundation in western culture, to learn chronology and geography and times tables and how to diagram a sentence. In Tulsa you have schools like Augustine Christian Academy and Regent Preparatory School and homeschool communities like Classical Conversations, which now has groups meeting in southeast Tulsa, at Victory Christian Center, in Owasso, Jenks, and, starting next year, in Skiatook.

My oldest son has been a part of the Tulsa Classical Conversations community for three years, and it has given him a great grounding in such diverse subjects as historical chronology, essay writing, anatomy, Latin, and geography. His geography final assignment this year involved a large poster-sized world map drawn freehand with countries and capitals labeled. He has a framework for understanding news stories and novels.

Unfortunately, the idea that kids need facts doesn't have much support in our public education system, and I'm not sure that it's possible to get anything like a classical education in Oklahoma without turning to a private school or homeschooling.


"The Lost Tools of Learning," an essay by Dorothy L. Sayers and a foundational text of the classical education revival. Sayers makes the case for memorization in the early years of schooling and explains how it lays a foundation for developing the skills of sound argument and persuasive speech in the later years.

Ten myths about classical education busted.


In a New York Times oped, Charles Murray explains why test score comparisons aren't the most compelling argument for school choice, and in the process sings the praises of classical education (thanks to reader and commenter Stephen Lee for the link):

If my fellow supporters of charter schools and vouchers can finally be pushed off their obsession with test scores, maybe we can focus on the real reason that school choice is a good idea. Schools differ in what they teach and how they teach it, and parents care deeply about both, regardless of whether test scores rise.

Here's an illustration. The day after the Milwaukee results were released, I learned that parents in the Maryland county where I live are trying to start a charter school that will offer a highly traditional curriculum long on history, science, foreign languages, classic literature, mathematics and English composition, taught with structure and discipline. This would give parents a choice radically different from the progressive curriculum used in the county's other public schools.

I suppose that test scores might prove that such a charter school is "better" than ordinary public schools, if the test were filled with questions about things like gerunds and subjunctive clauses, the three most important events of 1776, and what Occam's razor means. But those subjects aren't covered by standardized reading and math tests. For this reason, I fully expect that students at such a charter school would do little better on Maryland's standardized tests than comparably smart students in the ordinary public schools.

And yet, knowing that, I would still send my own children to that charter school in a heartbeat. They would be taught the content that I think they need to learn, in a manner that I consider appropriate.

This personal calculation is familiar to just about every parent reading these words. Our children's education is extremely important to us, and the greater good doesn't much enter into it -- hence all the politicians who oppose vouchers but send their own children to private schools. The supporters of school choice need to make their case on the basis of that shared parental calculation, not on the red herring of test scores.

There are millions of parents out there who don't have enough money for private school but who have thought just as sensibly and care just as much about their children's education as affluent people do. Let's use the money we are already spending on education in a way that gives those parents the same kind of choice that wealthy people, liberal and conservative alike, exercise right now. That should be the beginning and the end of the argument for school choice.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Education category from May 2010.

Tulsa Education: March 2010 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Education: August 2010 is the next archive.

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