An article about the scene in a public high school (in Grosse Pointe, Michigan) considered one of the better and what a semi-retired instructor found upon accepting a position to replace a Latin teacher the school could not replace. By Lawrence M. Ludlow
As a semi-retired business writer who taught in Detroit 35 years ago, I returned to the classroom because a local high school was unable to replace a Latin teacher who had resigned. I hold an advanced degree in medieval studies and renewed my certification to teach Latin, history, and social studies. Once in class, I witnessed firsthand the politicized atmosphere of today’s factory-style government-monopoly schools.
My first exposure to school politics came when I renewed my certification. The 1982 certificate only listed the courses I could teach. In contrast, the 2018 version had a 300-word “Code of Ethics” that amounted to a profession of faith in collectivism, egalitarianism, state schools, and diversity (typically limited to superficial things like skin color and gender, not ideas). Nonetheless, I proceeded, thinking that I couldn’t possibly make matters worse. That much was correct.
Grosse Pointe South High School is architecturally interesting, sits in a higher-income community, and is considered a good school by locals.
After an interview and teaching a few “test” classes to first- and second-year students, I was hired. Within a few days, however, it was clear that many students did not understand English grammar, much less Latin fundamentals. In response, I taught remedial grammar and outlined how students could pass my course with a “C” or “D.” There were some excellent students, but test scores were not distributed in a bell-shaped curve. It was an “inverted” bell, or bimodal distribution – with scores clumped at the two extremes.
Poor preparation, however, was only the tip of the iceberg. Students did not bring books to class, relentlessly complained about homework, and expected high grades regardless of proficiency. And when I asked questions, I uncovered some alarming facts:
In short, the school embraced grade inflation, propelled by the following dynamic:
Subjected to this one-sided feedback, administrators tacitly urge teachers to lower standards, despite proclaiming the opposite in public. Like the Dodo in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “…everybody has won, and all must have prizes.” Austrian economists, however, have explained this behavior. Ludwig von Mises, for example, noted the human tendency to place a high value on receiving something sooner rather than later. He called it time-preference theory. The desire for immediate gratification with little effort explains the phenomenon of grade inflation. At Grosse Pointe South High School, however, this practice goes undetected because it hides behind a much broader trend toward low achievement – most recently documented by Bryan Caplan in his devastating book, The Case Against Education. This trend is even more pronounced in Michigan, enabling Grosse Pointe students to slip under the radar.
The illusion of competence also explains why – despite falling student enrollment, which should reduce costs – Grosse Pointe and similar school districts succeed in raising school taxes. Instead of being outraged at paying dearly for abysmal academic results, those who favor school taxes double-down on their support! It’s a combination of psychological denial and fiscal Stockholm syndrome. In denial, “the faithful” desperately cling to the notion that their elite high-tax district is exceptional despite the data. They cannot admit they have been duped. And since they cannot escape the fiscal dragnet of this tax-fed monopoly, in a classic display of Stockholm syndrome, they adopt the stance of their captors and cheer all the louder! But to an outsider, they are playing the part of the fawning mob in Hans Christian Anderson’s fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes: they pretend that the emperor is wearing splendid garments despite his nakedness.
Today’s students are never free of the school district’s watchful eye, which seems to take its cues from the CIA and TSA. But with so many parents accepting after-school surveillance (and paying for it), children never learn the sense of outrage that healthy individuals feel in the presence of Peeping Toms. Instead, they learn to love Big Brother. Likewise, a big-government political bias shapes their views on current and past events:
Group identity and outrage culture dominate public schools. Children learn to pose as victims despite enjoying a standard of living unmatched in human history and by 95% of the world’s current population. Instead of learning to function as unique beings with free choice and that the smallest minority is an individual facing a mob, they are swapping a legacy of individual rights for group identities that – unlike individuals – don’t bleed and are manipulated by special interests to undercut genuine rights. If you wonder why students at schools like the University of Michigan cannot tolerate free speech and need trigger warnings and safe spaces, look no further than public schools. They are a political Trojan horse – a “free” government “gift” with plenty of strings attached.