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The International Writers Magazine: Our New York Correspondent

Learning Curve
Dean Borok
Sometimes looking for the good in people can turn you into worse of a misanthrope when they fail to live up to their own good qualities. That’s particularly true when you live in New York where you are pushed up against the threshold of people’s limitations on a minute-to-minute basis.


The current confusion about education policy in the United States is driven by the unspoken fact that a lot of people are dismayed because their kids are so stupid. Instead of confronting this reality head-on, they are arguing over school curricula, standardized testing, teachers’ pensions, anything but the central core issue, which is that no matter how much money you spend, you can’t teach quantum theory to morons. Or, as Barack Obama once tactfully remarked about Sarah Palin, you can apply lipstick to a pig and it’s still a pig.

Instead of sticking pins in schoolteachers, parents would do well to reflect on their own inadequacies in providing a home environment of cultural deprivation, which in many households is akin to living in a Mongolian yurt situated on an isolated Gobi desert plateau.

How do you expect a kid to come from a home environment where the only literature available consists of supermarket best sellers and stale, dog-eared copies of People Magazine; where the dialogue is totally focused on consumerism; where the cultural focus is Kirstie Alley’s floundering attempts at balletic magnificence on “Dancing With The Stars”, wherein she separately fell on her butt and lost her shoe, like Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck dancing Swan Lake in a Loony Toons comedy cartoon.

The last I heard, Alley was still on the show. The public response seemed to be, “Well, you’ve got to give her credit for trying”. Using that kind of logic, you’ve got to give George Bush credit for trying too, notwithstanding the fact that every initiative he ever put his hand to resulted in a monstrous botch-up job of disaster. Seeing a mirror reflection of their own inadequacies, Americans seem to harbor an infinite indulgence for incompetence. The only commentator who dared to see through this self-serving, delusional myopia was late night comic George Lopez, who flat-out called Alley a “pig”, and was later forced to retract the comment, presumably due to pressure from advertisers and network execs who feared inflaming the sensibilities of hoggish, drunken female telespectators, who are legion.

You wouldn’t expect a caveman to emerge from a bond-strewed cave lair and become a professor of theoretical physics at MIT, so how realistic is it to expect a kid to emerge from a household, where the parents are greedy idiots, and suddenly become a Rhodes Scholar? It would require one of those science fiction dimensional travel portals from “Stargate” that the kid would have to step through twice a day, entering the hallowed cathedral of academia in the morning and then regressing back to the realm of imbecility at the end of the day. It’s too much to expect of anybody.

What little there is of culture in daily life is being scaled back in the name of cost cutting. The first thing to go under the knife is culture, which is considered to be superfluous. The current congress is passing resolutions to eliminate funding for educational programming and libraries, which would leave the home environment entirely bereft of any kind of civilizing influence and in the tender embrace of network TV programming, which they consider to be more friendly to their future electoral ambitions.

My own anecdotal experience tells me that, regardless of the quality of the teachers or the educational facilities, the main impetus has to come from the kids’ own aptitude and desire to learn. I had a chaotic childhood. My father was an illiterate moron and my mother was a scheming, greedy idiot. Fortunately, I had an uncle who was an intellectual, so I inherited his interest in learning, which endowed me with the genetic disposition for a life of scholarship, if not the temperament. Whatever schools or moronic, self-serving teachers I endured had absolutely no effect on my compulsive mania for learning everything.

It served me well, not that I ever became very clever, but because, in most cases, I was the only person in the room who ever took an interest in anything at all. Just being interested immediately propels you to the head of the class.

This is the issue that nobody wants to address – how do you penetrate a head that’s made of rock? It can’t be done. Most children are unfit for scholarly pursuits. They would be more suitably employed, and happier, if they were trained to perform useful industrial functions, which are always in great demand anyway.

Here is a case in point about academic overreaching: a girl at Yale, who was majoring in theoretical physics, was permitted to operate a metalworking lathe in a college laboratory late at night, totally unsupervised, got her long hair tangled in the spinning lathe and died.

There are so many things wrong with this picture! A lathe is one of the most dangerous pieces of industrial machinery that can be imagined. It takes years of supervision and formation to become a qualified lather operator. Yet the snobbish disdain for any kind of manual application is so deeply ingrained in academic life that young kids were permitted to operate dangerous, deadly machinery, totally unsupervised. This willful, unthinking prejudice against industrial processes led to a kid’s head being crushed like an insect, a gruesome, horrifying death.

The educational system is turning out people who can’t read and they can’t use their hands either, causing massive social dislocations. An obvious solution would be to put kids on an early career track based on aptitude. The problem with that is that the bias against manual trades is so prevalent that nobody wants to accept that their kid is more suited to work as a (highly paid) crane operator than as an accountant, leading to a surplus of useless accountants and an endemic rash of deadly crane accidents, because construction cranes are being operated by retards.

This is the fundamental problem that nobody wants to discuss – unrealistic expectations based on cultural biases that are going to require generations to untangle. When I was working in manufacturing, I had a boss named Jack Callari. We were lamenting the penury of skilled manufacturing employees, and Jack told me “What this country needs is a good depression”, to drive a better quality of worker into manufacturing. That is a harsh prescription, and it was based on a flawed analysis, since most administrative employees are useless in an industrial environment (or any other). Notwithstanding is the fact that industrial employment is down by half since Jack made that remark.

Nevertheless, the German successes in the current economic conjuncture have highlighted the fact that there is still plenty of room for industrial growth in mature economies. If people are interested in seeing their children enjoy a useful and fulfilling career, they are going to have to confront the reality of their true aptitudes.

© Dean Borok May 5th 2011

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