During a recent interview about life in communist Romania, Bill Muckler asked me a pointed question about the quality of education I received under a totalitarian system of government. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dkqlzM9USnQ
Aside from absurd courses such as Scientific Socialism and Socialist Economics, courses which were aimed at legitimizing an otherwise disastrous economic model of Five-Year Plans which were put in place by the Communist Party, by apparatchiks who often had grandiose pipe dreams but had no idea how to translate them into reality given the lack of resources and education of those in power, I received a good education in terms of the subjects taught. The indoctrination efforts did no work on me at all.
I had three years of Calculus in high school, eight years of various foreign languages, Latin, English, French, German, Italian, studied world literature and history, geography, chemistry, music, physics, physical education, and behavior. It is true that we had labs but we were not allowed to experiment with anything, nor did we have the money to do it, all classes were theoretical.
The literature class in high school was highlighted by an elderly gentleman from the old society that preceded communism. He came to class wearing an elegant and always pressed grey suit with his old violin passed on from his grandfather. He played with his eyes closed various classical compositions which he felt that they fit the mood of the literary selection we were studying that day. It was uplifting and I felt a sense of beauty and freedom beyond physical reach that flowed from his violin strings. It was mesmerizing.
We did not have calculators; we either figured complex calculations in our heads, with pen and paper, or, in colleges of engineering, with a slide rule. We did not study math based on the insane Common Core method which American students now largely do despite parental protests around the country. Occasionally, the teacher would demonstrate a simple chemical reaction with two elements which we were allowed to watch intently but not touch anything.
Common Core standards and curricula dumb down the education of American students. It is a cleverly designed program that prepares students to become busy working bees for various corporations and to destroy their own Christian faith at the expense of the “superior” religion of Islam. When it comes to Christianity, liberal educators scream about the division of church and state but welcome with open arms the theocracy called Islam.
As A.J. Cameron said, “Those behind the total, fundamental transformation of mankind know human nature, and are wickedly smart, deceptive, patient, and determined. Total control is the overall goal. They make sure we are chasing what they want us to see so that they can sneak in behind us with what we aren’t supposed to see. They also play both sides of the divides they deploy upon us, leading us to believe one side is the enemy and the other side is our friend.”
Steve Jobs limited his children’s use of the very technology he developed. “Why can’t parents see that what is taught in the classroom and promoted in life by the media is diametrically opposed to what they believe in and want their children to believe in?”
Communists believed that a student learned better if sports were included in the curriculum. It was not the type of competitive sports like in America that would lead to a football, basketball, or tennis career and millions of dollars in remuneration. It was sports for the sake of exercising one’s body and fueling the brain with oxygen from physical activity.
A few students, who were truly talented, were usually vetted and picked up by the sports associations existing in every large town, to develop their talent every day to competitive perfection. Thus parents lost a child to a rigorous gymnastics program that would eventually develop their progeny into an Olympic star. Parents did no generally object; they were grateful to the party for giving their child the opportunity to succeed and live better than they did.
Parents benefitted in the sense that the Communist Party would give them financial incentives if their child won international competitions. Nadia Comanici’s parents were awarded a small apartment as a thank you when their child won perfect scores in international gymnastics events. Tennis players were allowed to keep some of their earnings in international matches and generally lived a life that many Romanians envied.
To this day, a lot of talented mathematicians, physicists, computer programmers, and chemists come from Romania because they go through rigorous academic programs and they have a good work ethic. Parents do not object that the curriculum is too hard.
In this country parents complain that Johnny is failing tests not because Johnny’s talent or effort do not match the difficulty of the subject, it is because the curriculum is too hard and the teacher makes unfairly difficult tests. If curricula were dumbed down to Johnny’s level of comprehension and ability, Johnny would have perfect scores too.
Communist parents were shamed publicly during mandatory parent/teacher conferences if their progeny were not doing their homework, not studying, or not behaving according to the communist-prescribed code of behavior in and outside of school. These parents came home and spanked and punished their children because, unlike America, nobody put them in jail for doing so, and no child services removed their children from the home because they were disciplined to behave and speak properly.
Teachers and administrators were allowed to use a ruler for punishment and many children were made to stand in the corner for various infractions. Our principal, a tall man with a booming and intimidating voice, often slapped boys who misbehaved constantly and, on a few occasions, left a mark on their faces from his heavy gold ring. He was so dedicated to proper education of children that he attended every beginning of the year ceremony of the high school I attended, well into his nineties. On my visit five years ago, he was present at the ceremony of the remodeled school.
Students who did not perform, did not behave, missed school too much, had poor grades in some subjects, were held back to repeat the year. No pregnancies were tolerated in high school, and no child care was allowed on the premises of a school. During my four years of high school, I know of only one girl who became pregnant and she was forced, three weeks before graduation, to repeat the year during night school.
Night school was offered at all levels for such students like her and for those from rural areas who had never completed their basic education, or adults who never actually went to school as children because they came from large peasant families who worked in the fields and never had time for school or schools did not exist in their remote villages for lack of teachers.
Communist education did not emphasize individuality but the collective. We had to think and act collectively for the good of the community; the root Latin word, communis, means “shared.” Individuality and creative thinking were highly discouraged.
We all studied hard but we knew from the beginning that we were weeded out from elementary school, to middle school, to high school, and to college. College was a privilege for the communist elites and for those lucky enough to get placement in a highly competitive pool of other students who had perfect grades and test scores, just as good as yours, but were lucky to get in first before the number of places offered that year were filled. Often someone with a perfect 10 got in but someone with 9.99 did not. When I tried to study philology, there were ten spots available and thousands of candidates. So I chose Economics instead.
American journalist Lenora Chu spoke to NPR on September 28, 2017, about her experience with her three-year old son who attended Shanghai’s most prestigious Chinese public kindergarten. She was amazed how much better behaved he was and how, one day, he came home with a red star on his forehead, a reward for better behavior and how, her child refused to take it off and even wore it bed. It was a badge of honorable behavior conforming to prescribed standards for that age group. This conformity, she explained, extended to art classes where children were only allowed to draw rain coming straight down as if rain never came down sideways. http://www.npr.org/2017/09/28/554157393/little-soldiers-examines-the-effects-of-china-s-military-like-education-system
Chu said, “I realized immediately how they introduced conformity in the classroom, sometimes by physical methods.” Corporal punishment is obviously something that American parents object to vehemently and particularly liberal parents. I remember having my palm wacked by my elementary school teacher when I used my predominant left hand to write with – she forced me to learn to write right-handed. In a move of defiance, I started writing letters and numbers backwards with my right hand. I don’t remember how long that lasted, but it left an impression on me to this day. In my old age, I am trying to regain some of the left-handedness. Creativity and individual ability in the Romanian schools I attended were highly discouraged.
Chu emphasized the fact that the Chinese system “weeds out children” while in the American system we are concerned with “not leaving any child behind.” This of course can also mean that in America we tend to socially-promote students even though they did not master the required skills to be promoted to the next grade level thus graduating students who can barely read or write or are totally ignorant of geography, history, basic mathematics, and literature.
Conformity was clearly expressed in my elementary school teacher’s phrase. She always used to say when she taught us addition, “two plus two is always four, children, even in the Soviet Union.” Everything we did or said had to be connected somehow with the experience of the Soviets because they were our role model of perfection.
Teachers in America spend a lot of time on discipline because the children we are sending to school are behaviorally challenged and are never raised to mind and respect authority. Their parents never taught them to behave properly in public or in school, no matter how bad they were, their progeny was always right and exceptional human beings.
This resulted in generations of students who believed they could do no wrong, always demanding trophies for participation, and passing classes without any effort. Failure was never an option for Americans even though it is part of life.
Nobody is good at everything. Follow your dreams and never let anyone discourage you from pursuing your passion are great catch phrases but, what if you are not good enough for that passion, should you not pursue something else that you are good at but not as passionate about and just carry the passion with you as a plan B?
My cousin told me recently that Romanians are now experimenting with new learning methodologies from the West (such as the Montessori school) as the quality of their education system seems to be declining. It is not that the education system has changed so much; it is the behavior of the students and their supportive parents who believe that anything bad in their child’s behavior must no longer be subjected to punishment.
The students themselves are divorced from any sense of history, of their Romanian roots; they are told constantly in school that they now must be global citizens. Since Romania joined the EU in 2007, this strong feeling of belonging to the world has superseded their feelings of belonging to their own people, family, and sovereign borders of their own country.
As the old adage says, education begins at home at an early age, and behavior and hard work are still its lynchpin.