Education

American Teachers Must All Speak French. They’re Teaching Us to Surrender!

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Maybe I am just channeling my childhood memories of family picnics and fireworks, but remember when the Fourth of July was a holiday to celebrate American Independence and unity? For one day, in the middle of summer, we could all put away the rhetorical knives and try to acknowledge that, despite our differences, we shared a love of our country?

Lately, the Fourth seems to have become an excuse for one group of people to question the patriotism of another. Today’s entrant is Thomas Sowell, who takes the opportunity of the holiday to give us a new version of history in an effort to demonize teachers. For my money, nothing says American unity better than a little historical revision that seeks to compare American teachers with those cheese-eating Frenchies (a sure hit with the right wing there).

Why did France lose World War II? Not poor strategy, a paralyzed and inefficient government, or a naive belief that war could be avoided. They lost because the schools had make them weak:

In France, after the First World War, the teachers’ unions launched a systematic purge of textbooks, in order to promote internationalism and pacifism…

The once epic story of the French soldiers’ heroic defense against the German invaders at Verdun, despite the massive casualties suffered by the French, was now transformed into a story of horrible suffering by all soldiers at Verdun — French and German alike.

In short, soldiers once depicted as national heroes were now depicted as victims — and just like victims in other nations’ armies.

For the National Review readers, Sowell had to explain his subtle comparison: American teachers are DOING THE VERY SAME THING:

Most Americans today are unaware of how much our schools have followed in the footsteps of the French schools of the 1920s and 1930s, or how much our intellectuals have become citizens of the world instead of American patriots.

Yes, Mr. Sowell, many Americans are unaware of this trend, including you, since you are making the argument up out of whole cloth. American textbooks are anything but cosmopolitan or liberal in their biases, and teachers, like Americans as a whole, hold a wide variety of political beliefs, and use their classrooms to teach, not to indoctrinate.

I know fire-breathing conservatives hate public education. Hell, if the continued existence of my political ideology rested on a combination of fear appeals, distortions of evidence, and shameless propagandizing, I’d try to destroy institutions charged with developing critical thinking skills, too. It’s the only way they could ever hope to make people believe that America has become weakened by its teachers rather than its reckless foreign and military policy.

Incidentally, Mr. Sowell, one of the things that I teach my students is to give attribution for ideas in their papers. Since you’ve chosen to crib Mona Siegel’s argument wholesale, you should at least mention her book.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

4 Comments

  • So, is the IR still running Sowell? Too bad. The Missoulian ran his column for awhile but the new opinion page editor dumped him, thank god. What a pompous, uninformed idiot — some of the worst writing to come out of the so-called right wing ‘think tanks.’

  • By the way…if someone wants to compare inter-war education systems, they should compare France and Germany. France taught their children pacifism and internationalism, Germany taught their children about the importance of heroism and the military, the inherent superiority of Western culture over internationalist ideals, and the importance of physical work and service to the state. And then ask two questions:

    1. Which sounds more liberal, and which sounds more conservative?
    2. Would we rather be like Third Republic France or Nazi Germany?

    (For a good overview of 1930’s German/Nazi culture with a section on education, read Claudia Koonz’s “The Nazi Conscience”)

  • Does your website have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but, I’d like to send you an e-mail. I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it improve over time.

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