Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
California governor Gavin Newsom along with other states has ordered schools to be closed to in-person instruction this fall. Against the wishes of the majority of parents, millions of students will continue to be cooped up at home, trying to learn from “virtual” curricula with hit-and-miss instruction and support. An educational system mediocre in the best of times has now descended into a dystopian world redolent of the old Soviet Union: Teachers pretend to teach, while students pretend to learn.
Education, our most important social institution already long corrupted by ideological fads and deteriorating standards, is heading for complete collapse in order to serve the political and pecuniary interests of the progressive technocracy: Removing Donald Trump and the Republicans from power so that the Democrats can achieve their long-term goal of “fundamentally transforming” the United States. Children are just collateral damage.
Of course, these decisions to sequester the cohort least vulnerable to the virus are being sold as the result of “science” and a concern for “safety.” But across the world evidence from real science shows that kids in school pose little danger to themselves or others. Hence the American Academy of Pediatricians “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” As this spring’s experience in educational sequestration has shown, the AAP continues,
Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.
Moreover, we all know that multiplying the amount of time that children spend in front of screens worsens an already existing problem. Viewing electronic images for several hours a day has physiological as well as psychological effects, apart from the issue of content and the often-malign messages it sends. To a certain degree, experience filtered through electronic images is inhuman: it flattens our experience and shapes it according to the requirements of transmission and presentation. Worse, it necessarily omits what Lionel Trilling called the “buzz of implication,” the dense context of nonverbal cues and reactions that surround live communication. That’s why emojis were invented: to try and capture in an email that context that the words alone can’t communicate, and the absence of which alters tone and distorts the intended meaning.
This dense network of existential conditions for genuine human connection is very important for teaching. Just gathering a group of people in one room at an appointed time enhances learning. A community is established, with networks of connections between and among the students, and between the students and the teacher. Every minute students and teacher give and receive nonverbal signs of approval, affirmation, disappointment, boredom, excitement, and correction. These signs regulate the process of learning and give it an immediate impact. Very little of this visual dynamic can be captured from an electronic image and words alone. There’s no substitute for the intricate, complex reality of human connections in real time and space.
For children, these real experiences are a critical part of their character development and socialization. School is where we make friends or enemies, find our first boyfriends and girlfriends, have our first conflicts and fights, and first learn, successfully or not, how to adjust to a world that is more various, complicated, dangerous, and fulfilling than we ever imagined, not to mention indifferent to our egos and feelings. The worlds on a screen, whether video games, tweets, videos, or canned curricula cannot substitute for that world. Instead, they distort and dehumanize it.
Indeed, our earliest writings about education from ancient Greece focus on the need for personal, real-time interactions between teachers and students. Socrates is the exemplar of this style of pedagogy. Rather than just asking student questions, which is what most “educators” mean when they speak of “Socratic pedagogy,” Socrates’ method was more probing, even aggressive than the therapeutic pablum of most of today’s teachers. More important, experiencing Socrates’ powerful charisma and mind, so different from his shabby, ugly appearance, inspired his listeners with the love and pleasure of learning, and the habit of looking beyond the superficial to discover truth and value. No speaker today no matter how brilliant can completely duplicate that experience on a video. Again, there’s no substitute for human reality.
So why are so many governors and others so eager to deny children these critical experiences of actual human reality? Politics, of course. For four years the Dems have mounted a concerted effort to demonize Donald Trump and cripple his administration. It began in the last days of the Obama administration, when dubious rigged “investigations” were launched on flimsy grounds. The Mueller investigation was supposed to deliver the predicates for removal of the president, but it found no crime remotely close to being actionable.
Then came the “quid-pro-quo” confection of third-hand office gossip and preposterous standards of presidential conversations with fellow heads of state. Once that collapsed with the absurd articles of impeachment for nonexistent crimes, then came the pandemic and the predictably feeble attempts to blame Trump for early comments about the virus similar to those made by experts, and Democrat governors and Congressmen. And all the while the media were inventing and amplifying these lies and quarter-truths, shamelessly repeating them even when they were proven to be lies and distortions.
But the most important mechanism for damaging Trump during the pandemic is the authority of governors to impose the lockdowns, which brought to a near halt a booming economy that would have been the president’s most important achievement come November. So when the lockdowns began to ease and the economy to improve, the anti-Trump factions misused already dubious statistics about the number of new cases and deaths to shut down the economy again. Closing the schools is just a way to inflict even more pain on ordinary voters who have to deal with finding day-care so they can work, assuming they have any work. Thus the “any means necessary” Dems added the anxiety and baleful consequences of un- or underemployment to those of the virus the media have been hyping for six months now––a hysteria, by the way, also bad for kids.
What we are witnessing is the true nature of the progressives. For a hundred years they have yearned for autocratic powers so they can create their utopia of “social justice” and absolute “equality.” In fact, from the bloody streets of Portland to the diktats of governors, from the cancel-culture mobs baying for the jobs and reputations of dissenters to the bougie anarchist punks of Antifa and the calculating hustlers of Black Lives Matter––the reality and aims of progressivist Democrats are clear: power and its perks.
In short, tyranny: The tyranny that sparked the creation of the United States, the tyranny the Founders’ brilliant Constitutional order warded off by dispersing power so we the people could live in ordered liberty. It testifies to how passionately the progressives want to dismantle that order that they will callously sacrifice the well-being of our children to achieve their goal.
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