The Schools, the Schools, the Miserable Schools

Defense Attorney Leonard Weinglass: “Between the date of your birth, Nov. 30, 1936, and May 1, 1960, what if anything occurred in your life?”

Abbie Hoffman: “Nothing. I believe it is called an American Education.” — from the Chicago Eight Trial transcript

I think it was the ambushing of one of my best students that finally prodded me to start this series on education (and, for the moment, it will be informal and imperiodic). Yes, that was it. He came to me with the complaint that he’d slipped from an A to a high C, which astounded me, as the kid is one of my brightest pupils. Taken aback, I said “You’re kidding! You know Grammar better than your teachers, and literary analysis is not exactly your weak point. What’s the problem?”

“The teacher gave us a test on The Scarlet Letter, and we were required to know who was saying what in a set of random quotes. It didn’t make any sense at all.”

In case you don’t know, the No Child Left Behind protocols designed to complete the dumbing down of America started by Reagan (see The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America by Charlotte Iserbyte) are delivering a coup de grace, a deathblow. NCLB was designed for two reasons. The first I’ve just given in a particularized instance, the second was to make Marvin Bush, chief recipient of NCLB test dollars, filthy rich. Both have succeeded beyond the malefactors’ wildest dreams.

In the tutoring classroom, my remarks regarding teachers are not exactly what anyone would call praise. Teachers are, for the most part, idiots, no different now than when I attended high school in the late 60s and early 70s. High school was one of the biggest wastes of time in my life. When each day was over, when I was done with whatever athletic practice I was taking on at the time (track, cross country, wrestling, etc.), I hit the library and educated myself in the Humanities because the math life was not for me. Now, as an adult, having briefly gone to college (another waste), having spent time on staff at an alt-ed school, and having come to understand just how pitiful the American scholastic system and teachers are – despite all their self-idolatrous screeching re: claims of endless sacrifice and self-effacement – I’m ever more daily astonished at the low caliber of intellect put in front of our children. This unrelievedly cretinish practice, for instance, of picking random useless quotes (and these shreds, the ones presented to my student, were nearly gibberish, pertinent to nothing) from arcane books while demanding children be able to recognize who said them, from amongst a cascade of characters speaking in old English, pretty much spills boiling acid over the high-water mark.

Let me start off this way: the teaching of Shakespeare anywhere below the senior AP level is deleterious. Let that sink in for a minute. Get yourself worked up at the effrontery. How dare I say it?!?!


Okay, your minute’s up. Now well past, um, 29, I read Shakespeare for pleasure. When I was a sophomore, I was forced to tackle Romeo And Juliet and hated it, though I otherwise read voluminously – Poe, Lovecraft, Ashton Smith, Vance, and all the more difficult fantasists. NOTHING Shakespeare wrote was – get ready as the unknown obvious will now intrude – written for children! Duhhhhh! Please. The tongue and linguistic conventions employed are today quite difficult for every single adult I know, the most literate included, myself among them. A good part of the reason I read Willie is because of a weird fetish: words are my gig, and I enjoy the elder writers like a kid loves a good brainbusting video game. It’s fun not only to import the brilliant thinking of those esteemed classics but also just the sheer architectural beauty in how they said what they said must appeal to the aesthete. That’s what true art is: it operates on myriad levels, not just the most obvious.

So, if Shakespeare is the most brilliant and difficult writer post-Chaucer, someone who still daunts talented adults in contemporary society, and if Ol’ Willie is a man whose works are pored over by men and women of towering intellect, why the hell are we forcing kids in their early teens to have to ingest his oeuvre, the success of which their grade will depend upon, and why isn’t a single adult other than me thundering about this? The acid test, of course, is to sit any parent in this society down and have them read, say, The Tempest, and then test them on it, especially random impertinant citations. Anyone reading the text who’s even halfway honest already knows what the result will be.

Shakespeare’s so far beyond a pre-Senior Honors teenager’s capacity that I’m amazed I even have to bring this up, yet every high school in the country requires it, usually at the Sophomore stage, and parents say absolutely nothing. I’ve even had 8th graders come in with assignments in Shakespeare! The first time it happened, I was shocked. The parents were not. This, to them, was the way to create a genius. I hate to tell ya, but this is precisely the way to create the exact fucking opposite: apathy.

So where do we go alternatively? To Nathaniel Hawthorne? I don’t think so. Nate was a genius, and his work is not unlike Willie’s, except symbolic to an even higher degree (Shakespeare’s symbolism quite often resides in his erotic plays on words, by the way, o ye Christians), not at all easy to unearth unless one has had plenty of experience in the adult world, recognizing what post-adolescent life brings us. The accessability of Scarlet Letter for a teenager is only slightly less difficult than the bard’s plays. Hawthorne dealt heavily in inverted sentences, incredible profusions of subordination, and all the finery a master wordsmith puts into his best. His work was decidedly not meant for children, and if the writer himself never meant for kids to consume his work, why do we? Scarlet Letter was a cautionary to adults on the multitudinous hypocrisies of religion and man’s wont and love for torturing fellow men on all levels and upon all occasions, not merely the religious. It was not a fable. It was not his attempt at the Hardy Boys.

Most adults couldn’t tackle Hawthorne, let alone Shakespeare. They’d literally be incapable of understanding it even decades after high school, and would put the novel back down ten minutes after picking it up, next reaching for Grisham. Thus, the materials that even adults – and I include a very healthy percentage of quite literate adults in there – can’t begin to grasp…we’re going to subject our children to, right? Right. And I mean Right, as in the most perverted conservative ideology. And neither teachers nor parents complain? This comes from a complete lack of understandings in methodology, in this case the importance of observing gradients. Modern teachers are almost completely unschooled in any methods, let alone the “exotica” of Suzuki, Steiner, Montessori, etc. When it comes to the techniques of their own profession, the panoply of tools available to them, they don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.

Now, let’s transfer over to non-teacher adults. Not one I’ve ever been acquainted with, whether blindest reptilian conservative or flakiest prancing liberal, has not lamented the sad state of the schools, not one… yet, each and every individual flies to the teachers’ side whenever our “educators” set up a plaint the microsecond any criticism of their tenured government nest-egg eventuates. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

I’ve heard Kozol, Jensen, and no end of brilliant critics of the system on True Left radio (as the subject will never come up on the Centrist Air America), but, the moment the host allows call-ins, teachers pile into the lines, setting immediately to their well-practiced weeping chorus, the sum and substance I’m still not sure of but is mostly emotional ploys to recruit softheaded Leftie audiences. When a few intelligent non-teachers are let through, the tone is much much different. No one is happy with the system…yet even critics refrain from commenting on the teachers. What up wid dat, dawg?

Here’s a shocker, folks: there are only three things in a school: administration, teachers, and conservative / business propaganda tools, that’s it. Admin sets things up, they’re the dictators; teachers abide by those designs, they’re the stooges; and materials convey what’s purported to be education, they’re the tools. Getting a clue yet where to begin an S&D (Search & Destroy) in education? In admin.

Administrators aren’t very often teachers, they’re grossly overpaid meddlers and recipients of political favors (check out the history of LAUSD’s Roy Romer for a stellar example) emplaced to divert state and federal monies back to waiting corporations, not to teachers. This is one of the biggest unopened scandals in the entire American system. Administrators do the school about as much good as having a swamp in the middle of it. They decide – at various levels in and out of the actual edifices – who, what, when, where, why, and how teachers will teach, so…can you guess where all our troubles begin?

The materials provided students are first thoroughly vetted by big business, which doesn’t just issue texts but decides who will write them and why: inevitably, the two chiefest reasons are 1) to persistantly decant the shoddy capitalist fantasy and 2) to keep real knowledge away from young minds. Almost all books, not just texts, issue from business, and business is the alpha and omega of American education, though it’s impolite to say so. This has been well covered by others, so I’ll leave verification to the reader; it’ll be a startling education.

I tutor Grammar, Literature, SAT Prep Verbal, and the Humanities, including Politics and basic History – Economics when the need arises – so I’ve seen all the texts. They uniformly SUCK, though Grammar and Econ books are the absolute worst, and what’s called a Literature class is actually just the forcing of unwanted way-above-level materials on students who could care less. I’ve yet to find, even among my most intelligent students, any affinity whatsoever for the wares vended by Lit teachers. In fact, students who like elevated literature tend to go for Poe and kindred, not Hawthorne and ilk. It makes sense, as Poe is far more modern and cinematic, the milieu teenagers are well used to. He wrote more to their level, not so far above that reading him becomes torture.

Still, what does it serve anyone – student, parent, teacher, society – to force students to recognize thoroughly random quotes from any book, even Harry Potter tomes? Isn’t it vastly more important to have them analyze for symbology, metaphor, characterization, psychology? Isn’t anything else just so much time wasted on make-work match-up nonsense? Wouldn’t it be infinitely more beneficial to have a student explain the ambivalence in, say, Long John Silver’s personality than to ask who said “Hand me the lamp, young Jim”, leaving it at that, treading not a syllable beyond? The quotes teachers choose are rarely pertinant to analysis, character, or anything, and one would have to be a professional mentalist or possess photo-eidetic memory to be able to field the complete heedlessness of the tests.

Then, to have sufficient enough a presence of these “tests” that they can completely wreck a good student’s demonstrated aptitude in what’s truly necessary – grammar, analysis, etc. – bringing an ‘A’ down to a ‘C’, is nothing less than heinous. Every teacher in America is guilty of this, English teachers the absolute worst (they ought to be ashamed of themselves and their compeers), directly or indirectly, even the good ones, what few there are, as they all are responsible for this long turn of events, through commission or omission, sitting in silence or feeblest protestation while it’s being foisted, patiently waiting only for their sinecure’s paycheck, nothing else.

I’ll have a hell of a lot more to say as time goes on, including an analysis of the The Deliberate Dumbing Down Of America book one day (ironically, half-blinded conservative that she is, what the author lauds as a keystone to her work is a tome that was issued by the foundation I was on-staff at in Oregon in the 70s!), but this will serve as a warm-up.


NEXT: doggin’ Da Kall.


“The priest tight-fisted with his money and the philosopher tight-fisted with his discoveries are both stealing from the poor. What is more, I think discoveries are only valuable and secure when they circulate among the general mass of people; I am impatient to take them there.” -Diderot-


Every 2009 issue of VERITAS VAMPIRUS is copyright 2009 by Mark S. Tucker but permission is hereby granted for reproduction in any format to any degree, except for profit, so long as the title (VERITAS VAMPIRUS), author (Mark S. Tucker), e-address ( and issue and date are quoted in very close proximity to the article. People are encouraged to distribute V.V. as widely as they desire, except to, which is forbidden the above in full.

VERITAS VAMPIRUS is not available on any site, but solely as text message e-mail. Any who wish may receive it; just ask. Subscriptions are free. Unlike, I’m not going to chivy your eyes out for gelt.





Mark S. Tucker is a writer, editor, graphic artist, Commercial Jetliner Systems Analyst (747), martial arts trainer, paralegal, and holistic medicine interne-practitioner, among myriad other pursuits. He’s been published nationally in i/e, Progression, Expose, Sound Choice, E/I (founding co-editor), OPtion, Signal to Noise, Camera Obscura, and other magazines. On the Net, he critiques music for Perfect Sound Forever and the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange (FAME). As well as being a decade-long past member of Rowrbrazzle, a cartoonists / animators / writers society, he was also published at – a sickness, granted, but he’s now better, though his 116 articles there were destroyed by the publisher, Rightie-in-hiding Rob Kall. Nonetheless, thousands of his articles and reviews have appeared over the last two decades, often formulated to piss someone off……….you, perhaps?

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