The View From 1776

Paradigms: What Should Students Learn?

Why does it matter what picture students have of the universe and their places in it?

This article is scheduled for publication in the next Republican Voices newsletter.

Students’ standards for the conduct of life and for the government that most effectively supports those standards flow from their paradigm of the world, their world-view. 

Religion and morality shape the good person; a good political state makes the good citizen.  The fundamental role of education is to teach students to make discriminating choices that will preserve and strengthen religion, morality, and the good political state.

Today’s paradigm, which decapitated civilization and reduced humans to the same level as earthworms, originated in the 18th century’s misnamed Age of Enlightenment and took hold in the United States during the first decades of the 20th century. 

Today’s paradigm is based on regulating humans en masse via pleasure and pain.  In the paradigm’s collectivized political state, humans are figuratively masses of insects crawling across an electric grid with on-off switches designed by the intellectuals and controlled by the bureaucrats to direct their movements.  The electric grid’s on-off switches are millions of regulations administered by thousands of bureaucracies, coupled with welfare-state benefit programs and tax incentives aimed at every segment of society, from the poor to global corporations.  Like trained seals in the circus, we learn to sit, slither, and bark in response to prodding and raw-fish handouts.  We also learn to spend enormous amounts of time and money discovering ways to game the system, to take advantage of others.

Liberal-socialists get their satisfactions from thinking up new electrical switches to install on the social-control grid.

The moral and spiritual dimensions of religion and philosophy are disparaged as primitive ignorance.  It is a Godless, cold, materialistic, meaningless world from which presumably only the collectivized political state, directed by the minds of intellectuals, can rescue us.

In this paradigm, human beings are no different from any other animals.  Darwinian evolution teaches that human beings are accidental creatures resulting from the combination of random DNA changes and random environmental changes.  There is no immortal human soul. There is no God and no underlying design to the universe.  This means that there can be no independent standards of right or wrong.  It means that the only good thing is to satisfy your animal cravings, to seek sensual pleasure and avoid pain.  It means that the only standard of validity for your actions is whether you get what you want, as the philosophy of pragmatism teaches. 

This accounts for the changed definition of political liberty.  In 1776, liberty meant restraints upon government’s arbitrary abrogation of private property rights and abridgment of due process under the law.  Today liberty means the absence of social restraints upon drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and self-absorbed rudeness.  Such conduct theoretically is not the individual’s responsibility; it results from the failure of the political state to provide adequate levels of materialistic gratification via welfare entitlements.

In contrast, from Plato’s time until the era of the French Revolutionary philosophers, it was taken for granted that students, from infancy onward, ideally should be exposed only to good speech, good manners, and high standards of moral conduct.  As Aristotle noted, virtue (which in Greek thought was akin to a skill, such as an athlete might acquire) necessitated continual practice of good thoughts and good conduct.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Emile,” his 1762 treatise on education, changed all of that, introducing the paradigm of the “Noble Savage,” the fiction that people uncorrupted by modern society are more truly civilized, more humane than people living in a society that permits private ownership of property.  Dispensing with our Judeo-Christian heritage, especially with private property, would enable intellectuals to regulate our conduct sufficiently to create a brave new world.

This radical paradigm has, by design, been the undoing of Western civilization. Everything that we call civilization ? a government of laws, not of arbitrary men; respect for knowledge and support of true science; as well as common courtesy and decency ? originated in classical Greek philosophy, transformed by Judeo-Christian insights about the proper spiritual role for human beings.  Rousseau and his fellow atheistic philosophers of the French Revolution repudiated God and elevated the mind of the intellectual to divine status.

In education, Rousseau’s theory was that children know instinctively what they need to learn and will do better left more or less alone to explore the world for themselves, without adult interference.  In the United States, John Dewey and other socialist educators in the 20th century carried this belief forward under the guise of progressive education.  Dewey preached that teaching specific subject matter, such as mathematics or history, by a combination of reading, memorization, and practice actually harmed young students’ psyches. 

He considered it more important that students learn from “experiences” that would accustom them to the communal living that was to become the standard under the presumably inevitably evolving socialistic state.  Education shifted from studying the best thought of the Western world to a trade-school model in which students were to be trained for specific jobs to which socialistic planners would assign them in the future.  Hence the advent of home economics and shop classes in wood and metal working, auto mechanics, and similar job skills.  In more recent years students have been introduced to sexual promiscuity via so-called sex education classes.

Field trips, survey courses, and other experiences were designed to give students “an appreciation of” the amoral, collective, socialistic paradigm of the world.  This is the genesis and purpose of multi-cultural education.

Such experiences and appreciations, as we see today, avail little when poorly schooled American students find cutting-edge scientific jobs being outsourced to India, Taiwan, and Japan, where students often must compete for several years just to be accepted into university engineering, science, and mathematics studies.  The social-justice paradigm of American liberalism is no match for these disciplined foreign students who know their subject matter in depth.

The ultimate expression of this nonsense came in the student anarchism of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when students rioters took over college administrative offices with sit-ins and destroyed computer centers and student records.  Those student activists were emulating Rousseau’s savages, but there was nothing noble about it.  Students were merely on a hedonistic binge.  It was exciting to participate in riots, and far easier than studying subject matter to pass tests. There was enormous ego satisfaction in media coverage of their bloviation about profound issues of which they knew exactly zero.  Put a gun to someone’s head, and he will pay attention to you, even if you are demented.

Following the path blazed by Rousseau into the middle of the briar thicket, students demanded the right to determine the school curriculum themselves, insisting that subject matter be “relevant.”  No one bothered to ask why students were in college if they already knew more than their teachers.

No one should wonder that students no longer can tell you where Kansas is, let alone Afghanistan, that they don’t know when the War of Independence was fought, or why.

The disastrous results of American education since the 1960s should suggest to any person of intelligence the necessity to reassess our paradigm of education.  That necessarily involves changing our paradigm of the world and of humans’ relationship to the world.

The new paradigm must be really a reversion to the true science and knowledge that prevailed before the French Revolution, in short, the Judeo-Christian tradition that was the foundation of Western civilization. 

It must be a paradigm of individual learning, guided by standards of excellence, with real consequences for disruptive students or students who fail to work up to their full capacities.  It must be a paradigm of moral rectitude, acquired through study of the best thought of the Western world, from the ancient Jews and Greeks to the mid-18th century.

Instead of the present-day paradigm, in which the structure of the political state is the determinant and source of thought and conduct, students must be required to take personal responsibility for their conduct.  They must be taught that there is a God-given design to the universe and that it is their individual responsibilities to learn and to conform to the Will of God through loving kindness and respect for all people.  They must understand that joining mass demonstrations, smoking pot, waving placards for TV cameras, and chanting slogans can’t absolve them of personal responsibility to live moral lives and to help their less fortunate brethren.  They must again be taught that self-discipline and self-denial are essential to the survival of civilization and to the betterment of life for all peoples.

Each individual must seek guidance from a personal relationship with God.  Harmony with the nature of the universe and with its Creator will lead the individual to good standards of conduct, just as a tree grows upward in a beautiful shape, reaching toward Divinely provided energy from the sun.

This requires a return to basics, to a simpler life of reward for hard work and honesty.  It requires setting high standards for student performance and demanding that students do their best to meet those standards.  It means that each student be responsible for his own success or failure, that rude, disruptive, even criminal, behavior not be excused as the fault of society.

To the liberal-socialist sensualist this sounds like medieval torture.  How can anyone be happy except in pursuit of worldly pleasure?

The answer simply is to study the Bible and other classics of Western civilization.  As Plato and Aristotle noted, there is a distinction between the fleeting pleasure of material things and true happiness, which is a matter of the soul attuned to virtue. 

The Old Testament’s Book of Isaiah, 33:5-6, reads:

“The LORD is exalted; for he dwelleth on high: he hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness.  And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the LORD is his treasure.”

The Christian New Testament expresses this same idea, among other places, in Matthew 6:19-21.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

As they say, virtue is its own reward.

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