It is high time for parents who care about the future of their children, their community, and their civilization to stop telling themselves comforting lies about their power to combat the degradations of public education. Believing that reason and morality can be restored while leaving the compulsory public school apparatus intact is like imagining you are going to raise your daughter to be Jane Austen while feeding her a daily diet of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.
Sometimes, conditions in life become so bleak that telling ourselves little white lies about the nature of the situation becomes a survival mechanism. We must not fail to distinguish, however, between giving ourselves hope and spitting into the wind.
The modern public school’s purpose, as described by its leading theorists, advocates, and power-brokers for more than a century, is to destroy ethical individualism, to undermine the natural human impulses toward knowledge and self-reliance, and to create a society of intellectually stunted, humble, conformist workers and voters for the progressive authoritarian state. To blind oneself to this reality, and to the obvious success of this project in undoing modern morality and liberty, is unwittingly to facilitate the gradual smothering of the human spirit.
Having written about public education frequently of late, I have naturally encountered many objections to my supposedly radical recommendations on this subject. The objection that disturbs me most, however, is that of conservatives who agree with my analysis of the subversive influence of public schools, but then dismiss my conclusion that the solution is to remove any child within your sphere of influence from the government school system as fully as possible, and to reject any political efforts to “reform” public education that would further circumscribe private alternatives (such as by imposing new compulsory “standards”) and hence limit parental authority over the raising of children.
Many decent people stubbornly hope they can offset the negative effects of public education by spending “quality time” with their children at home, limiting their television viewing, and providing moral alternatives to the school’s leftist nihilism.
Let us assume that a family is doing all of these things consistently and earnestly. Is this enough to ensure that the government’s indoctrination program is not having at least some retarding effect on their child’s moral and intellectual development? Should parents be satisfied with merely reducing the damage done to their child’s soul? Must they not seek to prevent all such damage, to the extent within their power? Are they not morally obligated to do so?
Children, of course, do not only learn the lessons they are explicitly taught. Far more important in the long run are the implied messages they absorb from their experience, and from the adults they admire most. If those messages seem contradictory or confused, the effects may be very different from what the parents imagine they are teaching. Children are not yet capable of examining all sides of an issue rationally. Their special strength, which slowly gives way to reasoning as they mature (if this evolution is not deformed by progressive education), is an extraordinary sensitivity to unspoken signals, emotional resonances, and subtle irregularities in the order of things.
Let us examine the case of a couple that sends a child to public school, and then hopes to undermine the school at home by discussing the child’s lessons each evening with a view to correcting historical inaccuracies, providing an alternative moral perspective, and encouraging self-reliance and confidence where the government curriculum is promoting dependency and fear. The parents tell themselves they are doing what they can to negate the harmful effects of the child’s teachers, and of the mob rule social milieu of the school. Hence, they feel justified in rejecting suggestions that they should remove their child from public school outright.
But consider the lessons a child learns from being confined, for several hours a day, to a social setting wherein – according to the parents who confined him there – what he is learning is false. Why, he must wonder, are Mom and Dad delivering me into the hands of people who are lying to me? Should the parents explain to their child that most of his teachers are ignorant cogs in a corrupt system, low-achievers happy to have a comfortable and respectable job with salary, vacations, a very comfortable retirement, and medical benefits protected by a powerful union with a socialist agenda? How is that supposed to make the child feel about the fact that his parents are forcing him into hours of confinement with those teachers every day?
And what if, on the contrary, the parents think it best to conceal the gross corruption and ineptitude of the public school’s teachers and curriculum, so as not to harden their child to trust, optimism and goodwill? What confusion will their daily undermining of the school’s lessons and moral outlook foster in the child’s mind under this condition? Trying to protect him from cynicism, they encourage him to respect his teachers. That respect will, given the natural effects upon children of daily dependence and proximity, develop into a certain degree of attachment and affection toward his teachers – along with faith in the teachers’ authority and knowledge.
Thus, in the name of protecting their child’s innocence, the parents will have painted themselves into a moral corner, giving their child emotional impetus to submit to his school’s invocations to relativism, egalitarianism, and soul-sapping conformism – and then hoping to undo all of this in the evening. Out of the noblest motives, they will, in effect, have served their child to the lions. To present themselves as an opposing voice now will likely make the child feel like a pawn in some sort of ideological rivalry between two factions of adults whom he admires and respects – similar to the sad psychological effects of a nasty divorce upon young children.
And then, of course, there is the question of whether it is possible to negate the most pernicious effects of public education at all. There is, for example, no way to estimate the damage to a child’s emotional and intellectual development of having his pubescent (or pre-pubescent) erotic impulses manhandled by progressivism’s crude, animalistic, anti-spiritual reductions of the sexual realm. No parent, however well-meaning, can ever undo the soul-flattening effects of modern government education’s cucumber birth control lessons, alternative lifestyle presentations, and feminist sloganeering – not to mention the effects of daily exposure to the dehumanizing “sexual activity is no big deal” attitude encouraged by the school’s social environment. (Beyoncé kills Jane Austen, period.)
When I have had occasion to teach Plato’s Symposium to university students, I have been painfully aware that my most difficult task was to teach the students the perspective that was merely the common, obvious starting point for Plato’s readers of the previous twenty-three hundred years – namely that Eros is the mystery of human existence, the source of our faint notions of immortality, eternity, and wisdom. Young people whose erotic education was gained in a progressive cucumber class are hardly prepared to go seeking the meaning of life with Socrates and Aristophanes.
To summarize: parents who are capable of providing private or home schooling, but who leave their children in public school while hoping to undo the damage at home, are fooling themselves. Some damage can never be undone, and even that which can be somewhat mitigated would be better avoided entirely. Furthermore, setting yourself up as parental avenger against the government’s indoctrination is setting your child up for confused feelings, resentments, and disillusionments that are both harmful to his sentimental development and completely unnecessary.
Good parents: swallow your pride and save your children. Your efforts to fight progressive education from within – saving your pride while allowing your children to be swallowed – are a microcosm of the Gramsci Plan for modern society’s defeat.
Some people minimize the educational crisis by declaring that the public schools were good back in their day, and have merely gone off the rails within the past few decades. False. The “father of modern education,” John Dewey, published his first major work, The School and Social Progress, in 1899. He was an anti-rational, anti-freedom (and later Trotskyite) dissembler who saw socialism as the only corrective for society’s ills, and promoted public education as the most effective means to socialism. He has been the dominant intellectual force behind the development of Western education for a hundred years. Furthermore, the reason for his quick rise to preeminence in education theory is that his “radical methods” were not fundamentally inconsistent with the goals of the earlier “philanthropic” advocates of public education, namely to produce a qualified but humble underclass that would not challenge the authority of an entrenched oligarchy. (President Obama’s crony Warren Buffet has recently remarked that in the name of fairness, private schools ought to be banned outright, and all children forcibly distributed to government schools by lottery. Plus ça change….)
In short, the past century of public education displays the fate of today’s well-intentioned public school parent writ large. Civilization always was, in effect, mitigating the compulsory school’s damage at home. In the earlier stages, the progressive degradation was more subtle, but only because public education itself had not yet become a completely closed shop. That is to say, a hundred years ago many parents had spent relatively few years in public schools themselves; many teachers and school administrators had received alternative forms of education, as had their own teachers and university professors; government schools were still somewhat under the sway of educational models adapted from the pre-public era; and the progressive schools had not yet entirely displaced family, religion, and great literature as the primary moral influences among the majority of the population. Civilization therefore deteriorated slowly, rather than all at once.
But it did deteriorate: today’s universal public education catastrophe is not a radical shift from the schools of “your day.” It is the inevitable, logical outcome of a long war between authoritarians who sought to mold a compliant underclass of amoral collectivists, and responsible adults who sought to promote a happy and moral life for their children.
The lesson is clear: The authoritarians won. They always will, in the end – until they are forcibly denied the souls they wish to corrupt.
Take your children out of public school now – before today’s heirs to Dewey, Marx, and the early self-serving oligarchs achieve their ultimate goal, which is to deny parents the freedom to take their children out at all. Jane Austen had no government schooling, and received most of her education at home, reading books recommended by her father. Try it.
(This article originally appeared at American Thinker.)
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