The Moron Manual
On the first of October 1989, the ABC Network television program "This Week with David Brinkley," aired another of its recurring examinations of the "thirty-year-old education crisis." Here are some quotes.
Commentator Brinkley: "It is clear that our country as we know it cannot survive with high school students who can barely read or write; who cannot add, subtract, or multiply; who know no history; and who do not know, for example, that Mexico is the next country to the south. Most agree we cannot live with that. But not all agree on what to do about it..."
Reporter Jack Smith: "It was six years ago that a presidential commission warned: the nation was at risk from a rising tide of mediocrity in the schools... The overall quality of American Education remains dismayingly poor... In a recent nationwide test given seventeen-year-olds, two thirds didn't know when the civil war was fought. In another quiz, one quarter of high school students couldn't name Mexico as the large country on America's southern border... It's estimated that thirteen percent of seventeen-year-olds are functionally illiterate... In a recent comparison of thirteen-year-olds from eleven industrialized countries, U.S. students finished last in math and near the bottom in science... U.S. students lag behind in virtually every subject... It's astonishing that the U.S. today actually lavishes more money on schools than any country in the world... Nowhere on Earth do people spend more for education, and nowhere do they seem to get less for it."
Columnist George Will: "In Chicago, for example, a bank reports that three quarters of those who come in to get entry level jobs, clerical jobs in the bank, can't fill out the application form—and these are high school graduates."
David Kearns, Chairman, Xerox Corporation: "If we don't have the young people who know how to think and know how to learn, we're not going to be able to compete on a global basis... We have to completely restructure the schools; we can't just tinker around the edges of it."
There followed a half hour of talk with various officials about "commitment," "standards," and "accountability." And, of course, the need for more money.
What should be our moron response to these recurrent crisis reports? It should be satisfaction. These people call themselves intelligent, and yet they cannot see what is obvious to any moron: the schools are doing exactly and precisely what they are designed to do.
Let us recall the conclusion reached by the study we praised in the previous chapter.
F "Although 'illiteracy' is not a major problem for this population, 'literacy' is a problem. Sizable numbers of individuals are estimated to perform within the middle range on each of the scales."
In other words, the subjects could read well enough to get along, but not so well as to become sources of trouble. They were, in the scheme of things, right where Americans are supposed to be: in the middle.
A 1977 Policy Statement from the National Education Association is titled Curriculum Change Toward the 21st Century. It states our problem eloquently:
F "Imbedded in the question of freedom is an educational dilemma—the long-standing enigma of how to obtain the important output of superior minds without creating an elite of scientists, politicians, social planners..."
It is one of the wonders of our time that the same people who declare that "the morons are in charge," recoil at the suggestion that those in charge might consider how to manage potential competition.
What is often referred to as the "continuing crisis in education," is in fact an elegant solution to all our problems. It was put in place between the World Wars, and has worked well ever since. What it thrives on best is what it engenders most: complaints. Every new round of public complaints results in a new round of funding increases. Every funding increase brings more morons into the fold.
While it would be pleasant to continue praising our greatest triumph, it is more important to ask: how is it possible?
Suppose you have purchased a new television set, made by a company called "New Era Automation" (NEA). It is advertised as a "color" set, but in fact the picture is in black and white—the cabinet is bright red. It has a "built-in antenna," which turns out to be a length of wire lying inside the cabinet. It comes with a "remote control" which turns out to be a switch half way down the power cord. It has "EL (Effortless Listening) and EV (Effortless Viewing) Technology," which means that it lacks volume control and picture control.
Upon removing this set from the carton, you begin complaining. You call NEA and point out that the set works poorly, if at all. You are told that since customers refused to pay more for the set, it was found that some compromises had to be made in the manufacture. You ask about the guarantee. "Due to the crisis in our industry," is the reply, "we are unable to honor the guarantee at this time. We have, however, appointed a committee to study this and other ancillary difficulties."
You threaten to sue. You are told, politely, that the line stretches around the block. You demand a color picture. You are told that the new model will have a color picture for sure, at a higher price. "All the company engineers are hard at work on it. Would you care to put in your order?"
There was a time when no moron would have supposed that anyone would order a first set from such a company, let alone a second. Time has taught us better. All that is necessary is to declare television viewing a National Priority, and TV set making a Government Monopoly. The only reason such an illustration seems ridiculous is that we haven't yet gotten around to it.
Because of our triumph in the educational system, no less-gifted person need compensate for nature by expending greater effort. There is a place now in the school system. Soon, there will be a place in the National Health Care System. Eventually, there will be a place in the National Television Manufactory.
There are, as always, dangers. One purpose of this manual is to expose the dangers. The greatest threat is choice.
In general, people insist on choice. The car buyer who gets stuck with a "lemon" chooses another make next time. People want a variety of choices when they buy a car. They angrily object to any open attempt to restrict their choice. But notice this: they let us decide which cars are safe. They demand government safety regulations. They are not meticulous in their definition of choice.
Choice in general is a threat so serious that it will be discussed at length later. For now, we may note that public schools have heard the demand for choice, and met it in estimable fashion. They avoid offering a choice between public and private schools by offering a choice among public schools. They employ the Moron Muddle by modifying choice. "Real choice" is "informed choice." Surely everyone wants to make the "right choice" rather than the "wrong choice." We are willing to help. We can show the aspects of choice, the elements of choice, the stages of choice—and, of course, the dangers of choice.
Sometimes morons do go too far, out of the overconfidence which can come from being in charge. Parents should never be told that they lack the expertise to properly educate their children. No matter how justified, it is not wise to say to parents, "Go away and let us work on your kids." Parents have been known to remove their children from public schools altogether. Usually, however, they demand a change of methods without a change of personnel. The proper answer to this demand is: "We are doing our best to change. We are working on change. If we had just a little more money..."
The astute reader might well have a question: "Isn't there some deeper cause at work here? What made it possible to take over the schools in the first place?"
Indeed, there is a deeper cause at work: morality. Before elaborating on this, however, we should explain the amazing strategy which makes it possible for any moron to take over anything.
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