At the Poudre School District’s board meeting on Tuesday, 22 October, the slur of elitism was once again directed at charter schools by one of the board members. From time to time, we deceive ourselves into believing that those who were put in place by the teachers unions have come a long way from the days when our state representatives made comments like, “there’s a special place in hell for charter school parents,” as Mike Merrifield did not so long ago. The recipe for freedom, when issued by a bureaucrat who is attempting to defend the status quo, looks very much like T.H. White’s description of the ant’s commandment in The Once and Future King: “Everything which is not forbidden is allowed.”
In any event, the word elitism has become a weapon when used in its accusatory tones, much like the term racism. Humorously, elitism is usually levelled by elites and racism by racists. It is assumed, of course, that the public has neither the time nor interest in a more nuanced consideration of the terms, though I suspect that few of them are against taking enough pride in the raising of their children to hope that they rise above the fray.
There is, however, a type of elitism that is condescending, patronizing, and belittling – that treats everyone who isn’t someone as if they were no one. The nobodies are below the minimum capacity to comprehend, and any effort expended on them is futile. Such individuals are fit for a complimentary copy of USA Today or a You Tube clip, but little more should be lavished on them. How unlike Ridgeview it would be for us to treat our parents in such a fashion when we propose to treat their students in accordance with Goethe’s maxim: “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain as he is, but if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”
This latter elitism is snobbery at its finest. It is defined by a pretension and affectation that reside with those who have lingered in power or education too long. Politicians, like Mike Merrifield, or the sort of faux intellectuals who claim that a gentleman’s education is appropriate only for those with a gentleman’s money are best avoided. In either case, they are more likely to be found on a school board than within a school. This is to say that one may be elite without being an elitist. This was ably demonstrated by the current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan when he made his scurrilous comment that only white, suburban soccer moms have anything to fear from the Common Core.
Paradoxically, ironically, or both, classical education is precisely the sort of thing the elitist is opposed to in public education. What they are for is “levelling the playing field,” and the egalitarian meadows are always to be found at the end of a rainbow. Even this zeal for levelling is but a euphemism for a sort of intellectual communism in which we lift up the lowest at great expense and cut down the greatest at an incalculable one. It is the silly game of a hubristic people playing at social engineer, and while our generation has not imagined the game anew, we are more dangerous than our predecessors because of the tools and technologies available to us.
The elitist does not see individuals, each with their own ends, but each as a means to his end. They are no longer individual, but simply parts awaiting assembly. The tools necessary to see through this fumisme, namely a classical education, will be denied to them because such learning potentially persuades them to live a life that is considered by the collective to be wasteful and possibly even destructive. If it is destructive, it is not normally through a resort to violence, but by a resort to contrary ideas. Real individualism flourishes only when the ends of education are not premeditated. Genuine diversity is borne of genuine curiosity, and it is a sign that a society still values its liberty when it consider its ends and the means for achieving them.
Still, the elitists claim that the vast majority of us are too stupid, too slovenly, too poorly bred, and too little read to take part in decisions such as will determine what our children shall learn. To sit at the table with the adults and decide the fate of our children, not by consensus, but by individual will and consent, is to ask too much. In short, the elitist does not believe the parent to be a competent manager of his progeny and therefore creates an endless maze of bureaucracy that will keep the child occupied throughout their formative years until they can be fashioned into a compliant tool readymade for the community they have envisioned.
Only for those who prove to be like them, whether in their affluence, ideology, or cultural norms, do they invite to receive something more closely approaching a real education in place of a vocation. All the others are doomed to a life in which their leisure hours will be put towards some use of benefit to either the status quo or towards one that disrupts it as little as possible.
It is in this respect that a school like Ridgeview may be elite without being elitist. It abhors elitism in the way the Founders were farsighted enough to forswear titles of nobility in the Emolument Clause. Ridgeview attempts to provide every child who wishes to undertake it an arduous but genuine education. It is part of the allure and a substantial part of Ridgeview’s reputation for resilience that our students learn by suffering. We love our children more than ourselves, and wish to see the whole of their lives made better than those we have lived. To nourish them intellectually, physically, socially, and spiritually, we owe them more than the circus of cultural and moral relativism that the remainder of the world seems content to revel in when it’s not engaged in glorified versions of trivial pursuits. If the rest of the world wishes to turn its back on Truth, Beauty, and Goodness as anachronisms that are inconsistent with a STEM education, then Ridgeview’s project is not less relevant, but all the more crucial.
In this lies our reason for being a charter school, asking for waivers, hiring passionate teachers, and rejecting the Common Core. We do not share the elitist’s belief that a society cannot be successful if its everymen labor under a difficult curriculum that poses genuine questions about the human condition. Instead, we believe it is our job to help our students become the types of people we can get along with in society as neighbors, colleagues, and perhaps one day, even as in-laws. We believe that people of intelligence and good will are capable of recognizing real elitism, and we trust they will not conclude that having a choice in their child’s education is tantamount to denying someone else a choice in theirs.