The Spinning Pinwheel Flame War

by Luke Jackson

Table of Contents
Part 10 and Part 11
appeared in issue 228.
Part 12: Education

A motley group of participants in an Internet forum take widely differing positions on various social issues, including a war in the Middle East. Note the date: 2024.


Fat Toe,

Hello, is anyone in there? As I implied before, your game is a stupid one. You attempt to arouse anger in your opponent, engage them in some sort of discourse and then dismiss all information that is presented to you. No wonder you like Iron Man!

I particularly liked this passage:

“Get with it Teacher, and at least spend one day in a Catholic school or military school — all I ask is that you come down from your ivory tower and approach thse alternatives with an open mind and see if they have any practices that can be incorporated into our public school system.”

You don’t know me and I gladly don’t know you. So, how would you know that I spent 14 years in Catholic schools? My time at my school in New York, which had very rigorous admission requirements, required parents to volunteer at least 20 hours a month and also came with a large price tag, was indeed time well spent. I will not argue with that. I was surrounded entirely by students with high IQs who came from privilege. Again, as I told you last time, this is an issue of ACCESS.

Upon moving to California, my Catholic high school was far below that of any area public school. I was also given a full scholarship to a Catholic university — the level of intellect was so low here that I thought I would go insane if I didn’t find at least one intelligent person to talk to. I was surrounded by California’s “best” — most students were educated at Catholic schools and their intellect was below that of an average middle school student. I transferred to a UC, where I finally met people who could think for themselves.

As I told you in the last email, the type of education that you espouse will leave students without critical thinking skills. Yes, they will be able to follow orders and complete drills (so can monkeys). However they will not be able to compete in the real world.

Catholic schools (& your beloved military) thrive on discipline and control; that is it. That is the end of their equation. There is not great mystery to what they do and it does not require a great amount of research (though there is a large body of work available on the subject.) They use outdated teaching methods, outdated materials and the students stagnate.

It amazes me that you would even dare have this conversation with me or attempt to insult me (& my profession) in any way. If I were a chemist, what would you have to say? Would you take issue with someone with advanced knowledge in the area and tell them to come down from their ivory tower? Education is an area of study just like anything else.

Your knowledge, because you have not studied it intently, is limited. I don’t want to hurl insult upon insult because it is obvious that this is not an area of strength for you. You provide no data to back up your thin argument and you did not answer any of the points I addressed to you.

I will give you a little statistical background on the studies that you refer to (though I don’t know which one in particular you are citing). In most studies that compare private vs. public schools, the differences that appear initially are cancelled out when you control for students’ background. I have attached a small passage from a 1998 & a 1999 study, which I am sure you will ignore or refute. To be honest, I really don’t care. Your opinion means nothing to me, but I am concerned that you are poisoning the minds of others who read your messages.

It is people like you, without a clue to pedagogy, that alter the face of Education without knowing the facts. Take my reference to chemistry: would you lobby the American Chemistry Association to change research methods? Similarly, you should attain advanced knowledge (not media bytes) before contesting and ridiculing the public school system in place.

I do not say that change would not be good, but it should not come at the hand of someone without experience and knowledge in that area. To follow the model of Catholic schools or the military would create a society of unthinking drones that only know how to follow the leader. As I said before, what if the leader is wrong? What then?

Further, I don’t think that working in the inner city is equatable to sitting in an ivory tower. Where do you work? How are you helping? Lip service is nice, action is better.

The Teacher

p.s. Before you get too excited and say that I am a success because of my Catholic education, let me clarify things for you. — Both of my parents wanted for me to be successful and they sacrificed everything for me so that I could be. This goes beyond paying tuition and extends into providing a home life that was both stimulating & supportive. Both of my parents spent countless hours talking with me about books that we were reading. We read the newspaper together, etc. As a matter of fact, I began reading when I was three and by the time I was in the second grade, I was reading my sister’s Shakespeare books (while my classmates were still working on Dick & Jane).

I work with children who are disadvantaged (with and without pay) because I know that very few are as fortunate as me. I have done extensive research into teaching methods and, time and again, Catholic schools come up void.

Better luck next time!


Fat Toe wrote:

Dismiss me and my ideas permanently? Now I understand why education is in the sorry state its in. The FACT is that inner-city Catholic schools consistently outperform the public schools which draw from the same population. And I’m not talking about meaningless test scores — I’m talking about things that matter, like dropout rates and college acceptance rates. You have yet to provide any proof that public schools outperform Catholic schools in either metric.

What I fail to understand is why you, an education professional, dismiss such ideas that Catholic schools outperform public schools on any given metric. I am a product of both public and Catholic schools and can say without a doubt that the education I received at the Catholic schools was FAR superior. The teachers were dedicated (despite being paid far less than their public school counterparts — and several had masters and/or doctorate degrees!)

Given that you are an education professional dedicated to improving the quality of education for our inner city youths, I cannot understand why you would dismiss Catholic schooling methods out of hand. I didn’t even insult you in my message — this is a subject very important to me and I have enormous respect for people who dedicate their lives to our youths.

But if I were a professional educator and there was a model out there that WORKED (such as the Catholic school system and the military training system) I would at least investigate thie reasons for success and try to incorporate some of their best practices into the realm of public education.

Ivory tower studies only enrich the cognitive elite (as Charles Murray would say) at the expense of the children. If you reallly cared about the kids, wouldn’t you open yourself to new ideas that have a proven track record of helping inner city students lead productive, fulfilling lives?

Or have you become part of the liberal intelligensia that purports to know what is best for the kids while in reality remaining resistant to reforms because they might jeopardize your slice of the government teet? Get with it The Teacher, and at least spend one day in a Catholic school or military school — all I ask is that you come down from your ivory tower and approach thse alternatives with an open mind and see if they have any practices that can be incorporated into our puic school system.

What do you have to lose by exploring alternatives? Your job and the jobs of thousands of bureaucrats who buy into an anti-change i ideology? What about the kids, Teacher? What about the kids?


---Original Message---
From: The Teacher
Sent: Thu Aug 19 18:36:42 2024
Subject: Re: Fwd: Re: RE: From Science Magazine

Two more items to note, then I will dismiss you and your ideas entirely.

1) The type of education you espouse would limit the students’ abililty to develop critical thinking skills which are absolutely necessary so that they can survive in an ever-changing world. If students have an “if x, then y” mentality, they will never be able to respond to situations and think for themselves.

Do you want to create a society of drones who only know how to follow orders / follow the leader? What if the leader is wrong, what do you do then? Didn’t you go to law school? Are critical thinking skills necessary in your every day life?

2) Your ideas about charter schools are as laughable as your esteem for Catholic high schools. Recent studies have shown that their scores (if you use scores as your yardstick) are below those of regular public schools. Again, I will not cite studies because you have ill-regard for articles with which you personally disagree.

Magnets which you alluded to are comprised of “gifted” and “highly gifted” students. This is a question of ability and access. You probably already know this, but Magnet students gain admission to their school through a lengthy application process. This requires the parents to not only know about the existence of magnets, but also be able to navigate the bureaucratic system that acts a gate to their entry.

The only other way into a Magnet school is for a teacher to notice the giftedness of a student, file paperwork on their behalf and request that they be tested. If English is not the child’s home language OR they have not been taught skill games (such as the use of tangrams), they will not perform at an acceptable level on these tests.

Further, the school that they are admitted to (if they are) is often not an area school and require parents to arrange transportation to a school that may be an hour a way. This is true and is not exaggerated in any way. The issue here is access.

The Teacher


“ Fat Toe” wrote:

The Teacher,

I was not trying to incite anger in you or insult you personally — just pointing out that inner city public education, with few exceptions (those being mainly charter or magnet schools) are a complete joke. What is the drop-out rate for LAUSD? How does LAUSD compare against the rest of the state and nation in standardized test scores? Its a moral outrage that our inner city school systems are failing so miserbly. And I don’t need f few diplomas on my wall to tell me that — I need only read the LA Times.

The interesting thing is that us conservatives don’t care about these schools or don’t think the children in these schools can do just as well as any other student anywhere in the nation. I know — some of the brightest guys I led in the Navy barely made it through high school and once they got proper training and discipline in an environment coducive to learning, they were able to excel.

The other intereting fact is that in almost every large city, the best high schools are usually the Catholic high schools — if you don’t believe me, take a look at objective results like test scores, graduation rates, and college acceptance rates.

Some might think these excellent inner city Catholic schools are better-funded, but that is wrong — those teachers and staff are paid far less than your average LAUSD teacher. As I said before, I think a large part of the problem is lack of discipline in public schools which seriously degrades the learning environment.

Other systemic problems abound: social promotion, a bloated adminstative system at the district level that sucks taxpayer dollars out of the classroom for the benefit of bureaucrats, and ateachers union resistant to changes such as voucher programs that, if tried, just might lead to massive improvements in our nation’s schools.

As long as our professional, degreed educators remain blind to the appaling state of our inner city schools, unwilling to acknowledge the successes of Catholic schools in the very Same neighborhoods (operating without the benefit of taxpayer subsidies), hostage to an intractable teachers union, and resistant to bold policy initiatives, I’m afraid we will be dooming another generation of inner city children to a life in whbich they are denied what every American child ought to have — a quality education.


---Original Message---
From: The Teacher
Sent: Thu Aug 19 14:25:56 2024
Subject: Fwd: Re: RE: From Science Magazine

The Teacher wrote:

Fat Toe,

It is obvious to me that none of your other email buddies will play with you, so you are making a meager attempt to incite some anger in me so that I will join you in your ridiculous banter. I will indulge this once because your lack of knowledge is stunning.

Your ideas about inner-city public school education are clearly products that have been fed to your lazy mind by the media, which is overwhelmingly conservative. Do you hold such a low opinion of the poor and disadvantaged in our country that you think that discipline needs to be heartily beat into them and then their transformed bodies be moved to the front of the firing line?

Your lack of ability to empathize with those in a situation other than yourself is pitiful. It is people like you that exact sickening educational “reforms” without a clue to culture or pedagogy.

Since you know so much about the education of inner city youth, perhaps you can inform me. I have 3 credentials, 2 master’s degrees and am working on my PhD in Education; I have been awarded state and district-level honors for my work in the inner cities. So please, since your knowledge is so vast, illuminate me!

Further, I am fully aware of the effect of the military on people of disadvantage. It was no coincidence that Army recruiters showed up in force after 9-11 in the ghetto where I taught in Los Angeles and were nowhere to be found in my home town, Santa Barbara.

You possess the traits that I dislike the most in human beings — a complete lack of empathy and a smug arrogance that makes me sick to my stomach. In both schools where I have taught, the average teacher works a minimum 12-hour day and pursues continuing education so that they can update and revise their teaching methods regularly.

The military destroys all that we educators create.

Next time, write about something that you know about. My ideas about the military are just that — my ideas. They are not formed by a person without knowledge of the military. I have seen countless friends and family members have their lives “turned around” by the military — none of which were positive changes. The military is the antithesis of public education and should not even be spoken of in the same context.

The Teacher


“Fat Toe” wrote:

While I salute your work with needy children, I am shocked at your reaction to a person’s decision to join the military. You obviously haven’t got the slightest clue of the ways in which military service can literally turn around the life of a young man or woman who comes from a disadvantaged background. I’ve seen it happen countless times.

The fact is that our inner city public schools are an absolute national disgrace — and one of the biggest problems lies in the almost utter lack of discipline that is present in these schools. Also lacking in too many public schools is a teaching or imparting of the values of hard work and respect. These are the very building blocks of a succesful life, and the military happens to be one of the finest institutions in the world for instilling these qualities in our nation’s youth. Thank God someone is picking up the slack where our inner city public schools have failed so miserably.


---Original Message---
From: The Teacher
Sent: Thu Aug 19 11:59:57 2024
Subject: RE: RE: From Science Magazine

“You reap the rewards earned through the sacrifice of men and women BETTER that you.”

Can I ask you — what makes these people better? That really was a ridiculous statement. I am a teacher by training and have worked extensively with inner city youth, attempting to improve the lives of those who are most underserved in our society.

It makes me sick to my stomach whenever a student of mine (or their family member) concedes to join the military because they have few viable options for a steady income. I shudder to think that people do willingly join the military for reasons other than dire financial need and limited options to meet that need.

No offense intended because I do not know you personally and I don’t know how you came about to make the personal choice to enter the Army; however, in my opinon, many of the necessary traits for military service are akin to that of a sociopath. While I will not sit here and call myself “better” because of the service I provide to our neediest children, you should not claim that your willingness to kill and be killed somehow makes you better.

I really do not mean to offend you or your life choices and I credit you for noticing that your outlook on life is colored. I think it would be reasonable to say that we all see the world through different lenses — which is fundamentally determined by our life experiences and access to knowledge. However, considering the vast array of noble professions available to us, I would strongly disagree with your earlier statement.

The Teacher


Proceed to part 13...

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