In any society or intellectual movement there always exist those realities, often embarrassing ones, that are widely acknowledged in private but remain unspoken in public.
Since these are exactly the sort of truths that seldom appear in published books or articles, they may eventually vanish forever with the generation of individuals who recognized them, leaving future scholars grasping for the missing pieces of a historical puzzle.
Consider, for example, America’s recent difficulties with our system of elementary and secondary education, an issue that has grown so prominent on the lips of political candidates and elected officials of both parties and all ideologies. In inflation-adjusted dollars, our schools have dramatically increased their per- student spending since 1965, but the common consensus is that academic quality has sharply deteriorated. What gives here?
To better understand this puzzle, we must realize that the educational policies this funding underwrites are produced largely under the direction of America’s academic schools of education, which are found in nearly every major and minor university throughout the country, from the Ivy League on down, and serve as the home for many thousands of professors of education. These academics, through their research and their teaching, heavily determine America’s curriculum and shape the thoughts of the teachers who actually impart it.
Herein lies the embarrassing and closely-held truth, namely that most of these educational theorists, whether prestigiously titled or not, actually constitute the rock-bottom basement of the academic world, and that much of their supposed “research” would probably not pass the laugh-test in sociology let alone chemistry or particle physics.
There is considerable truth to that common aphorism that “those who can’t do, teach,” and also to its humorous teenage extension “and those who can’t teach, teach gym.” But many college students who have discovered just what sort of students and faculty occupy certain large buildings on their campus have often added an even more insulting continuation, “and those who can’t teach gym, teach education.” This last aphorism was aptly (if cruelly) modified by someone responding to one of my recent columns concerning a different controversy, who suggested that “And those who can’t teach gym, become U.S. Secretary of Education.”
To the extent that the vital learning sector of our society is largely dominated by our least intellectually capable individuals, the dramatic rise of inputs and dramatic fall of outputs is not nearly as mysterious as it might otherwise seem.
Obviously, none of this criticism of the inhabitants of our Schools of Education is meant to rule out numerous exceptions, even enormously significant ones. To cite just one example, Harvard’s Nathan Glazer is widely acknowledged to rank as one of America’s greatest social scientists of the second half of the 20th Century, and we ourselves are extremely grateful at the deep skepticism he has publicly expressed toward bilingual programs. Certainly, Prof. Glazer’s stature is in no way diminished by the fact that he happens to hang his official academic hat at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
But for every Nathan Glazer, our Schools of Education also provide a prestigious platform for many hundreds of others whose academic credentials or intellectual integrity are extremely doubtful at best.
Consider, for example, the case of Gary Orfield, whose stature as Professor of Education at Harvard University is further enhanced by his rank as co- Director of the closely-affiliated Harvard Civil Rights Project.
Such prestigious academic titles at such a prestigious academic institution are clearly words to conjure with, and perhaps as a consequence, Orfield has traveled hither and yon across America, both in person and through the agency of the electronic media, pronouncing on “civil rights” this and “civil rights” so much so that at times he seems to ascribe an astonishing fraction of America’s educational failings to America’s obvious lack of “civil rights” in the public schools. In particular, his overriding emphasis on the endlessly numerous evils of “segregation” have me to frequently label him “the segregation professor,” at least in my own casual remarks to others.
But although “bilingual education” is among the most obvious forms of de jure segregation remaining in our public schools, Orfield, the “segregation professor,” remains a vocal champion of that failed doctrine, presumably because of the complex network of his various ideological alliances. With the growing public visibility of our English for the Children of Massachusetts ballot initiative, Orfield has become one of the most vocal and pugnacious academic defenders of segregated Spanish-almost-only classes, doing his best to prevent Latino students from sitting next to their Anglo counterparts.
Furthermore, Orfield’s rather contradictory current defense of mandatory legalized segregation for Latino students has now seemingly prompted him to engage in other acts of breathtaking intellectual dishonesty.
For example, in June, Prof. Orfield and his fellow Harvard “civil rights” activist, Prof. Christopher Edley Jr., organized a major academic forum under the auspices of their Harvard Civil Rights Project, purportedly intended to review the educational results of California’s own 1998 “English” initiative and allow Massachusetts voters to better understand the ultimate consequences of their vote this November. To this end, a particular attempt was made to attract members of the local media to this discussion, and little effort was spared in inviting prominent figures on the issue from throughout the entire country.
Prof. Orfield and the other organizers perhaps slightly tipped their ideological hand in attempting to personalize the issue, describing California’s Proposition 227 as the “Unz Initiative” and apparently applying the same term to the Massachusetts measure now heading toward a November vote. Still, by any reasonable standard, a vigorous exchange of public views on such an important public topic might help to resolve and clarify the educational evidence for local reporters. For Harvard University to host a public debate on the topic of the so-called “Unz Initiative” seems well in keeping with its mission, as indicated by its own official Latin motto of “Veritas”—“Truth.”
Unfortunately no such debate occurred. Harvard University, through the agency of its own tenured “civil rights” faculty members, decided that disagreement on the topic was inadvisable, and that allowing both sides to present their views would be counter-productive. To completely ensure an absence of any such confusion on the matter, critics of bilingual education were not even notified of the public event, let alone invited to speak, and Harvard applied that information blackout even to the individual whose own name they attached to the entire forum. My first inkling of the event came in the calls I received from local radio and print reporters, who solicited my comments regarding the official conclusions of Harvard University’s public forum on the “Unz Initiative.”
Perhaps I should not have been surprised at this development. After all, just last Fall, Harvard University had organized a previous major public debate between Prof. Catherine Snow, Harvard’s most prominent pro-bilingual education theorist, and myself.
Despite the home-turf advantage, further enhanced by the presence of an overflow audience of almost entirely pro-bilingual partisans, the outcome was hardly to the advantage of the bilingual cause, with Prof. Snow considerably reducing her visibility on the issue and we ourselves gleefully distributing copies of the debate via videotapes and the Internet.
Soon thereafter, Cambridge’s Lesley University, one of America’s largest producers of bilingual education teachers, also held a public forum on the topic, deciding to somewhat even the odds by inviting a panel containing three advocates of bilingual education, a moderator long associated with bilingual education, and a raucous, cheering crowd of hundreds of bilingual advocates—with the only dissenting voice being the much-vilified namesake of the so-called “Unz Initiative.” Despite the four-to-one ratio of debaters, the result was once again hardly favorable to critics of English.
Thus, having learned his lesson from these debacles, when it came time for Gary Orfield, Harvard Professor of Racial Segregation, to organize his own public forum on the topic, he decided that a ratio of 8-to-0 in public speakers and 150-to-0 in attendees would be the best means of ensuring that the invited media would not become “confused” by mistaken views. I am providing below a copy of the articles on the so-called “debate” that appeared in the Boston Globe and other local papers, together a copy of the program itself.
Amusingly enough, although Prof. Orfield claimed that his event had sought to focus on academics doing “high quality” research, his first and most prominent invited speaker was California Superintendent Delaine Eastin, a thoroughly discredited lame-duck career politician, who sold her endorsement in a 1998 Democratic gubernatorial primary for $1 million of television advertising from a multimillionaire candidate, and saw her political future destroyed as a consequence when he lost.
Ms. Eastin and the other speakers at this supposedly academic forum tossed around wild charges of “absolute fraud” directed at myself and the allegedly impressive post-Prop. 227 test scores from California that I regularly cite. One must understand that within the academic community, charges of “fraud” have much the same ring as “high treason,” and for Harvard University to lend its prestigious name to such public charges, directed against a Harvard graduate and (lapsed) academic such as myself, is a very serious matter indeed. That neither I myself nor any representative or ally was allowed to publicly rebut these charges at the time they were made to the media very compounds this academic offense. As a consequence, I filed a formal academic complaint against Prof. Orfield attached below.
The devastating official reply of Charles William Elliott Professor of Education John B. Willett, Acting Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, was that on controversial topics, Harvard University makes no particular effort to provide more than one point of view at its academic forums, an intellectual stance that if extended to all the Arts and Sciences would presumably bring academic life to a quick and complete halt.
This hardly refutes my growing personal perception that in today’s academic world, professors of education, especially those specializing in “civil rights studies,” provide the same secure reputation for intelligence and intellectual integrity as Arthur Andersen auditors currently do in the business world.
Such academic misbehavior has practical, real-life consequences. For example, earlier this week our Massachusetts opponents filed yet another legal motion to strike our initiative from the November ballot, this time alleging that the official summary produced by the Massachusetts Attorney General and Secretary of State was so misleading as to be illegal.
As the articles below from the Associated Press and the Boston Globe indicate, our opponents are claiming that the phrase “normally not lasting more than one year” is an utter misrepresentation of the actual initiative text that says “not normally intended to exceed one school year.” One might suspect that these prominent advocates of bilingual education themselves heavily partook of that program while in school, or at least took lessons from the courtroom testimony of a certain recent former president.
But this troubling motion is strongly seconded by a long brief filed by a certain esteemed Harvard University Professor, one Gary Orfield, who, under pain and penalty of perjury, cites in support of these arguments the official conclusions of his “academic conference” discussed above, thereby lending the awesome academic prestige of America’s oldest and most prestigious public university to the claims that the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts should bar our proposed initiative from the ballot as fraudulent.
In recent months, Arthur Andersen, the world’s hitherto most prestigious accounting firm, was judged guilty of sufficiently serious business offenses by a sufficiently large number of its partners that the entire organization was punished with a corporate death sentence, ceasing to exist. That verdict was greeted with widespread public approval.
In the months and years to come, one might suspect that similar calls may increasingly be made to judge certain American academic institutions as being so rife with so much longstanding fraud and malfeasance, resulting in horrible damage to so many innocent victims, that these organizations too should receive an institutional death warrant, and be eliminated, with their erstwhile tenured representatives instead being provided free tuition to janitorial-training school as their sum total academic severance.
The corporate world is now desperately endorsing this ongoing crack down on its “bad apples.” I would suggest that the academic world quickly consider doing the same, lest others do it for them.