Schools today are not primarily in the history or math business. Instead, they teach ”self-esteem.” The late Bill Henry, in his wonderfully gloomy book about political correctness, summed it up in the banner fluttering proudly over the entrance to one Midwestern schoolhouse: ”We celebrate ourselves.” That’s the spirit, kids. If you can’t get a prize for Latin, give yourself one just for being you!
This is a novel approach to education. For example, the animating philosophy behind the traditional British boys’ school is to reduce self-esteem to undetectable levels within the opening month of your first term. Incidentally, they’re also excellent places to get homosexuality out of your system: They were Gay High before Gay High was cool.
Wouldn’t it be easier simply to abolish high school? There’s barely any pretense at scholarly rigor, and it seems an awfully expensive way of providing non-threatening environments for self-celebration.
Before the First World War, most Americans left school at eighth grade or before. If we resumed that system, those who wished could get jobs, the rest could take four years off before going on to college and becoming Doctors of Anger Management or Bachelors of Queer Theory.
But, if that’s politically unviable, and if it’s unrealistic to expect Mayor Bloomberg’s schools to crack down on bullying, wouldn’t it be more cost-effective just to move all the bullies into Bully High School?
There they can bully each other to their hearts’ content–or, as the educators would say, celebrate their identity in a purpose-built mutually threatening learning environment.
Actually, Bully High School is an excellent idea.