The State

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” ~Samuel Adams

I had a professor who was fond of saying, “Public education will always be a political issue because it deals with a person’s two most precious things: their kids and their money.” Our federal government has run up 18 trillion dollars of debt, then turns around and writes the algebra standards for our kids. Am I the only one who sees a problem with that? They can’t figure out that a little bit of money minus a lot of money equals negative money. Yet “common core calculus” is a thing.

There is no way a federal or even a state government can create standards that realize each student’s potential. It’s illogical. Think about it. Are we all the same, or are we all different? If we are all the same, then I concede you can construct a single set of standards that will guide teaching and learning towards realizing every single little precious snowflake’s potential. However, if we happen to be different in any conceivable way, then creating standards of any kind will naturally benefit some over others.  You are imposing a few dozen things. This naturally excludes a trillion other things.

You will hear people say things like, “But without standards, our kids will never be able to learn how to write checks or fill out tax forms.” You should commit acts of violence against people who say anything like that. Not physical violence, I’m being told I should add, but the kind of violence our schools commit against our kids when they misbehave: put them in a room by themselves with an angry warden and give them “work” for six hours. If you can’t do that, then quarantine the standards alarmists in your brain to keep them from contaminating the rest of your thoughts.

You will hear people say things like, “We need data driven rigor to ensure college and career readiness with a laser like focus on 21st century skills and change agents to facilitate major initiatives to implement standards-based measurable growth with a side order of teacher accountability.” If you hear a school use any combination of those above words, run. They are vampires and they want your kids for their data and their soul. It has nothing to do with learning or nurturing. It certainly has nothing to do with making people better, passionate, interesting people. Run.

On vampires: you need not fear the sociopaths in the state buildings who tie marionette strings off on fishing hooks. They can only do what we allow them to do. There are vampires that terrify me, that live in my waking thoughts and in my dreams, that have me screaming in a sweat at night just before I lie to my wife and tell her it’s just another IED dream. These vampires are the “missionaries” – the “true believers”. They are the ones who believe with all their heart that they are the last line of defense between a semblance of equality (though, they will tell you, things will never be truly equal…yet they fight on) and the cold dark lands of Mordor. They are the freedom-fighters and the champions of the impoverished. They are agents of the state, and they are the infantry who fight on the front lines to keep the hooks in your kids’ limbs. They are pavers smoothing out ten lane highways to hell.

I was a true believer. I believed in the ecclesiastical work of military service and, later, teaching. I was in the National Guard already when the towers fell, and I looked on with envy as active duty units jumped, drove, or marched into Afghanistan. Then Iraq happened, and I was afraid the fighting would be over before they got around to calling in the 27th infantry. That was in 2003. They sent us in 2004.

Sometimes war is the answer. Sometimes we have no other option but to fight. But it’s important that the people know – when the ocean meets the sand and it’s time to drop teenagers out of the sky to go do God’s work in foreign lands – that war is rape. It might be cute or fun to debate the merits of “torture” or whether or not we should close GITMO, but it’s irrelevant – frankly, stupid – because you agreed to rape when you agreed to war, no matter the details. Be very clear on that point. You are taking everything intimate, from their family, to their freedom, to their lives, away from entire peoples without their consent. That’s rape.

Where do you think wars are fought? In a field between two teams like some kind of wacky paintball match to the death? They are fought mainly in cities, where people live. I can’t shake the image of a dad carrying his dead son, the son flopping around and the dad laughing uncontrollably. How many Americans have we lost to combat in the past decade and a half? Whatever the number is, we’ve lost more to suicide. That’s because as hard as we’ve raped these countries, we’ve also raped our own. They couldn’t live with that shame and pain. I’ll never follow blindly again.

If being a grenadier and later a teacher is apostolic, then who is doing the calling? If I’m the priest, then who is the church? These are sociopaths, or incompetents, or missionaries, or some combination. They are taking our children and turning them into numbers, and assigning values to those numbers. Shame on us. If we allow the state to administer even a single compulsory test without opting our kids out, then we get exactly what we ask for.

That same professor from earlier insisted that without state (or federal) standards, there would be chaos. In other words, if the state didn’t tell our children what to learn and how to behave, there would be violence in the street. That sounds like Thomas Jefferson’s excuse for the obvious hypocrisy between his philosophy of freedom and his owning of humans: that slaves are wolves that white people have by the ear, and that if we let them go then they will eat us and possibly each other. Listen carefully to those who have convinced themselves that they are the thin line between civilization and chaos. It’s most helpful to play their rhetoric on a loop during Halloween to scare the kids.

Here is the crux of it: the state belongs to us, we don’t belong to the state. The state exists to make things a little more convenient for us, not us to give them some purpose for existence. The moment they begin dictating to us what and how our kids will learn, what minimum “standard” our kids must reach to be blessed with their paper of approval, we have allowed ourselves to be enslaved. We are licking the hands of the institution that is taking more and more ownership of our kids from us.

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