The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (No. 5)

April 10, 2021

Last week’s issue of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” was especially heavy on “The Bad” and “The Ugly.” This week’s issue is heavier on “The Good” and lighter on “The Bad” and “The Ugly.”

The Good

This annus horribilis is coming to an end, and for me personally I’m declaring it dead. I had my second vaccine shot last weekend. Life is now full steam ahead. My primary goals for this New Year are: 1) to spend more time making the positive case for a free and moral society; and 2) to get cracking on my next book to be tentatively titled, America’s Constitutional Mind: On the Origin and History of the Idea of a Written Constitution as Fundamental Law.

Here’s some of the best darn news I’ve heard in a long time. Nationwide kindergarten enrollment in America’s government schools was down 16 percent during the 2020-21 academic year, and in New York City pre-enrollment for the 2021-22 academic year is down 12 percent over last year. Overall K-12 enrollment in NYC is down 4 percent. These are meaningful numbers. What this means most of all is that parents are taking control over the education of their kids. So where are all the kids going? According to this article in Reason magazine . . .

About the only unambiguous growth categories in the entire field of minor education are learning "pods" (ad hoc groups of parents pooling their efforts either full or part time, to fill in the gaps left by school closures), and homeschooling. That latter category is absolutely exploding—up from 3.3 percent before the pandemic, to 5.4 percent in the spring of 2020, to 11.1 percent last fall, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey.

Had you asked me a year ago if I thought online education were a good thing, my answer would have been “no.” Had you asked me a year ago if I thought one could teach Great Books online, my answer would have been “absolutely, no!” I no longer hold either view. To my surprise and delight, my experience with online teaching has been quite positive. It turns out that a Great Books education conducted as a seminar with a relatively small number of students is very much conducive to online education. There was no dip in the quality of analysis and discussion in my classes this year. I think there are subjects that would be difficult to teach online (e.g., virtually all STEM subjects), but many humanities subjects can be done well online, particularly if the class size is small enough so that the students can remain engaged in a conversation. The Wall Street Journal recently published an interesting essay that makes the case for online education. Increasingly, online education will be the reality of education in the United States and only those who adapt and adjust will survive the coming education apocalypse. (See article here.)

This next story could just as easily have been classified under the “The Bad” or “The Ugly,” but I’m going to classify it under “The Good.” It’s a story about a medical student at the University of Virginia, Kieran Bhattacharya, who attended a conference at UVA on microaggressions. During the Q&A session of one panel, Mr. Bhattacharya asked one of the speakers (a dean at UVA) several very smart questions about her definition of microaggressions. For the sin of asking pointed questions, the young man was subsequently branded as a threat to the university and banned from campus. There is an audio recording of the exchange linked in the article. Mr. Bhattacharya is now suing UVA for violating his First Amendment rights, and a district court judge ruled recently that his case may proceed. I applaud this courageous young man and hope he is successful—very successful—in his lawsuit. (For full story, see story here.)

Bravo! We need more of this: “Black Intellectuals Demand Smith College Apologize to Smeared Workers, End ‘Anti-Bias’ Training

If you do nothing else today, watch this video of Hansel Emmanuel, a high school basketball player with just one arm (H/T Sideline Sprint). It’s a great example of what the human spirit is capable of under difficult life challenges. I tip my hat to this young man. Well done!

The Bad

I think I depressed some of you last week with too much of “The Bad” and too much of “The Ugly,” so I’m going tone it down just a bit this week.

I have a question for conservative parents who support the government school system: are Friday Night Lights worth it? Are you still willing to support the ideological indoctrination of your children because of Friday night football?  

I also have a question for the Social Justice Warriors at Harvard, Yale, and Brown: when will you have the moral courage and integrity of the students at Washington & Lee University? When will you demand that your university change its name given that it was involved directly or indirectly in the slave trade? Instead of pulling down statues and defacing centuries-old paintings, why don’t you demand that your illustrious, status-generating university change its name to something like Ibram X. Kendi University. Stop the easy virtue-signaling and stop protecting the high social status that you derive from the name of your university. You shouldn’t have it both ways. (Story here.)

And so it begins. The Tax Woman Cometh: “Janet Yellen to Call for Global Minimum Tax Rate

This graph, every single bar of it, is representative of the moral crisis of our age. What can’t go on forever, won’t. A free, just, good, and beautiful society cannot sustain these levels of fatherlessness. America, across the board, is suffering from a deficit of fathers. If you see a little boy or girl without a father, be good to them.

The Ugly

In Book II of Plato’s Republic, Socrates begins his discussion of the education necessary for the guardian class—that is, those who will protect and rule the city. Socrates is correct when he asks rhetorically, “Don’t you know that the beginning is the most important part of every work and that this is especially so with anything young and tender?” All wise men and women know, and certainly all parents know, that there is no task more important than the education of our children. It is for precisely this reason, Socrates says, that the children of a good city should not be permitted to “hear just any tales fashioned by just anyone and take into their souls opinions for the most part opposite to those we’ll suppose they must have when they are grown up[.]” So far so good. A proper education is critically important for the intellectual development of children, and it’s necessary for the development of a free, virtuous, and flourishing society.

But now we come to the nub of the issue. Socrates goes on to say “we [presumably he means the rulers of the city] must supervise the makers of tales; and if they make a fine tale, it must be approved, but if it’s not, it must be rejected.” Many conservatives that I know, particularly the proponents of the so-called “common good,” believe that if they can just get their people running the federal government’s Department of Education, then we can have good, patriotic stories told to our children and America will live happily ever after.

But there’s a problem—a problem that I identified in my recent essay “Obey the Grand Inquisitor!

What happens when your team of ideological central planners doesn’t control the education system? What happens when the makers of “tales” have an entirely different conception of what constitutes a “fine tale” than you do?

Well, let me show you what happens. The California State Board of Education adopted last month its controversial Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. I can assure you that the people who sit on the California Board of Education believe that they are the enlightened, philosophic few. As a result, every student in California’s government schools must now take a mandatory class in ethnic studies.

And what are the tales that will be told to the children of California as mandated by the new curriculum? They’ll be told that America’s past is fundamentally immoral, that its founders were racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. In other words, they will be taught to hate what America is and has been.

And what “positive” vision, what life-affirming tales will be told to California’s nine-year-olds? According to Christopher F. Rufo in a powerful essay published at City Journal:

The curriculum recommends that teachers lead their students in a series of indigenous songs, chants, and affirmations, including the “In Lak Ech Affirmation,” which appeals directly to the Aztec gods. Students first clap and chant to the god Tezkatlipoka—whom the Aztecs traditionally worshipped with human sacrifice and cannibalism—asking him for the power to be “warriors” for “social justice.” Next, the students chant to the gods Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, and Xipe Totek, seeking “healing epistemologies” and “a revolutionary spirit.” Huitzilopochtli, in particular, is the Aztec deity of war and inspired hundreds of thousands of human sacrifices during Aztec rule. Finally, the chant comes to a climax with a request for “liberation, transformation, [and] decolonization,” after which students shout “Panche beh! Panche beh!” in pursuit of ultimate “critical consciousness.”

As California goes, so goes America. You should expect California’s Aztec curriculum to move eastward in the very near future. (See Rufo essay here.)

Let me leave you with one last thought: A nation that hates itself cannot stand.

. . . and The Beautiful

For this week’s selection of something beautiful, I’m sharing with you a piece of music that I only just heard recently for the first time. It’s a short symphonic piece by the Australian composer Tristan Barton, titled “Eric’s Debt.” It’s haunting and explores the deepest recesses of the soul’s interior.

Listen to it and ask yourself this question as the music plays: what sources of the self has Barton accessed?

As always, I’d like to thank all those people who sent me emails with some of their favorite music, paintings, and poetry.  Your recommendations were all beautiful, and I hope to share some of them going forward.

Don’t forget to submit your aesthetic recommendations to: Please always use as your subject line: “The Beautiful.”

Have great week!