Facing the Hardest Truth on Public Education

I “fess up” about this (my “education” at the hands of the “public”) in my memoirs. Being able to come to grips with being duped by the public education system is almost as hard as coming to grips with being duped by the uS Marine Corps. Although both are very hard for most of us, the process is liberating–an integral part of a rejection of the State as a whole. Yours for freedom in our lifetimes. — jtl, 419

By Daren  Jonescu via American Thinker

There  are several major obstacles to overcome if there is to be any hope of saving  civilization from the grip of the authoritarian pre-education camps we call  “public schools.”  The most stubborn obstacle of all, however, is perhaps  the one embedded in our own hearts, namely the all too human instinct to comfort  ourselves with the thought that the soul-deforming corruptions of public  education began in earnest only after our own school days, and hence that we  ourselves escaped the harm we so easily recognize in others.

This  instinct forms the rationale for the many objections I get to my calls for the  complete abolition of public schooling, from people who claim that if the  schools just got back to the methods of the good old days, all would be  well.  In other words, these people are unwilling to see the problem as  anything deeper than the superimposition of some bad textbooks or teaching  methods on an essentially noble system, because to admit that the problem is  more fundamental than this is to admit that one’s own education was harmful,  which is to concede that one was indeed harmed — that you are less  than you might have been.

A  few days ago, preparing a class of Korean undergraduates for a reading of  Plato’s Apology, I asked them to think back over all their years of  schooling, and to tell me what percentage of their teachers did not deserve  their pay.  At first, the students just smiled — Korea’s Confucian  heritage demands unreflective respect for all teachers.  Finally, one young  woman bravely volunteered that perhaps thirty percent of her teachers had not  deserved their pay — a much higher number than I had expected from a Korean  student.  This opened the floodgates: almost all the students in the room  subsequently condemned a significant portion of their educators — one as high  as sixty percent — as unworthy of being paid given what they had actually  provided for their students.

Next,  I asked them whether their own education had been worth all the money that had  been spent on it over the years.  With only one exception, everyone said  unequivocally that his or her own schooling had been worth every penny (or won,  in this case).  When I noted that this question was, in a sense, just a  variation on my previous question about the teachers, a few students grinned  sheepishly, and then a few more, as they gradually got the point: they were  perfectly willing to declare that much of their education had been ineffectual  or counterproductive — but unwilling to accept the logical result of this,  namely that their own development had  been slowed or stunted.

These  were students currently in school, which is why the contradiction in their  answers was so apparent, and pitiable.  For those of us who have long since  finished our formal education, this natural tendency to self-protection is  greatly exacerbated.  We easily see the damage done to today’s young  people, but draw the line at admitting that we too are damaged goods.  To  defend our egos, we must deny that our own education was compromised.  And  this is the major obstacle of which I spoke, for this denial implicitly detaches  the current evils of public education from the institution itself.  We  hesitate to condemn the institution outright, because this would mean  questioning the conditions and success of our own intellectual and moral  development.  We thereby vindicate the most powerful means to permanent  tyranny, in order to protect our tender pride.

Were  public schools better twenty, forty, or sixty years ago?  Of course they were.  But it no more follows from this  that public education is not such a bad idea than it follows from the fact that  the welfare state of sixty years ago had not yet incorporated socialized  medicine that socialism is not such a bad idea.  Today’s extensions of  progressive control over an ever-increasing range of our lives did not arise  from nowhere; they were made possible by earlier, gradual insinuations of the  concepts and moral perspectives of tyranny into the modern West’s  soul.

Likewise  with education.  John Dewey did not get the progressive,  individualism-crushing system he  wanted all at once.  But the slow encroachment of his theories into the  educational establishments of the world, beginning more than a century ago, has  allowed his intellectual heirs to achieve a level of socialist indoctrination  and anti-West moral degradation that, in many ways, have surpassed Dewey’s most  depraved hopes.  So while it may have been easier in the distant past for  people to come out of public school with some of their reasoning and moral  character intact, it is invalid to conclude that this relative superiority  indicates anything other than that an old cancer has worsened.

English: John Dewey at the University of Chica...
English: John Dewey at the University of Chicago in 1902.

Public  schools from the supposed good old days were the precondition for public schools  of today.  Once the premise was established that modern society’s interest  in a broadly educated population could best be satisfied by direct government  provision and oversight of schooling, it was a very short step to the conclusion  that such schooling ought to be compulsory.  And from here, it was an even  shorter step to the argument that everyone ought to be provided the same  education, in the same way, in the name of universality and fairness.   Thus, increasing centralization and standardization are natural (even if  unintended) developments of the initial  impulse to use the coercive power of government to provide something called  “education” for all children.  Such a metastasizing government beneficence  is all too susceptible to internal corruption by “big thinkers,” central  planners, and bureaucratic mother hens.  The result, all but inevitable  given the initial premises, is what you see: an entire civilization undone,  intellectually, spiritually and morally, in the name of “making sure every child  gets a good education,” or “preparing our children for today’s  economy.”

Some,  comparing their own pasts to mankind’s present impasse, are tempted to object  here that public schools in the old style were, after all, responsible for the  most prosperous and powerful society in history.  On the contrary: Public schools in the old style were responsible for the gradual undermining  and destruction of the most prosperous and powerful society in history.

The  perceptual inversion made by apologists for the good old days results from  imagining the relationship between public education and modernity as a still  photograph, rather than observing the historical trajectory of the relationship  in motion.  The mechanisms of liberty, free markets, individualism and self-reliance were set in motion  centuries before public education was generally available, let alone universal  and compulsory.  The generations that produced the ideas and art which gave  modern liberty its mind and character, as well as the generations that produced  the statesmen and warriors who brought modernity’s promise to practical  realization, were generations without public education.  The accumulated  spiritual and economic momentum of liberty was able to withstand the first  frictions of progressive authoritarianism, allowing civilization and its  economies to grow even while the tyrannical urge was beginning its ugly lurch  into modern life.  But nowhere was this progressive infection more  destructive, and more brilliantly conceived, than in government schools, which  can nip in the bud the natural impulse to learn and excel, and which were  explicitly intended from early on to produce competent but submissive workers  for the benefit of the ruling class.  The subsequent broadening of the  progressive schools’ agenda to include the deliberate undermining of the family,  the short-circuiting of Eros in favor of permanent puberty, and socialist  revisionism regarding the Western intellectual and historical heritage, was not  a radical shift in education policy, but a “natural” devolution made possible by  the success of earlier stages of corruption.  (This descent also defines  the devolution of the teaching profession itself.)

The  Jesuits said “give me the child for seven years, and I will give you the  man.”  Lenin boasted that he needed only the first four years to mould a  child to the unshakable form that communism required.  It is no accident  that John Dewey was primarily focused on early childhood education as early as  the 1880s.  Or that Bill Ayers is today.  Yes, public education  continues to deteriorate.  But that is the point: the deterioration is a  continuation of something begun generations ago.  None of us who have been  through any version of public schooling should fool ourselves about what this  means, including and especially for our own souls.  This is no time for  foolish pride; it is time for righteous anger, and the will to put a stop to  more than a century of forced intellectual and moral decline.

Universal  public education is modernity’s monster, the fatal mistake of a prosperous  civilization imagining that it can take over where freed human nature left off,  and even outdo freedom and nature, by mass producing, through government  micromanagement, the kind of men who make liberty and civil society  possible.  This description of public education’s foundations is the  generous version, which I offer only as a concession to those who object to my  arguments against this monster by noting that even some good men have favored  state control of childhood education.

It  is true: some good men have favored this.  It is also true that the best  and most nobly motivated of these men — from Aristotle  to James  Madison — were not publicly educated themselves, and never lived in a  community in which state-controlled education was the norm.  We cannot  know, but may guess, how their views on the subject might be different were they  among us today, witnessing the practical reality of a civilization in ruins,  thanks in large measure to the multi-generational effects of compulsory  government-regulated schooling on a society’s practical intelligence, moral  character, and the habits of mind that make liberal education in the proper  sense possible.

The  blind spot of these men of exalted spirit, such as Aristotle and Madison, is  their noble-minded presumption that in a good and just society, good and just  motives will prevail.  From less hopeful, but equally great, men, such as  Plato and Tocqueville, we learn three harsh truths that in combination are all  the answer we need offer to the virtuous hopes of Aristotle, Madison, or today’s  wishful thinkers regarding state-regulated schooling: (1) no society is so pure  or so just as to be immune to the corruptive effects of human weakness or  malice; (2) societal success and prosperity actually pave the way for corruption  by weakening the resolve and vigilance of a populace grown over-confident in its  strength and security; and, (3) the levers of monopolistic state authority are a  natural magnet to those whose desire for power and wealth outstrips their desire  for virtue and the common good.

In  sum, state control of education — as of most things — is an invitation to  ignoble men to insinuate themselves and their immoral motives into the system,  seeking their own perceived advantage at the expense of fellow men who fall  under the jurisdiction of their legislative influence.  And since, in this  case, it is the soul of the future — the children — into which evil may be  insinuated, it would seem that education, far from being an exception to the  rule of limited government, ought to be an especially emphatic marker of the  proper limits of legitimate government involvement in men’s  affairs.

The  risk is too great.  The proof of this is in the poison pudding of today’s  public schools, not merely in one or two nations, but worldwide.  Indeed,  the universality of compulsory government schooling, considered a radical  outrage when Marx proposed it just a century and a half ago, is itself evidence  of the way corruption breeds further corruption.

Leave  your ego to one side, for the sake of mankind’s future.  If you were  publicly educated, your soul’s growth was stunted to a significant degree, at  the very least through the emotional bruising engendered by your  spiritual resistance.

Be  not proud.  Be angry.  And resolve to end this authoritarian  abomination, before it ends us.

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9 Responses to Facing the Hardest Truth on Public Education

  1. genomega1 says:

    Reblogged this on News You May Have Missed and commented:
    Facing the Hardest Truth on Public Education

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  2. Over the past several years I’ve come to the conclusion that our USA nation will never change for the better unless the public school industry is dismantled. All one has to do is question some voters on the street and it can readily be accessed what led them to the ignorance that influences their election decisions. The last 2 American elections are perfect examples.

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  3. owlworks says:

    Ah, the cognitive dissonance when good intentions crash head-on into reality. Best to remember that that road to hell, like all our roads, is paved by the government.

    Thanks for a great post.

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  4. Derek says:

    Good article but it’s funny how the “right” always stops at Dewey! They did the same thing in the film “Agenda”, which was pretty good as well, but seemed to carry the left-right paradime to the death of the individual’s critical thinking. Prescribed grammar & prescribed logic via political or religious dogma.

    What about the money behind Dewey? What of the Rockefeller created University of Chicago? Who created “tenure” for teachers?

    This article from 1995 paints a more realistic picture of the purpose and source:

    http://fff.org/explore-freedom/article/horrors-schools-working-fine/

    If you find it interesting I suggest the 5 hour interview with John Taylor Gatto produced shortly before John had a stroke (which ended his speaking career). Its called “The Ultimate History Lesson” and you can watch it for free here:

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  5. Brian Patrick Corcoran says:

    I endured 12 years of private, Catholic “education” through grammar and high school so trust me when I tell you that a private, religious education is equally deleterious in itssoul -crushing degradationto rationality and the human spirit.

    ________________________________

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  6. phynedyning says:

    Walter Williams always points out how education majors typically matriculate in the lowest 25% of students. Today’s journalism students aren’t far behind. Passing knowledge and passing along learning have been entrusted to the bottoms rungs of human ability. Even worse, now that the public schools have reached ‘idiot’ saturation point, they have naturally moved on to private institutions and are on their way to benighting them as well.

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