Thursday, January 31, 2008

Liberal Fascism and education II

A major peculiarity of progressive education is that it is always getting reconditioned, renamed and rolled out as the next big thing, rather than the old thing that has never worked as well as it was supposed to. Helping with this is the fact that there seems to be an endless supply of naive journalists who are dazzled by a classroom full of elaborate projects and smiling children, and who are eager to believe whatever they hear. There was a very good analysis of this type of article on Jan. 23 at d-edreckoning.blogspot.com. For anti-progressive folk, reading education news is like being trapped in Groundhog Day--you've already seen it, and you know exactly what's going to happen. On the other hand, if you don't read education news, it all seems so fresh and new and promising. In a way, it's hard to blame the people who believe--they want these children to succeed, and they are eager to believe that the next gimmick will work.

Liberal Fascism and education

Progressive education is one of the most important legacies of the American Progressive era, but the damaging nature of that legacy gets a very brief treatment in Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. I suppose those books have already been written (for instance Diane Ravitch's Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms). (Practically all of us have been molded by progressive educational methodology, so it's very difficult to tear oneself away from its assumptions and criticize them.) The progressive tradition in American education is Romantic, sure that with the appropriate rich educational environment, children can recapitulate 10,000 years of human advancement with minimal adult input. Unsurprisingly, progressive pedagogy is most successful with children who have everything going for them and come in the classroom door knowing quite a lot. It is much less successful with children who start closer to zero. (For the gory details on how this works out in real life, see kitchentablemath.blogspot.com and d-edreckoning.blogspot.com.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Liberal Fascism

I just finished reading Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, and thought I should put down a few thoughts while my impressions are fresh.
  1. Hopefully the book will be very influential both with conservatives and in budging popular notions of the political spectrum, which have traditionally been very confused. In common journalistic speech, Soviet Communists are far Left and Nazis are far Right, despite much overlap between the two (the Soviet Union functioned as a Russian empire and was unkind to ethnic minorities, and Nazi Germany had fantastic social programs). The similarities have long been noted, without making any dent in the misleading language that has made them seem much more different than they were in real life.
  2. Some sections seemed skimpy, although I realize that the book could easily have ballooned to 600 or even 800 pages if Goldberg had done a thorough job on each point he brings up. As it was, the book felt too short. It's not an exhaustive treatment, but in some ways a sort of annotated bibliography that also gives you a new lens for looking at material that you encounter elsewhere. He gives an overview, and if you want more information, you can read other books.
  3. The Wilson material seemed especially interesting and unexpected.
  4. In the more successful sections, Goldberg helps us as readers connect the dots and defamiliarizes the familiar. Once he's mentioned it, it seems obvious that the Black Panthers, Chavez, Castro, and violent campus activism are and were fascist phenomena, but before reading Liberal Fascism, I wouldn't have come to that conclusion by myself.
  5. The sections on fascism in contemporary US politics leave a lot of dots to be connected by the reader as well as lots of future articles to be written by Goldberg in the coming election year.
  6. One of Goldberg's big achievements in writing Liberal Fascism was to make the appeal of fascism more understandable. Fascism isn't just something inexplicable that was done by bad people in foreign countries 65 years ago, but an enduring temptation to moderns. As one of his later chapter titles says, "We're All Fascists Now."
  7. Why not be fascist, if that's the fastest way to get the good stuff you want for the country? Goldberg doesn't go into this question, but I think it's worth asking. I think everybody should think to himself, maybe I could achieve wonderful goals with this huge government engine that I am creating, but what if it fell into the wrong hands? How would I feel if it were my political enemies at the wheel? If that would be tyranny, maybe my efforts are tyrannical, too, however well-intentioned. I think we should think twice before creating government machinery that is only safe when being handled by "good" people.

Toddler bed

Baby D. (nearly 3) has been nibbling away at a hole in his crib tent for a number of weeks. This morning, the hole was probably 18 inches wide, and only good will and habit was keeping him in the crib. My husband removed the crib tent and the movable crib side, removed the crib wheels, and replaced the missing crib side with the toddler bed rails that the manufacturers include with the crib. D.'s nap today was not a success, but he went to bed very nicely this evening and has been there ever since. We still have baby locks on the door knobs as a final defense perimeter.

Kid news

C. (5.5 years old) has her moments, but she's getting steadily more mature. I recently cut down on buying toys and entertainment for her and moved to paying her $1 for each room cleaned. In the process, I've learned that her desires are actually pretty modest--her first purchase was two glow in the dark decals for 75 cents. This evening, she helped clean her baby brother's room, the living room, and her own room. She now has over $5, and is $2 away from being able to purchase a Kumon cutting workbook from the company store (AKA mommy). Ideally, she'd be cleaning up her toys out of pure love of order, but I take what I can get.

Introductory Post

Hi, this is Xantippe. I'm an SAHM and a philosopher's wife recently relocated to Texas from the mid-Atlantic region. I've been out of the formal workforce for about six years now, but did a stretch in the Peace Corps doing EFL in Russia, got an MA in Russian, and then did a bunch of ESL stuff in the US before starting a family. My interests include Catholicism, education, Russia and Eastern Europe, family issues, personal finance, home improvement, film, and books. I've wanted to start a blog for a long time, but technophobia held me back. This is not a super anonymous blog, so no deep dark personal secrets are going to be shared here. Sorry!