Every year Americans are increasingly appalled by the nation’s decline, but seem unwilling or unable to properly attribute the source our intellectual and moral decay: The “state-run” education system. Entrusting their childrens’ education to the power-hungry, parents are amazed when politicians instrumentalize their childrens’ minds as a means to preserving their own power. Yet they need not be surprised. The goal of the state is to expand the power of the state; and this includes power over the human mind.
The abysmal state of public or “state-run” education is well-documented. Sub-standard math and science education (evidenced by deteriorating international test scores), as well as skyrocketing costs and an increasingly immoral curricula (including pre-teen sex education and environmentalist indoctrination), have led to the creation of an irrational, immoral, and confused electorate. This poses tremendous problems for American patriots, whose political ideology is explicitly predicated on history and rationality.
But it also presents a political opportunity. Many parents are disappointed and angry at the education system (but not educators) for the government’s repeated failure to educate their children. High school dropout rates, especially among so-called “minorities,” show that the problem is not just one of quality, but one of motivation. To quote one source to show the magnitude of the problem:
“Nationally, about 71 percent of all students graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma [29% do not], but barely half of African American and Hispanic students earn diplomas with their peers. In many states the difference between white and minority graduation rates is stunning; in several cases there is a gap of as many as 40 or 50 percentage points.”
But per usual, education experts persistently miss the point. Educators blame parents, a lack of funding, but rarely, themselves. The administration’s opposition to successful charter schools showed even minorities where the state stands on who should have control of the education of children. The stealth passage of student loan nationalization in the healthcare bill showed that the government is no longer content to have direct control of the education of children, but young adults as well. The confrontation between Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and the teacher’s unions has led to surprising support for bringing teachers (and other “public servants”) back to economic reality, while imposing on them some standards of performance. This public support also shows that education reform is a potential winning agenda item that could, if handled properly, lead to laying the foundation for a generation of more rational, more responsible, more capable, and more liberty-loving Americans.
But we shouldn’t be too pollyannish in our expectation that we can overtake an overhaul of education in this country overnight. We have a dedicated and ruthless opposition that has embedded itself at every level of academia. The current education system is dominated by leftist social engineers to the point that it is difficult for any free-thinking American to bear it. They are smug, arrogant, and ruthless, and can only be exposed through focused, dedicated, and blunt opposition. We must begin the path to uprooting the would-be dictators by telling our leaders that we believe education reform to be a crucial agenda item.
Education is the key to the political power of the left, as the 1960s radical generation currently in government knows full well. William Ayers, the terrorist radical who was “transformed” by the left into a respected educator, in an interview with the tellingly-named Revolution, stated the following:
“That’s one of the things that’s actually annoyed me for about 40 years of being a progressive educator: the separation of the concept of progressive education from the concept of politics and political change. You can’t separate them…and this is a contradiction, incidentally, that goes all the way back to the beginning of progressive education and really the beginning of the conversations about the relationship between school and society.”
As Orwell might comment on the mentality of these leftist ends-justify-the-means “revolutionaries”: “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” For educators of Ayers’ ilk (and we can infer the radical ideological affinity of many educators by their reverence for the bomb-thrower Ayers), state education is the means for social and therefore political transformation.
But there are two flaws in the left’s program, and these are turning out to prove deadly. First, and we must only touch on it briefly, the New Left idealists disregard reality, and overestimate the power of their ideas to transform it. Essentially, to refer to the mass suicide at Jonestown, they “drink their own Kool-aid.”
Second, and more to the point here, state indoctrination does not lead in the long-run to an army of lock-step true believers, but rather to apathetic human putty. When mobilizing for human action (to use Mises’ term), one must appreciate that individuals control the expenditure and the direction of their energies; this is in accordance with Rose Wilder Lane‘s thesis in her outstanding and overlooked work “The Discovery of Freedom.”
Let us briefly touch on this work to show the opposition of government and education. If we follow Lane, the essence of government is force, and “The need for Government is the need for force; where force is unnecessary, there is no need for Government.” (29) In her view, the government always derives its power (to use force) from the consent of the governed” (30), a consent that the American government is perilously close to losing. Important to Lane’s work is the idea that “Historically, this monopoly is always a use of force to hinder, restrict or stop the productive uses of human energy.” (31) As Jefferson put it, government is “a necessary evil.”
Yet the would be philosopher-kings of an imagined American “republic” (rather, a totalitarian utopian society), dismiss an ancient dictum from the proto-fascist Plato himself: “[K]nowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.” The implication is that mass indoctrination does not lead to fanaticism, per se, but apathy and anomie. The aimlessness of intellectual and moral life leads wittingly or unwittingly to a totalitarian state, as Hayek pointed out in The Road to Serfdom:
“To be a useful assistant in the running of a totalitarian state, it is not enough that a man should be prepared actively to break every moral rule he has ever known if this seems necessary to achieve the end set for him. Since it is the supreme leader who alone determines the ends, his instruments must have no moral convictions of their own. They must, above all, be unreservedly committed to the person of the leader; but next to this the most important thing is that they should be completely unprincipled and literally capable of anything. They must have no ideals of their own which they want to realize; no ideas about right or wrong which might interfere with the intentions of the leader. […] The only tastes which are satisfied are the taste for power as such and the pleasure of being obeyed and being part of a well-functioning and immensely powerful machine to which everything else must give way. Yet while there is little that is likely to induce men who are good by our standards to aspire to leading positions in the totalitarian machine, and much to deter them, there will be special opportunities for the ruthless and unscrupulous.” (168-169)
It is this form of “education,” one that is intentionally designed to lead to the formation of “robots,” and not thinking adults capable of the self-governance required to preserve liberty, described at length by education reform activist John Taylor Gatto.
Gatto, in his The Underground History of American Education (available online) and Dumbing Us Down, thoroughly documents the agenda of corporations and left-wing activists like John Dewey to transform America into a gulag-state. The results of the state-run education program? Students who are, to put it in Gatto’s words, “needy, frightened, envious, bored, talentless and incomplete.”
It should be pointed out briefly that Gatto misattributes the current state of education to the designs of rich industrialists more than one hundred years ago, who wanted to create worker-automatons in the Taylorist mold. Such a program, if ever there was one, is obsolete today. The consequences of Dewey’s program is to turn our schools into little laboratories, ahistorical and anti-conservative in the profoundist sense, where social engeineers can perform endless experiments justified by “pragmatism,” and thus without political consequence. Besides this point, America’s manufacturing base has been driven out of this country by leftists since the 1970s, with high corporate taxes and stringent environmentalist and financial regulations, to be replaced by a dependent and unproductive social welfare and technocratic bureaucracy. But regardless, Gatto documents and describes our education system in exhaustive detail. For further documentation of the political censorship of though, from a supposedly “balanced” perspective, see Diane Raditch’s The Language Police.
For a deeper, philosophical analysis we can turn to Professor Alan Bloom, who wrote the pathbreaking work on the state of education in our country The Closing of the American Mind (1987). Bloom deconstructed the modern American psyche and served notice for our nation’s perilous road. His insights are shrewd and many, and worth recounting here – but I will proffer the most direct and relevant.
The key to Bloom’s analysis is that a certain kind of “openness” and even “indiscriminateness” are the virtues, indeed the “moral imperatives,” of our time. As Bloom writes:
Openness – and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings – is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and this led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. (26)
Always important is the political regime, which needs citizens who are in accord with its fundamental principle…We began with the model of the rational and industrious man, who was honest, respected the laws, and was dedicated to the family…Above all he was to know the rights doctrine; the Constitution, which embodied it; and American history, which presented and celebrated the founding of a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” A powerful attachment to the letter and spirit of the Declaration of Independence gently conveyed, appealing to each man’s reason, was the goal of the education of the democratic man. (26-27) (emphasis my own)
Then, for implications providing for the disconnect between the 1960s generation and their progeny, and that of the prior generations:
The recent education of openness has rejected all that. It pays no attention to natural rights or the historical origins of our regime, which are now thought to have been flawed and regressive. It is progressive and forward looking. (27)
The crux of this progressive worldview is the ingrained attitude of openness. Professor Bloom clarifies:
Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason. It now means accepting everything and denying reason’s power (38)…there are two kinds of openness, the openness of indifference – promoted with the twin purposes of humbling our intellectual pride and letting us be whatever we want to be, just as long as we don’t want to be knowers – and the openness that invites us to quest for knowledge and certitude for which history and the various cultures provide a brilliant array of examples for examination. This second kind of openness encourages the desire…”I want to know what is good for me, what will make me happy” – while the former stunts that desire. (41)
Bloom’s prognosis is disconcerting, and indicates that we must rectify our fallacious philosophical delusions with haste. As he writes:
Unfortunately the West is defined by its need for justification of its ways and values, by its need for discovery of nature, by its need for philosophy and science. This is its cultural imperative. Deprived of that, it will collapse. The United States is one of the highest and most extreme achievements of the rational quest for the good life according to nature. (39)
Bloom, who appreciates Frederic Nietzsche’s insights into the decay of Western Civilization, nonetheless misses a Nietzschean implication of the above-mentioned “education of the democratic man.”
We, who hold a different belief–we, who regard the democratic movement, not only as a degenerating form of political organization, but as equivalent to a degenerating, a waning type of man, as involving his mediocrising and depreciation: where have WE to fix our hopes? (…) The democratizing of Europe will tend to the production of a type prepared for SLAVERY in the most subtle sense of the term. (…) I meant to say that the democratising of Europe is at the same time an involuntary arrangement for the rearing of TYRANTS.
Evan Sayet, with explicit reference to Alan Bloom, expands on Bloom’s discussion of the “indiscriminateness” of modern liberals in a provocative and accessible lecture, and how it leads to a failure of moral, social, and political judgment.
The state of mind among many in our citizenry described by Hayek, Gatto, Bloom, and Sayet above poses nearly endless problems for the country, and numerous obstacles for tea party activists. The inability of many to exercise judgment makes appeals to reasoned argument almost fruitless. Appeals to emotion in some cases must necessarily be employed until a comprehensive reform of education, including the defederalization of the education system, can be undertaken. In other words, we must state the need for reform in the most compelling moral terms.
But any impetus for reform, as Americans saw in Texas, will be met with swift and fierce opposition. Leftists will often cite Thomas Jefferson as an early advocate of public education (and the next breath, a bigoted white slaveowner and nothing more, to boot). Jefferson, whose mind demonstrates the faith in universal education emblematic of The Enlightenment, was indeed a proponent of public education for all citizens. But as he was an Anti-Federalist, he was not a supporter of federal government-run education.
To quote just one of Jefferson’s many statements on public education:
“If twelve or fifteen hundred schools are to be placed under one general administration, an attention so divided will amount to a dereliction of them to themselves. It is surely better, then, to place each school at once under the care of those most interested in its conduct.”
Thus even by Jeffersonian standards a reform of “public” education would entail deconstructing the national infrastructure, and thus defusing elitists’ control, of education.
But in the long-run, more radical steps are required. We must ensure that there is a marketplace in education and alternatives for parents whose childrens’ schools are failing them, including home-schooling and tax-credits (at least until a fair tax can be enacted). [For more on this perspective one can watch the Sheldon Richman speech “Education and The State” available at the Foundation for Economic Education site. For the most radical ideal scenario, and the one most conducive to sustaining liberty, one can listen to Ayn Rand’s “Issues in Education” speech or read her amazing collection of essays The Return of the Primitive.]
Ayn Rand pointed out more than fifty years that the ultimate source of the radicals power is the schools and universities. This is confirmed by the experience of those who have attended public education at all levels, and have seen the left’s explicitly Deweyan-Gramscian program put into action. We must be at least as serious and determined as our opponents if we expect to win the political war for our republic taking place. And the first step towards victory comes with recognizing that the political battlefield is the human mind itself. We must, with Jefferson, swear “upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”