Jonathan Kozol Made Him Do It · 06 March 2006

Jonathan Kozol Made Him Do It

By Sol Stern--03/06/06

No one familiar with our nation's increasingly dysfunctional public schools should have found it surprising that a Colorado High School teacher named Jay Bennish delivered a 20 minute anti American rant straight out of Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore to his 10th grade geography class. True enough, Mr. Bennish was somewhat cruder than your average leftist teacher. Apparently, he was also too stupid to realize that political indoctrination in the classroom goes over much more smoothly and is less likely to cause a public uproar if the teacher observes a few minor pedagogical constraints. He probably could have gotten away with calling George Bush a clone of Adolf Hitler if he had also added that they didn't actually have to accept this brilliant insight to get a passing grade.

In fact, Bennish might have been uniquely fatuous, but he is not unique. There are smoother, more effective Bennishes everywhere in our great American High Schools. That's one reason why our graduates are so full of self esteem and have all the right attitudes, but actually know less math, science and history than their counterparts in most of the world's industrialized nations. Indeed, although political indoctrination in our universities gets all the attention. It is even more widespread and dangerous in our elementary and high schools. The younger the students are, of course, the less likely are to be able to withstand -- or even to detect - attempts at social and political thought control in the classroom. At least the higher education professoriate denies that it favors using the classroom as a political bully pulpit. By contrast, the K-12 public school establishment has adopted a quasi official pedagogy that actually encourages the classroom teacher to shape students' beliefs on controversial issues such as race, gender, sexual preference, and even American foreign policy.

The documentation on this is so extensive that Jay Bennish might even have a pretty good Nurenberg defense - i.e. "my union and my professional teacher association made me do it."

For example, the National Education Association, the larger of the two national teacher unions, supports "the movement toward self-determination by American Indians/Alaska natives" and believes these designated victim groups should control their own education. It believes that all schools should designate separate months to celebrate Black History, Hispanic Heritage, Native American Indian Heritage, Asian/Pacific Heritage, Women's History, Lesbian and Gay History - which nearly takes up the school calendar, leaving scant time for plain old American history, or Geography, the subject that Mr. Bennish was supposed to be teaching when he went off on Bush and Bush's America.

After 9/11 the NEA posted guidelines on how teachers should discuss with their students the terrorist attack on our homeland. It was filled with multicultural psychobabble and stressed the need for children to be tolerant and to respect all cultures - while hardly saying a word about the fact that the country was at war with a vicious enemy out to destroy our tolerant society. The document came so close to actually apologizing for the 9/11 attack that a public outcry ensued and the union was forced to remove the teacher guidelines from its web site.

NEA affiliated teacher organizations, such as the National Council of the Social Studies and the National Council of Teachers of English, carry on the political struggle by training teachers to focus inordinate attention in the classroom on issues of "diversity" and "difference." The NCSS believes that academic history-which some of its leaders have disparaged as "pastology" [SOL: what does this mean?]-is elitist and irrelevant. The organization has successfully lobbied state education departments to require little or no history. Instead, it has filled the schools with a hodgepodge of "global studies," "cultural studies" and "peace studies"-which present all cultures and civilizations as equal in value.

If NCSS had its way, American education's entire system would reflect a race- and gender-centered pedagogy. The organization's official policy paper, "Curriculum Guidelines for Multicultural Education," is one of the scariest documents in American education today, going far beyond the demand that social studies curricula reflect the grievances of a rainbow coalition of ethnic and racial groups. In the tone of a commissar's lecture at a political reeducation camp, the NCSS exhorts teachers, administrators, and other school employees to think and act multiculturally during every moment of the school day, lest they become accomplices of American culture's invisible but omnipresent racism. Teachers are instructed to scrutinize every aspect of the school environment-from classroom teaching styles and the pictures on the walls to the foods served in the lunchroom and the songs sung in the school assemblies-to be sure they reflect "multicultural literacy."

At the heart of the NCSS paper lies a fundamentally racist assumption. "[T]he instructional strategies and learning styles most often favored in the nation's schools," the guidelines declare, "are inconsistent with the cognitive styles, cultural orientations, and cultural characteristics of some groups of students of color." These students flourish under "cooperative teaching techniques" rather than the "competitive learning activities" that work for white kids. We are left, finally, with this Orwellian conclusion by the Social Studies group: "Schools should recognize that they cannot treat all students alike or they run the risk of denying equal educational opportunity to all persons."

As I have noted in my book, Breaking Free, a large part of this deformity of American education can be traced to our most dangerous and yet most popular writer on K-12 education: Jonathan Kozol, many of whose books are required reading in the country's Ed Schools. Lately Kozol has been writing about the alleged institutional racism behind the unequal funding of schools. However, in two books written in the 70s and 80s, he attempted to convince teachers that their proper role is to subvert mainstream (and therefore racist) beliefs about American society. Kozol's Children of the Revolution, is a nauseating apologia for the Castro regime's indoctrination of children and adults. The first thing Kozol learned in Cuba was to get over some outworn ideals- that education is about the objective search for truth, for example, or that objective truth even exists. When he asked Cuba's education minister why turgid political propaganda filled Cuba's adult-literacy-course texts, he got the standard Marxist line: "All education has forever had a class bias. No society will foster schools that do not serve its ends." In his popular and influential book, Kozol accepts this doubletalk as gospel and urges the reader to discard the naïve view that education can be politically neutral.

Kozol's visit to the Lenin School, the high school for future leaders of the revolution, stands out as a highlight of his trip. "[S]omething here is really different," he enthuses. "There is a sense of shared achievement, of hard work that remains . . . one good notch below the level of competitive obsession"-unlike capitalism's dog-eat-dog way of life. The school is "able to combine . . . a reverence for productive labor and an impressive level of true humanistic education of the whole man and the whole woman." No alienation here: socialist man is at peace with himself and his comrades. Like all Cuban schools, this one is based "on a firm and vivid grasp upon the concrete truths of life itself. Almost all ideas and skills that are acquired in these schools are meant to lead to action, to real work, and to real dedication. . . . There is a sense, within the Cuban schools, that one is working for a purpose and that that purpose is a great deal more profound and more important than the selfish pleasure of an individual reward."

Kozol brooded over the ideas he'd taken away from Cuba and then molded them into a new theory for reforming American education. Taking as his starting point the crude Marxist view that education in all societies is "a system of indoctrination," he worked out a method by which teachers could subvert capitalist America's bad indoctrination and-cleverly and subtly-substitute some good left-wing indoctrination in its place. His next book, On Being a Teacher, is a manual on how to do that.

A typical chapter, "Disobedience Instruction," shows teachers how to inculcate skepticism of authority. For example, they might discuss with the students "those ordinary but pathetic figures who went into Watergate to steal, into My Lai to kill-among other reasons, because they lacked the power to say no." They should invoke mass murderer Adolf Eichmann, too, whose "own preparation for obedient behavior was received in German public schools"-which resemble our own in aiming to produce "good Germans, or good citizens, as we in the United States would say." In his own ineffectual way, Jay Bennish was channeling Kozol's thinking here.

All the book's model lessons aim to teach little children to withstand America's state-sponsored brainwashing and to open them up to the self-evident truths of feminism, environmentalism, and the Left's account of history. At the end of the book, Kozol thoughtfully provides a long list of left-wing publications and organizations-including the information agencies of the Chinese and Cuban governments-where American teachers can get worthwhile classroom materials. But, Kozol warns teachers, be stealthy about all this; you can't let administrators or parents perceive you as so politically oriented that you neglect the basic skills.

Mr. Bennish seems to have ignored this last admonition and gotten himself into trouble. Nevertheless, in his defense, he could still say that Jonathan Kozol made him do it and that made of his colleagues in America's high schools were doing the same thing every day and getting away with it.