The View From 1776

§ American Traditions

§ People and Ideas

§ Decline of Western Civilization: a Snapshot

§ Books to Read


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Monday, February 21, 2005

Education: Methodology or Content?

This article was published in today’s Republican Voices Newsletter.

Are students supposed to learn something, or just to feel good about themselves?

Schools’ emphasis on “self-esteem” is by now a commonplace, as is the assertion that students should “learn to think,” not be able to pass tests.

Whence come these ideas?  Are they constructive, or destructive?

As with most evils in the Western world today, they are doctrines of secular socialism, designed to condition students for the liberal faith that the collectivized national state is the only source of people’s welfare.  The student whose “self-esteem” depends upon the collective apparatus of government has no substantive existence apart from the collective state.  As surely as a welfare dependent, he is a chattel of the politicians.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1762 “?mile” laid the doctrinal foundation, and John Dewey’s Progressive education in the early 20th century began the implementation. 

Rousseau’s educational theories reflected his mythical conception of human nature, which we see today also in attitudes toward criminal behavior.  Admitting that he had absolutely no factual basis for his thesis, Rousseau nonetheless taught that humans had been benevolent and had lived in perfect harmony in the State of Nature.  But, when someone introduced the idea of private property, that idyllic state was replaced with greed, avariciousness, selfishness, aggression, crime, and wars.

Thus, criminals are really victims of a society that permits private property ownership.  To counter the evils of a society based upon Judeo-Christian individuality, personal moral responsibility, and private property, socialist theory requires insulating young students from all bodies of formal instruction and recreating as much as possible the idyllic simplicity of the original State of Nature. 

Students, said Rousseau, know instinctively what they need to learn, and the teacher’s job is to provide a series of “experiences” from which the student will draw whatever lessons his instincts suggest.  Teaching specific subject matter interferes with this “learning to think” and may inflict harm on the student’s psyche.

We saw this writ large in the student activist movements at Columbia University, Cal-Berkeley, and other colleges during the late 1960s and 1970s.  Callow student anarchists demanded “relevant’ subjects.  And, needless to say, they were confident that they knew better than their elders what was “relevant.”  Their Noble-Savage instincts from Rousseau’s State of Nature would be more infallible guides than any of the traditions of Western civilization, which after all were thoroughly corrupted by individuality and private property.

John Dewey’s Progressive education had paved the road to this youthful hubris.  Emulating Rousseau, Dewey believed that history, for example, was a “dead” subject.  Nor should students’ minds be cluttered with ignorant ideas about morality and religion.  Students should be trained for the morally relativistic, secular, and materialistic socialist society in which they would take their places as adults.  Progressive education’s classroom “experiences” were to inculcate collective, communal modes of thinking. 

This Dewey labeled “Education for Democracy.”

Dewey’s influence was given new impetus in the mid-1960s under President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, for the first time, authorized Federal funding for general education.  Local school boards now had to follow Federal guidelines based on socialist theory. 

If teachers are not expected to, and in many cases are incompetent to, teach real subject matter, it is hardly surprising that they concentrate upon providing “experiences” that promote “self-esteem.” 

Students are not to be subjected to the “damaging” effect of being graded on their work.  Nor should they be forced to learn how to calculate correct mathematical solutions without calculators, how to write grammatical sentences in English, or to learn historical dates and events that give them a framework for correlating and understanding a broad swath of issues. Instead, stage a fun project.  Have them dress in colonial costumes and act in a play that depicts early American society as barbaric, and contrasts that ethos to the “caring,” socialistic “values” of today’s welfare state.  As adults, they can learn “history” from Oliver Stone’s movies and Michael Moore’s “documentaries.”

From this perspective, it is easy to understand teacher unions’ hysterical opposition to being judged on academic results and to screening teachers on the basis of their knowledge of subject matter.  It is equally easy to understand multi-culturalism, bi-lingual education, and political correctness as socialistic methodologies to eradicate the founding traditions of 1776.  Outlawing all elements of religion and moral instruction is to the same purpose.

This sort of cultural conditioning is called “learning to think.”  But, of course, what is “thought” is the collective ideology of socialism, a cultural ethos in which the actual work and effectiveness of individuals is unimportant, since the ideal is “from each according to ability, to each according to need.”  Students are taught that individuality must be subordinated to the best interests of the group, and nothing is more anti-socially individualistic than academic excellence. 

Some readers, no doubt, will vehemently deny that today’s education is as depicted above.  Maybe it isn’t uniformly so, but it’s undeniable that the teachers’ unions and Columbia University Teachers College, the source of most “progressive” educational theories, are so oriented.  One has only to read “Left Back: A Century of Failed Education Reforms,” by Diane Ravitch, one of the grand panjandrums of Columbia Teachers College and a self-described liberal.

Does it matter? 

Until the 1960s, the United States had an educational system generally regarded as the world’s best.  Our students were at the leading edge of science, and we collected a disproportionate share of Nobel prizes in the “hard” subjects, such as mathematics, engineering, physics, chemistry, medicine, astronomy, and sub-atomic particle physics.  Today our students rank near the bottom in world competitions.  Few of them even attempt the rigors of the “hard’ subjects, opting instead for education, social work, politics, and legal activism. 

Students now are primed to go out and “change the world” in accordance with a concept of social justice that equates hedonistic license with liberty.  They are instructed to despise the individualism and self-reliance of the 1776 Judeo-Christian ethic of morality, hard work, self-restraint, and sacrifice for the future of their children.

Posted by Thomas E. Brewton on 02/21 at 02:39 PM
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