The View From 1776

Withered Fruit Of Progressive Education

While liberal-progressive educators preen themselves about teaching students “to think,” knowledge gained in public schools has declined dangerously since student activist days in the 1960s.  Along with the diminished breadth and depth of subject knowledge has come a reduced ability to reason systematically and to understand the nature of the degradation of society wrought by liberal-progressivism.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/17 at 12:23 AM
  1. I believe that one of the reasons American voters are looking more and more for big government largesse is that they have no understanding of how our society got to be where it is: the most powerful, free and affluent society in history. Too many people seem to think it just happened! And, at the same time they see no illogic in condemming the past ten generations of Americans who actually made it happen. Thus they lack a sound knowledge of both history and logic! And that's exactly what the liberal elite want, and it is exactly how the government run schools "educate" their students.

    There is a new elite runnimng the country and it is made up of academics, socialists, and soft-science intellectuals, with the latter occupying the vast majority of America's educational positions. In his great book, Race and Culture, Thomas Sowell writes: "A whole new class of intellectuals has arisen to supply a history geared to what people currently wish to believe, rather than to the record of the past."

    In most of his writings, Sowell blames this educational bias on the left-leaning academics and other "soft-science intellects" who have a natural affinity for abstract concepts such as socialist governmental run utopias. It's how their minds work!. That is why they are not working in the productive "hard-sciences" where they could do some useful engineering, medical research, and build more productivity into the American industrial heartland.

    Because their love of abstractions leans inevitably to top-down programs "to make the world better," they need to indoctrinate each new generation into believing that they have the answers. Unfortunately for these theorists "the record of the past" that Sowell refers to, establishes beyond any reasonable doubt that socialism does not work. This is why the liberal leftists must eliminate real history from the curriculum.

    And, while they're at it, it certainly is essential to exorcize any training in "logic" because their pet theories cannot survive any serious examination.

    A related thought comes to me after reflecting on the recent national elections where negative attack ads have become such a key feature of successful campaigns. What the progressives have done over the past 50 years to cement their place at the top is to run negative attack ads on America. The schools and media devote inordinate time to attacking the historical record of Western Civilization. From the Crusades and the Inquisition, to Columbus and the Indians, to the Japanese internment in WWII, and the Hiroshima bomb, not to mention slavery and womens' rights, the majority of history taught is about how bad we are or have been. This is not put in perspective, the uniquely Western improvements over this gradual rise from barbarism to modernity is never highlighted, and the extraordinary improvement in each individuals comfort and health is ignored. So each new generation has no understanding of how America attained its superior and comfortable status.

    Without an understanding of how we got here a voter cannot make an informed decision on how to build on it. Instead they have been taught how to tear it down! After 400 years of unprecedented success, the American experiment is at its zenith, and the intelligentsias will bring it down.
    Posted by bill greene  on  01/17  at  01:27 PM
  2. Bill,

    It seems that there is a sizable fraction of the country that yearns to deny or ignore the role played by slavery and other practices that we now (mostly) all agree were unsavory, in the rise of this country to the height of power and status it now enjoys. You put it well when you cite a gradual rise from "barbarism" (although I suspect you did not mean "American barbarism.")

    To limit our history books to pleasant fables of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and whitewash everything else does a disservice to our children.

    Of course there are undeniable moments of glory in our history, but we should not close our eyes to the darker aspects of our rise to power if we want to have a well educated population capable of discerning the difference between morality on the one hand, and expediency and profit on the other.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/22  at  10:50 PM
  3. We are not perfect and never have been--BUT, it must be stressed that The West's rise from barbarism has been more complete and more rapid than witnessed anywhere else on earth.

    Further, most of the reforms, whether in slavery, womens' rights, extending the voting franchise, the protection of individuals by an established set of laws and judiciary, the sanctity of the home and private property, and the creation of widespread prosperity have all been the creation of the West--fought for and established within the institutions of Western culture. Anywhere else you see these advances, they were copied from the West's pioneering achievements!

    When it comes to educating our citizenry it is most beneficial to recognize that history, look for its causes, and seek ways to extend the record, than to wallow in the imperfections that pale in comparison to the successes.

    The current "balance" as taught in most of our schools and colleges is to suppress the achievements and emphasize those faults--faults that have been overcome--as if the those past weaknesses are a permanent blot on our character. Instead, the reforms should be celebrated as illustrating the continuing superiority of America!
    Posted by bill greene  on  01/28  at  10:39 AM
  4. J. Jay,

    So, by your reckoning, better we should teach our children an entirely new set of fables dismissive of country and devoid of a national identity such as other nations have, honor and cherish. Our history is not merely a rehashing of an indifferent past from which to identify mistakes to be avoided in future, it is also a lesson in civics and civic values by which we become an undivided and indivisible people. For every negative the left finds with which to disparage, there are ten positives they positively don’t want known. If good (i.e., real progress) outweighs the bad, and the bad has been repaired, and if the repair could not have happened without half-measures as make possible what came after, then why shouldn’t we celebrate and embrace the positives our founders set in motion; and use that to find more we have in common than that which drives us apart?

    Absent from Bill’s academic rebuke is the role politicians have played in distorting our self-image solely to pit politically-crafted social classes (that none of us would have imagined existed without their urging) one against the other. Class warfare, and not the legacy of slavery, is the current bane of our existence as a unified people, and it, far more than slavery, is responsible for the modern-day class-warfare that now afflicts us. I do not think you want a divided people any more than I do, but you do your share of provoking it, scuttling discussion of it, and your ‘head in the sand, quash any mention of how we actually got here’ attitude is entirely unhelpful.

    The cherry-tree legend is, indeed a pleasant fable useful for encouraging honesty in small children, but what is so terrible about using famous men as exemplars for virtue? It does not make Washington’s preference for honest men (aka, trustworthy) and honest-dealing any less that some doting biographer used his virtuous reputation as a vehicle for teaching virtue. While the cherry tree story was certainly made up by a Washington devotee, his reputation for integrity, leadership and bravery were real and deserved. Washington lived at a time when the virtues were still preached and a man could have no greater aspiration than a reputation for honesty (see ). Washington consciously carved out such a reputation for himself, and so esteemed virtues like honesty above fortune and power. Some recent historians have cast aspersions on that reputation, but they are too much focused on the few and trivial examples of Washington’s ‘deceit’ (as alleged by rivals, opponents, and those who fell afoul of his rare displays of temper) and assumed conceit. They also accuse him of being a dullard who stood in the shadow of intellectual giants, but if you will take the time to read some of his letters and speeches, you will see how underserved that criticism is also. He was no dummy as portrayed, so his honesty, force of character and statesmanship are things which go hand in glove. Among all the political jockeying of influential men of the period (and you’d be surprised how much and how rancorous that sometimes was), Washington stands out as one of the ablest and most honest statesmen our country has ever had. No man is born honest, but some men aspire to be as honest as humanly possible, and that is something George Washington actually did. The recent trend in historians of ‘cutting the fictitious Washington down to human size’ is just that, the envious preening of small-minded men carving out reputations for themselves out of largest, most iconic figure they can malign.

    People forget that, without Washington’s reputation, determination and sacrifice, our revolution would have petered out at Valley Forge, and the legends that grew up around his name and fame played a role in holding his army (and country) together at a time we had no national identity as invokes patriotism as in WWII). Both before and after Valley Forge, resolute men flocked to arms as much because of the confidence they had in Washington (no other general – with the possible exception of Greene - was able to both muster and maintain such confidence) as for the cause itself. In fact, Washington became synonymous with the cause in the minds of ordinary Americans by the time hostilities ended, and his loss or abandonment of that cause would have been a disaster.

    Other men conceived and arranged the convention at Philadelphia, but it was understood that without Washington and his backing, the Constitution and its ratification would have failed. So, without Washington, there would have been no Yorktown and no Constitution. A failure to ratify very likely would have resulted in a breakup of the Confederation (which was barely holding its own, and states like Rhode Island, Vermont, Georgia, North Carolina and Kentucky were seriously considering alternatives to union). So, without Washington, the United States would likely no longer exist as the states would have reformed along sectional lines into two or three competing republics. Had that happened, it is a near certainty wars would have resulted from the competition over western lands, the ‘slave-ocracy’s’ urgent need to expand and to maintain its control of the Mississippi River, difficulties with British Canada and Spanish Louisiana/Mexico over sovereignty and boundaries, water-rights, commercial rights, defensible boundaries, and other things vital to each rump republic for each to survive and grow.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/28  at  11:53 PM
  5. Continued from #4

    No one is denying or ignoring the role of slavery, but the lesson the Left would have us draw from that mess is not that we overcame a great evil but that we are still guilty of it four or five generations after emancipation; and that we, more than any other people on earth, engaged in and defended it – all of which is demonstrably false. It was the British and their American cousins (and, to a lesser extent Western Europe) who first challenged what was then a nearly universal practice. Far from what you were taught in school, a majority of the Framers opposed or had reservations regarding slavery; and generally favored proposals with some potential for ending the practice amicably. Even Virginia with its large slave population opposed the further spread of slavery and North Carolina’s delegates (halfheartedly) favored ending their importation. Only Georgia and South Carolina threatened secession over it, and it was primarily that threat that dissuaded the others from perusing abolition, at least within the context of the Constitution. They saw, as we should that the Constitution was a framework upon which to build, and not the end of their labor to perfect.

    After Washington, Jefferson is the founder that socialists most love to trash as a ‘hypocrite’. Jefferson, despite the obvious contradiction, wrote a great deal on the subject of slavery, and his writings were peppered with advice and admonitions (directed mainly at Virginia legislators and other influential southerners) urging the emancipations and repatriation of slaves to Africa. Like many southerners, Jefferson was legally barred against freeing his own slaves due to a widespread (though not irrational) fear of uprisings as occurred both here (Gloucester County Revolt, Stono Rebellion, Pointe Coupée Conspiracy, &c) and nearby (St. John’s, Haiti, Panama, Cuba, and throughout the Caribbean). For Jefferson to have freed his own slaves contrary to Virginia law entailed some risk of punishment and confiscation of remaining property, up to and including imprisonment (though I think repudiation and shunning by Virginia’s elites worried him more). Rather than liberating his slaves, such an action would only have resulted in their being shipped further south where the sentiment against emancipation was stronger. No doubt, then, Jefferson must have decided retaining ownership the lesser evil, as did Washington. Moreover, there was the problem of freeing slaves most of whom were illiterate and lacking skills necessary to their survival outside the plantation system. Freeing one or two slaves of ability was, therefore, a very different proposition from freeing two million slaves wholesale. Many such revolts were still fresh on southerner minds, and the pressure brought to bear on them (by New England abolitionist with whom many a southern leader corresponded) not only chaffed, but appeared to them careless of the consequences as would befall southerners from a too hasty an emancipation. Nonetheless, southern liberals like Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Randolph, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Wythe, and Mason persisted in doing all they could (and as much as many in the north) to discourage slavery’s further spread, encourage emancipation, and to extol the virtues of paid-labor over slave-labor and substituting crops as were less labor intensive (explaining Washington’s and Jefferson’s keen interest in agricultural novelties). Washington, Jefferson and Madison were instrumental in both passing and promoting the Northwest Ordinance (1789) prohibiting slavery north of the Ohio River. They also advocated educating and training slaves with the idea this would not only make blacks more capable of independent living, but would lessen fears of large bands of freed yet starving slaves roaming the countryside (i.e., argued well-employed freed-men with a place in the community would be far less troublesome than idle, destitute ex-slaves). That they failed to convince southerners of any of these things is more a testament to the depth of biases and fears among their less enlightened brethren than hypocrisy on their part. Jefferson and Washington were alike in their refusal to simply sell off slaves as this would not only be injurious to the slaves (individually), but also and invariably resulted in families being torn apart. Washington, unlike Jefferson, Lee, Randolph and Mason, succeeded in freeing most of his slaves upon his death in his will. Jefferson toyed with freeing his slaves in his will as Washington had, but there are four reasons cited for his failure to carry it through; a) he strongly felt emancipation should be a collective (national) decision (else a futile gesture), b) that large scale emancipation without repatriation was a deadly mistake, c) freeing his own slaves while it might be personally satisfying would be a cruel abandonment of “his negroes”, and d) by the time of his death the window for doing so had closed (Virginia law no long allowed it). They were simply too far ahead of their time to effect such sweeping changes.

    We should wonder, if Jefferson and Washington are the locus of modern complaints of hypocrisy against the Constitutions promoters and delegates: why so little attention given to others who were more notable for their defense of slavery; including several northern delegates without any direct interest in it other than they cut deals favorable to southern colleagues? And, why so little mention of the Georgian and Carolinian delegates who threatened secession rather than hazard an importation ban? This seems to me the real hypocrisy. Washington and Jefferson are targeted not because they make a good case against the Constitution and Founders, but because it is understood the Constitution can only be weakened by taking them out of the picture, of shrinking their contributions and importance. Those other gentlemen merely acceded to union, but Washington, Madison and Jefferson were vital to forging a strong union and making it enormously popular. So, if your objective is to undermine Constitutional authority, you attack its icons; not some half-remembered co-conspirators.

    One consequence of failure to win independence from Britain and subsequent Constitutional establishment is we would have remained under British control far longer, including crown interference against any restraint on its trade in slaves by any of its colonies until such time as British policy changed for the better. As this did not begin to change until 1807 (legal American slave trading ended one year later), it would have meant slavery would have increased in the north almost as much as it did in the south, with some likelihood attitudes defending its convenience would have increased in the North much as they had in the South a generation earlier (one generation makes for some surprising changes). Were that the case, there would have been far less abolitionist incitement coming from the north as the nation expanded westward, and little reason for a Civil War as settled the question in the affirmative. Moreover, the British and American abolition movements were entwined and mutually-reinforcing. The American Revolution was the singular event igniting the idea we are ‘created equal’, and spread it either side of the pond simultaneously. The French Revolution (itself inspired by our revolt) took that idea farther by initially demanding ‘social justice’ and ‘liberté’ for all, declaring slavery outlaw in the French colonies, and repudiating French involvement in the slave trade (at least until Napoleon restored it as an economic necessity). [Side note: Ironically, it was French excess that convinced many southerners of the early republic (then wavering on the question) to, instead, strengthen laws against it following the Haitian revolt (1789) that wiped out most of its white population.] So, what would our history look like today had our revolution petered out? Possibly enlightenment ideas would have taken root anyway, but it is unlikely they’d have had nearly the same force or effects. Probably, we’d have achieved independence eventually, just as Canada did; but then our example would not have stirred Frenchmen to revolt and crown justice would have remained the standard for many decades. There would have been no abolition movement and no clash of cultures ending in universal emancipation and universal suffrage. Quite likely, there’d be slaves and a slave-ocracy entrenched through America today, and bondage would be such a commonplace few would note or despise it. So, whether the Framers were saints or sinners matters little to the result. What they accomplished was so fundamentally altering as set the world on fire.

    While in the minority among southerners, Jefferson’s attitudes were far from unique in 1787 America. From Pennsylvania northward, slavery was in rapid decline even before the Industrial Revolution. Abolition was still a few years away as a movement, but emancipation of remaining slaves was clearly on northern minds, as well as the means for educating, training and/or repatriating them to Africa. Enlightenment ideas were percolating downward from America’s educated elites (many of whom were revolutionary stalwarts) to the broader yeomanry; as well as upward from America’s yeomanry to its elites; and who complained of having fought a war for independence only to be cheated by speculators and undermined by slaves in a shrunken labor-market. You speak glibly of ‘glory’ and ‘darker aspects’ of our revolution as though an authority, and as if they had some kind of equivalence as balance the cosmic scales more against than for our Founders. That only tells me you have spent too little time studying the Founders, that period of our history, or their accomplishments to talk intelligently about them, and too much enamored of the talking points of shallow minds. That has only resulted in an under-appreciation of things you should hold most dear, but instead neglect.

    Further enlightenment:
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/28  at  11:54 PM
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