Ending Progressive Public Education
If Barack and Michelle Obama feel comfortable allowing Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn to babysit their children, that is their problem. The question is, would you allow them to babysit yours? Let’s take that a step farther: would you let them raise your children? Would you give them exclusive supervision over the majority of your children’s daylight hours up to age eighteen, primary control of your children’s academic curriculum and teaching methodology, and authority to arrange the broad social and moral framework within which your children will be educated?
No? Then why do you accept modern public education? Furthermore, why, after having delivered generations of children into this Marx/Dewey/Marcuse/Ayers educational program, is anyone perplexed at people’s inability to respect individual freedom, understand property rights, or hold themselves to standards of character and reasoning higher than that of a mugger?
Perhaps, as Allan Bloom suggested with regard to gladiators, witch burnings, and rock music, a civilization’s greatest absurdity always seems normal to itself. In seeking to explain such a quotidian absurdity, the best angle from which to begin our search may be sideways.
I have a family member in Canada who, a few years ago, suffered a spinal injury. Although her case was not technically an emergency, her surgeon told her in no uncertain terms that the damage to her back was degenerative, and that her condition would continue to deteriorate, irreversibly, until she had the necessary surgery.
Canada’s health care system is, of course, fully socialized, which means it is a bureaucratic nightmare beset with shortages, outrageous wait times, and the impersonal disdain for individual patients that leftists euphemize as “universal care.” My family member got her needed surgery at the earliest available date - which happened to be nine months after being told her spine would continue to degenerate until surgically repaired.
At one point, around halfway through this nine month wait, I suggested that she drive a couple of hours south and pay to have the surgery done at a U.S. hospital. It would have been very expensive, I conceded, but she had to measure the potential gouge out of her savings against the threat of having to give up so many favorite activities forever, and ending up in a wheelchair at sixty.
She would not hear of it. It was not a matter of being a strident defender of socialized medicine, or of nervousness about a foreign hospital. Though frustrated and worried about her future, she simply could not take seriously the possibility of pursuing alternatives, nor question the causes of the ordeal she was being put through, even though her own health and quality of life were at stake. Indefinite wait times guaranteeing permanent, unnecessary harm are just “the way things are” in a public health care system, so you learn to turn off your critical apparatus and accept it stoically. Thus, having been told that surgery was needed to halt life-altering spinal deterioration, my relation simply accepted her unjust sentence: wait as long as it takes to get the “free” health care you have coming to you, even if it means never recovering full health. “What else can you do?”
She got her “free” health care, albeit months late – and will never again enjoy full freedom of movement, agility, a natural gait, or many of the physical activities she used to partake in.
That’s what happens when government controls your body. They decide on matters of your preservation and well-being; you try not to go mad thinking about all that you might lose at their whim.
Now let us get a little closer to the issue at hand, and consider what happens when government controls your mind, or your children’s minds.
To begin with what everyone knows:
(1) Modern public school education throughout the West discourages high achievement. The teachers themselves are generally among the bottom feeders from the previous generation of the same public system. (By and large, they became teachers because it seemed the most respectable job they could get with the least real knowledge, skill, or work. There are exceptions, of course, but they are increasingly rare in a school system that is so discouraging of talent, effectiveness, and non-approved approaches and opinions.)
(2) Public schools actively teach relativistic, anti-individualist morals. This is the Dewey model of education, and it has been faithfully expanded and pursued by educational decision makers and their gofers (the teachers) for the better part of a century.
(3) The standards of academic achievement are dropping at an accelerating rate with each passing decade. High school graduates today are deficient in general knowledge, literacy, and basic reasoning skills. They lack common sense, as well as a sense of common heritage based on shared experiences of something beyond the latest popular song. In other words, their education has taught them no connection to a world before their birth, thus converting the natural distance between generations into an impenetrable dividing wall. (This wall, of course, facilitates the disruption of traditional family life and devotion to one’s elders – as it is meant to do.)
In light of all of this, how are we to understand a society that continues, however unhappily, to send its children into this system, in effect saying, like the victim of socialized medicine, “What else can you do?”
Every day, parents are sending their children to a place where they will be taught: (a) that getting along with others is the primary social skill, regardless of who the “others” are and what they are doing; (b) that failing to follow the latest trends in music (lust, hate, violence), fashion (slovenliness, sexiness, disrespectfulness), or social behavior (drugs, drinking, sexual pressure) will make you a “loser” among your peers, and – at best – a pity case among the teachers; and © that excelling is only appreciated or encouraged within the range of achievement set by the curriculum (agenda-driven drivel), class average (lower every year), and teacher expectations (finish the textbook on time).
(See Glenn Fairman’s account of some of the manifestations of all of this, here.)
And then there is the realm of language and literature, without which men are left helpless in a narrow tunnel of fixed moral and intellectual possibilities, lacking even the ability to ask what they are missing. A visitor from only fifty years ago would be shocked to learn that in today’s North American schools, Shakespeare, Austen, Donne, and Swift are out; lifestyle choices, green studies, and diversity are in.
Whereas the “boring,” antiquated studies that are being phased out taught real diversity – diverse character types, potential outcomes of various choices, subtleties of human morals, motives, and feelings – the approach to all modern education, by contrast, is derived from one basic (and superficial) perspective on life, namely leftist-relativist-cynical-cool.
Whereas history and the classics teach the various degrees and shadings of human nature, greatness, and evil, as well as ideals against which to judge oneself and others, modern education teaches the normalization of deviant behavior, the moral equivalency of aspirations, and reverence for the flavor of the month – exactly what education was supposed to help us rise above. In short, modern education is intended to produce exactly the kind of human beings that result from the most pessimistic understanding of the pre-societal state of nature: irrational; ruled by fear, lust, and laziness; unable to form a unified conception of last week, and with no coherent hopes beyond tomorrow.
Until this public school system – built on leftist agendas, enforced mediocrity, and teachers motivated by greed varnished with sentimental slogans about “the children” – is broken into a million pieces and scooped into the trashcan of history, it is silly to imagine that the West will escape from the multifaceted cage it has constructed around itself. The force and centrality of this education in the souls of young people is too great to be counteracted with a little “quality time” on weekends. All are stunted by it to some degree; most are irreparably harmed.
And no simple legislative act can solve this problem, even if there were legislators with the will to perform such acts. Many Americans, for example, lament the failure of Republican presidents to dismantle the Department of Education. It must never be forgotten, however, that this department was made possible by the preceding decades of the progressive takeover of education. Abolishing the department, though highly desirable, would not eradicate the deeper problem of the presiding and pervasive educational philosophy.
Bill Ayers is a prominent teacher educator, and would still be one even if the Department of Education were shut down tomorrow.
This brings us back to the question with which we began: why do people put up with this? Why do parents willingly (or reluctantly, for that matter) send their own children – their own future – to socialist re-education camps? “From my cold, dead hands,” they proudly say of their guns. Are not their children worthy of at least so strong a grip?
Perhaps the remnants of real learning that are still, though dwindlingly, accessible in the public system – primarily in math and science – are enough to persuade some parents that the system is salvageable at its core. In truth, that “core” is the problem. The parts of the program that resemble legitimate education are merely tolerated as necessary adjuncts or teasers to justify the project of soul-stealing in the eyes of ordinary citizens who would be uncomfortable if the virtues of bisexuality, the evils of capitalism, and the coolness of Barack Obama were the only things their kids learned at school today.
Perhaps part of the problem is that the teachers' unions are so huge that everyone has a few teacher friends. Therefore we all feel a vested interest in the “teachers are trying their best” apologetic. This allows us to despise the “system,” while comforting ourselves with the thought that the teachers, on the whole, are on our side. They are not. The majority are, at best, unwitting dupes; many are just people looking for a respectable paycheck at a job with long holidays and many places to hide; and some are genuine leftist collectivists, either of the bleeding heart variety, or of the “where do I sign?” variety. The rare exceptions are martyrs – and they know it. They will be invaluable allies in the educational revolution that must take place.
Perhaps anything so long in existence begins to seem indispensable or essentially unalterable. As much as we know change is needed, it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine away features of life that have “always” been there. Before it has even been fully implemented, opponents of ObamaCare have begun to concede that it is “the law of the land” now, and will admit of no change more radical than a tweak here and there. Progressive public education has been with us for a century. We are all products of its earlier stages. It feels as inescapable as our most uncomfortable memories.
Whether for these reasons or others, one thing remains undeniable: most North American children are spending the most influential waking hours of their formative years with Bill Ayers, or – if they are lucky – with Ayers' lazy cousin. As long as this continues, Marx and Dewey win, and freedom and individualism lose. It is that simple.
Since November 6, there has been a lot of talk among conservatives (or classical liberals) about “starving the system” as a way of forcing progressivism into dissolution and collapse. No system deserves to be starved more ruthlessly than public education. This is, in many ways, the hardest fight of all, but it is also the most indispensable, and the one that will pay the greatest dividends. This is no time for recriminations or regrets about past error or shortsightedness. And it is no time for careless lunges. It is time to think carefully but efficiently, alone and together, about how to extricate the current and upcoming generations of young people, or at least that portion within our influence, from an education system explicitly designed to shrink their world to the pinhead of the present, to blunt their thought, to erase their conscience – in sum, a system designed to turn them into the useful idiots of global progressivism.
This battle will require weapons we have never used before, and even some we have not yet invented. And the battlefield is strewn with landmines. This will take time, planning, and coordinated action by people prepared to take chances and forsake other, lesser priorities.
A victory here, however, would be a bargain at almost any price. A soul is a terrible thing to waste. A hundred million souls – now we are talking about the difference between desolation and hope.
(This article originally appeared at American Thinker.)