Monday, June 08, 2009

MILITARY SCHOOL

Over on Truthout an article reports the rise of “military-backed public schools” in the country. These are not military academies, as such, nor ‘boot camps’ as were popular a decade or so ago. These are public schools whose district superintendents have opened to the military itself.

As is characteristic of them, the Marines are vigorously involved in making this thing work.

Their efforts are reported in public school districts in suburban Atlanta, New Orleans, and Las Vegas. Georgia is no surprise; the Southrons have always had a soft spot for things military, and despite the rather decisive quashing of the Southron penchant for military Romanticism – especially as demonstrated in General Sherman’s tour through the State – it all reignited in the Reagan-era.

Reagan himself was busily and happily seeking to re-establish the American ebullience of his own youth, even as the national ethos and industrial infrastructure that grounded that optimism was slip-sliding away; ‘morning in America’ was not so much a well-justified national reinvigoration as it was a government-sponsored delusion to keep the citizenry smiling as America’s morning slid toward mid-afternoon.

Funny, but Reagan was a big believer in ‘stories’, just as the ideologists of the Left were claiming that nothing was ‘real’ and it was all about what ‘story’ you chose to tell yourself, either as an individual or as an Identity. Reagan got the entire country to tell itself a nice story to explain its present situation. Of course, telling yourself a ‘story’ – and We are indeed very much creatures who need Narrative to ground a sense of Meaning and Purpose – only really works if it not only makes you feel ‘good’ or ‘better’ but also actually corresponds to the success of the actions you take and to the situation unfolding around you. The classic mental-institution inmate wearing a Napoleon hat was indeed quite ‘happy’ – but that didn’t make the inmate Napoleon or change the fact that he was confined to an institution.

Ah, but that was thinking-too-much back in the day. And neither Reagan nor the revolutionaries of the Identity-Left wanted too much of that going on. Revolutions, famously, are not made by reasonable deliberations and critical thinking; nor, for that matter, by full frontal-lobe engagement. From their citizens governments and revolutions don’t want deliberation, they want support – or at least acquiescence. Anything beyond that is merely an obstruction.

So it’s hardly an unforeseeable consequence – unintended or actually sort of intended – that public schools began to de-emphasize reasoning, critical thinking, history, ‘abstract’ male thinking or any of the traditional stuff that used to be the job of education.

It’s not hard to see how public-school education began to go wonky in a big way.

Reagan’s approach also reflected deeper developments of his era. The Boomers had thrown away ‘structure’ and ‘establishment’ in the name of ‘luv’ and their vision of ‘freedom’. The ideological feminists built on that, but put French deconstructionist theory underneath it as a ‘philosophical’ foundation: anything that would serve to boundary, to ground, to structure, to shape … was deemed ‘oppressive’, and had to be done away with.

The general American approach to living life became much more ‘flexible’. This was supposed to make it more ‘liberated’, but it had the vast consequence of making the American way much more amorphous. You do what you want, what you think you’d like – that’s what being human is all about (as even the Supreme Court finally bleated outright in Casey).

Reagan thus found the military Way much more attractive. Not only because it played to his nostalgia for his own younger days, but because the military – by default – became one of the remaining few bastions of efficiency, and in its on-base communities with their still-vital organization, community spirit, and ethos the military seemed one of the last remaining embodiments of the ethos and the era that made America great. That was only increased by his opening to Fundamentalist elements; they brought not only a political and theological support for the ‘sacramentality’ of American government and ‘America’ itself as the agent of God, but also a way of conducting life that hearkened back to an earlier time.

Indeed, Reagan rather ‘sanctified’ or ‘theologized’ the military; not only its ‘efficiency’ but also its embodiment of the old ways. Yes, that helped lubricate the huge defense build-ups, but on a much deeper level it appealed to a profound need on the part of much of the citizenry, dizzy from and even dubious of all the revolutionary ‘progress’, and – for an aging population – a re-establishing of the world of their youth and of America’s genuine hegemony as an industrial and well as a political giant.

Well, it can hardly be surprising that the ‘military Way’ has returned again, and in such a way that the stunning frakkery of the Iraq War and revelations of vast mishandling of funds in defense procurement and expenditure and complicity of far too many senior, star-spangled officers such as Colin Powell in the whole sorry mess … all that doesn’t serve to damp down the rising enthusiasm.

The public schools, after all, are in tough shape. The curriculum is shot all to hell. Nor can We forget that the parlous condition of the American ‘family’ means that a student doesn’t go home to effective parental support and the essential insistence on homework, or study, or learning in general.; but politically you can’t tackle that problem head-on – the deconstruction of the American family is an objective dear to the heart of certain groups to which the Beltway has indentured itself.

So bring on the military. Maybe they can get the job done.

Of course, it isn’t all altruism on the military’s part. Competent troops are needed in an increasingly complex military environment, or at least kids who aren’t going to knee-jerkingly reject the prospect of military service. (Certain elite Ivy universities nowadays are also starting to cozy up to the idea of re-connecting to the military again; they can get more government money and their graduates might have a fall-back job when they graduate into the current economy.)

But neither the Southrons, nor the school supers, nor the universities are thinking things through. You take the King’s shilling, you do the King’s bidding – that’s a bit of ‘old’ knowledge that hasn’t ever changed.

And nowadays, a military career is going to wind up involved with aggressive resource-wars as well as the various contortions of a no-longer-super world power that wants to keep its place in the scheme of things. And with putting down the various inevitable resistance that such a plan will increasingly engender among other of the world’s peoples. Let alone among other – and no longer insignificant – governments. Ach.

The military’s value to American education is to no small extent an indicator of the failure of domestic policy to ensure a decent and well-grounded education to Our young. And that situation has been brought about as much from the Left as from the wealth-hungry, poor-ignoring Right. If there were still some shape and structure and genuine Ground beneath domestic policy, enabling it to prepare the young accurately for the real world in which they must carry on the American ethos and conduct a mature adult life, then it would not be necessary to invite the King’s shilling in the school-house door.

The military has its hands full, I think, with successfully and decently accomplishing its own traditional tasks.

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