The Magazine

Close Encounters with the Blob

The educrats are still going strong.

Apr 30, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 31 • By DAVID SKINNER
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The first paper was called, enticingly, "Subtle Tortures of the Neoliberal Age." It was about public schooling in Chile. The author, Jill Andrea Pinkney Pastrana of the University of Wisconsin, said that after General Pinochet came to power through a military coup, he jailed dissidents and replaced university heads with army buddies. Then he decentralized the public schools and refocused curricula on measurable results. Milton Friedman visited Chile, freedom steadily disappeared, but the free market thrived, and so on. "Today in the United States," she said, "we're putting the exact same reforms in place." Okay, maybe "subtlety" wasn't her strong suit.

"I've got 14 minutes to change the world," said the second speaker, Dave Hill, who seemed not much interested in education, and who presented not one iota of research, not even a movie clip. Fourteen minutes was not enough, so please "Google me," he said, under "Dave Hill, Marxist." Hill's basic point: Class oppression is the granddaddy of all the other forms of oppression.

But this wasn't the best part: That came when discussant Kenneth J. Saltman of DePaul University played the postmodernist to Hill's Marxist. Saltman asked each presenter a single question, but then held forth at length on what a crazy thing it was to be a Marxist in this day and age, given Marxism's failure to take culture seriously, its self-conscious vanguardism, its history of misogyny, and a dozen other things (but not Marxism's culpability in the 20th-century's staggering ideological death toll). Hill tried to make nice in his response, while Saltman stood behind him shaking his head No, no, no, like a petulant schoolchild, at everything the Marxist said.

Of course, some sessions at AERA were quite serious. Which means I've committed significant selection bias in my own research. I am also guilty of undercounting, as I was not able to attend all the sessions that, from their descriptions in the program, begged for public ridicule. I wasn't even able to drop by the presentation entitled "'Bitch Barbies Love Bully Boys': Transgressive Femininities and Gender Hierarchies in Schools" or the one devoted to "Masculine Generic Animals in a First-Grade Science Classroom." After a couple of days, this masculine animal had already endured all the "science" he could stand.

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.