No long metaphor laden preamble this week, lets get right to the action!
The Internet Meme beat is a fast paced environment requiring constant awareness and nimble, lightning quick reflexes. Or at least the ability to fake them. The above is an example of one of the most common of the various meme species, a someecards user card. Someecards.com (motto: when you care enough to hit “send”) allows the user to take a simple line drawing provided by the website and customize it to express whatever pithy statement you feel the need to share with everyone you went to high school with. I found four other memes using this same illustration on someecards.com, but none of them were as popular as this quote from Joseph Sobran, “In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college.”
Now the person who shared this with me was a well meaning sort, hardly an arch conservative. So it is odd to me to see him sharing something that originated from someone like Joseph Sobran. Why odd? Because the late Michael Joseph Sobran (February 23, 1946 – September 30, 2010), or Joe Sobran to readers of his syndicated columns, was hardly an insignificant figure in the history of American ideas. Conservative pundit and walking Godwin’s Law infraction Pat Buchanan called Sobran “perhaps the finest columnist of our generation”. Ann Coulter called him “the worlds greatest writer, the G.K. Chesterton of our time.” A columnist at National Review magazine from 1972 until he was asked to leave under charges of anti-semitism, Sobran described himself as a “paleo-conservative”, although in 2002 he announced his shift to “Libertarianism”, in fact he was a fellow at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute. Also a pro-life, anti-war Catholic (he opposed the Iraq War), Sobran hardly fits neatly into any particular ideological box, and I’m sure a careful reading of his works would find even a died in the wool big government liberal like myself nodding along in agreement.
The above quote is definitely not one of those places. I was unable to find the original source for the quote, but since Joe has joined the choir invisible and is thus unavailable to clarify his intent, we can only go by how other people interpret his intent. And a Googling of the exact quote reveals it being used by all sorts of fun folks beyond those looking for a pithy meme to share. Dedicated enemies of public education like freedomofeducation.net, conservative African American Mychal Massie’s conspiracy ridden side show The Daily Rant, or that playpen for conservatives with the maturity of 8th graders Powerline (guess what, they like to use the “-tard” suffix a lot.)
All of that could simply be construed as some kind of ad hominem guilt by association if it were not for the other fact about that quote.
The premise is FUCKING RIDICULOUS!
As I stated, I could not find the original source for the quote, but let’s assume that good old Joe spat this one out just before his kidneys gave out on him in 2010. So one hundred years earlier, or the Year of Our Lord Voldemort Nineteen Hundred and Ten, our educational system was, according to Sobran, a paragon of enlightenment values where youngsters learned Latin and Greek and discussed the great philosophers in their original tongues. All whilst their pants were pulled up, their hair cut and their ball caps on forward the way Jesus intended. And now, in the 21st century we have driven that system into such a shambles that we are forcing on our colleges hordes of semi-literate buffoons who need remedial training before they can even correctly Google Socrates. Think I’m exaggerating? Go trawl through those sewers I linked to again. I’ll wait… take a barf bag.
Back? Ok, here’s the problem. According to the source of all knowledge,
In 1910 less than 20% of 15- to 18-year-olds were enrolled in a high school; less than 10% of all American 18-year-olds graduated. By 1940, 73% of American youths were enrolled in high school and the median American youth had a high school diploma.
100 years ago, an education past the elementary school level was almost exclusive privilege of the middle and upper class white males. And the type of education that Sobran is extolling, focusing on the classics and obviously college preparatory was even more exclusive (and still is in most of the USA). The vast majority of teenage Americans 100 years ago were already working, either on the farm or low skilled manufacturing work by the time they would have been learning Latin and Greek in Joe’s mythical Classics High.
On the flip side of the meme, yes a large number of college freshmen are now taking remedial courses in English and Mathematics. And that certainly seems bad on its face. But remember, a post secondary degree of some sort is necessary for more and more jobs in our economy. Record numbers of high school graduates are enrolling every year. Is it wasteful for so many of our students to be in remedial classes, especially since many of them don’t even realize their deficiency until they are already enrolled? Of course it is, and there is plenty of room for healthy debate on how to best bring those numbers down, (hint: eliminating the Department of Education is probably not on the healthy debate menu.) But remedial classes will always fulfill a vital role in bridging the gap between unready and ready for college, especially considering how much educational achievement can be affected by factors outside the students control such poverty, an important consideration in a society suffering from vast income disparity.
So there you have it folks, if you see this meme out in the wild remember that its source is a pseudo-right wing crackpot and part time holocaust denier and the sentiment is one espoused by the kind of people who want to shut down all the public schools because things were just peachy keen for everybody during World War One. And they are probably using it as a rhetorical bludgeon to make your kids look dumb compared to their own generation. Which is a massive dick move and one we will explore in more detail the next time we compete in Internet Meme Demolition Derby!
Image Credit: Someecards.com
Featured Image Credit: BlackRogueDreams at deviantart.com, shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.