Unhelpful ideals

What’s wrong with our schools is much like what’s wrong with our American democracy. For we are blinded by the ideals we have for both, ideals of how we would like things to be that clearly do not correspond with the reality of the way things are.

Wasn’t it, for example, our veneration for Jefferson’s words in the Declaration that for a hundred years or more prevented us from seeing the reality of our country, in particular the reality of the lives of our native Americans, our blacks and our women, and many others, and much else besides?

Just as it is now, and has been for some time, our wish for a college education for all that prevents us from seeing and addressing the real abilities, talents, and needs of our young people. The reality that we continue to avoid is that college, at a meaningful level, no less than calculus, chess, and violin lessons, is not for all.

This is so, just as the fact that people are not equal. So far, however, these two ideals, traced to two of the most admired figures of our past, to Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann, have seriously impaired both our democracy and our schools, and have prevented both from being what they might have been in a different less ideal beclouded world.

What is it that commonly results when we are taken up by appearances, by what we would like things to be, rather than by what things are? Isn’t it hypocrisy, pretending things are not what they are?

And it’s the pretense, the hypocrisy that has created so many of our problems. To what else is due our government’s unsustainable entitlement spending, and what else is responsible for huge numbers of young people finding themselves terribly unprepared and dropping out before finishing college?

Governing large numbers of people is always hard. And as we well know democracies are extremely messy, and only partial solutions to the problem. Also, educating large numbers of young people, especially when the parents have been much, if not completely, taken out of the equation, is no less difficult.

But things might have been easier, and we might have succeeded more if we had rejected the ideals of a few at the very beginning, and then kept them out of sight all along the way.

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