Okay--where do you think this next excerpt came from?
Our public schools are one of the few unifying institutions that we have left. If we allow [something] to continue to individualize and atomize the classroom, we shouldn’t be surprised if our culture and political climate follow suit. In a traditional classroom with central texts, common knowledge, and routinized behavioral norms, our children learn to let another finish speaking before interrupting, no matter how much they might disagree. How many complete strangers could spark up a conversation over their shared love—or perhaps disdain—for the Great Gatsby because so many of us have read it in high school?
Traditional literature classrooms in particular seem all the more important as technology advances. When children spend ever more time isolated in their rooms, endlessly scrolling on their phone, depressed and anxious, the act of putting a phone away, reading together, and then making eye contact to discuss the text could be the very “social and emotional” support that they need. When artificial technology can accomplish evermore tasks, enjoying a book with friends is one of the few remaining, distinctly human pleasures.
Is this me, arguing against current versions of school choice, particularly tech-based versions like micro-schools?
Nope. This is Daniel Buck, rising star conservative education writer on the AEI/Fordham circuit. I've written about him before, and you can check that out of you want more of his story or the story of his website, but for right now, mostly what you need to know is that Buck's specialty is arguing against straw versions of progressive education stuff, which is what he says he's railing at. My impression is that Buck means well, but doesn't spend near enough time reading actual non-conservatives about education.
Here he's railing against progressives who, in his telling, are out there letting students in classes pick all sort of different texts and do different things and follow different muses and while I have no doubt such teachers exist (in a pool of 4 million, you can find examples of anything), I'll bet that most teachers, conservative or not, find the idea of overseeing 130 different individual reading units the stuff of nightmares.
No, the place you're much more likely to find an array of students following an atomized assortment of varied educational paths would be a city that offers dozens of school choices, from "classical" whiteness to computer-driven whatever to contemporary diverse authors to neo-Nazi home schooling.
The argument he makes in this latest piece--that the nation benefits from having students share core experiences together while learning some of the same material even as they learn how to function in a mini-community of different people from different backgrounds--that's an argument familiar to advocates of public education. The "agonizing individualism" and personalized selfishness that he argues against are, for many people, features of modern school choice--not public schools.
He closes out his argument with an illustration of an activity:
My favorite activity that I carry on with my class comes at the end of every unit. I spin the chairs into a circle and cover my chalkboard with countless thematic words like “aging” or “isolation,” so long as they relate to whatever book we just finished. As students file in, I give them only a blank piece of paper and a pencil. They choose which topics to talk about, I give them a few minutes to write about how this word showed up in the book, and then we discuss. Some conversations last a few minutes. Some spin on for almost an hour as we weave back and forth between discussing the book and our own lives, allowing the text to shape us, form us, and draw us closer together. These incredibly rich and, at times, personal discussions only happen because we first shared a book together.
I'm not sure that activity is recognizable as being either conservative or progressive, though all that touchy feely life-sharing drawing together feels more progressive. You could probably argue that a true literature conservative would focus on the meaning of the literature while assuming that it has one meaning and the transmission of that meaning is the point of the lesson, and that sharing different ideas about it is just fuzzy liberal thinking. So maybe figuring out the labels is more trouble than it's worth.
Your "favorite activity" reminded me of today. Reading Emerson with a great bunch of kids. Can't imagine where or who I would be without the great conversation. There is just nothing like it, watching a kid's eyes light up with recognition. Bam! It hits in an instant, and we get to see it, be a part of it. Whew. It happened today. Reading your piece took me right to that moment. I'm blessed with particularly rambunctious young thinkers and doers.
Nice piece of writing. So glad to have sort of Forrest Gumped my way onto your site.
I remain amazed at the sheer volume of "conservative" education writers/pundits/advocates - all of whom seem to generate large incomes in exchange for poorly-executed propaganda like what you expose here. The bar is truly quite low.