In the movie The Dark Knight, which this author didn’t see but was alerted to by the perceptive Benham Brothers, there apparently is a scene in which Batman and the Joker are hanging off a building. Batman asks the Joker what he wants. The chilling reply: “Chaos!”
We are now seeing a remake of this movie in public education, with the role of the Joker played by Barack Obama.
If the Joker were trying to engender chaos in schools, what areas of stability might he attack? The most extreme example would be the very existence of biological reality. Rather than reserve boys’ and girls’ restrooms, locker rooms, dormitories, and sports teams for members of the appropriate sex, he would decree there is really nothing meaningful about biological sex and that, therefore, all private facilities should be opened to anyone who wants to use them.
This new policy would not only reduce school administrators’ ability to protect student privacy and safety, but also would eliminate the very authority of parents over fundamental instruction of their children. The result? Chaos. And if the policy violates the privacy of, and even frightens, students who took for granted the previous protective status quo, even better. Emotional distress and physical danger can only add to the chaos.
The Joker might also attack assimilation of non-English-speaking students, primarily by attacking their means of communication. As discussed in this issue brief from the Heritage Foundation, he might release a policy statement urging states to instruct preschool students in their home languages different from English and to help them retain attachments to cultures separate from the dominant American culture. He would order preschool programs to “embrace and celebrate [students’] diversity” so as to build “a future workforce [because the primary point of education is building a workforce, right?] that is rich in diversity, heritage, cultural tradition, and language.”
Even though the Joker has no legal authority to tell states how to run their preschool programs, he would know that “policy statements” can be influential — especially when they come from the behemoth government that controls billions of dollars in education funding. He would also recognize that engendering language and cultural divisions among school populations can advance what historian Arthur Schlesinger warned against: “fragmentation, resegregation, and tribalization of American life.”
A particularly promising area for the Joker’s intervention would be school discipline. Suppose he could intimidate schools into reducing the discipline imposed on disruptive students. He might dispatch his minions to declare that higher rates of punishment for minority students result from racism, not from student behavior, and then initiate bureaucratic investigations of alleged civil-rights violations.
The effectiveness of such a tactic, as reported by Dr. Mary Grabar, is illustrated by the case of the Oklahoma City Public Schools. Citing statistics showing that OCPS minority students receive a greater percentage of in-school suspensions than their percentage of the student population, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights successfully pressured the school district to implement “twelve steps of action” to ensure that lesser offenses — especially if committed by minority students — either go unpunished or are dealt with by extended conversation rather than suspension.
But what about research showing that racial disparities in discipline result from differences in student conduct, not from racism? Well, the Joker would either ignore that with frequent doleful references to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” or he would argue that most of the offenses committed by these students are trivial anyway. Schools shouldn’t crack down on “being tardy to class, being in possession of a cellular phone, being found insubordinate, acting out, or not wearing the proper school uniform,” he would suggest.
The overriding goal would be to keep disruptive students in school. And as proven with the “broken window” theory of policing, lax response to the small offenses inevitably leads to larger offenses. This results in teachers who are hesitant to discipline troublemakers or even afraid of their students. It results in chaos.
One can argue about the President’s motivations. But it’s becoming indisputable that, in education at least, chaos is the result. Looks like the joke’s on us.
Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.