Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Culture Power and Government Power

What happened to the marriage between parents and teachers, wonders Bill Murchison? Used to be that parents backed up teachers and teachers backed up parents so that "Johnny would read. Susie would con her multiplication tables. Because the middle class expected no less." What went wrong?

Well, writes Murchison, "the compact came apart when the kids themselves took as role models all the fun-loving, war-protesting, authority dissing "campus activists," as the papers called them." Then the idea got about that "Wasn't every little kiddie a potential genius best left to himself?"

Indeed it did. I will have something to say about that. But first this from libertarian John Stossel. He's boosting a speech by black conservative John McWhorter. McWhorter wants to end the drug war because it is tempting too many young black males into the drugs business. "The attractive illegal livelihood relieves men of the need to develop skills that would provide stable legal incomes." Then they get caught and put in jail and another generation of black kids grows up without fathers.

In both of these cases, the writers are expecting government to do a job that government cannot do. Government education cannot make little Johnny read. Government drug prohibition cannot force young black kids into the drug trade. Let's illustrate this with the example of the Irish.

Back in the 1830s the big problem was the shanty Irish. They were poor, they were backward, they were criminal, and they were Catholic so the elite of the time decided that the government "common school" would be just the thing to reduce crime and cure the Irish of their Catholicism. But the whole thing was a failure. First of all, there was a massive crime explosion in the 1840s just as the government schools expansion was getting under way. Secondly, the Irish violently opposed the idea that their children should go to government schools and read the Protestant Bible. So, under leaders like John "Dagger" Hughes, the Irish built their own schools, the famed parochial school system that still notably outperforms the government schools. In planning and implementing this great project the Irish came into the mainstream of American society--by teaching the Protestant elite a lesson.

Today, of course, the government school system is in a terrible mess. It no longer seems to be able to teach little Johnny to read, as functional illiteracy in adults is at least 15 percent. What happened to the consensus on education?

How about this? Today, the educated class that drives the school agenda is no longer interested in literacy and numeracy. That is the agenda of a rising middle class. But a risen middle class takes literacy and numeracy for granted. It is interested in the uses of literacy and numeracy--in a word, creativity.

But wait! What happens to the folks like the underclass black kids whose parents still lack functional literacy? Well, there's always drug dealing.

My point is this. There is no magic government bullet that is going to solve the problems of the black community. It is the black community that has to solve its own problems. Back in the 19th century the elite didn't give a damn about the Irish. The Irish had to pull themselves up and define what it meant to be an Irish American--in defiance of elite culture and opinion.

The problem for blacks today is that they have a protector, the liberal educated class that uses blacks as political pawns to maintain liberal political power. Sheltering in the political power of the liberals blacks have been diverted from the tough, character building work of defining themselves in defiance of the current elite. That means creating an education for their kids in spite of the government, and protecting the black family in spite of the government's war on drugs.

But I am an optimist. I'll bet a nickel that even as we sit here wringing our hands about the broken education system and the broken black family the solutions are already forming and developing under the radar. Because the American Dream beats in the heart of everyone, from parents frustrated with the government education system to blacks frustrated with the government's war on drugs.

The first step is to take the Reagan pledge. "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem." But you knew that.

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