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The origin of specious thinking: public schools

The origin of specious thinking: public schools

Writing in Canon and Culture, Prof. Colin Garbarino of Houston Baptist University poses an interesting and accurate critique of the common notion that the nation’s colleges and universities indoctrinate a generally conservative or at least politically and culturally neutral incoming student population into advanced progressive leftism and political correctness. They do impose such an agenda, he notes, but the overwhelming majority of students they are indoctrinating have already heard and adopted its fundamental premises upon arrival.

In other words, Garbarino argues, the colleges and universities are building on a foundation laid for years in the student’s life by the public education establishment and the culture. Thus:

It is no secret that most university professors are progressives, and over the last forty years, universities have replaced real virtues with tolerance and diversity. The prevailing spirit of progressivism has led to many forms of insanity on college campuses. Yale’s Sex Week is perhaps the most notorious example of how American universities celebrate the demise of tradition, but moral relativism permeates every college classroom.

Many conservatives blame left-leaning professors for this rise in moral relativism. Certainly a liberal faculty will promote progressive values, but the battle for conservatism was lost long before these students ever met their first college professor. In my experience, freshmen arrive on campus as moral relativists.

Recounting an assignment he gave his students to evaluate ancient Athens’s genocidal attack on Melos, Garbarino notes that his students nearly universally approved of the action, because it was done by a democracy, and we all know that democracies are good. This, he correctly notes, is the outcome of moral relativism plus a belief that democratic processes confer ultimate, unanswerable authority: “Seemingly evil acts must be explained away.” The children learn this process throughout their youth:

Children spend thirteen years in a school system which was founded upon progressive ideals about education and which increasingly promotes statism. For eighteen years the entertainment industry communicated to them an equally progressive worldview. From all sides children are taught to believe in the inherent goodness of humankind and to cherish the values of tolerance and diversity. There is no good and evil; there is just diversity. There is no justice and truth; there is only tolerance for other opinions. Democracy has become a good in its own right instead of being founded upon virtue. When democracy becomes its own end, any atrocity can be justified by a majority vote.

Such value-indoctrination cannot be countered by discussions of political positions, Garbarino notes but can only be inoculated against by reference to fundamental values and ideas. These, I suggest, should start with freedom of the will, personal responsibility, and the blindness of justice. Garbarino puts that in more general terms:

We few conservative professors do the best that we can to make students think clearly about the human condition and the nature of good and evil. Liberal professors, on the other hand, will merely bring consistency to a student’s inchoate relativism. I hope to see the number of conservative professors rise as young scholars begin to react against their mentors’ sacred cows, but conservative parents cannot wait for the cavalry. It might not come. Parents need to impart their worldview to their children before the college professors get a crack at them. Preparing children to think with proper moral categories takes intentionality. Parents need to recognize the problem and admit that their children do not necessarily understand their worldview. American culture will not do the work of explaining virtue. One day a cultural revival may occur in America, but that day has not happened yet.

A current news story, about a school in Tennessee, of all places, aptly reminds us how bold many public schools have become in their indoctrination:

A young girl, who claims she was standing up for her religious beliefs in the classroom, was suspended after breaking a class rule of saying “bless you” after a classmate sneezed.

When Dyer County High School senior Kendra Turner said bless you to her classmate, she says her teacher told her that was for church.

“She said that we’re not going to have godly speaking in her class and that’s when I said we have a constitutional right,” said Turner.

As always, there are two sides to the story, but this fact seems to trump the teacher’s attempts at self-exculpation:

Students sent WMC Action News 5′s Michael Clark a photo of the teacher’s white board that lists ‘bless you’ and other expressions that are banned as part of class rules.

As I have noted over the years, the nation’s vast system of public schools (which, ironically, was originally established by Protestants fearful of Catholic educational institutions) has, in the wake of 1960s Supreme Court decisions that falsely characterized any religious expression in public schools as an unconstitutional establishment of religion, become a de facto program of forced indoctrination in progressive thought. Such a system is both obviously unjust and entirely unnecessary, as I noted in an article responding to a web comment two years ago:

Justice requires equal treatment under the law, and forcing some people to be indoctrinated in others’ worldview does not accord with that principle. . . . [F]orcing people to pay for schools that treat Christianity as an alien and indeed dangerous ideology is an offense against equal treatment under the law. People should not be forced to pay for things that go against their conscience and which just happen to serve others’ interests.

Two obvious alternatives would avert that injustice while also completely preventing children from being forced to pray in schools. One, true school choice in which the taxpayers’ money follows the child to the school of their parents’ choice. (This has been repeatedly declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.) Under such a system, no child would be forced by the government to pray in school, nor would any parents be forced to send their child to a school that disrespects or otherwise undermines their religious beliefs. This is a truly just and liberal-minded position regarding the thorny issue of schools’ ideological position.

The other alternative is for all public money to be withdrawn from K-12 education. Education would then be as it had always been before anti-Catholic sentiment among the nation’s dominant Protestant electorate resulted in laws requiring universal public schooling in order to halt the “indoctrination” of Catholics’ children into their faith in Catholic-oriented schools. It would be for the family to decide on and finance their children’s education on their own, just as they choose and pay for essentials such as shelter, food, health care, and the like. A half-century ago Frank S. Meyer rightly pointed out that public schools are an outrage against liberty because they must necessarily do the bidding of the state, which means indoctrination into whatever ideas and attitudes the government believes will keep to a minimum the amount of public questioning of its agenda. That is indeed a fundamental outrage against liberty.

As current events and observations both show, the nation’s system of public, government-run schools is by its very nature a corrupting influence and a fundamental offense against individual freedom. Only true school choice or total defunding can change that.

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