A couple of weeks after the election, on Thanksgiving Eve, a few friends and I went to the new (hip) Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn (where Obama booster Jay-Z’s Brooklyn Nets call home) for a Bob Dylan concert. The real purpose of our pilgrimage to downtown Brooklyn was to see Dylan’s opener, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame. Dylan is, these days, a caricature of himself and while his contributions to the pop culture are immense, any real fan will tell you there isn’t much point to physically seeing him live anymore. He didn’t even touch a guitar at the Barclay’s Center, and my friend’s dad remarked that he looked more like a Vegas lounge singer.
Mark Knopfler, who holds a Literature degree from Leeds University, has always been one of my favorite singer-songwriters. His recent works are deep, serious pieces of art and his voice, never his strong suit as a musician, is aging into that of an experienced troubadour. Knopfler’s post-Dire Straits career finds him as prolific as ever writing and singing about such diverse subjects as life on the borderlands of Scotland and England, the Battle of Austerlitz, and boxer Sonny Liston.
Ask any of the young, hipster Obama voters who packed the arena to see “Bobby D” (as they were calling out when Dylan took the stage) if they can find Scotland on a map, who fought at Austerlitz, or why anyone would bother with Sonny Liston who died forty two years ago (ancient history) when they have Ultimate Fighting to entertain themselves.
The reaction of the four twenty-somethings next to me during Knopfler’s set helped me contextualize the election loss and why it is that, no matter what second language our next nominee speaks or how hard he or she worked as the son or daughter of immigrants to get into the Senate, the Republican party and the conservative movement faces a steep, uphill battle.
Mitt Romney was arguably the most qualified Republican nominee since Eisenhower to run for president and his life represented the values that typify the conservative movement: faith, family and freedom. The problem for Mitt was that he would have been better off running in 1952 not because his values – the values of half of the country – had gone the way of the Ford Edsel, but because the voters that Obama was able to turn out to the polls lacked any serious schooling on the values that made this nation truly exceptional.
As the four twenty-somethings checked their iPhones and talked loudly as if they were at the corner bar (I’m sorry, lounge. How unhip of me.) during Knopfler’s set, the leader of the group, an attractive blonde with (surprise) horned-rim glasses, lamented that “this guy is going on forever, what’s he even singing about?”
That was the election in a nutshell. Four decades ago, the values that had built the American experience were washed out of the public school system as gender and minority studies became de rigueur in the universities and new teachers, educated by a university system that espouses American culpritism not American exceptionalism, populated the faculties of the primary and secondary schools. Left-wing bureaucrats, also products of the best colleges that federal student loans could buy, took jobs writing curriculum for states and we were left with the new Math, where despite a wrong answer one is given credit for the process of getting there. Social studies replaced history and grammar was only optional in English classes where understanding the feelings of the characters in post-modern literature were more important. Anything practical worth learning for those students not cut from the college-bound cloth, namely vocation education, has been gutted from the schools and every non-traditional student in America now has a choice: work at McDonald’s, struggle to make it into college then flounder when you get there, or figure it out on your own.
Marco Rubio speaking Spanish or the Republican party softening its stand on immigration is not going to solve the electoral problem we face. The conservative movement, if it wishes to win presidential elections, must commit to an all-in, multi-generational effort to reshape the public school systems in this country. Without that effort, we will continue to produce citizens who are driven my emotion, not reason, and who first consider what America has done wrong in its history than what it has done right.
This process, though, may seem antithetical to the essence of conservatism. To the conservative mindset, it should be left up to the local communities to make decisions on curriculum. However, with the purse strings held tightly in state capitals and even trailing like tentacles back to Washington this is hardly possible. Therefore, efforts must be directed at the state legislatures (27 of which are completely Republican) to reexamine what and how we are teaching the nation’s students.
Consider: a New York State teaching standard for Social Studies:
Key Idea 1: The study of world history requires an understanding of world cultures and civilizations, including an analysis of important ideas, social and cultural values, beliefs, and traditions. This study also examines the human condition and the connections and interactions of people across time and space and the ways different people view the same event or issue from a variety of perspectives.
The edu-crat gobbledygook above is only one small piece of a nationwide crisis in curriculum. If students don’t know the basics – who fought at Austerlitz, say – then how can we expect them to form informed, critical opinions on the “variety of perspectives” that brought the three emperors – Napoleon, Alexander and Francis – there? How can we expect them to see through the pandering of the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American electorate (Obama for America) and seriously consider voting for a candidate who might not be “cool?” Such is our struggle…
It’s unlikely that any of my neighbors at the concert last month will express an interest in anything other than themselves, so we have heavy lifting ahead of us as a movement and as a nation. It will take decades and may require us to adopt new tactics as we strive to win for a foothold in the schools once again. As Rush Limbaugh noted this fall, America can withstand another four years of Obama. What we cannot survive is a nation of voters who re-elected him.
 New York State Department of Education, http://www.p12.nysed.gov/ciai/socst/socstand/soc21.html
Kyle Sabo | City University of New York | Hunter College