A Critique of Modern Education (2)
There is an old story about a university professor who had a nightmare in which he dreamed that he was lecturing to his class and woke up and found that he was. I am reminded about that story because I slept only about an hour and a quarter last night on a plane from Los Angeles to Memphis, and I hope the same doesn’t befall either myself or you. Our subject now is ‘intellectual schizophrenia,’ in particular the schizophrenia that besets the advocates of public education. We shall in this hour deal with the liberal and radical critique of the public schools. In recent years there has been a growing critique of the schools, a growing dissatisfaction with them, and this is in one respect not surprising.
One of the things that catches my eye when I go on campus and I do appear on many secular university campuses year in and year out, is to examine the lecture subjects of other speakers, of secular humanistic speakers. Basically, there is quite a polarity in these subjects, and they can be summed up under two heads. One type of speech is ‘Will Man Survive?’ and the implication is that he won’t. And the other type of speech is ‘The Coming Triumph of World Socialism.’ There’s something schizophrenic here. A very wild ambivalence between hopelessness and wild confidence, we should not be surprised at this. Because in humanism all depends on man and man is God, man will, as he faces the immensity of this task and realizes that he faces it alone, be sometimes desperately, totally, hopeless. On the other hand as he tells himself that he is the only God in the universe he begins to feel that he is omnipotent, and if he says that things shall come to pass and passes a law to that effect, it should. After all, when man thinks of himself as God he thinks in terms of those categories of thought which are inescapable with a concept of a godhead, and one is the creative word: “and God said and it was so.”
Today at schools and in our legislature assemblies these men who see themselves as gods try the same thing. They pass a law and reality should be change, but it is not. They instituted an educational program that should bring them out a new kind of person, and it does not. When man plays god against the void of a meaningless world he does become schizophrenic. And so it is true that as he faces schools he does so with wild confidence and bitter despair.
There had been a flood of books in the last two or three years by radicals and liberals attacking the government schools. I could go into some of the more radical critiques; the Santa Barbara Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions has a number of publications and writers attacking the whole concept of statist education from the far leftist position, attacking the idea of compulsory school law and a great deal more. Dr. Ehrlich is notable among those who have mounted such an attack. But let us take a more moderate leftist attack such as that by Colin Greer. Colin Greer’s book, The Great School Legend: A Revisionist Interpretation Of American Public Education, cites the fact that does concern many of these critics of statist education, they realize that nine million current school children will enter the labor market as functional illiterates. This is their own admission. Nine million children across the United States will finish their schooling as functional illiterates! This certainly does not spell ‘success.’ Moreover as Colin Greer points out it is very difficult to call these facts to the attention of the educational fraternity and segments of the public because he says, and I quote:
“Public education is a religion.”
The modern faith that is in salvation by education. The goal in our schools he says has radically changed from the colonial period when the function of schools was to produce the Christian man, fully armed, and prepared by means of education to meet all problems. Then it became Americanization, and Americanization progressively became socialistically interpreted. Not sufficiently to suit, of course, Colin Greer and others. But he says the schools have failed to Americanize, immigrants are not educated properly, they have become largely able to progress in the United States by self-education. Now, Greer is correct at this point. A very large of studies over the past few years has revealed the fact that instead of being the great Americanizing force, the schools were a very divisive and oppressive force. They did not Americanize the Germans, or the Irish, or the Italians, or any other group that came to this country. Nor were they very helpful in teaching them even English.
I included the Irish there by the way because the great Irish immigration from 1820 on was largely not English-speaking; they were the Gaelic-speaking Irish. In fact, so many of the Gaelic speaking rural Irish came over that Ireland has virtually no Gaelic-speaking people left. The Irish immigrants then had to learn English also. Who taught them? Predominantly with all these immigrant groups the basic education was done by their churches, and by their own nationalistic organizations, the German-American group, the Irish-American group, the Italian-American group and so on. The documentation for this is quite extensive. The schools did not help them, they were misfits in the schools and they were treated as the lowest of the low. They were very quickly weeded out, and, as a result there was an inner development in the ghetto-areas of the big cities in which the organizations within the society; Italian or Irish or German or what have you, trained their own people and enabled them to advance, and to improve their lot in this country.
There is a far more radical critique that Colin Greer makes of statist education. It is a startling one coming from a person who is, himself, totally non-Christian, he never even considers the Christian perspective. The schools, he says, have been radically ugly and evil in their basic impact because of their Darwinism. Now this is a startling criticism coming from a man who never even considers Christianity as a live option. He says the theory of natural selection, which lies behind much of the American popular faith in public education, this theory consistently ignores the reality and the ineffectiveness of the criteria imposed from above upon those attempting to climb the ladder of success. And then he goes on to develop primarily what he means by this; the theory of natural selection, survival of the fittest. In education, he says, this means that the public schools, the government schools, very early in the last century shortly after Darwin, began to imbibe this perspective. In other words they imbibed it almost within a couple decades after the public schools were established.
What did they do? They began to weed out in terms of the doctrine of natural selection, the survival of the fittest, those who were not the elite. And so, he said, the fallacy until approximately 1930 was ‘weed out the lower levels in grade school.’ Then the high school will be the training ground and the college for the elite, those who will provide the leadership for our Darwinian society. They shall be trained for education, for leadership in state, in commerce and in social life. The rest are for the labor market as unskilled or semi-skilled workers. But Greer points out; beginning in the twenties there began to be a problem of unemployment. This presented a problem. Turn out all these youth at twelve, thirteen, fourteen, when there was no way of absorbing them into society, this might, they felt, create a revolutionary situation. And so the educational philosophy became ‘let us raise the mandatory school age to sixteen or eighteen and hold them in school longer,’ and especially with the depression this became the general practice. Hold them in school longer, keep them off the labor market, we cannot absorb them. Therefore, do not flunk them out in grade school or in high school, and increasingly educational philosophy posited a mandatory passing all through the lower grades. And passing became increasingly the order of the day. Even those schools that did flunk flunked with the idea of helping the student to get ahead the next semester so that he could see his way through high school as a high school graduate. But flunking, you see, is then to be done on the college level.
Since World War II, the situation has altered increasingly, because as we have a less and less free society and more and a more socialistic society, jobs become, as a result, progressively more and more a problem. As a result, the idea increasingly is to hold them in school until approximately twenty with a junior college system. And pass them all the way through the second year of college, no flunking. And state after state, California is one of these, this is becoming the routine thing. Every child must go through school to the age of eighteen and is increasingly guided and steered through junior college, so it is becoming normal for all, virtually without exception, to continue with their schooling to the age of twenty. No failure below that. In college, the weeding is forty percent or more depending upon the school. It should be higher, some hold, but increasingly the attitude is; perhaps as our economic situation becomes more and more difficult, we could hold them all the way through college and flunk them out in graduate school. State colleges are increasingly established with this in mind. ‘Let them through, let’s hold them as long as possible; we are less likely than to have social revolution.’
As a result, very great problems confront schools on all levels today. Mostly because this Darwinism leads to a feeling that they are training an elite only, they are preparing leadership and also because most students are aware of the fact that they are being babysat, that they are going to be passed, that nothing much is expected of them, that they are simply cogs in a machine. The first student revolt which broke out at the Berkeley Campus of the University of California very definitely was motivated by this impulse. The motto of the revolting students was ‘Do Not Hold, Mutilate or Staple.’ In other words, their feeling was: ‘we are not persons; we are merely things that are being pushed along as useless until they can no longer push us any further in the educational process. And we resent being treated as something in the giant computer without any human significance.’
Colin Greer is right, education no longer is as it was in the colonial period and in the first half century of the republic, the education of the Christian man, every child to be educated in terms of the faith, in terms of the covenant, in terms of a responsibility under God to be a whole man in Jesus Christ. Now it is Darwinism, ‘weed out the culls, prepare a handful for social, political and industrial leadership.’ It is a ruthless, heartless system.
Moreover, faith is gone in that system, faith in anything. Dr. Nesbit, one of the finest sociologists in the world today, has written a study and it delighted me because I was writing something along the same lines at the same time, although he did a far profounder job as far as the historical side was concerned, while mine was more theological. He titled his little study The Degradation of the Academic Dogma: The University in America. His thesis was that the university was the last Medieval institution. And as such it was now going. My thesis of course was very much along the same lines, approaching it from a different perspective; I singled out the term by Dr. Clark Kerr who in the early 1960s declared that the university was gone, that the multiversity had taken its place. Now his point in choosing this term was simply this; a university is a Christian concept. It presupposes that there is one God, one world of law, one universe and therefore a university in which this unified body of truth and law is taught. It’s a theistic concept; it is thoroughly a biblical concept. But today there is no concept of absolute truth, in the modern higher educational institution believes in a multiverse. There can be many systems that have evolved out of the primordial atom. There is therefore perhaps many universes, it is a multiverse and therefore the university is no longer tenable, it must be a multiversity in which anything goes, except Christianity which holds to a one world of truth, absolute truth and law. As a result ,today we do have multiversities and the multiversities are militantly hostile to Christianity. But having no absolutes they teach magic, they teach almost any and every subject under the sun including astrology.
They have no truth, and so it is that one of the most distinguished scientists of our time, a man who has no trace of Christianity in him, has written a very telling book on the end of the golden age. This man, a molecular biologist at the University of California, has analyzed what is happening to the university. And he declares that without the concept of truth it is no longer possible to have science, science will disappear. And he says that increasingly in graduate students this fact is becoming apparent. The graduate student no longer is like the scholar of old with a passion for truth. He is there because he is antiquarian, just as some people collect stamps because it appeals to them, so he is interested in physics or chemistry because he is ‘doing his thing.’ And so he says this kind of interest will wane, it will mean that science will disappear and in a couple of centuries man, having reverted to barbarism because he has no belief in truth, nor any desire to learn, will disappear from the face of the earth. In the spring of 1970 when Natural History reviewed the book it was given four pages of review and the reviewer concluded that he could not buy the author’s optimism.
Modern education is bankrupt. This bankruptcy came to very clear focus in a very startling report which was published in 1966. It had been commissioned earlier by President Kennedy and Dr. James S. Coleman of Johns Hopkins University had been made chairman of the commission. It was the Equality of Educational Opportunity Report. It was a study with the use of computers of all schools in the states. Since there was a great concern over immigration, it was a study of the schools as they differed, what was the difference between the black schools and the white schools and so on; every aspect. The report was a major shock, both to the committee as the data began to come in, and also to educators and politicians, and they have ignored it. About the only attention paid to it was by Harvard University, which pointed a faculty seminar on The Coleman Report on Equality of Educational Opportunity, edited by Frederick Mosteller and Daniel P Moynihan. Now I see the significance of it, in effect saying yes this is so, we see no holes in this report, it’s valid. It’s very interesting too, that the report did not deal with Christian schools at all. There was one sentence that indicated something of recognition of their existence, the sentence says: “No one yet knows how to make a ghetto school work. Perhaps it should be said that no one knows how to make a public ghetto school work.”
Now the findings of the EEOR or The Coleman Report which covered the era just before the compulsory integration of schools, in essence, came to three conclusions. The first which startled everyone was this: black and white schools are virtually equal in quality. This was a shocker. There were slight differences, on some points the white schools had an advantage, but on other points the black schools had an advantage over the white schools. So that as far as equality of educational opportunity was concerned, segregation had not handicapped the blacks. The second conclusion was even more upsetting to the educational fraternity. It was that that money made no difference in educational results. Spend as much as you want on; facilities, equipment, and so on, it makes no difference. I trust some of you will remember this when the pressure is on you in your Christian school to have a chemistry lab or a physics lab…forget it! As a matter of fact, I believe a very strong case could be made to the fact, that they are a detriment to education. Those labs are a joke, no student learns to experiment, no experiment is ever conducted in a high school laboratory, they are just demonstrations of experiments that were made generations ago. And that demonstration could be done by a teacher before the entire class much more economically, much more effectively, with better teaching results. As a matter of fact I was told by one instructor in chemistry that he prefers students from schools where they did not have labs, they had learned more. They had done less playing with the little gadgets in the chemistry lab and more learning. The Coleman Report thus very definitely confirmed the fact that money makes no difference in results. The third result was even more devastating to the educational fraternity and it was this; the family is basic in educational achievement. The basic problem they found with black students in schools was not that there was not enough money spend upon them, nor that they lacked good teachers, the basic problem was that fifty-five percent of the black children only had both parents in the home. The other forty-five percent you could write off educationally. And this was the problem. Eighty percent of the whites had both parents in the home; the other twenty percent were useless in school. In other words the family is the governing factor in education. Thus far The Coleman Report.
The question that it did not face was this, what is meant by the family? It obviously includes hereditary, it obviously includes morality, and it very obviously includes religion. The determinative aspect of education is not in education as far as our public schools are concerned, and the Christian school reinforces the family, the basic educational unit and therefore it is able to accomplish a great deal. The public school does not. Its effect, thus, at best, is deleterious, bad. It cannot educate, it basically can only harm, and this it is doing. And ironically with deliberate intent, statist educational philosophy has leveled its guns at God and the family. In his book A Common Faith, John Dewey, in 1932 declared that Christianity, biblical Christianity and democracy were not compatible. Why? Because, he said, the concept of Christianity that we meet with in the Bible is hopelessly aristocratic. It tells us that there is a division between the saved and the lost, the sheep and the goats, between truth and error, heaven and hell. And that’s aristocratic, hopelessly so! It is anti-democratic. In 1948 James Bryant Conant, former president of Harvard, former high commissioner of Germany, scientist, began to make surveys of education for the NEA and he wrote in Education in A Divided World on page eight, published in 1948 by the Harvard University Press, that there was an irreconcilable conflict between democracy and the family. Every family is an aristocratic institution, it wants the best for its children and it doesn’t think about the children of the poor Hottentots, or the children of the slum. It gets the best possible clothing, housing, food and schooling for its children, and does not think about the others. And so he said there was an inescapable conflict between democracy and the family. They have thus waged war against the only agency that has been able to be of any help to the schools.
Have they learned anything from the Coleman report? Well, the fact that the Coleman Report is virtually unknown, and only a few people on the high levels of the educational fraternity are familiar with it is revealing. What are these people who are familiar with the Coleman Report doing? They are proposing a solution, first that we begin education at the age of three to four years, and undercut the family thereby and increase the power and influence of the school by replacing the family as quickly as possible in the formative years of the child. And second, that we create a central campus in each community, requiring that all children be boarded there in order to nullify and undercut the family. Ironic is it not? The secular, statist educators themselves who come up with these conclusions and then they go directly against their findings because of their humanistic bent to make no concession to the family, let alone God.
It is ironic that they are planning to repeat concisely the error of the Soviet Union. In the 1920’s the Soviets experimented precisely in this field. They provided nurseries for all working mothers and morning-to-night care for all children and took away the children from families. The parents picked them up at night and took them home. There is a story told, it is true, of one Soviet mother in those days that stopped by at the nursery late at night to pick up her baby to go home and then of course to come again in the morning very early before she went again to the factory and worked. And as she stepped out of the door with her baby she looked and noticed it was not her baby and she turned and said that this not my child that you have given me, you’ve given me the wrong baby. And the woman attendant says ‘But what difference does it make, it’s just going to go home and sleep at your place all night and you’re going to bring it back again?’ And of course, it was that impersonal. The hard working mothers could do nothing except put their child to bed while they hurriedly fed the family, went to bed and in the morning carted it back to the nursery. The results were deadly. Doctor Lebedeva, Soviet head of the Department for the Protection of Motherhood and Infancy declared when the policy was abandoned:
“Under present conditions there is no doubt that the home offers the more stimulating environment for the development of the infant than the asylum. Not only have we decreased the death rate in this way by placing the institutional children in private homes, but we have insured normal development to a much larger proportion of babies, since in almost every case our asylum-trained babies were both mentally and physically backwards.”
As a matter of fact, and this was still under Stalin, some of the Soviet bureaucracy went so far as to say it was better for the child to be in a family, taught by parents who were still Christian, all the old superstitions of the Bible, than to be in a state nursery. Because the state nursery, to use a modern expression, would blow the mind of the child and its body too, and at least they had a potentially useful citizen in the home-trained child. But of course this doesn’t mean the Soviet Union gave up. A friend and associate of mine when I was at the foundation regularly read the Soviet publications, and he found that there was a great deal of editorializing about the grandmother problem. The grandmothers were the ones who stayed home and took care of the grandchildren, and they were teaching them all those horrible Bible stories. And so what they had hoped to eliminate was being fed to the younger generation.
The modern educational community, thus, is beset with intellectual schizophrenia. It is at war with itself and with reality. It recognizes the growing collapse in the area of statist education but it has no answer to the problem. It recognizes the importance of the family and then works to undermine the family. No more than the Soviet Union having recognized the centrality of the family can reestablish the family without faith, can we create any substitute for the family. The Soviet Union has very rigid and puritanical laws in effect now, and yet it is being eaten with a dry rot of the new morality, pornography and every kind of moral dissipation and degeneracy imaginable. By failing to provide that one thing that makes the family strong, a vital Christian faith, they have so undermined themselves today in the Soviet Union that they have a major problem with production. They can no longer, with promises, get the people to work. Production is collapsing in every area. And this is why there is a tremendous urgency to have consumer goods, particularly automobiles, produced. The invitation to European companies to build their auto plants there. So they can advertise to their youth, work hard! Save your money! You too can be like the youth of America! You can have your own car! Now this is the purpose of the manufacture of automobiles there, to try and bribe the youth to work. The early indications are that it will not be too very successful. There is an inner collapse because of the disappearance of any faith for living.
Our statist education today is progressively creating a collapse within a sizable segment of American life. It has no future as a result. As against this, today we have a growing body of youth who are being educated in Christian schools. I grant you that many of these schools are not all that they should be. But enough of them are doing an unparalleled job of educating the youth that so that leadership is coming forward that will in not too many years command this country, remake the churches and create a new kind of culture. One pastor who has had a Christian school for some few years now has said: “do you know that I find it easier to preach and to preach more exigently and systematically, more theologically in my school chapel than to my Sunday morning congregation because there is a different kind of character and maturity in them.”
As we face the future, therefore, we need to recognize that we are living in a dying nation, a dying world, and we should rejoice. It deserves to die. But the future belongs to those who are in Christ and we shall triumph, of that there is no question.
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books. Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder