Common Core, Idiocracy, and the Great Unlearning - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Common Core, Idiocracy, and the Great Unlearning

If you’re not spending your Thursdays surfing YouTube in search of the latest tutorial in conservatism from PJTV’s Bill Whittle, you are doing yourself a disservice by omission. Whittle, a Hollywood writer, amateur pilot, blogger and impresario of American liberty — he’s one of the best public speakers you’ll ever hear — does a weekly segment called Afterburner that makes its way onto the PJ Media YouTube channel, and this week’s is well worth a watch.

In it, Whittle bemoans what he calls The Great Unlearning — a rapid and pronounced dumbing-down of American society that manifests itself in conspiracy theories (often the 21st century’s version of the silly superstitions of medieval villagers), video voyeurism and other passively depraved practices emblematic of a culture of spectators rather than doers and dunces rather than experts.

One of the key points Whittle makes is a crucial one. Namely, that it’s American public education and its therapeutic, give-everybody-a-trophy character, complete with social promotions and devaluing of competition, that has played a major role in creating our stupid culture. We’re on the road to Idiocracy, and our tax dollars are paving the way.

A mere few decades ago, this country ranked atop all educational ratings worldwide; we’re now 17th or 18th among developed countries. Such is the performance of our K-12 schools. To fix this problem, many of the same people who created it — and lots of others who didn’t — put together a system of public-school standards called Common Core in an effort to ensure better performance among schoolchildren who currently are experts in how they feel about mathematics but can’t actually do any.

But as our readers know, Common Core is political poison. It’s a camel’s-nose-under-the-tent for more federal control over local schools, it’s a vehicle for promoting a politically-correct, Cultural Marxist viewpoint for the next generation, it promotes dependency through teaching kids nonsense at early ages and making them lose confidence in their ability to learn. There are lots of other criticisms.

I can’t stomach the Common Core argument, particularly as it has torn apart the Republican Party over the last four years. To watch battling brigades of conservatives assault each other over such mild changes is dispiriting, and reminiscent of the squabbling Scottish nobles in the famous Braveheart scene before being set straight by William Wallace as he announces he will invade England… 

You’re so concerned with squabbling for the scraps from Longshanks’ table that you’ve missed your God-given right to something better. There is a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it.

Who will go to make sure they have it in education?

And what is it? It’s certainly not Common Core. It’s not Common Core because Common Core is still public education.

Let’s do away with the entire model of public education. Let’s blow up the system completely and bring in a marketplace to replace it. Let’s do what Nevada is doing — a universal voucher set up as an Educational Savings Account — across the country. And let’s multiply Louisiana’s Course Choice program, which allows students to take courses from one school while attending another, or even while homeschooling.

Let’s not have it end there. We need a wide-open marketplace where investors and innovators, unrestrained by petty bureaucrats and little Napoleons on school boards across the country, can redesign how knowledge is transmitted to our young.

Understand this — American education is actually Prussian education. Our early Progressives in the 19th century fell in love with a system created a century and a half ago for the express purpose of developing a generation of children to staff up a military that would unify Germany by force, and that system — dividing students into arbitrary cohorts (by age, in this case), enforcing strict discipline and learning at a relatively uniform pace within the class — was so effective it brought us Kaisers and Führers. That’s what can happen when there is a smooth transition from the classroom to boot camp for all.

And to give that Prussian system its due, it actually did work for America for a little more than a century. But when those in charge of the educational system lost their nerve and stopped enforcing discipline, there was nothing available to prevent disruptive students from destroying the education of the rest. Worse, when the system was corrupted by the Left into promoting indoctrination rather than actual learning, the result was a uniform dumbing-down — often with the aid of mind-altering drugs prescribed by schools — of what is now two generations of our children.

That’s why we have to deal with a steep rise of unemployable younger Americans who are actually better “educated” in terms of worthless degrees than the competent patriots who came before.

The market punishes stupidity, incompetence, lies, and failure. It punishes the Great Unlearning — that’s why the economy hasn’t grown in years and that’s why youth unemployment and underemployment is such a tragedy. It’s also why more businesses have shut their doors than have opened in every year since Barack Obama, the epitome of what the educrats are trying to produce, has taken office. People who lack useful, practical expertise struggle to be productive enough as employees, much less entrepreneurs.

Will Common Core make this worse? No. One secret the teachers’ unions and others won’t disclose while they watch with glee as conservatives rip each other asunder over the issue is the vast majority of what is called “Common Core” in school curricula is what the educrats having been teaching with or without the new standards. In other words, the problem is far bigger than the combatants realize.

Which is why Common Core won’t make it better, either. You still have that obsolete, broken system which needs to go.

Someday, when we stop trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic and start getting serious about turning education from a wasteful and failed Soviet-style government monopoly into a burgeoning, vibrant explosion of business creativity, things will be different.

On that day, parents won’t have to wake up at 5:00 in the morning to insure their kids can get on the bus to a probably-unsafe public school bureaucrats decreed for them. Instead, they’ll get up according to their work schedules and have a wide choice of transportation arrangements to semi-private tutoring at the office of a teacher who sees herself not as a member of a union with a mindset of doing the minimum to be paid but as a true professional running not a classroom but an educational practice.

And at that office, the kids will learn according to individualized lesson plans aided by technology — a podcast audio lecture on American history by a professor at the University of New Mexico, a lesson in algebra delivered through an interactive computer game, a video dramatic reading of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by a famous Broadway star. The learning will happen at an accelerated pace because it won’t depend on the absence of disruptive hooligans in the class or downtime at the end of an hour.

And at some point in the day, one of those transportation choices will arrive to whisk the kids away to some other activity — an apprenticeship at a small business, or a field trip to a museum, or baseball practice.

There will be far more interaction with adult role models, a far broader base of education, a far greater flexibility, and a far superior educational product. Because it will be the market’s choice, not that of educrats, little Napoleons on school boards, unions, or others willing to sacrifice children for their corrupt agendas.

As Michael Ledeen says in a separate context… faster, please. Let’s not waste time on small arguments when revolution is needed.

Scott McKay
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Scott McKay is publisher of the Hayride, which offers news and commentary on Louisiana and national politics, and, a national political news aggregation and opinion site. Additionally, he's the author of the new book The Revivalist Manifesto: How Patriots Can Win The Next American Era, available at He’s also a writer of fiction — check out his three Tales of Ardenia novels Animus, Perdition and Retribution at Amazon. Scott's other project is The Speakeasy, a free-speech social and news app with benefits - check it out here.
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