Category Archives: Political Science

My Old School, or MOS

What I will call “my old school,” (MOS) to which I am still emotionally if not otherwise attached, has sent me, and hundreds of other present and former members of the school community, a questionnaire with the expectation that the answers of those of us who respond to the survey will play an important role in helping the school administration with strategic planning and setting priorities for the next 3 to 5 years.

“Please take the time to reply, it won’t take more than a few minutes.”

Well I took the time, a bit more than the few minutes mentioned, and when finished, and after reading what I had written, I thought to myself that my priorities for MOS could with few if any changes be the priorities of any private or selective public school, although I don’t know how I could ever determine that.

WhIle writing my own replies they seemed to me to describe a kind of true “common core” of our school, not the false, wordy, dense and mostly unreadable common core known as CCSS, and now adopted by the public school establishments of some 42 states.

Anyway, here are the questions and my responses:

1. What are the strengths, values, and traditions that define MOS (my old school) and must be preserved?

At MOS the students are, or should be I think, freer than in more traditional public or private schools. Freer in the sense of discovering their own interests and talents within the school program (as opposed to finding their freedom, and through it themselves, outside of the school program). This makes schooling and learning the same, and usually they’re not.

2. What do you regard as the key opportunities for the School’s long-term success?

Finding the applicants who will most profit from MOS and in turn be most apt to give back to the school at some future time, thereby insuring the school’s long-term successful survival.

3. Taking into account external as well as internal factors, what do you see as the potential challenges to MOS’s continued success?

Being too satisfied with the way things are, because you can and should always try to do better.

4. Considering academic, extracurricular, and any other programmatic factors, what elements are missing from the educational offerings at MOS that are critical for any 21st Century school?

I don’t know if anything is missing, being not all that familiar with the offerings of MOS today. But I don’t think so. However, not what you do, but the way you do things, how you approach whatever it is that you may be doing, or as Sam Chaltain has said somewhere, how you try to focus less on what you want kids to know, and more on what you want them to become, —all that’s much more important than the “educational offerings.”

I’m sure you still do the same stuff more or less that I did when I was there, math, music, art, French, athletics, Darwinian evolution and all the rest. Maybe you could also do (school or college) wrestling? I did. Chinese? I didn’t. Why not?

5. Are there facilities that could be added that would significantly improve the quality of program offered to students?

Sure. Many. But that will depend on your graduates and friends. For example, an indoor pool? A new Gymnasium? Those two, and probably many more that would be nice to have, and yes, that would significantly improve the quality of life at the school, and along with that the program.

6. How would you describe MOS to a prospective student and/or family in three sentences?

The individual is most important.

The community is most important.

The individual within the community should be what it’s all about.

(This is probably how I would like to be able to describe our country to an immigrant. The same thing it says on our coins, Et pluribus unum, from many (of us individuals) one (community/country). And if all schools were more like MOS still is, I hope, in this respect the entire country would probably move more in this direction, individuals working together for the betterment and improvement of the country.)

7. If you were to give advice to the Chair of the Board of Trustees and the Head of School about the schools’s future, what would you say?

The school will always depend on the excellence of the teaching staff and the quality of the applicants who become students. Nothing is more important. The Board Chair and the School Head ought to be most of all working to make sure that this continues to be the case.

Milton Friedman, 1912-2006

Milton Friedman is dead. His voice, now quelled, was probably the strongest voice ever raised in this country, or anywhere else, for doing away with the government monopoly on education. During his lifetime he was listened to in this regard, but not nearly enough.

For example, vouchers were one of his ideas, but vouchers haven’t yet been tried in any meaningful manner. The latter meaning that the student, or the student’s parents, receive a voucher at least as large as the dollar cost of each pupil to the local school system. This didn’t, and hasn’t happened. And as long as vouchers are small, both in numbers and amounts, there will be no definitive answer to the question, will vouchers solve some of the worst problems of the public schools, especially those within our inner cities where failure is common and drop out rates are high.

"As a libertarian, Mr. Friedman advocated legalizing drugs and generally opposed public education and the state’s power to license doctors, automobile drivers and others. He was criticized for those views, but he stood by them, arguing that prohibiting, regulating or licensing human behavior either does not work or creates inefficient bureaucracies." (See the obituary in today’s NYTimes.)

Friedman liked to say that, "unimpeded private competition produced better results than government systems. ‘Try talking French with someone who studied it in public school,’ he argued, ‘then with a Berlitz graduate.’"  He might also have said, try testing a fourth grader’s knowledge of the times table and other math facts, and then those of a Kumon student of the same age. Although he probably oversimplified the issue, in regard, for example, to the reasons for the Berlitz graduate’s success, those of us who have taught in the public schools would have to admit that our students were never learning more than a fraction of what they could have learned if they had  been motivated and interested.

OK, you’re right. Even more important than the public-private thing is the motivation of the learner.  Friedman seemed to assume that on the part of both teacher and learner in a private school environment motivation and interest would be highest. Maybe so, although we haven’t found that out yet. But isn’t it true that ownership, meaning in this case owning one’s place in the learning environment from having paid the purchase price, is more apt to result in hard work and the assumption of responsibility on the part of the learner? In any case there is very little of both, hard work and the assumption of responsibility for one’s learning, to be found in our failing inner city  schools.

In 1948 48 counries voted in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

At that moment in time these 48 countries were known as: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela.

Another 10 members of the UN at that time either abstained (Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Ukraine, Yugoslavia) or were absent (Honduras and Yeman).

Things have changed since then. Now there are, of course, many more, 192 members as of this year, 2006. Furthermore, of the 48 original signers of the Declaration how many of these have a government today that is at all a continuation, and not the result of a rejection and replacement of an earlier government? The United States and the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, Belgium, Costa Rica, Denmark, maybe France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. In short the liberal, Western democracies.  Pretty much Europe and America.

The nations of South America, Africa, Asia, the states of the former Soviet Union, all those countries that now make up the largest part of the current UN membership, were not for the most part signers of the Declaration.

Now what was the Declaration that the 48 countries, were signing onto in support in 1948? (How many of the 192, would vote in favor of the Declaration today?) There were thirty articles in the Declaration which you can read here.

If you read all 30 Articles, you will immediately realize that there is not a single country in the world today that tries to govern in accordance with the Declaration, neither in fact nor in spirit. The Declaration represents a Utopia that if anything is receding even further into the distance.

What do I mean by that? Take just one Article, Article 26, which says:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Of how many nations might such things be said today? Not even the United States, could say, for example, that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit,” or that “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality,” or finally that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

One wonders who wrote the Declaration, since it obviously could not have been the nations who signed on. A Google search quickly gives us the answer, John Humphrey, a Canadian and employee of the UN, was the principal author.

One wonders what the signers of the Declaration were thinking when they signed it. One wonders if they even read it. A Google search doesn’t give us an answer to this querstion, showing that Google too has its limits.

In today’s NYTimes Michael Kinsley reviews “a shelf of books” (see below) that raise “various alarms about the condition of American democracy.” The condition is not good according to these books. “Cheating” by those on the Left and the Right is what is wrong and in Kinsley’s view “the worst form of cheating in American democracy today is intellectual dishonesty.” Now doesn’t “intellectual dishonesty” mean not telling the truth? Truth telling is certainly absent from our political life. The question that Kinsley doesn’t answer, nor, I suspect, is the answer anywhere on Google, is, has there ever been a society when not telling the truth was not the rule?

Perhaps our biggest mistake is that we go on pretending. Pretending, for example, that we are respecting the Rights as set down in the Declaration. Nowhere do we hear political leaders telling us how things really are, for only then could we, might we, go on to make things better. Who has the courage to admit that these Rights cannot now be honored because it would mean that too many of those now favored would lose favors to those many more who are now unfavored?

For example, take Article 23, that concerns work, “Everyone has the right to work,…”, and Article 25 that concerns remuneration, “Everyone has the right to a  standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,…, and Article 29, the individual in the community, “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible, and Everyone in the exercise of his rights and freedoms shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”

John Humphrey’s mistake was not to have said that his Declaration was the result of a communication with a Higher Being. For then the Declaration might have become a text for us to live by. But it didn’t happen and now the Declaration is forgotten, and instead we have fanatics turning to other texts, the Bible and the Koran in particular, and waving them before us as they proceed to destroy both people and property, the very things that the Declaration set out to protect.

For more background to all this discussion, go to the article by James Traub, in the New York Times: Ban Ki-moon vs. the Bad Guys

Michael Kinsley’s “shelf of books.”

How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politics Are Selling Out America.

By Byron L. Dorgan.

The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.

By Patrick J. Buchanan.

Principles for a New Political Debate.

By Ronald Dworkin.


By Alan Wolfe.

How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.

By Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein.

How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America.

By Dana R. Fisher.

How Bush, the Far Right and Big Business Are Betraying Americans for Power and Profit.

By Mark Green.

Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It).

By Sanford Levinson.

The New Politics of Voter Suppression.

By Spencer Overton.

Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count.

By Steven F. Freeman and Joel Bleifuss.