The 19th century legacy of Horace Mann and his influence on public school education is still being debated. His intentions were noble and his argument for civics and citizen-making as a function of democratic schooling had much to recommend it. But opening the public schools to government control has proven to be a Pandora’s Box of incurable ills. There can be little doubt that its latest manifestation, Common Core, is nothing short of a recipe for the uniform and partisan dumbing down of the current generation.
A figure no less significant and undeniably harmful in his widespread influence on public education is the Leftist social thinker John Dewey, especially in Democracy and Education. It has taken a hundred years to ruin American education, dating from Dewey’s so-called child-centered and “progressive” revolution in American public pedagogy in the early 1920s, through the turbulent 1960s during which empowered student radicals took over the universities, on to the self-esteem movement that flattered the student into believing that self-love was more crucial than self-improvement, to the present moment in which both public and university education has traded honest teaching, academic rigor and merit-based instruction for social justice, politically correct groupthink, anti-white and anti-Western passions, feminist madness and left-wing partisanship.
In The End of Education, published some twenty years ago, Neil Postman mounts a multi-pronged attack on the failures of the education machine, dethroning the idols of “Economic Utility, Consumership, and Technology.” One may or may not agree with his argument, which appears somewhat dated in the present environment. But he is certainly on target in exploding the fetish of “Tribalism and Separatism” as gods in the pantheon of Multiculturalism. He cites Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s 1991 tour de force The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (a must-read), which partially skewers “our reversion to undiluted tribalism” and the ulcer of identity politics. Following Mann, Postman’s main point is that teachers and students need “a narrative to provide profound meaning to their lessons.” Unfortunately, the narrative currently in play is “a terrible story” advancing the “frightening” thesis that “evil inheres in white people … of European origin [and] Goodness inheres in nonwhites,” among many other reductions of our Judeo-Christian heritage. What is called “emancipatory knowledge” — an alias for Social Justice gospel — must replace “Eurocentric knowledge.”
A representative sample of high school teaching and curricula will serve to underscore the dilemma. In a forceful article for PJ Media, Megan Fox points out that, far from learning anything useful, students are likely to be subjected to ideologically driven praxis (a term teachers are fond of), including “gender-neutral pronouns, discussions of sexuality, and anti-white propaganda.”
We might say that students have been thrown under the syllabus, which stresses the factoid that white people, men, heterosexuals, Christians, natural born citizens and English speakers are targeting other races, females, LGBT folks, non-Christians, immigrants and non-native speakers. Students are separated “into tribal groups pitted against one another for chief victim status.” The crowning indignity is that students are asked to take a confidentiality oath, in other words, they are urged not to let their parents know what is taking place in this pestilential environment. Such lessons in perfidy should “not be shared outside the group.”
This is only one school district in the petri dish, but its “praxis” can be amplified across the entire eduscape. Students are no longer educated in any meaningful sense of the term. Even math proficiency is considered an expression of white privilege. Teaching algebra can have harmful effects, especially to low-achievers whose self-esteem will be weakened. History books are becoming Islamic propaganda manuals and American history is gradually being scrubbed from their pages. Civics is no longer taught — an omission that would shock Horace Mann — or as The Federalist writes, it “is being transformed into a political machine to push left-wing causes, undermine American government, and incite civil unrest.”
The result is ruefully predictable. By the time these students reach university, they will have become largely dysfunctional, intellectually mediocre and materially unemployable social justice warriors and identity fetishists who will be a burden to the country and eventually to themselves. They will comprise a cohort of resentful quasi-citizens of a nation with no future.
I should note that the situation is equally dire in my own country. Canada, it seems, has learned from the U.S., emphasizing “Social Justice,” Identity Studies and Feminist doctrine at the expense of genuine learning. It is far more important, it seems, to teach youngsters about the intricacies of fringe sexuality, the predatory nature of the white race, and the horror of male toxicity. The university professoriate is essentially a socialist cabal and a politically correct orthodoxy which enforces the petrifaction of thought and speech. Woe betide any scholar who breaks the rule of sameness and manifests the slightest degree of intellectual independence.
Consider the most recent controversy surrounding the fate of Rick Mehta, a professor of psychology at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, who despite tenure was summarily fired for espousing views antithetical to the reigning groupthink. Mehta’s trespass was slitting the bellies of sacred caribou — rejecting white guilt (Mehta is brown), objecting to multiculturalism, saying that identity politics leads to social hatred, supporting a wide-ranging discussion about the impact of Indian residential schools, and disputing that the pay gap is caused by bias against women.
For this he has paid dearly; his colleagues, whether moral cowards, careerists with an eye to the main chance or ideological robots, saw to his ostracism. A host of bogus charges was brought against him, and the dirty deed was done. Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars has eloquently summarized this mockery of academic integrity. His conclusion is as pertinent as it is dispiriting: “We should take warning from what Acadia University has done. It will, very soon, happen here too.”
What we are witnessing is the end of education — that is, both its purpose (as Postman uses the term) and its demise. What can be done to avert a looming catastrophe? Absent the resolution of an enlightened government, both to correct abuses and ultimately to lessen its departmental footprint, the awakening of North American alumni to the damage being done on their donative tab, and a massive parent revolt, not much I’m afraid. Meanwhile, for what it’s worth, we must do our best to find alternative solutions for our children’s education.