“General Secretary Xi Jinping emphasized that education is the foundation of a century-old plan. It is hoped that the People’s Education Press will focus on the fundamental task of fostering morality, adhere to the correct political direction, carry forward the fine traditions, promote reforms and innovations, and create excellent teaching materials with Bacon casting soul, enlightening wisdom, and making new and greater achievements for cultivating socialist builders and successors with comprehensive development of morality, intelligence, physical education, art and labor, and building an educational power…The imprint of party history in primary and secondary school textbooks.”—General Secretary Xi Jinping, People’s Republic of China.
General Secretary Xi Jinping’s congratulatory statement above was directed to the People’s Education Press-Publishing House (PEP). PEP is responsible for pushing out much of the educational texts produced in China. It describes itself in this way: “PEP is under the direct leadership of the Ministry of Education (MOE) of the People’s Republic of China. The People’s Publishing House, found on September 1st, 1921, and re-established on December 1st, 1950, is the important publisher of the Party and state in the politics sector since the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the country’s first large publishing agency specializing in philosophy and social science publications. Chairman Mao wrote the title inscription for the “People’s Publishing House”. The logo was then extensively used on all publications put out by “People’s Publishing Houses” at both the state and provincial levels…”
In my adventures as a full-time substitute teacher in a large school district on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, I am continually bumping into activities and educational materials that teachers use to assist students in the learning process. Many seem odd or at least cause a momentary rise of the eyebrow. I have to remind myself that the best practices of discipline, order and study habits of years past are gone, at least for the moment.
Technology addiction by design
Video learning games have polluted the school curriculum where I work, and iPhones, and iPads have clearly led to technology addiction for many students. For example, on one particular sunny day, a student came into the central office crying with such intensity and shaking (as if in withdrawal) saying, I lost my phone!” You’d have thought that a puppy had gone missing, or a family member had died, or the student’s life had been disassembled. The device was eventually found but not before bemused staff experienced what, no doubt, Apple, Inc., strives for: hook the kids on their products for a lifetime of shareholder profit and make sure those Chinese workers keep laboring for cheap wages.
During a class I was overseeing, a student refused three times to turn down the backing track music that accompanies a non-sanctioned video game. Moreover, he refused to do the work he was assigned by his full-time teacher. I took the iPad away from him and, once I had walked away with it, he clearly was stunned, displaying a dumbfounded look as if I had taken away his means to existence. And it is not just the students. When teachers are confronted with a noisy, unruly class, they can always retreat to the safe haven of letting students play video games (Slope for example) passing class-time on their iPads, or iPhones rather than engaging with the teacher in a learning exercise.
Communist China in the American classroom
At any rate, the elective study of the Chinese begins around 6th grade in the school system I work for. On a rainy and windy day, I happened to be assigned to substitute for a teacher that uses the Chinese teacher’s classroom for homeroom. Once the students were settled and began working on their missed assignments, I took the time to check out the Chinese class textbook titled, “Learn Chinese with Me, Student’s Book, 2.” The book is published by PEP in Communist China, the one that Xi lauded in the first quote above. “Well,” I said to myself, why not learn from authors who are mainland Chinese language speakers. Seems legit, I guess.” Then I remembered that the administration of President Joe Biden is doing everything that it can to turn Americans against the Chinese whether is sailing warships through the South China sea, or slapping economic sanctions on Chinese industry, or pushing the notion that the Chinese are responsible for COVID-19 or boosting Taiwan’s status as an independent country.
And there, in front of me, sits the textbook, “Learn Chinese with Me” from PEP, responsible to the Communist Party. Secretary General Xi Jinping praised PEP for doing its duty for the Party. But wait. What’s wrong with that? PEP has rights sharing contracts with American K-12 school systems and universities which is, of course, big business. That’s capitalism, so buying a book from America’s number one adversary, China, must be alright, right? Well, the rock-grunge band Nirvana has the best response I can think of, “Oh well, whatever, never mind.”
It’s the system, not me
One day, I received an email (so did all employees) from the superintendent of the school system announcing that a social justice speaker was going to speak on the hot topics of diversity and equity. The speaker is fixture now on the social justice scene raking in cash from speaker fees. As a practice, I have always checked out the backgrounds of speakers no matter what field of expertise they represent. The school system brought in someone who was formerly the subject of a state inspector general’s investigation (“IG”) into fraud, waste, and abuse of state resources. The IG found that the speaker used 95.5 hours of state-time to create private consulting websites and recommended the speaker reimburse the state $25,000 for the time spent on creating a consultancy on the state’s dime. The speaker evidently reached a settlement with the state and was ultimately found to be in good standing. She resigned not long after to pursue greener pastures running a social justice consultancy.
I talked to a staff member about the matter, and we concluded, “Oh well, whatever, never mind.” Such is the era of zero accountability and responsibility. Just look at the war in Afghanistan. Who was held accountable for that debacle? Not a soul. So, what’s a little use of state time to start a social justice consultancy in the larger scheme of things?
These are halcyon days for independent social justice consultancies as the “culture war” business is booming. Malcolm Kyeyune captures the scene with extraordinary clarity writing in American Affairs Journal. He observes:
Many readers of this essay will no doubt have heard of Peter Turchin and, in particular, his theory of elite overproduction. The idea that societies at various points produce too many elites—who cannot be absorbed into the social structure, and instead cause instability and strife—has a certain natural appeal given the current state of Western politics. Indeed, I would argue that today the most visible political activity of the Left is primarily geared toward satisfying the frustrated material and social ambitions of this “lumpen elite.” In the same vein, the failure of the Right to understand—and successfully counter—the “darn college kids” of the Left marching through the institutions mainly comes down to its failure to understand that the various “crazy” or “anti-Western” or “anti-liberal” ideas being expressed are intrinsic to the class position their proponents find themselves in. As such, the ideas are not really “just ideas,” and they cannot be defeated simply by exposing their contradictions or social disutility.
A similar case can be made for much of the currently existing culture war. Once class conflict is suppressed (something that the modern Left, with its increasingly affluent social base, and the modern Right both have a stake in), political conflict reappears as centering on “values” or “whiteness.” But scratch the surface of that ideological veneer, and base material politics emerges again. It is in fact a core feature, not a bug, that every new step in the “culture war” seems to require a new federal commission, corporate diversity department, or university star chamber to be staffed and funded. It is similarly a “feature” that behind every claim that this or that area is “too white,” the expected resolution is always that more resources be diverted to new hires (preferably the particular person or persons raising the alarm) to correct this imbalance, or that some people be fired so that their jobs can pass to the more deserving. Today these fights over jobs, grants, and resources are not understood as fights over jobs, grants, and resources, but as wars over “culture” and “values,” wars that just—by the strangest coincidence—happen to involve all the other material things, supposedly as some sort of trifling afterthought. The immediate payday, we are told, is just a small step on the way to some far-reaching goal.
The problem currently facing the overproduced elite is that their claims to wealth and status cannot be comfortably met by the society they inhabit. As such, their relationship to said society becomes one of parasitism; one of trying, by hook or by crook, to squeeze out more of that society’s surplus and redirect it toward themselves. Thus, woke language is deployed in order to make sure a Hollywood movie about black people cannot be produced without hiring a stable of racial “consultants,” or that Hollywood movies without black people are seen as hopelessly racist and out of touch, or that every large company should hire various “diversity consultants” to ensure a ‘safe’ working environment. That is parasitism in action, cloaked behind a veneer of moral rectitude.”
I’ve heard and seen students in the school system in which I work say to fellow classmates, “You’re so gay.” One student I was supervising was listening to a song with lyrics that were demeaning to women and used the word fu*k repeatedly in the lyrics. I had to tell him to turn the song off a number of times and he finally relented after I threatened to take his device away.
During school hours, Whites hang out with Whites, Blacks with Blacks, Latinos with Latinos, and Asians with Asians. Even though the school system pursues social justice with vigor, I wonder if the social justice lessons are filtering down to the students, or if they would even listen to them if presented with the subject matter. For example, I supervised a class of Latinos during which they were required to read an article on how to improve Hispanic Heritage Month. Many of the students, parents and grandparents immigrated to the United States from Central and South America which, for most, must have been an arduous journey or at the very least a momentous decision. I tried to remind them of their heritage, also that my wife immigrated from Brazil, but my little speech fell on deaf ears.
I often think that the teachers and students are dazed and confused with all the technology, social justice learning, state learning requirements, and also the culture wars that blow like the wind. Climate Change is there too.
Anarchy seems just around the corner every day at school. It’s almost a reflection of American society in 2021. Something is afoot, or coming, I think, but I don’t know what. I’m sensitive to all the issues and do what I can to assist in the education mission.
But “Oh well, whatever, never mind.”
John Stanton can be reached at email@example.com