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Escape from Gangsta Island By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Bernard Chapin, a writer and school psychologist living in Chicago. His first book, Napalm is the Scent of Justice was a fictional account of a radical feminist United States, while his new book concerns the implosion of a school he worked at and loved: Escape from Gangsta Island: A School's Progressive Decline.

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FP: Bernard Chapin, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Chapin: Well thanks, Jaime, I’ve been a regular reader of Frontpage since 2001.

 

FP: We're here today to talk about hor progressivism killed a school you taught at and how your experience reflects the disaster that progressivism wreaks on education in general.

 

Why don't we start with you telling us briefly about yourself and what your book is about. 

 

Chapin: Sure, well, I stumbled into a job in 1998 that I grew to love. It was at an alternative school named Eastlands. The adminstrators of the school were big picture types. Details bored them as did pencil to paper work. They left me to handle a great many things normally outside the scope of a school psychologist. I didn't complain though. I was actually quite pleased and possessed a considerable amount of job ownership.  The situation changed when a new principal took over who was a devotee of progressive education. She was a white suburbanite who said, in one of our first conversations, that her favorite kind of music was rap, and that "all kids, no matter where they are from are the same." I was startled by her ignorance but tried to remain optimistic. Needless to say, disaster followed. The downfall was not picturesque. 

 

A major factor in my flight from the place was a result of my conservativism, and, unlike the average conservative, I write quite a bit and rejoice (far too much I'm afraid) in my own political incorrectness. In 2004, I wrote a column about Eastlands which fell into the hands of my bureaucratic masters, and a war promptly commenced. Their mentioning of it to me turned out to be a colossal blunder. They should have stood above employee criticism, but they could not. They're dressing down resulted in my keeping meticulous records for the remainder of my time there . All the harassment enriched my story and made the facts indisputable. The spite, bitterness, and paranoia to which I was subjected added considerable entertainment value to the final product .

 

FP: Ok, so what led to you writing this book?

 

Chapin: I guess the biggest reason was public interest. Whenever I witnessed the reaction of outsiders to my tale, it confirmed to me that completing the work was essential. I was an employee at the Eastlands Center for six years and loved it. Had you asked me four years ago if I’d ever leave I would have told you I wouldn’t, yet events took a psychopathic turn. I fled before I was the last competent person to turn off the lights.

 

I tried to inform our top brass about the problems at the center, and they duly labeled me one of the problems. I turned from golden boy to a rat. In early 2004, a few of us “spoke truth to bureaucracy,” and, while many others sympathized, few took our back. The result has not been pleasant for those who remain. Four or five write me regularly and keep me updated as to the goings on there.

 

Reportedly, the two main villains in Escape from Gangsta Island have recently become aware of the book’s existence. I took extensive steps to ensure that their identities would never be ascertained by the general public, but I have a feeling that they will seek retribution against those described flatteringly by my narrative. Unfortunately, my predictions concerning this irrational cabal have proven true time and again. In fact, I just recently heard that the district in which the building is a part is going to be taken over by the state next year due to widespread failure of student performance—so my book is more prescient than I imagined.

 

Another reason is that, as a guy who has read The Shadow University and just about every other book out there on political correctness, it was a major shock for me to experience the prejudice, of which I have so long known in the abstract, in person. My conservative views and writing were used against me by my superiors. One just wouldn’t expect something that predictable to actually occur. The way in which they came after me was very transparent, however. My outlook was just an excuse to attack me. The real issue was that I wrote about them.

 

FP: Some of the book was online initially. Why did you decide to do that?

 

Chapin: To help me write it basically. I needed to pretend that I had a deadline. Luckily I managed to entertain some readers along the way including a Marine in Okinawa of all places. Mike LaSalle and Steve Martinovich put up some rough draft chapters for me, but they bear only a surface resemblance to the finished product. I kept about 80 pages to myself including the book’s climax.

 

FP: Tell us what progressive education is and how progressivism has, in your mind, completely triumphed in the public school system. Is this all necessarily a bad thing?

 

Chapin: Basically, it’s a form of education which purports to be child-centered. It views children as functioning best when they construct their own knowledge. This can be juxtaposed with their being taught directly. Lecture, or direct instruction, is verboten. A teacher should not be a “Sage on the Stage”; instead they should be a guide. It’s all very fluffy and idealistic, so we should not be surprised that it doesn’t work. The widespread realization of its failure is why so many educationists are against testing.

 

Progressives would sidestep a lack of quantitative growth in students by saying that  objective learning is not what they set out to accomplish in the first place (they’d argue: “There’s no such thing as objectivity anyway.”). To them, it’s irrelevant. I don’t regard progressive education as being education at all. Far too often, it is a waste of time and resources. Many of the older members of this clique already got their education, and are unmoved by the fact that now they’re cheating everybody else. It’s a basketcase ideology which even the USSR was clever enough to abandon.

 

It is equality the hard way; a process wherein everybody learns less. Knowledge is watered down and competition is dismissed due to it being stressful and alienating. The problem is, most kids, not just boys, are inspired and stimulated by competition. I have seen it countless times in my own work. I used to deny to kids that I was timing them, but, after seeing its powerful effects, I stopped hiding my stopwatch. The ticking causes their eyes to flash and their arms to jump. Any competition, even if it’s against a norm group from 1995, motivates. It’s a pleasure to witness, and I only see those youngsters who are most in need.

 

It’s also very political. I was excited to hear from Frontpage because David Horowitz understands the seeping penumbras of leftism better than anybody else. Progressivists are almost all leftward in orientation. These are the individuals who blame failures in the schools on the president if he’s a Republican, and on parents if he’s a Democrat. Look how at how this source manipulated the definition of progressive education to include politically correct dogma: Respect for diversity, meaning that each individual should be recognized for his or her own abilities, interests, ideas, needs, and cultural identity…” Somehow, I don’t think “diversity” had the same automaton usage several decades ago. This is yet another way in which the past is manipulated for the present’s political purposes.

 

As people, I have found that Progressives often are emotion dispensers who “care” and “love,” but don’t understand kids at all. They attach moral values to youth, skin color, genitalia, and economic status. They know abstractions and it. Real life terrifies them. Kids often prefer playing outside or on video game terminals to completing their homework. There’s nothing abnormal about that. Teaching and education should have an element of coercion in it. Back when I was 14, if left to my own devices, I would have discontinued geometry and Algebra II as scholastic requirements. That didn’t make me a bad person. It’s just I would have preferred playing Donkey Kong or watching “Magnum P.I.” to studying.

 

Work avoidance, like an adoration of simple pleasures, is intrinsic to the nature of children. Pretending to “love” and “care,” while artificially boosting self-esteem, only ensures that many more will be illiterate. Outside the field of education and the talk show, self-esteem is known to be a bogus concept, but I have met educators who reference it thirty times a day. What an appalling situation. One time I brought in a copy of a famous article on the subject and read parts of it aloud to a major devotee of the “we just need to bolster self-esteem” school. Her face crashed and she became irate. I thought she was going to belt me. The next day she went back to repeating the same old claptrap.

 

Progressives live in a fantasy world. I saw the film “Grizzly Man” the other day and couldn’t help but think how similar the masochistic main character was to so many of the educationists I’ve known. The man set out to “save” the poor bears who, in fact, were  not in need of saving at all. They did just fine without him and will thrive in the future even though he’s dead. He claimed that he alone could help as everybody else “misunderstood” them. Eventually, one of the bears understood his caloric properties and duly digested him. The same thing happens to Utopians in the schools. It’s always fun to see how despondent they become when their Messiah status goes unrecognized by parents and students. Just like the grizzlies, children defy easy categorization. You must treat them as individuals. Where one lives or what one’s physical characteristics are have no correlation with personality.

 

Most children I’ve known, regardless of appearance or socio-economic status, are a great pleasure to be around, and this is primarily due to the spontaneity they exhibit. I would recommend their company over that of many a conformist adult. That being said, they’re not universally charming and good. One must recognize the biological basis of mental illness and the way in which environmental factors can exacerbate psychiatric conditions. In life, one must be wary of the unknown, and set firm boundaries. Advocating for children is not the same as permitting their every behavior. That’s not being tolerant; it’s being a fool.

 

All of this is expounded upon in great detail within my book. Dexter, a dean at Eastlands and my former friend, was battered in the middle of the hallway by a student with a criminal record as long as the Mississippi River. I made a split second decision to leave the family I was escorting through the hall so I could end the beating. The impact of my intervention didn’t turn out as I planned. The kid dragged me down a wing of our building until help arrived. After the danger subsided, our principal showed up. In 11 years, no sicker scene have I ever witnessed than when she began to rub the boy’s stomach while whispering, “That’s alright baby. That’s alright.” It wasn’t alright. Dexter wasn’t alright either. He had bruised ribs, a concussion, and saw double for several months thereafter. The center’s complete lack of leadership was evident when our assistant principal yelled at me for allowing the family to observe the thrashing. I had no witty comeback. What could I say?

   

Progressives have been very influential in America. People with impressive sounding degrees are often paper lions. Their sheepskins were hewn from “group projects” and all kinds of other mischief and mumbo-jumbo. Their incompetence has greatly lessened what makes one an educated man nowadays. My father worked himself to death to be better educated that his peers, but all I have to do to be among the nation’s elite is to read a book once a week that isn’t self-help. There wasn’t a book I read in college (from before 1970) that my father hadn’t read, but, if I had a son, I couldn’t guarantee that there would be a book on his syllabi I’d even want to open. People my age have inherited the progressive tradition of not expecting much from themselves. Many only know enough history to compare their enemies to Hitler.

 

FP: Expand on how leftist indoctrination is occurring throughout the primary and secondary years of education. This creates a situation where, by college, many students  already on the race, sex, class treadmill, no?

 

Chapin: You know, I was sitting in a classroom a few years ago and I opened up the social skills book being discussed and saw that the writer had a passage in there saying that men, as there was no need for physical labor anymore, would have to learn new societal roles because their old roles were not pro-social. I raged in silence. There was nothing I could do. The only consolation was that I may have been the only person reading along. Nowadays, I’m so habituated to subtle reeducation techniques that seeing the same sentences would hardly affect me.

 

People have to complete the equation here regarding race, class, sex, and political correctness. We know that the universities are thoroughly corrupted by a cultural Marxism that has replaced “proletariat” with “women, the poor, and minorities,” but many don’t realize that the public schools look to the ivory tower for their future pedagogies. Those same Professors which Mr. Horowitz so thoroughly dissected in his latest effort are the same ones who create the instructional materials used in our primary and secondary schools. You and I both know that a charlatan who composes works of post-modernist jargon and fabrication is not a legitimate scholar, yet to the general public they are known as “Doctor” or “Professor” (I’m in favor of renaming them all “Noam.”). Around the country, their titles carry weight. A scholar of Marxist delusion is often ensconced within the English, History, and Education departments of his or her university, and their intellectual deceptions are well hidden. Outsiders have no way of grasping just how compromised our once elite institutions actually are. 

 

FP: Expand a bit on your experience at the school you write about in your book and how you draw wider conclusions from it.

 

Chapin: Well, I do mention in the beginning that I have worked for numerous administrators over the years, and not one was anything like Principal Chin (a major villain in Gangsta). My bosses have always been conscientious men and women. Clearly, Chin was an aberration. However, what’s not unique in the story is the way in which our magnates protected her incompetence for no other reason than her being one of their own. It was an absurd situation because by simply dealing with her they could have saved themselves years of trouble. Rather than face the labor board, they ended up settling with Leo Carnese, a major character in the book and our Union Secretary. Due to their continued refusal to address Chin’s horrendous behavior and anti-leadership, the situation has deteriorated greatly in the time since I left. Supposedly, next year, they are bringing in another principal to do her job—while she remains employed as co-principal and “earns” a salary of about $90,000. Our tax dollars at work!

 

Gangsta is a description of a mad bureaucracy which covers up every misdeed rather than simply alter one prong in its organizational chart. Such beadledom is found in all government institutions. The person ultimately in charge of our operation, Mrs. Hathaway in the story, is neither crazy nor evil. She is a talented, lucid, and intelligent person who is so systematized that she refused to become personally involved in anything. She never toured Eastlands or interviewed its disaffected employees. The toxic cesspool Chin created was under the purview of a subordinate and she let this minion handle everything even though he drove off the strongest employees and started a counter-productive war with the NEA.

 

This year, Steve Coolidge, a teacher and major character, attempted to go before the school board and was told by a supervisor that if he approached the board he’d be fired in the spring. This is an outrageous and unacceptable way for publicly funded employees of a community school to function. They should never fear the involvement of parents. Wannabe Mafioso’s should not be overseeing our educational facilities.

  

FP: One of your main themes is that progressivism is a deeply racist ideology. Please explain.

 

Chapin: The progressives that I have known often rooted for students by raising their grades and passing them even when they did not work and failed to attend on a regular basis. An extreme example of this was when Jimmy Capelletti, a longtime teacher, was coerced by Principal Chin into passing a student whom he had barely seen. He was told to have a heart, but having a heart means holding people responsible; otherwise you’re shortchanging them in every way.

 

The reasons they make excuses for these children is because they honestly think they’re superior to them. They regard race and background as being destiny. Progressives often hold that requirements must be altered so that these kids can make it. In fact, these students can learn plenty and if someone tells you that, based on a kid’s skin color or genetics, that they are in need of “special methods” or “different forms of instruction” then I’m afraid it says much more about the speaker’s endemic prejudice than it does about the needs of the child.

 

Progressives internalize the lies they hear in college about privilege and oppression, and then they bring them into the classroom. It’s not a soft bigotry. It’s a joyous, “you’re so great,” type of bigotry. It’s a bigotry that slaps you on the back when you fail. It’s 13 years of smiles followed by the abyss. If you ask me, one should hold everyone equally accountable. Pitying children is no way to help them, and one must maintain high expectations. Some of the youth we serve will grow up to be far more valuable members of society than many of the adults who feel sorrow for them today.

 

J. Martin Rochester illustrates this truth in his excellent book, Class Warfare, which documents the decline of rigor in education. People are people. Genitalia or skin pigmentation is irrelevant. For more first hand accounts of this eventuality, see the following articles written by Ari Kaufman and Joshua Kaplowitz.

 

FP: Would you advocate a wholly private system of education?

 

Chapin: Never. Sorry to alienate my fellow libertarians here. I am definitely for vouchers and I don’t think they go far enough on their own. If we want great schools, then the best thing to do is to create an income ceiling for those attending the public ones. If the rich want to send their kids to state schools then they should have to pay the entire per child cost. That sounds like I morphing into Jello Biafra here, but I’m not. The vicarious benefits would be wonderful for everyone. The rich would create their own schools, and they’d bear little relation to the ones we have now. We may see six or seven day a week institutions arise and they could service students for 10 hours a day. What the consumer wants they shall have.

 

As for the poor, the state should always service them without cost. Education being free is another reason why our country is so special. I recall a Nigerian fellow once saying to me that his father never saved up for a house or a car, he worked everyday just so his children could attend school.

 

My plan would decrease the overall burden on the taxpayer, lessen the power of the teacher unions, and better every student in America as the public schools will improve remarkably from advancements made in the private sector which, of course, will be outside the purview of the politically correct cliché-mongers in our university education departments. Concerning start-up schools, if anyone wishes to forge one formulated upon rigorous classical education then give me a jingle. I, like Thorin Oakenshield, am at their service.

 

Frontpage: Any plans for the book in the future?

 

Chapin: My friend, Steve Wills, out in Hollywood would like to turn Gangsta into a film. I hope he does. It would be a great movie. Of course, my opinion’s rather biased in the matter.  

 

FP: Bernard Chapin, thank you for joining us. 

 

Chapin: Thank you Jaime.


Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.


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