Politics

Santorum and the Idiocy of Home Schooling

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No sooner had Mitt Romney triumphed in the Michigan primary than Rick Santorum edged into his victory by succeeding in winning an equal number of delegates. Romney polled 3 percent higher than Santorum in the popular vote. But that meant nothing in the arcana of counting at the polls that will be translated into 15 delegates each at the Tampa convention in August. Whether this gives Santorum momentum to break whatever lead Romney has going into the ten Republican “Super Tuesday” primaries in Ohio, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Idaho, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Georgia, Alaska, Virginia, and Vermont we will see soon enough. Believe me, I am not eager for this to happen. Some smart-asses wrote in after I blogged about the Mormons and Zionism that I was subtly hinting that I was moving towards Romney. Or maybe even not so subtly. The fact is that, as of now, I am voting for Norman Thomas.

You don't know who Norman Thomas is? Well, first of all, he's dead. Second of all, he was the grandfather of my student Evan Thomas, an editor at both Time and Newsweek, now teaching journalism at Princeton. And, oh, yes, he was six-time candidate of the (very much anti-communist) Socialist Party for president of the United States. His last time around, in 1948, was when Harry Truman won over Thomas E. Dewey, and the communists rallied around the astral Progressive Party candidate, FDR's former vice president Henry A. Wallace who gained nearly 2.5 percent of the tally with about 1.15 million votes, most of them, I am ashamed to say, among Jews in New York and Los Angeles. 139,000 citizens voted for Norman Thomas, accounting for .29 percent of the whole. This wasn't a lot. But many of my parents' friends were among them. (Being very much against Stalin and very much for Israel, my folks voted for Truman.) Even in 1952 and 1956, when Adlai Stevenson ran against Dwight Eisenhower, an election which in retrospect turned out quite alright, a lot of intelligent folk yearned for Norman Thomas. I was at Brandeis in 1956 and Michael Walzer and I yearned for Norman Thomas. And so did Irving Howe. (Herbert Marcuse? Well, he probably yearned for Wallace or probably someone worse who was not available.) The truth is that, right now, I'd vote for socialist Thomas in the bat of an eye. I am afraid this riff may not even have the charm of quaintness to it: I just came back from dinner with a brilliant young political scientist. Alas, he did not even know who Norman Thomas was. I asked him about Eugene V. Debs. Nope, he hadn't heard of him either. But you know who he is, don't you?

I watched the Arizona debate on the tube, actually from outside Tucson with Michael Kinsley. The most salient feature of the four-candidate confrontation was, as USA Today reported, that they “mauled a few facts.” Still, it's interesting to watch a discussion in which one has no stake in anyone coming out on top. But, frankly, I thought that Rick Santorum had the most charm, was the most honest, and conveyed the most sincerity and earnestness of all the four. The index of his candor is, while he may rise in the estimation of primary voters, he continues to alienate the general electorate. But the fact is that he's a nutcase, a very genial nutcase. Even strategically, he seems to be going after the support of those Republicans who will block his way to other Republicans. Now, these latter Republicans, generically “Rockefeller Republicans,” are a dying breed. Oops, they may all be dead. We once called them liberal Republicans. But even conservative Republicans like the son of the former president of the United States and the Chief Justice William Howard Taft, Senator Robert Taft, the Senate's leading opponent of the New Deal who ran against Ike at the 1952 G.O.P. convention and who was the standard bearer of the party's right, would find nothing comforting in anything Santorum, Gingrich or Paul said. For that matter they might not have trusted Romney either. After all, Taft was no trimmer. So the question between Mike and me was whether this Republican Party could ever win this election in November.

The fortunetellers have switched their divinations, and that makes for a wave. Ten days or maybe two weeks ago, mostly they foresaw the president losing. Now he's winning. Actually the polls don't tell you much. But what they do tell you is that the Republican debates are alienating the electorate from the party's contenders. Just wait till after Tampa, however. The nominees will change their tune. And maybe the stock market, now going up a bit, will come down again. And gas prices will continue their climb. Anyway, it's eight months before D-day. This does not necessarily translate into Democrat's day.

Now, one of the causes on which Santorum is basing his campaign is the end of the public school system. He's not saying it quite that clearly, and maybe he doesn't grasp that's where his (illogical) logic leads us. But his ramblings are crystal clear. He wants to have parents take over the teaching function in society. In a way, it all reminds me of the black “people power” movement in Brooklyn where, in the late sixties and early seventies, parents (or their manipulators) took over the schools and made more of a mess of them, adding racial and religious rancor to the mix. In which, to be sure, Woody Allen, with fashionista politics, participated by slipping into his movie Sleeper a line about Al Shanker, the head of the beleaguered Teachers' Union, “getting hold of a nuclear warhead and destroying the world.” Of course, Santorum would reject any analogy between what he's saying now and what the black activists were saying then. Yet it is the fantasy of their children being intellectually and socially attacked by the authorities that fuels both resentments.

I do not assume that our declining educational systems can be remedied easily. Quite to the contrary. But the idea of parents being in control is an illusionmore than that, a delusion. Charles Murray's new book, Coming Apart, which I read this week, is much better than Tim Noah says it is. It has none of the racial biases that for decades have been attributed to him. It is, in fact, a coherent reading of the social and economic anomie that is both a cause and a result of the disintegration of family across all classes and races. Except for the new and quite large analytic category which is cross-ethnic, cross-racial, cross-class, and loyal to the old virtues and verities. It is they who will save the day.

And certainly not those who are schooled in creationism and the rejection of evolution and of other proven theories that have illumined the mind and the world. Even the spirit. The fact is, in any case, that unless we want our children to be ignorant of the sciences and high literature we'd better leave teaching them to certified teachers. Long ago, I got an A in calculus at the Bronx High School of Science, not a bad school, as they say. I couldn't teach my grandchildren trigonometry or algebra, and my children couldn't either. Schooling is still a problem. But Santorum's remedies would make it worse. We are, after all, ignorant. 

Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic

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