The View From 1776

What, Not How

What’s taught is more important than how it’s taught

Historically, education was conceived as a process of character formation.  Today in the United States it’s a cross between trade school and Socialist Youth indoctrination.  The end product is a confused mush of “self esteem” with little solid content.

Character formation was the foundation of western civilization, first articulated by the Jews, then by the Greeks.  The bible’s Old Testament is a chronicle of God-given laws, standards, and traditions, with prophets continually instructing the Jews to return to God’s path.  Plato said that Homer was the teacher of the Greeks.

In practical terms what this meant was that education was a process of preserving and passing along the traditions and virtues of society.  Job remained steadfast in his love of God, despite seemingly unjust treatment.  Daniel’s companions survived the fiery furnace and Daniel escaped unharmed from the lion’s den, because they remained true to God and refused to worship false gods.  Greek heroes in the Iliad display all too human and petty character flaws, but nonetheless take the battlefield to fight for their comrades and their city state. 

Jews learned that fidelity to God’s Word expressed in the laws was the key to happiness, in the broadest sense.  Greeks learned that patriotism, valor, loyalty, and honor were vitally important.  Both taught their youth to be honest and law-abiding.  This became the Judeo-Christian heritage upon which western civilization was built.

The common element was what in Greek philosophy and later in nascent Western Europe was called natural law.  Humans all are children of God and all have the same basic nature that gives them the potential for good or evil.  The role of education, exercised through the home environment, religious institutions, and schools, is to impart knowledge of virtuous conduct and to hold young people to God-given standards of natural law.

Thomas Jefferson said of his writing the Declaration of Independence that it merely reflected the common understanding throughout the colonies.  And that common understanding was rooted in religion and the natural-law concept of inalienable individual rights to life, liberty, and private property.

The Constitution was deliberately structured to effect a balance between maximum personal freedom and sufficient power to protect citizens from domestic outlaws and foreign enemies.  But it created a government of defined and limited powers. 

For such a government to succeed, individual citizens had to be self-restrained by personal morality.  As John Adams said, “We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and true religion.  Our constitution is made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The signal aspect of American education since the first decades of the 20th century is its abandonment of that 2,500-year-old tradition.  Following the lead of French intellectuals who conceptualized socialism in the time of the 1789 French Revolution, American educators and politicians have rejected God and morality as ignorant superstitions.  John Dewey, the champion of Progressive education, held that Darwinian evolution had demonstrated the continual changeability of everything, including standards of human conduct.  Therefore, he said, there is no such thing as timeless standards of morality.

What took the place of God and historical tradition was the rational intellectual mind.  Just as Adam and Eve sought to become God-like by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, present-day intellectuals vaunt themselves as the ultimate source of wisdom and the ultimate arbiters of human conduct, calling their replacement standards social justice.

This is what is now taught in our public schools and in our colleges and universities.  This is what is meant when liberals plump for secularity, moral relativism, and multi-cultural education.

It has consequences.  While liberals seem unable to connect the dots, it should be obvious to unbiased observers that secular socialism and its moral relativism are the source of Lenin’s and Stalin’s mass murders and Hitler’s Holocaust under his National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazis).

No matter how much money we spend on education, the results for the nation’s general welfare will become worse, at an accelerating rate, with each new generation of students inculcated with secular socialism.