Saturday, May 31, 2014

If it ain't broke it don't need Federal aid.

Or, in the usual way of putting it, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, which may be the best definition of genuine conservatism ever.  And in that sense, I'm a conservative Now, he's an analogy for you: Social institutions should and do evolve, ideally just like living things do, by mutation and natural selection. Mutation is random change, wherein an individual of a species acquires a new characteristic because of a mistake in DNA copying. Let's say that in a herd of cattle, one is born with longer legs and can therefore run faster. He's more likely to survive by outrunning predators, so he has more offspring, and the next generation has a bunch of long-legged critters in it, and they outperform their short-legged cousins. After a few generations, the whole herd has long legs.

In human social affairs, there's an occasional random change in social institutions, where somebody accidentally sets fire to his hut, and his pet pig burns up, and it's discovered that the burnt pig tastes great. Then everybody burns his hut down to get roast pig. There's an old Chinese story to that effect. After awhile, some genius realizes you don't need a whole hut every time, but can just roast pigs over fires. The original burning was a random change, analogous to a DNA change. But switching to a fire especially made to roast pigs is a planned change, and once tried, it behaves just like a random change. If it works, it spreads till everybody is doing it. The "if it works" part is the essence of both Darwinism and rational conservatism.

But sometimes wannabe geniuses get an idea for a change, and instead of testing it on a few individuals or groups to see if it works, they establish the new practice by decree or force, because being geniuses, their ideas don't have to be tested. And that is the essence of no evolution that ever took place, and of liberalism, where intentions are all that count. Changes are made for ideological reasons, not for practical reasons, and are an end in themselves, not needing testing.

But here it gets tricky. Once some new ideological notion is put into effect, like Affirmative Action, and it doesn't work at all, the geniuses get to work lying and fudging statistics to prove that in spite of all appearances, it does work, or would work if we were stricter about it and poured more money into it or silenced the opposition to it more thoroughly.

So to modify the saying to fit the liberal Zeitgeist:

"If it ain't broke, break it, then spend billions trying to fix it by breaking it further.'

And that covers about all "progressive" ideas for the last century or so.

Jerry Pournelle, at his Chaos Manor site, shows how one progressive idea, "Whole Language" has followed that pattern:

If we are interested in improving our schools so that our system of education is no longer indistinguishable from an act of war, the first thing to do is get rid of Federal Aid to Education. All of it. The problem is that with Federal money comes Federal control and the Federal Bureaucracy, and the Department of Education has proven over the years that it can do only harm, not good. The Constitution doesn’t give the Federal government power or control over education, nor does it give Washington funding power; and prior to Sputnik American education got along just fine without Federal Aid.
Sputnik scared some people and the social theorists who were certain they knew better than the loutish local school boards that had built the best public education system in the world used that fear to get the Federal camel’s nose into the tent. Full control followed, and the more money the Feds pumped into the schools, the worse they got. There also social theorists who thought the solution to the science and technology problem was to see that every American got a world class university prep education, and that became the goal. This was done just as another set of education theorists decided that since readers – people who read with ease and understanding and facility – do not pause and “sound out” words as they read, the whole notion of phonics was not only unnecessary, but in fact harmful. It only slowed pupils down. Since those who read well read by “whole words”, then the proper way to teach reading is to teach them to recognize and read whole words; you don’t need to tell them that letters have sounds, and syllables have sounds, and letters and syllables can be combined to teach you to say words. Just recognize the words as words and be done with it.
That, after all, is the way these professors of education read. It’s the way you and I read. Why should it not be the way that beginners read. And as the Department of Education was taking over the whole process of teaching, this was forced upon the schools, while Departments of Education in the various teacher’s colleges and universities no longer taught teachers how to teach phonics and phonetic reading. We entered the era of “See Spot run” said Dick. “Run Spot run,” said Jane. This required expensive new textbooks, a great windfall for publishers, with “controlled vocabulary” so that children would not be exposed to too many new words all at once – since they had no way whatever to read a word they had not been taught, even if it were a word they had been using all their lives.
And the Education Professors, bless them, neatly set back the art of reading several thousand years to before the invention of the phonetic alphabet, and turning English, a 90+% phonetic language, into an ideographic language. And they were proud of doing it.
The resulting disaster should be sufficient reason for never having a national education system again.
The local school boards with school supported by local school taxes built the American system of public education. There were abysmally bad school districts under that system, but the overall national result was the envy of the world. And the problem with “helping” the bad school districts was that with that “Help” came control. Up through World War II, the number of male conscripts who could not read was considerably lower than the illiteracy rate in today’s United States – and the number of conscripts who had been through fourth grade and could not read was very low. Essentially everyone who had made it through fourth grade could read well enough to pass the Army’s literacy tests and take the Armed Forces Qualification Test. (The famous old test in which a score of 120 or above qualified you to apply for Officer Candidate School. We don’t do that sort of thing any longer.)
When I was growing up, the University of Tennessee accepted all Tennessee residents who graduated from an Academic Preparation program in a four year high school. Tuition was low. Dropout rate from the academic prep program was relatively high, but not from high school itself – you simply took a different high school program not geared to college prep. Dropout rates from UT itself was fairly low. Other states had different programs. And somehow the United States went from having no military and few arsenals and munitions factories to become the Arsenal of Democracy, building the strongest army, the largest navy, and the largest fleets of aircraft ever seen. And all of this without any Federal Aid to education.
What a nation has done, a nation can aspire to.
(This is part of a longer post you can read HERE.)
Quibcag: Sorry, I don't know who the girl is.


  1. I don't remember being raised with that whole-word nonsense but what did me in for years was the horror of Dick and Jane. Let's put it this way: reading meant nothing to me until I encountered Edgar Rice Burroughs when I was 11 - and I was hooked.

  2. Whole language, etc, are simply recent buzzwords in something that has been going on for over a century. Our current school system is at the pinnacle of its design, is working exactly as designed. It was designed to produce adults with just enough education to fulfill the needs of industry, but not enough to question the status quo or rebel against it. John Taylor Gatto's The Underground History of American Education is a good read on the subject and is readily available as a free pdf (print format can be bought from amazon). Others, such as Charlotte Thompson Iserbyt, have also addressed the design intentions of the school system.

  3. Btw, Dick and Jane were an iteration of the Whole Language method, too....only itv2as known as Look Say back then. The real name is How to Teach Reading So That Few People Will Read Well or Enjoy Reading.

  4. I swear, this blog reads my mind sometimes.