Welcome to my world

By Camille Paglia

By Salon Staff
Published April 6, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

Read the story.

Your article on the ills of education as provided in our country today is the clearest and most insightful one I have read on the subject. Upon retirement, I decided to substitute teach at local high schools (Haddon Heights, N.J.), partly to have something to do but mostly because of support for education and an interest in it.

The reality is that high schools, as I have come to view them, are half play pen, half indoctrination camp. The text themselves are replete with errors and propaganda, though the math ones are clearer than when I went to high school. Insolence and barbarism are suffered more by the staff today than of yore, and I teach at some of the better local high schools. High compliments on your truthfulness about the education pit.

-- Don Howard

You are absolutely right. Working with one's hands and or in nature gives one a sense of accomplishment and contentment. The ones today who benefit from these skills are the new immigrants. Kids three to four generations removed from arrival look down at these professions, except in Europe where everyone is thought of as a contributor.

My idea is to start in school and offer landscaping, painting, plumbing, machine repair, etc. With adult guidance, students could take care of the physical plant they attend and learn a skill that could provide self-esteem and income down the road. Don't wait until high school -- that's too late. Earlier, sixth or seventh grade, before we lose their attention. Then of course they must learn to read, hopefully before they reach school age, so they enjoy the pleasure later in life and not struggle all through school, if they don't drop out.

-- Barrie Heathcote, Lodi, Calif.

You're damn right, Camille. While working as a newspaper reporter in an upscale town in Massachusetts, I watched town officials complain about the high cost of sending students to the regional vocational school. The hostility toward the school, its administrators and its mission was palpable because it took funds away from the local school system, which was designed to shoehorn kids into college regardless of their desire or talent.

When the finance committee and school committee talked about education, nothing was too good for the local schools, but the vocational school was regarded as a red-headed stepchild by the adults who ran the town. And the kids who went to the school were regarded as borderline retarded by their peers, just as they were in the town where I grew up.

Admittedly, the per-pupil costs at vocational schools are higher, because teaching kids to be mechanics or electricians takes more equipment than preparing students for another few years of school, but the kids who graduate from voke schools became taxpayers upon graduation.

Eventually, I spent a day with a local student while he went to classes at the vocational school. I was impressed with the school and the student's honest assessment about his prospects and what he wanted to do for a living as an adult. He wasn't stupid, but he knew he didn't want to spend another four years in the classroom. He was working as a mechanic outside of school and making decent money.

I didn't see any hint of teen angst or alienation in the kid, which isn't surprising, given that he had such a realistic, doable and productive future in front of him.

-- Dexter Van Zile, Brighton, Mass.

Thanks for your great comments about how useless and destructive high schools are. Some of the home school movement has been fueled by parents who can't bear to see their kids in such a situation.

I think another reason for the hopelessness and desperation of teenagers is that from their earliest years they have been taught that the world is a terrible place. Environmental problems will bring the world to an end unless they personally save it. There are no heroes to inspire them -- Washington was a white elitist slaveholder, Lincoln a homosexual, manic-depressive racist, Jefferson an exploiter of his female slave. No heroic virtues are ever held up as worthy of emulation.

Natural impulses of each sex are stifled -- boys cannot learn to defend their families or their country, girls cannot long for motherhood. I know how I feel when I have to listen to patently false statements by ignorant people, and have no opportunity to refute them (like listening to Dick Gephardt, for example) -- enraged and depressed. Teenagers have that experience all day long -- hearing politically correct things they know in their hearts are false.

-- Judy Warner

Dammit, Paglia, it's nice to finally find somebody smart enough to agree with me about what's wrong with our secondary schools. When Columbine happened and everybody was quick trying to figure out who should get the blame, people thought I was kidding when I pointed to the guidance counselors, but I wasn't.

Alienated kids slouching in the hall in trench coats and goth gear need to be offered an opportunity to get out and do work worth doing in the company of people who are not cynical about their jobs. That last is very important because cynicism and sarcasm are the main verbal currency of the high school underclass. The most important thing a high school guidance counselor can do is to go out into the community and make arrangements to get these kids off campus by noon and into these kinds of places for the rest of the day. Work-study, internships, etc. -- the kids would go for it like drowning men for water.

Instead, the guidance staff find it a lot easier (most of them have never had a real job, after all) to sit in their offices helping Caitlin polish her Stanford admissions essay and reminiscing about the joys of university life. What do they have to offer the brooding bunch slumped in the hallway? Nothing.

Much more to say, especially about the progressive restriction of vocational choice among upper-middle-class kids by the relentless devaluation of most forms of work in some circles. Growing up in a neighborhood of doctors, lawyers and managers, you just can't go into auto mechanics, no matter how good at it you might be. Recurrent fantasy: loading an automatic transmission onto a hand truck and dragging it into a Mensa meeting to see if any of the bright lights can figure out how to get the case open.

-- Byron Matthews, Sandia Park, N.M.

Your comments concerning recent episodes of school violence, although reasonable, miss the real cause. As the federal government has taken over the public schools and ordered more indoctrination than education, a necessary part of the process has been the preponderance toward a curriculum that is teaching students how to feel instead of think. The mindless propaganda of the left could not be foisted on a student body that can think.

Unfortunately, this has resulted in the violence. When I went to school, if a jock gave me a wedgie in the hallway that required an appropriate and tasteless act of retribution, we may have let the air out of his tires or left a bag of manure in their locker. I was able to think of an equal and appropriate response. Today, with the lack of ability to think but an extreme ability to feel, blowing the tormentor's head off appears to be an equivalent response when measured in context of how one feels.

In short, until we teach people how to think instead of feel, we can anticipate more violence. Of course, if we take the schools from the left and teach logical and cognitive skills, their multicultural agenda and leftist propaganda will fall on its face, as viewed by rational, thinking individuals.

-- Bill Jackson

Goddammit. Someone has finally said what I've known for years: Today's high schools are built for one kind of kid. In the rush to make everyone, in the words of Garrison Keillor, "above average," the career paths of millions of kids are diverted into fields where they have neither interest nor aptitude. Shop class was jettisoned when it was found to drag down the achievement test scores. We can't have kids training for trades if it reflects poorly on the school, now can we?

-- Chris Atwell

Thanks for an honest, unabashed, penetrating analysis of the horror we call the American school system. My wife and I came to the same conclusions 14 years ago as our first child came of age for kindergarten; at that time we made what we now know to be the wisest and most important parenting decision of our lives: We home schooled.

The results have been stunning -- bright, imaginative, wise, witty, fun-loving, well-educated, socially well-adjusted children of solid religious faith and strong moral character, and a peaceful family life with warm, close parent-child relationships and abiding joy. Of course we're far from perfect, but for all the reasons you've mentioned, we're convinced the current school system would have been a disaster for our children, and home schooling has been well worth every sacrifice, as many and as costly as those sacrifices have been.

Certainly not everyone can home school, but those who can should consider that alternative very carefully. In all these years, never once have we regretted our decision to teach our children ourselves. And more than once in recent days, seeing in their friends' and relatives' lives some disturbing reminder of the troubled world we call the American school system, our children have hugged us and said gratefully, "Thank you, thank you for home schooling me."

-- Paul Thigpen, Ph.D.

I can't agree more with what you've been saying about American high schools; I myself ditched the system at age 16 for all the reasons you've mentioned and then some. Any bright, independent-minded kid who knows what she wants doesn't need high school to push her into learning!

I was a smart and restless teen loner. Yes, my classmates' immaturity and conformity drove me nuts; but so did my high school's curriculum -- there was nothing for gifted kids. My grades suffered. I desperately needed out, so I enrolled myself in correspondence school and got a job.

Not only did I finish my college prep-level schoolwork in a couple of hours per day (if I did anything at all), I could earn a living at my brother's business (tough physical labor -- cleaning out repossessed houses), volunteer, travel independently and just hang out. I learned to refinish furniture, cook and make clothes. I learned to wheel and deal antiques. Thankfully my parents supported my decisions and interests. Apparently they cared more about their daughter's happiness than middle-class bragging rights!

Oh, did I mention that I had the freedom to read whatever I wanted? Created my own exam-free curriculum, so to speak. I was deeply interested in cinema at the time, so I read every movie book in the library and rented all the classic films I could get my hands on or find on cable TV (I must have seen "Notorious" and "Citizen Kane" 100 times apiece). I got into literature, psychology, history.

Suffice to say that by the time I went to college, I'd already read "all" the books. Taking my time the way I did, I finished school just a couple of months later than my former classmates -- with mostly A's to boot. Yes, I am white collar now, but I know how to work with my hands and respect those who do. I learned to save money, pay cash and shop for bargains. My travel addiction led me to life overseas (pre-yuppie "junior year abroad" too tame for the likes of me). Whew! Try and learn all that in high school!

-- Ilene Martinez Gex

You are dead wrong about our schools. Far from being the stifling, overbearing prisons you depict, they are lax, touchy-feely summer camps with low expectations, little discipline and an almost complete absence of intellectual rigor. The prevailing "discourse" is, at best, at the level of ed. school cant, something you have railed against in the past.

Calling for more liberal schools is like asking for more fat in a Whopper. Our educational system has produced a generation of infantile solipsists who tend to throw a tantrum at every real or imagined slight. It is this combination of childishness, the sense of entitlement and the availability of the weapons of cowardice that have produced the current spate of tragedies.

-- Bruce Cramer, Buffalo, N.Y.

You're 100 percent right about the trivialization of the non-professional career path. This trend has been exacerbated by the wholesale exportation of all "non-New Economy" manufacturing jobs, where practitioners of such skills used to earn a decent, family-supporting, middle-class income.

The New Economy is yet another myth of American manifest destiny to arise during the 1980-2000 period of U.S. social and industrial deconstruction. Not everyone is interested in becoming a C++ programmer or network engineer, much less possess the talent to do so. Are these non-tech Americans to be condemned to a life of poverty working at menial hamburger flipping jobs?

Manufacturing jobs serve an essential role in any industrialized economy. It seems the U.S., with its penchant for falling head over heels for the latest pop theory of "globalization," is about the only country that seriously thinks otherwise. You're really getting to the nub of a major problem that the multinational-controlled media-political establishment will never talk about.

-- Tom McGuinness, Geyserville, Calif.

It's great to see someone call for a change in the minimum drop-out rate for schools. I am a teacher and have been talking about this for a few years now. Most of the time my fellow educators look at me as if I'm nuts. I want this not so much to save the outcasts, but from a disciplinary standpoint.

Unless you have worked in a middle/junior high school and observed the repeat discipline problems, one cannot understand this frustration. The ones who are constantly in trouble, whether they are bored with or hate school, seem to get pleasure from pushing the system to the limit to get the attention. They take advantage of the fact that the school has to "educate" them, and are forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time with them.

I also think that if a 14-year-old can withdraw from school, parents would suddenly take an interest in their kid's behavior. God knows they don't want to lose their eight-hour-a- day babysitter. I have always felt that an education should remain open to any adult who can work it into their schedule, and they would be a positive influence in the classroom. At the very least, future generations can learn the value of an education from a generation of drop-out fry cooks.

-- Keith Venturoni, Teacher NISD, Dallas, Texas

Your views on education are exactly what I have always thought. First thing I'd do is get rid of the grade system and its rigid, one-size-fits-all curriculum. Let students progress by subject. A kid may rise to level 45 in music but be forever stuck on level 2 in math. Let their geniuses shine, and let their lack of gifts also be recognized and accepted realistically.

-- Anonymous

I was both intrigued and pleased with the way you discussed the landscape of higher education in modern times. Specifically, the point you made about young adults being pushed into pre-professional programs and social molds rang especially true.

For most of my contemporaries, undergraduate education was used primarily as pre-professional training, the goal being a 9-5 job once the bachelor's degree was in hand. I tried to fit into this mold as well but found myself increasingly underserved by mind-numbing engineering homework, and shallow humanities courses that only served to whet my appetite for more intellectual rigor.

In addition, the constant focus on keeping up with the student body next to you can blind a young adult to his or her own specific needs with regards to experiences that can shape who they become. By mindlessly matriculating at the mainstream schools, young adults today do not take the opportunity to reconcile their own personal goals and needs with information about the world outside ill-chosen career tracks. The result can be mid-twenties to mid-thirties angst about roads not taken.

If undergraduate, or maybe just plain experiential education could be used to season young adults with more of a "Renaissance" experience, 17- to 22-year-olds would be in much better positions to make decisions on how to lead lives that are more fruitful spiritually instead of just monetarily.

-- Edward M. Allen, St. Louis, Mo.

Your comments on public education make more sense anything I have read about school shootings or school quality combined. Historically, it has not been normal to have young people crammed into a building all day, sitting in seats, waiting in lines to be mass produced.

Home school was a wonderful, exciting, daring and adventurous time for my three children. They studied what they loved, and that led into all areas. They worked outside the home, worked with chores and raising animals, worked with other people and were active all day long, learning all day long. Their minds were opened and interested and alive. One is an architect in Colorado, one is traveling around the world in two years' time and the third is a student at University of Vienna in Austria. The learning continues with joy. I wish all youngsters could have that opportunity.

-- Marsha Linder, Solon, Iowa

I am a retired machinist some 70 years old. I applaud you for your opinion on trade schools. I barely got out of public high school. I told the teachers that if they would graduate me I wouldn't come back.

I have never been out of a job. You cannot name anything that we use today that has not been produced in some way by machine tools. I am a very strong supporter of trade schools. It's one thing our government could do best. I served my apprenticeship at Quonset Point N.A.S. during the 1950s, and the training I received there eventually led me to start my own business. It was successful, and I am still active in the trade.

My grandmother always said, "Learn a trade. Then you can do anything you want, but you will have the trade to fall back on." Good advice .

-- Stephen Chellis

A quick note from a girl on a construction site: Thanks for today's article. I refer specifically to the section where you mentioned young men and women entering professions other than office-bound cage jobs.

I have just applied to law schools, and I had signed up with a legal placement agency to get a legal assistant position. In the meantime, through the agency, I have been working at a construction site at a major airport. I have been assisting the engineers in the trailer, and I have to say it has been wonderful.

My undergrad degree was in telecommunications, and I am a Realtor. My true loves are the humanities, and writing is the passion. However, I love being on the job site with the men -- hardworking, great, smart people, and the few kick-ass women who run at least half the show. It has been a great experience.

-- Anonymous

Thank you so much for such a refreshingly honest look at culture today. I am a product of a fairly nice private Ivy League university (B.A. and M.A.), but I am appalled at the state of education today. To see that the modern high schools of today are nothing more than prisons, one need only look at one and see the fences, the police cars, hall monitors, etc.

When I went to high school (I graduated in 1975), my friends and I had plenty of guns to go around -- heck, we played hooky to go pheasant hunting! (And we were a VERY suburban school, not a redneck to be found.) But there was never a thought to actually committing mayhem at school, even against the bullies, such as there were: It just wasn't pukka.

It seems like the more the heavy hand of authority is brought to bear on young men, the more they fight to escape it. Yes, there need to be father figures to at least threaten to smack some sense into them (moms make the rules, dads enforce them), but the use of the State as Father Figure is nuts.

The state of higher education is, if anything, even more scary. My eldest daughter is all set to go off to the University of California at Santa Cruz, which sets me all atwitter. Talk about the home of PC! Of course, since I have raised her to question everything, as well as to be a good shot (I don't worry about her becoming a statistic: God made Mankind, Sam Colt made them equal), my worries are more that she will have challenges with the politically correct crowd. However, she must find out the truth for herself, and all I can do is warn her of the pitfalls.

-- Gordon Frye, Stockton, Calif.

Thanks for your comments on the general state of affairs in American education. When I was in elementary school in the late '50s, all the boys took two years of wood shop, and my high school in Southern California had a huge auto shop and metal-crafts facility. Unfortunately, people who took auto shop and metal crafts were more or less forced or relegated to that curriculum, and they were looked upon, I suppose, as menials. Most certainly some of those "menials" started their own businesses and experienced successes that few corporate wonks do.

I have a 5-year-old son and I am very concerned about his education pretty much along the lines you have described. I was doing some wishful thinking with a neighbor recently, and we were vaguely outlining a curriculum based on practical and life skills where boys could be educated by men and really learn how to do something. I wish there were something like the old apprenticeship institutions or some school/living environment that could meet this need.

The other day I showed my son "Captains Courageous" with Spencer Tracey. This movie catches the spirit of what you are talking about perfectly. Young men abandoned to the gods of profit and organization while the fundamental rhythms of life, as embodied and symbolized by fishing, generate manly pride, deep-seeded friendships and an even deeper and real spiritual appreciation of natural forces and life. I repeatedly told him that Harvey was getting something that very few boys can get any more, and that is a real education and a relationship with a wise and caring man. The interesting thing is that Harvey's rich boy's school was still far better then anything in our contemporary life, and even that wasn't good enough to keep Harvey from being deformed into an organizational mutant until he was transformed by his experience on the "We're Here."

-- Michael Sharpe

I have been a school teacher for 18 years, and I agree with you that not all children should be pushed in the direction of college. I have had many students who were wonderful at hands-on activities, yet when I tried to gear projects to their strengths, I was told I was wasting time. The reason? I wasn't teaching them to pass the TAAS test in Texas.

Sometimes, there are things more important for a child to learn than how to score well on a standardized test. George W. Bush wants more testing, and I don't think that's the answer to our education problems. Teachers already fear how much pressure is put on them to have all the students pass the "test," when in reality, many students will NEVER be able to pass that test. I think education must be geared to a student's strengths, and he or she should be trained with those in mind. That's why so many of our children are frustrated.

Also, I have to say that the lack of discipline of students and parents is a major concern. Parents think teachers are just there to babysit their children. They don't teach ethics and morals at home and resent teachers trying to fill in the gap. Children must learn that other opinions have value, even if they don't agree with them. They also must learn to respect authority, because most of them will have bosses the rest of their lives. If teachers are not allowed to discipline in their classrooms, chaos reigns. That's why so many teachers quit the profession. It is not because they don't love to teach; it is because they have no support where they need it most.

-- Jackie Tierney

Would you not agree that the current "preschool programs" are nothing more than state-run dumping grounds for working moms who don't like and/or can't afford day-care prices?

-- Anonymous

I thank you for your attention to the subject of our public schools and their effect on our precious young men. I am the mother of two amazing specimens. They are 16 and 18 years old, wicked ice hockey players, wise, sweet and full of experimental impulses.

They go to school in a one-story mason-block maze the size of a small city. The effect of this dispirited lack of architecture cannot be discounted. Winston Churchill said "We shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us."

My oldest son has struggled with the emphasis on compliance with clerical detail over true mastery that is demanded by teachers. He quickly masters the concept, then his mind drifts to scoring goals and other dreams. He forgets to do his homework, gets a zero and this skews his grade hopelessly downward. He has friends, on the other hand, who are ultra-compliant, have GPAs above 4.0, yet score lower than he does on the SAT's. Their parents scream in protest and deride the SAT. They think their kids are geniuses when they are often nothing more than diligent.

Our schools were designed for the Industrial Age, when society needed workers for rote factory work and mechanization. We still need people who are ultra-compliant, like accountants and doctors, but the Information Age needs lateral-thinking problem solvers. Unfortunately, technology issues are turned over to Media Center Coordinators (semiskilled librarians), and the arts are reduced to after-school clubs.

-- Laura Sewell, Kennesaw, Ga.

You're dead on target re the dispiriting educational system which denies children and teenagers any tangible realization of self. My father, the eldest of 12 kids from a poor, working-class family, Anglo-Irish descent, lived a Huck Finn childhood and was fond of telling how he wasn't raised but was "kicked up." But the experience yielded him fierce capability, confidence and pluck. More kids need to be freed from the prison groove of cradle-to-grave "professional training" and get a chance to reward their souls in places other than the office cubicle.

And it was so refreshing finally to hear one voice of clarity in seeing through the dreck of "American Beauty" -- Hollywood once again giving us its rendition of the "real" thing, this time the alleged portrait of the broken, neurotic and dysfunctional suburban existence. This is the product of Hollywood fastboys who live a vapid virtual life, then sneer down their noses at any other. It left me with the same feeling I had after watching "Shortcuts," Robert Altman's corrupted adaptation of a collection of Raymond Carver stories. Carver was a hapless denizen of the world he chronicled, whereas Altman was an uninvited haughty voyeur of the same.

-- Patricia Freebery

I liked what you had to say about high school. I suffered through it all, going against the grain, just because I didn't want to accept the lifestyle where you were happy going to high school, to chit chat with your friends about the football game last night. I got a bad start I guess, when my parents forgot to show me how it looks to dress "cool." I was made fun of more than most, but it never really had much effect on me, I kind of just thought "meanies!" and I had a group of geeky friends I could look forward to playing with at recess.

All through high school, I taught myself using my computer, and passed the time playing computer games. I believe America needs a "home school network" where kids can be home schooled with an interactive Web site, which would draw kids interests lots better than a boring classroom, especially kids like me who keep to themselves. I think public education has turned from a public service to an atrocity, where your kids are taken from you and forced to participate in this mind-numbing game of social development. With a Web site, a child's appearance doesn't interfere with learning.

Right now, public education's social-development aspect is comparable to that of a prison, or a better analogy would be horticulture, something I'm good at. If you have plants with a limited amount of light, the bigger plants will overshadow and eventually kill off the smaller plants.

-- Jeffrey Moss

I am writing to thank you for your insightful column about the sorry state of our education system with regards to the technical trades. Your views on this subject are certainly in the minority in all levels of today's educational establishment.

Having spent 45 years in the mechanics' trade starting as a teenage hot rodder and now as owner of a truck and equipment repair business, I can speak from firsthand experience of the shortage of entry-level employees who have even the basic skills needed for this trade. The vocational education system in our public school system is but fraction of what it was 30 to 35 years ago. I have seen vocational departments closed one after the other, they being the first to go when budgets have to be cut.

I've always had the feeling that the powers that be look down on the trades as second-class citizens. I firmly believe that the day is not far away when the public is going to be confronted with an automotive-repair crisis situation in which there will be such a shortage of the level of technicians needed that those that make a commitment to the trade and are good at it will have earnings equal to the medical professions.

Fifty years ago, students graduated from the sixth grade with all the basic reading, writing and math skills needed to get by in life, leaving the remaining school time to be exposed to all the opportunities open to them, be they the trades or higher learning, and then acquiring the knowledge to start them an a path towards these goals.

-- Mike Sinnott, Felton, Calif.

I'm a college-educated construction company owner. We are in need of craftsmen. They are dying out, and the younger group seems to think it beneath them to exert themselves. Or to be responsible for their own actions, for that matter. I've finally taken to training Mexican nationals. The language barrier makes it difficult, but they are eager to learn and advance!

I don't know how the U.S. will survive in the world as a "service" economy. Seems like we are attempting to become the super bureaucracy of the world.

-- Keith Tracy

The problem with encouraging a life in the trades is that it is a ticket to poverty. As corporations merge and play roll-up games, wage depression and global outsourcing of trade work has become endemic. The so-called "prosperity" in the last decade has merely juggled the percentages. Instead of lower/middle/upper mix of, say, 15/80/5, we now have a mix of about 20/60/20. The extra 15 at the top sure get a lot more press than the extra 5 at the bottom. But most of all, the missing 20 in the middle are totally ignored. The middle is the backbone of a stable society. America's backbone is disappearing, slowly and inexorably.

Meanwhile, the dirty little secret about the professional track in schools is that it, also, is a ticket to poverty, at least in the high-tech fields. As a CalTech MSEE, I spent the Clinton/Gore years earning less than $7,000 per year. Most of the layoffs in the 1990 and 2001 recessions have been white-collar workers, particularly engineers, scientists and programmers. The only tracks that are likely to lead to prosperity seem to be medicine, law, management and finance. There is no wholesale effort to import replacement workers from China or India in these fields, as there is for the hardcore technical fields.

-- Tom Nadeau

I am a professional in the sciences, a research chemist. I have struggled with career choices ever since I was a freshman in college. I have often thought that I wish I had made different choices. I have long wished I had engaged in some type of apprenticeship that would have taught me a skill involving the use of my hands and body as well as my mind.

There is not as much satisfaction in cashing a paycheck as there is in standing back at the end of the day and looking upon change that one has brought about through the use of the hands or the manipulation of instruments of creation, a change that was not visible that morning when the work began, a change that stands as itself on legs, at the end of the day, that were only dreams that morning.

But for me to embark upon so simple a calling now would be viewed by the culture that surrounds me as "one step backward taken" (to borrow a line from a poet). What a waste of such fruitful and creative minds it is to drill into children's and young adults' heads that the be-all, end-all to a prosperous life is to sit in an office in front of a computer all day and collect a nice fat paycheck, creating nothing, garnering no satisfaction from life, only enduring the torture until time allows retreat. No wonder so many people long to retire early and escape the workplace. No wonder so many people have sunk their savings into the speculative stock market in the hopes they might come up a winner.

-- Christopher Foote

I applaud you for your clear-headed appraisal of that institution of mass oppression, the public-school system. As you suggest, it is immensely disconcerting to find that the public takes for sacred the practice of herding young people into boxes, segregating them by age, squelching their natural instincts and inducting them into a bland but dangerously false, ersatz liberal vision of social and political reality.

The practice of production-line public education really is perverse. Education need have little to do with schools. Age segregation is arbitrary, educationally retarding and socially disfiguring. And the increasingly authoritarian culture of the schools can do little but exacerbate the discontent of young men already chafing against the bars of compulsory detainment. The issue is among the most serious facing society today. You are spot-on to recommend that school be made entirely voluntary after 14. This is not just a practical issue about what to do about kids that go bad, but a moral issue about the lost rights of young adults.

Children used to be financial resources for their families and were expected to work. Though that's a tough way to live, teens could at least experience their own efficacy and demonstrate their potential for independence. Nowadays children are accessories to their parents' narrow vision of the good life and as such are kept in a state of childlike dependence as long as is possible. But mid-teens are cognitively adult and lack only experience.

It is a catch-22 to argue that that inexperience is grounds for denying people the rights they need to gain it. Mid-upper teens must be granted their proper moral right to choose whether to work or go to school, the right to choose whether to stay at home or become independent, and the right to determine what they do with their bodies. It is not surprising that a few among an entire class of persons who are systematically denied their equal rights lash out. It's surprising that it doesn't happen more often.

-- Will Wilkinson, Program Director, Institute for Humane Studies, Arlington, Va.

I am a child of the late '60s and '70s, and when I was in junior/high school, the curriculum included shop, auto mechanics, electrical engineering, carpentry, drafting, sewing, home economics and chorus, as well as those you mentioned. My father is a brick mason by trade, and on some Sunday afternoons he would drive through certain communities and point to brick buildings. "You see that church, girls?" he would ask. "I helped to build it. I helped to build that hotel right over there, too." He took pride in his work, but what's more is that he could see the product of his hands.

During the mid-late '70s, I began to see these courses gradually diminish in favor of the office worker. The briefcase-carrying, double-breasted-suit- wearing doctor, lawyer, politician, professor, etc. became the preferred occupations, while the grease-spotted, utility-suited, lunch-box-carrying trades gained an undeserved stigma. This stigma created in many young men and women an empty restlessness, and many fell by the wayside as a result. It was not so much that they couldn't cut the books, but it had more to do with the fact that there was no outlet for the expression of work that only their hands could create. I applaud you for bringing this lack in our educational system to the attention of the public.

-- Anonymous

I appreciate your comments on the oppressive nature of American schools. When I graduated from high school two years ago and stepped out into the world, it felt like I was leaving a kind of Dark Ages. It has been a slow, painfully gratifying realization that the world is huge and compelling, tumultuous but bound by certain truths. Since high school gave me no sense of scope or of history, no grand vision, I have made it my mission to teach the humanities at the high school level.

I am designing my own program to study the humanities here at Indiana University with a strong emphasis on history. Getting certified to teach through the School of Education is a torture I hope my mind will block out, for it is crawling with vacant drones who candy coat everything and have no interest in scholarship (besides, the building looks and feels like a hospital). Being an Italian and African-American female but not a Marxist Afrocentric feminazi doesn't help either.

Anyway, I feel like a Lone Ranger out here in Indiana, and I was wondering if you had any advice for a future high school humanities teacher and educational reformer. I am interested in the integration of subjects instead of the fragmented factory-model most schools employ today. How does one effectively combine literature, art, music, media, philosophy, etc. in one class? And how does one engage students who aren't used to/prepared for this type of subject matter?

-- Liz Tucciarone

I left higher education 10 years ago to pursue business interests, but even a decade ago I was deeply concerned about the number of students coming to institutions of "higher learning" that had no business being there. It was quite evident that many were there because of parental pressure, social pressure, schools pushing them in that direction, or because of nothing better to do.

In our city today the traditional vocational training in high schools is for all intents and purposes gone. As a result our service business, for example, is in desperate straits because we cannot find enough mechanics to meet the demand in spite of the fact that most good automotive/truck mechanics will make more than a college professor (no aspersion intended). We need to somehow convince the educational set that working with your hands, and mind, is laudable and honourable.

-- Don Rickard, Montgomery, Ala.

Today at 5 a.m., because of lack of sleepiness I opened your column. For the first time I read someone who thought about education as I have ever since I quit in disgust in 1974. The whole system needs retooling. After 22 years, seven as an administrator, I could take no more.

During the years I taught debating and other forensic skills, I found that students (or maybe most are just pupils) can think if we will allow them to do so. We stifle them with a lot of rot. Unfortunately, I disagree that things were better 40 years ago. At my point of graduation 56 years ago we were taught a lot of garbage. Much of what we learnt in history was untrue. I think the book "Lies My Teachers Taught Me" has hit much of the nail on the head.

A German Ph.D. I once met told me that the difference between an American college graduate and a European college graduate was that the American thought he had obtained an education while the European felt he had obtained the tools with which to get an education. I love it.

-- J. Philip Schediwy, Apple Valley, Calif.

Your column on today's school problems hit at the heart of the problems. I am a retired Industrial Arts teacher, having retired after 34 successful years and about 4000 students. I now have an Internet business selling unfinished skateboards to the nation's school shops for the kids to finish.

The whole industrial arts program is almost dead. Many teachers left are just counting their days. I know because I'm in contact with hundreds of them. Here are the main problems:

1. Society thinks all kids need college, and blue collar jobs are a disgrace, even though many earn very good incomes.

2. The shops became a dumping ground for students who didn't fit in the regular academic program. In shop they became behavioral problems, and the shops became impossible to run effectively. The shops' students size rose to as many as 35, making an impossible teaching environment. The school counselors and administrators are to blame for this.

3. If you follow the money trail, you'll see that today's shops have become "Tech Ed" programs, sold to state legislators and state ed. departments by the computer and software industries. The shop equipment was sold to convert them to tech ed., where students sit in modules and work off a computer, but nothing of value is made, and there is no hands-on work. We are now at the stage where the original tech equipment is outdated, the kids have much better computers are home, and the poor school is looking for another $80,000-plus to upgrade the equipment.

4. The good old U.S. government also entered the program and undercut the traditional industrial arts idea. They came up with R.O.P. This was designed to train anyone who wanted it, or didn't want it to get skills training at a local facility. Most facilities were the school shops. The school administrators went for the idea because the R.O.P. money freed up the previous industrial arts money for other uses.

Now with the U.S. in a school's pocket, the shop teacher had to take anyone into the program who was sent to it. That meant "walk on" students of any age or background to come to a high school, walk on to the program, leave when they wanted and often leaving unfinished projects and work. The walk ons didn't fit into the high school environment, and the school kids stopped taking the classes. Most of those teachers bailed out as soon as possible.

I also have a service business where I recycle antifreeze for 30 of our local car repair facilities. Many of these are former students, and I talk to them often. This country is running out of repair technicians of all types because there is such a lack of training. Many of these people are earning good wages, much higher than many college graduates.

One of the shop owners told me that when his son was in high school he went to a meeting of high school parents and school counselors about college and high school training. After listening to the whole presentation, he raised his hand and asked why there was no training for his son who wanted to step into the family auto repair facility. The counselor said there was enough money in that field, and their attitude was that every student must go to college!

-- Bob Merriam, Santa Cruz, Calif.

When I was earning my doctoral degree in adult education in the '90s, I ventured the opinion that we were shoving far too many people into college classrooms and not nearly enough into the noble occupations associated with the crafts and trades. This suggestion was met with horror by my professor. Her view was not unlike that of so many in the higher-educational establishment -- that is, no high school graduate (or GED student) should be denied an opportunity to have his or her mind further numbed by the purveyors of PC in college classrooms.

This kind of self-serving snobbery, which is aimed at throwing as many bodies as possible at as many college teachers as possible, is entrenched in the higher education establishment, which has no value for the crafts or trades. Indeed, I wonder whether such work isn't a threat to the intellectual crowd, which lives mostly in its head and thinks a lot about "valuing diversity," except when it comes to valuing different kinds of jobs -- or political views. Thank you for pointing this out and taking on the mushy-minded, duplicitous educationists once again.

-- K. Beauchemi

I am a 48-year-old man who had the opportunity to attend a Technical School in Cleveland, where I studied graphic arts (at the time it was called "printing"). The school taught a variety of subjects -- carpentry, machine shop, auto mechanics, cabinetmaking, bricklaying, metal fabrication as well as cooking, sewing and other subjects now considered out of step with the new economy.

It was a very good system but destroyed by the theorists who decided that everybody had to be prepared for college. I did go to college, received a B.A. and had to take a few remedial classes to get through, but elected to get out of my chosen trade because I wanted to do something different. (My trade happened to be the one trade changed the most by the computer revolution. Think desktop publishing!)

I sent my children to parochial schools, where they did not learn any of the skills I thought they may need to survive in the world. They were helpless on their own, and I regret the decision, but living in the city of Cleveland, there was little choice. Schools don't teach what society needs.

The point is that the educational system is failing society as much as it is failing the children. I see nothing wrong with tracking children and getting rid of the notion that everybody is going to be able to be a doctor or lawyer. There is a stigma attached to blue-collar labor that is the result of the creation of an elite class that has sprung up, the investors. I am not disparaging the investors, but their influence has changed in the past few years. Companies cater to the stock market instead of their manufacturing markets -- bad, bad, bad.

Society cannot survive without making things, fixing things and then buying things that are made. The idea that people can sit at home and watch their earnings grow without laboring is the biggest lie we have been asked to believe.

The slave reparation issue was particularly interesting. Slavery was and continues to exist in the world. The Bible mentions and condones it, as does the Koran. It was never a "Black" thing only, and that is what needs to be taught by the schools instead of being hidden by the teachers.

-- Jan W. Bayus

I am a retired Air Force Lt. Col., and am currently employed as an airline pilot. The time required to complete secondary education is too long by at least two or three years. It is both ironic and wasteful that we have chosen rather deliberately to expand childhood dependency into the twenties, given the increase in our current average life span. Programming everyone for college is also a huge mistake. Young men should enter useful work and marry sooner. The illusion of free love, a radical concept in the '60s and accepted as the norm today, inflicts more harm than good, the chief reason being that both sexes are more apt to confuse gratification with love.

-- Carl Kintner

I think you're right on about education. I work with a private career college in a school-to-careers program for the Information Technology industry. In Utah the statistics are that over 80 percent of our high school students will go to college and less than 24 percent of them will graduate. Utah Work Force services generally recommends people going through job hardships/unemployment due to injury, layoffs, etc. go back to college, even though over 50 percent will drop out before they complete their first year. Career schools are always second choice unless the client insists.

The general perception is that to be successful you must go through college, even if that isn't what the individual wants. Women are frequently told to go into administrative/medical fields rather than enter the IT industry. University is a wonderful opportunity for the right person. I fully support it and have studied in many different schools, but the expectation that everyone must attend to be considered successful is sad.

Many of the people that I work with are starting over again -- perhaps their second or third career. Many feel that they are failures. They tend to be very disillusioned. I try to get them excited about their opportunities. What would have happened it they were allowed to follow their hearts and minds instead of being led by parents, counselors, friends, etc. who "knew" what was best for them?

-- Jay Ahlstromer

I am a female college drop-out from 1980, married to a musician/carpenter/ mechanic. A "guy." I am a children's clothing designer -- one of the last "professions" that doesn't require that college education. I was maligned for not graduating college and looked at askance for marrying a blue-collar type. I only wish he was a plumber ! The house we would have! Thank you for your common-sense take .

-- Jackie Anderson

Education from K-Post Doc is the greatest example of institutional inertia in America. I'm public school educated from P.S. 193 in Brooklyn through Cornell's Ag School north of where you grew up. I look back at my educational experience and find precious little congruence between time invested and life-relevant skills learned. And now as a parent, I find the disparity infuriating.

The teachers union stranglehold on the Democratic Party and most newspapers' news and editorial staffs suffocates any attempt to introduce change or -- heaven forbid -- competition. I'm lucky. I can send my two kids to fine private schools in Manhattan. But the cash outlay (pre-tax) exceeds the average American's family income!

Aside from the economic "discrimination" involved, there is a totally unreported side effect: Many private schools have a religious affiliation -- some even requiring church membership and participation. The zealously anti-religion teachers union and their co-conspirators are thus expanding and enriching religious institutions by driving public school avoiders into their ranks!

Shielding my kids from the systematic dumbing-down of our culture occupies a lot of my time. It's worth it, but exasperating.

-- George R. Zachar, New York

I am a Teacher! And I do mean Teacher. That's a capital "T," and I'm proud of the work I do because I do some of the toughest work you can imagine. I teach phonics to kids at an Indian reservation school. No, not first graders -- Jr./Sr. high school students. Kids who have been passed through one grade after another.

I work with teachers who hope they can get the kids up far enough so maybe they can survive in a vocational school someplace. These kids' sights are set so low, a snake couldn't crawl underneath. Why? Because that's where their drunken, drug-addicted, prison-residing parents have set those sights. The levels of dysfunction are monumental.

You talk about students knowing the history of this country, and I have to say, it's an impossible task. They just don't care and much of it is the fault of the teachers. There are no stringent standards for academic success. It's a mess. I wish I was younger, I'd start a Great Books academy. But I'm no spring chicken, and it is probably quite impossible. But God, would I love to see more students with educations of which they could be proud.

-- Dixielee Tripp, Pocatello, Idaho

Your column echoed many of the sentiments that I have been feeling with regard to education. Now in my mid-20s, in my senior year at the Coast Guard Academy, I took the entry-level education course at Connecticut College, a small liberal arts school directly across the street from the Academy, as my only free elective for my entire four years (I was an electrical engineering major). With a youthful dedication to entering an education career following a career in the Coast Guard, I enthusiastically pursued research and spurred debate within my class. I considered myself a moderate -- too conservative for the New England college and too liberal for the military academy.

What I discovered is that modern educational theory is no longer about teaching subject matter or preparing students for the future of their choice. Its patronizing emphasis on "empowerment," "peer tutoring" and "multicultural plurality" exacerbates social divisions and detracts from the interpersonal cooperation that it naively hopes to achieve. Administrators, deans, professors, principals and superintendents have developed an awful "father knows best" philosophy that undermines the noble efforts of rank-and-file teachers encouraging students to find or create their own path.

Instead, the end result is no longer the pursuit of excellence, but mediocrity is now the standard (just look at the recalibration of the SAT because not enough 800s were scored). And that mediocrity threatens to slide even further, cheered by an education lobby and politicians that have lost perspective on the goals of education -- preparation for the future -- and not just one type of future.

-- Anonymous

Thanks for sticking up for women -- real women. As a 31-year-old single woman, I am sick and tired of the pressure put on women to become successful businessMEN. Young women coming out of high school and college have little option in our society but to enter the career world. It has caused much pain and confusion to so many and bothers me a great deal.

I recently talked to a 17-year-old girl who was having sex with her boyfriend mostly out of boredom and curiosity. She told me that she was starting to become afraid of getting pregnant -- which would jeopardize her plans to become a businesswoman or maybe a wife and mother. She wasn't sure which she wanted to do. Her natural instinct to nurture is being overridden by the education system's and our culture's pressure to become a producer. The sad thing is that by the time she gets out of college, the war will be over -- she will enter the corporate world.

Hopefully, she will not end up like so many of my friends in their 30s who, in multiple ways, are starting out in life all over again -- but older. Many, many of my girlfriends are disillusioned by the corporate world and just want to get married (if they aren't already), have children and stay home to raise them. Unfortunately, they're older now, and it's harder to bear and raise children, if they are able to conceive at all. For those who are not married, an endless supply of "boyfriends" creates a distinct lack of "husbands."

-- Julia Watterson

I personally have had a problem with the "channeling" of every young person to enroll in college. The lack of a labor pool is a direct result of all of this. I am hard pressed to find anyone to go to a business that our company serves on the University of Tennessee campus to pick up the beer bottles in the lawns that we mow that have been cast down by these "educated" young people because it will harm their self-esteem.

I just wonder if the "gender equity" surveillance has uncovered any statistics on the relationship of mothers putting their children in daycare from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and violence in the public schools. If we as working- class folks are taxed at a rate of up to 50 percent of our income, it means that the one parent's income is devoted to funding bigger government and the other's is to fund the needs of the family. Big deal, the upper one percent gets the biggest tax cut. They are the people, like it or not, that we are serving, and they are the ones that are creating the jobs for us to perform. I say let them have it.

As a whole, we women have really been hornswoggled -- we are working at work, keeping up the laundry at home, rushing around to soccer games, and doing six times what we did before were "liberated." From where I stand, we are more imprisoned and stressed because there is no way that we are doing ourselves or our families justice since our income is going ultimately to taxes. To add insult to injury, we don't even have the time to teach our daughters housekeeping skills or raising our children ourselves, for that matter.

If we all decided to be truly liberated, we'd go back home. The resulting labor shortage would surely result in the men getting enough of a salary to support the household, and the kids might have a chance to know what their family values are.

-- Anonymous

As to education and the desperate condition you have described, I feel you are considerably accurate in your projections but are a little short of the mark in your target. I have come to the position that we, as a society, do deliberately keep our children ignorant for as long as possible for a number of selfish reasons, not the least of which is exploitation of the strengths of youth. Everyone is frightened of the power that youth describes, and to empower them with the greatest possible educations in the history of the world would put us all in a dangerous position, and this is unacceptable to the status quo.

Our knowledge base has grown incrementally, and the aging generations each see their grasp of value slipping ever the sooner. My father, and many others, failed to pass along their wisdom, as they felt it was no longer valid in a vastly changing world. The failure to declare the timeless values as preeminently necessary has left us in a moral quagmire, and the social fabric is rent without this esteemed responsibility to pass on the wisdom of the ages. War for two successive generations did much to destroy the relationship between fathers and sons, as well.

My little backwater of Christian-valued neighbors occasionally shows this relationship being nurtured again, and I am quick to remind the fathers that the future of the species depends on that effort of theirs. It is a warming of the heart to see the fathers and sons working together to try to relearn what is important and worthwhile to cultivate in each other. I work in the construction trades and am also, as you have stated, dismayed by the lack of respect that is afforded these career choices that are being made by fewer each year.

-- Edmond Clay

I think that two of the fundamental problems with schooling in this country are these: First, children are taught that life is not hard, that self-esteem is not earned and that very little of any substance is expected of them. Second, though our grandparents somehow managed to marry at 14 and have families, as you note, we trap our kids in school until they're old enough to waste four more years being brainwashed in college.

School should be geared towards graduation at 15 or 16, with a commensurate degree of difficulty and discipline and a constant refrain that we demand a lot from kids because we know that they are capable of a lot. The school system in this country could be turned around inside of a generation if we simply had the courage to do it.

-- Greg Buls, Chino Valley, Ariz.

Your observations on high school education remind me of the under-appreciated segment of the young adult population that attend small technical colleges. I lecture on "Oedipus" and the drama of fifth-century Athens at our college (Technical College of the Lowcountry). My students are mostly in their 20s. They go to their jobs, raise their families, pay their own tuition and do their homework. There are no well-off, bored, late teenagers in these classes. Most have poor reading skills, a fact that saddens me, but they are highly motivated and come to learn, and do so at no small expense to themselves. From time to time I am stopped on the street by former students who remember the classes with fondness and who thank me for my effort. This is all the reward I need. It is what makes me eager to return each time.

-- Ethard Wendel Van Stee, Beaufort, S.C.

I applaud your defense of the working class. I, too, come from a working-class family, though one with a different background and from a different part of the country: Anglo-Irish house painters and German Protestant farmers from Defiance, Ohio, a small town in the northwest part of the state.

The women in my family remind me of the working-class women you describe in your column. All of them have worked incredibly hard their entire lives -- often engaging in regular physical labor -- and none of them are to be trifled with. My mother, Marlene -- an ex-farm girl who takes guff from nobody -- is certainly a tough act to follow. I love your defense of these tough cookies.

One of the things I continue to find troubling about our press is its ability to overlook those who do not have college educations and who do not live stereotypically middle class, professional lives -- basically, the people who make up two-thirds of this country. My father is a principal at a vocational high school, and I have seen firsthand how much vocational schools benefit kids who are not interested in college but are interested in learning trades. Kids from his school often compete at the state and national level in skills ranging from mechanics to cosmetology.

-- Julia Goodwin

While I totally agree with you that my school (Brown University) is overrun by a bunch of closed-minded, blindly liberal idiots, you got the facts wrong in your most recent column. The newspapers that were stolen were from last Friday. (David Horowitz's ad was published the prior Tuesday.) So they didn't steal the entire run of the edition that contained the ad; they stole another issue (what they call an "action," not a "theft").

-- Amanda Silver

Brown University sounds like it has become the Bob Jones University of the left.

-- Lauren Runnion-Bareford

Re: Brown University back in '92: I was there (both at your lecture and the after-mingling-thang). You were amazing. If those people could have set you on fire, they would have.

-- Carlos Bravo, New York

Every year at about this time we at work are asked to take part in "Take Our Daughters to Work Day." Every year, someone -- usually single or childless and younger than I -- comes up to me and gleefully asks whether I'm going to participate. And I give him/her a baleful look and say "no," and (s)he looks at me like I'm some sort of fun-squashing anti-feminist. In the interest of professional courtesy, I bite my tongue and change the subject. But inside I'm hopping mad.

You see, I'm a father of four girls: 15, 13, 11 and 10. That gives me approximately 15-plus years more experience than most who ask me to attend. The idea, perhaps innocent at first glance, behind this day is to "bond" with your daughters and show them career choices and encourage them that there's nothing standing in the way of whatever they want to pursue. Noble ideas maybe, but ...

1. Since when does bonding only happen on one day out of the whole year? I take them to work plenty of other times, and they have fun drawing on my board or playing with the Razor scooters folks use to cross campus.

2. It's MY job (and my wife's) to help them to grow up, to help them believe they can do whatever they want. There's an implicit message in this that somehow we're lacking. Like, we need a day to be with them sanctioned by work, and they need a day to find out what working is like?

3. They're still kids, for God's sake. Why should they get caught up worrying about careers just yet? This is a culture and an industry (I work for a high-tech company in Silicon Valley) that works too hard. Furthermore, it's driven on hype and the illusion that working insanely hard gets you some piece of a $500,000 outhouse. I've told my kids repeatedly I want them to be able to stay in school as long as possible. I don't want them to have to work as hard as I have.

4. Since this is a software company, there's some kind of special urgency with getting girls comfortable with "science." Bullshit. Most programming in this industry is NOT science. It's drudgery, and it's hard work. It's re-implementing the same, tired, first-year programming solutions, over and over again. It's propped up by young men, increasingly from overseas, willing to put themselves through this ringer, believing the illusions I outlined above or being too green or unassertive to say "no." Maybe there's some neat programming going on somewhere, but it's more likely in academia, or in research arms of companies like IBM, MS or Xerox. Yes, it's overwhelmingly male, but I say girls -- women -- are smarter than to subject themselves to it. And yes, there are other choices, like management or marketing, but that's not "science" either. Ultimately, one sells out and buys in to the hype and the overdriven hours.

5. I can't help but feel this "day" is compensation for the guilt-ridden women who make (in my estimation) the terrible choice to have their kids raised by someone else. I've been fortunate enough to have made enough to not require my partner to do the same. She works now, anyway, now that the kids are fairly self-sufficient. I'm not against mothers working. I'm against the decay of families, and I'm against the glib acceptance of dumping your newborn-to-toddler off somewhere in favor of "career." Since I have not fully accepted this separation after 15 years -- I miss them terribly, every day -- I cannot imagine a young mother doing this.

6. Last year on this same occasion, I walked out of the cafeteria and stumbled on a company-wide party for the day's participants out on a patio. A speech was being given by a "suit" (or should it be "suitess"?) to the girls. She was saying, "Look at me. I'm 30-something years old and I'm not married. You TOO can have this life!"

And I thought, whose agenda are you promoting? Girls aren't imprinted with having to marry anymore! Girls are -- if you just follow effing popular culture -- imprinted with an utterly confusing hodgepodge of anti-feminine messages, like you have to be sexy, but you can't be a slut.

7. Lastly, what about the status of boys? When I was a kid back in the '60s, there used to be school- or church-sponsored father-son days. They were wonderful and not work-related. My dad and I went on a ride on a submarine or went to a baseball game, for example. That was cool.

-- John Graham

You state clearly what I see as a father of three teenagers -- two boys and a girl. I am confronted with the feminization of my two boys at every turn. It is expected for the girl to compete and succeed while the boys are expected to rebel and fail. The girl can compete for whatever she wants, succeed in whatever she wants, dress up or down.

If the boys compete, they are encouraged to be bad sportsmen. If they can't win, they are not expected to try, because failure would bruise their famously fragile egos. They are not expected to compete just for the love of the sport but are told that winning does not matter. They are not told the other half of that saying, though -- that it is your effort that counts. After a close girls' game, the winners often clap for the losers or genuinely praise their skill and daring on the field. After the boys' ice hockey games, though, there are fights and taunts, even when the outcome was never in doubt. The coaches and parents participate and think it is cute.

The girls are expected to make the grades, and the boys are excused for bad grades. My son's English teacher thinks that the only books interesting to the boys are those that involve fighting and killing.

-- B.W. Landstreet

What can a male professor teach? I am a young, white, male adjunct teaching comp at a community college and at a small fine arts school in New England. I like to integrate an eclectic range of readings from various gender, political, sexual and ethnic perspectives into my syllabus. What I am afraid of is that the "oppressed" points of view are what is expected in the contemporary classroom, while the masculine perspectives will be seen as reactionary.

How do I teach Jonathan Swift, Robert Bly, Paul Monette, James Frazier, Mikhail Baktin, Joseph Campbell, Raymond Carver, Mark Twain and the other boys without shooting myself in the foot and never getting on tenure track? These are the guys whom I devoured in college and in grad school, and if I can't teach what I'm passionate about, I might as well sell insurance.

-- Anonymous

Where do you stand on the writings of Ernest Hemingway? I went to college in the late '70s, and I realized several years ago that the anti-Hemingway bias that infected my college's English department was an early sign of what we now know as academic political correctness. In short, the professors were so repulsed by Hemingway's macho posturing that they wanted us to believe his writing was of no significance.

Personally, his he-man bullshit is a bit much for me too, but every few years I indulge myself in re-reading lots of his work. It's his craft that draws me in -- the imagery, the precision, the sheer devotion to honing every last sentence so that it says exactly what he intends. In an age when so much writing seems to be published without benefit of an editor's pen, I appreciate how painstakingly Hemingway edited himself. Your thoughts?

-- A fond reader

[Hemingway, one of the great stylists of the twentieth century, helped create the modern American voice -- vigorous, assertive, practical and economical. His impact endures in first-class literary and political journalism. That students even at the best schools are no longer automatically assigned Hemingway's works is of course a major cultural scandal. --C.P.]

I have often wondered if the reason that "Huckleberry Finn" is one of the most frequently banned books in America has to do with the threat posed by the idea that this pre-teenager is physically, psychologically and emotionally capable of functioning. It is not use of the dreaded N-word, but the boy's self-sufficiency that gets teachers groups and parents groups in an uproar.

-- Fitz Fitzpatrick

Seen the latest Norton Anthology? Tonight, I was rereading William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" in preparation to teach it to my American Lit II class, when I noticed a few things in my Norton Anthology of American Literature (fifth edition, volume two).

At the beginning of each section is a dual-columned timetable bearing the headings "TEXTS" and "CONTEXTS" listing the poems, plays and fictional works along with contemporary events of note. For example, on p. 1782, there is a timetable from World War II until today. The year 1941 lists Eudora Welty's "Petrified Man" while the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are listed at 1945 in the accompanying column.

Two historical events in the timetable for American Prose since 1945 caught my eye. While events such as the Korean War and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" and the Oklahoma City Bombing show up in their respective years, the listing for the year 1966 reads, "National Organization for Women (NOW) founded, initiating 'second wave' feminist movement."

Somehow other 1966 events such as the Miranda vs. Arizona decision or Khorana's final unwrapping of the DNA code don't merit mentioning. Neither do the FDA's declaration of the Pill being safe, Katherine Anne Porter's Pulitzer Prize, the first episode of "Star Trek," or the publications of "In Cold Blood," "Giles Goat-Boy" or even "The Crying of Lot 49." But the organization of NOW ranks up there with the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon's resignation, the moon landings and the deaths of the Kent State four, at least according to Norton.

The first entry for 1982 reads, "Equal Rights Amendment defeated." The other entries for 1982 include antinuclear demonstrations and the recognition of AIDS in the U.S. Not making Norton's cut for 1982 would be the first mission of the space shuttle Columbia, the first artificial heart transplant, the release of the Flavr-Savr tomato -- first genetically engineered plant on the American market. Neither does the death of Leonid Brezhnev, while the collapse of the Soviet Union does get top mention for the year 1989.

On p. 2789 is the Simon J. Ortiz poem "Passing Through Little Rock." The Norton Anthology's footnote in the poem identifies the "Quapaw" and "Waccamaw" Ortiz references as Native American tribes formerly living in Arizona. Of course, Little Rock would be in Arkansas, not Arizona, and Quapaw and Waccamaw would be tribes formerly living in Arkansas, not Arizona. Even the word "Arkansas" is thought by some to be the English version of a French corruption of a Quapaw word. Sigh ...

-- Roy Hill

Salon Staff

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