A version of this article appeared in educational Horizons Fall 1998

Schooling Vs. Parenting on the Third Rock:
A Report to the "Big Giant Head,"
& a Proposal for Phase Two of Our Study of Planet Earth

There is nothing that gives more assurance than a mask.
--- Colette, Earthling (1873-1954, earthtime)
edited 4/3/12

Report on Phase 1

Thanks to an ingenious stratagem devised by our High Commander, we have been accepted by the Earthlings with neither resistance nor suspicion. We are not secretive about what we do here; quite the contrary, our Commander has had all our activities and many of our deliberations publicly broadcast on aural-visual media (TV) for millions to observe. The earthlings are highly entertained by our attempts to incorporate ourselves into their culture and laugh at us, some scarcely realizing we are merely mimicking them, but with greater consistency and logic. There is little danger in this publicity since most Earthlings, especially those younger than fifty earthyears, do not believe anything shown on TV to be serious or important, unless accompanied by official government pronouncements to that effect -- in which case, perhaps 15 percent evidence some signs of agitation.

The media, which promote serious thought and consideration, mostly through printed materials -- such is the slow speed of Earthling nervous system processing -- become increasingly restricted to an elite few as time progresses. Indeed, some cultural leaders in various highly respected centers of learning have declared such printed materials to be useless, even harmful: antiquated, always variously interpretable, they promote linear thinking, which stultifies diversity. (A curious value, diversity, since few Earthlings seriously consider tolerating cannibalism, pederasty, public evacuation of the bowels, or speaking any of the 2,000 other languages of this planet than the one native to them by accident of location.) Our High Commander recognized the vulnerability in this manner of thinking and capitalized on it immediately to our great advantage.

Proposal for Phase 2: Commandeer the public educational system

This phase will not be hard, for many Earthlings joke that the system is run by aliens already. ("Aliens control higher education" was announced ten earth years ago in The Globe, a printed medium sold in large food-market buildings, the major source of amino acids, lipids, and reading materials used by Earthlings.) Indeed, a casual perusal of the practices of school systems, compared to the ideals publicly proclaimed, demonstrates a major dissonance obscured primarily by the tendency of Earthlings to confuse wishful thinking with accomplished fact -- a characteristic that has made TV the most influential conditioner of Earthling behavior.

What we will need to do is infiltrate a single school system with our agents portraying roles Earthlings can easily recognize and hardly notice. Actually, as strange as our agents' behavior may occasionally seem, it will arouse no suspicions if accompanied by allusions to "a new directive from the State Department of Education." Such directives are issued regularly by governmental officials struggling to achieve a higher entertainment rating than Professional Wrestling ( a televised pastime in which hypertrophied Earthlings engage in mock combat to induce other normally quiescent Earthlings to exercise their respiratory apparatus by vigorous contraction of the diaphragm, accompanied by gluteal fibrillation).

Players and Optimal Roles: brief directions for fitting in

The roles characterized below are given the depiction, hardly the only one, that ensures the agent's fitting in without arousing suspicion. It is important to recognize that other variations may draw attention to the individual agent and thus undermine the mission.

Role 1: Public School Parent -- This type is distinguished by occasional expressions of concern for "fairness" and "equity" or "equal opportunity." (Private school parents seek "escape," or "special consideration" or "values" and are given to ejaculate, "Life is not fair.") However, despite ideological articulations concerning equity, the parental role requires one to recognize that some children -- one's own child -- are to be treated more "fairly" than others. Discipline is best served on the children of others; whereas special considerations are justifiable only when they fall on one's own. Parents need recognize no request of the school requiring parent-child interaction that is less than pleasurable or entertaining. If special considerations -- e.g., freedom from suspension or from receiving failing grades or detentions -- can be secured for one's child, then they must be, even at the severe expense of the rest of the children in the school. However, upon receiving such considerations, one must repeatedly proclaim that one does not wish one's one offspring to be considered as somehow "different" from any other child. Finally, always persist in the idea that one's children were conceived to become clones of oneself, struggling against any expressions on the offspring's part of independence of thought or attitude from the convictions the parent has been conditioned into.

Role 2: Public School Teacher -- Because it flatters your superiors, be optimistic. Competence, intelligence, and thoughtfulness are a distant second to this: do not display such qualities unless you let it be known first that you are working on an administrative certificate. Never ask whether the goals you pursue are provided adequate resources. Cross your fingers and repeat ten times daily, "The classroom teacher controls the critical variables that affect the learning of children." Like parents, you must talk about fairness, but refrain from insisting that bullying, assault, or obscene behavior in the classroom be stopped if it has been officially designated "a manifestation of a disability."

Role 3: Building Administrator -- This is a difficult one. You will be confronted by Earthling teachers who will believe that a modicum of student discipline and intellectual development is desirable. Parents will take you to task for not being authoritative enough -- thus sparing them the need to discipline their youngsters -- while at the same time not "cutting their kid a break" when you actually try to deal with the child's behavior. Your bosses will expect you to "keep the lid on," garner good publicity, give them credit for your good ideas, and do more with less, year after year. Appear to be optimistic. (You can drop the pretense privately now that you are no longer a teacher.) Look around hard for another job. Look for easy problems to solve. Solve them with much fanfare. Delegate really hard ones to committee -- thus showing your commitment to site-based management approaches. Listen. Listen. Listen. People equate this with patience and concern. Do little or nothing. Time takes care of many problems. Other jobs open up.

Role 4: Board Member or State Officer -- You have most likely never been a Public School Parent (See above). Run the schools the way most Earthlings misconceive that their business organizations are run, e.g., bottom-line focused, highly concerned with efficiency, rewarding only those who produce. Talk up this mythology. Develop a repertoire of ready slogans you will repeat on any occasion when trapped into making a verbal response to anyone. Speak emphatically about how you are "truly concerned about the kids." Insinuate to parents that you think teachers and administrators are overpaid and less than competent. Ignore the pleas of these latter two groups for resources. When they complain, remind them that when the going's tough, the tough get going.

Role 5: Student -- Don't sweat it! If you really want to have fun, convince someone you have "special needs." No more detentions for you. A suspension is unthinkable. You can even push around some of the wimps and have the principal take you to lunch at McDonalds if you promise to do it less frequently. Your teachers can't touch you; even when you're touching someone else. Don't worry about studying. You'll eventually get to college -- for what, you needn't worry. You'll have time enough there to learn to read and write a bit -- enough to become a teacher yourself, maybe, if you want to have summers off. (But hey! The pay won't support the cars and houses you see in the videos!) Note: The agent should avoid the role of the scholastically motivated Earthling student. The rarity of such behavior will only draw unnecessary attention!

Role 6: School Psychologist -- You are the High Priest of the Public School Religion. Make your pronouncements vehement and authoritative. You are the Voice of Science. Do not permit discussion of research findings and counterindications; your employers pay you for certainty. They want loyalty in return, not intellectual integrity. When presented with a problem, just chant the mantra: "Reinforcing the appropriate response increases the probability of the desirable behavior." Few will ask you to define your terms, operationalize them, or own up to the ambiguities of practice. Your professional organizations already have state legislatures in their pockets. Complaints about fairness, morality, and the like you can dismiss as "unscientific" or "fanatically religious."

Role 7: Professor of Education -- You have escaped the public school classroom and can now indoctrinate would-be teachers and administrators with the speculations and diversions that make your contribution so hard to evaluate. Preach optimism or, for an interesting yet unremarkable variation, preach reconstruction! Society is less than fair. It must be overhauled and education is the instrument of its renewal. And you, for minor consulting fees, will be the source of inspiration! (Note to agents: Our High Commander's TV portrayal of a college professor as pompous and arrogant may draw undue attention unless the professor achieves tenure, or a position in a college of liberal arts. Until such a time, the appearance of humility is better camouflage.)

Prospects and Risks: Is the mission worth it?

Your excellency must consider that we, the original visiting team, are of mixed mind as to the desirability of extending this mission beyond phase 2. The problems that face this planet are severe; yet the educational processes themselves tend to distract from them. We might consider taking over this planet militarily but its paucity of natural resources -- probably to be exhausted in six Earth millennia -- hardly warrants the cost to our own civilization. We might hope for an extension of a mutually satisfying relationship with the Earthlings if only we could convince them to move away from the roles depicted above in this report.

Agent Xeb (Sally)