Saturday, September 4, 2010

Teaching as a Subversive Activity

One of the latter twentieth century's more insightful authors, Neil Postman, wrote a book of the same title as this post.

I've never read it.

I'm sure if I did, I would find much in it to be admired, for the author is a keen cultural critic of the first order, and the title packs a punch. In fact, it is the title itself that will be the focus of this entry, for teaching is a subversive activity. The problem is that few of the parents of the almost 50 million students in America's public schools recognize they've enlisted their children in a revolutionary army.

I will not spend my time discussing the teaching of evolution, the removal of prayer from the public schools, the normalization of homosexuality in the curriculum and in the libraries, the downward spiral of standardized test scores, or the elevation of "self-esteem" issues over traditional standards of excellence -- including the reward of excellence and the strictures on failure. All of these may be lamented in and of themselves, to be sure, but they all rally the troops and waste energy attacking peripheral issues while ignoring the elephant in the room. It is not the content of the public schools that is the problem -- it is their mere existence that is objectionable.

Before we run for the pitch forks and torches, consider:

- The first compulsory attendance law in the nation was passed in 1852 by the State of Massachusetts
- Prior to this law, in 1800, Thomas Jefferson could write that not more than four school children in a thousand could not write legibly (even neatly), and that nearly all Americans could read, write and cipher. (Note: and no Department of Education!)
- Per student spending on education has risen from $3400 in 1960 to >$9000 today in constant, inflation adjusted dollars, while nearly every metric reveals decline in actual educational achievement
- Actual spending on public education is likely 44% higher than reported spending, and is far more expensive than private education, which consistently outperforms public education in achievement metrics

These are only a few illustrative facts and statistics. They do not, however, in and of themselves make the point regarding the propriety of government schools (note: we would do well to remember that "government" school is a much more accurate title than the euphemistic "public" school).

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon states that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." In other words, all knowledge (and therefore, all education) is by its very nature religious. There is no such thing as neutrality in education. It is not possible to separate the knowledge of the Cosmos, the knowledge of mathematics, or the wisdom of history from the fear of the Lord who is the author of science, math, and all history.

While the modern educational prophets would have us believe that we have a truly neutral, secular educational system in which religious questions are left to the parent and/or the sunday school, the founders of the modern system suffered under no such delusions (if you grant that the arguments are delusions and not outright lies). As R.J. Rushdoony demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt in his Messianic Character of American Education, the thought leaders in the establishment of the modern government school system were utopians, statists, Marxists, and in some cases very misguided Christians who saw the school systems for what they are -- fertile ground for the reshaping of the next generation of Americans in the image of the creators of the system. Consider Horace Mann, the Father of Public Schools, who wrote:

Let the Common School be expanded to its capabilities, let it be worked with the efficiency of which it is susceptible, and nine-tenths of the crimes in the penal code would become obsolete; the long catalogue of human ill would be abridged; men would walk more safely by day; every pillow would be more inviolable by night; property, life and character held by a stronger tenure; all rational hopes respecting the future brightened.

Mann died in 1859. Still waiting on those crimes becoming obsolete...

And while the majority of gullible Protestants rallied to the cause of the new system as a way of indoctrinating the rising Catholic population against the doctrines of their parents (thus giving rise to the Catholic parochial schools), many were not fooled. Consider these words from A.A. Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary, written in 1887:

I am as sure as I am of Christ's reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is commonly proposed, will prove to be the most appalling engine for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief...which this sin rent world has ever seen.

The tendency is to hold that the system must be altogether secular...that the education provided by the common government should be entirely emptied of all religious character...

It is capable of exact demonstration that if every party in the State has the right of excluding from the public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes most must give way to him that believes least, and then he that believes least must give way to him who believes absolutely nothing, no matter in how small a minority the atheists or the agnostics may be.

It is self evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States' system of national popular education will be the most efficient and wide instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.

The revolution is not being foisted upon us by the abortionists, Marxists, and homosexuals of the 21st century. The revolution is in the past -- it was won by the proponents of the government school system over 100 years ago. What we are witnessing today is merely the consolidation of the conquered territory by the victors.

Author's note: This should not be read as disparagement of any particular individual participating in the public school system. I am not attacking the intentions or the performance of the teachers, principals, or librarians who are often well-meaning and hard-working individuals doing their best in a broken system. It is the system that should be discarded. Fast. And furiously.


purrple1394 said...

"Without treading on the subject of voting rights for women, or blacks, or any other preferred group (at least for the present!)"

So you think women shouldn't vote? Or blacks? So we're all inferior to you, I get it. God created all humans to be equal, not a servant to you as hard as it may be for you to understand it. If you think women are inferior and shouldn't vote read this book:

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini Maybe that will change your mind. If you love God, take a look inside you and ask yourself if what you think and what you say are in love of all people. This includes Muslims, women, blacks, and homosexuals. All the people you see as below you.
Sincerely, An Offended Woman

purrple1394 said...

Also, that comment was meant for another post, 'Opposing the right to vote'. The computer posted it to this one instead, I don't know why.

JWC said...

Ms. Purple, thanks for your interaction. I never wrote that women or blacks shouldn't be allowed to vote. I just wrote that I wasn't going to tread on the subject of voting rights for "preferred groups"(for now).

What I will write for now is that the subject is more complex than the simplistic sound bites that pass for public discourse these days. The conventional wisdom about the past is:

- Once upon a time we were ruled by chauvenistic, bigoted white Christian males
- Then we became enlightened and realized everyone was equal
- Then we extended the suffrage to everyone
- Now we can all live happily ever after

Do I reject that CW? Yes.

Do I think Muslims have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Yes.

Do I think that recognizing that right means we need to give them an equal say in *our* government? No. Not because I do not love them. Because their values and principles are inconsistent with the values and principles that serve as the foundation of our government.

The Christian religion is Trinitarian and recognizes equal ultimacy between the One and the Many. When played out in history, it leads to a balance between centralized authority and personal freedom. The Muslim religion is Unitarian and always tends towards the totalitarian, centralized forms you find in the Middle East.

So, no, I do not hate Muslims. I wish them no harm. I do not think we should be so naive, though, as to fail to recognize that their religion has a political aspect that is inconsistent with the freedoms the Christian west cherishes.

I don't hate my next door neighbor. I also don't give him control over my family's finances. My love for him does not mean I must give him the same privileges as my wife or children. The same principle applies here.

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