Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Strongest Political Instrument III

In Survivals and New Arrivals, written in 1929, Hilaire Belloc addressed why public education is the "strongest political instrument of our time." Eighty years later, his insights on State-run education and its power to shape a nation's character speaks directly to America's political challenges today.

The second point in The Strongest Political Instrument II was not primarily concerned with false statements in text books or error propagated by teachers (although there is no shortage of them in public education), but rather with the hierarchy of values, the sequence of topics and the emphasis given to certain ideas. What is not emphasized ceases to be important, what is, becomes the essential. It is in this scheme of learning which provides the lens through which a child, and indeed the nation, is trained to see the world. Second to the family, children spend most of their time at school. Teachers leave a deep and lasting impression on their students. As such, most of us in our adult years can still remember the names of our teachers. Unfortunately, God and His laws are dismissed by public educators and hence forgotten by students. Again, what is foreign to childhood education struggles to become relevant and credible in the adulthood years.

This takes us to our final point: Belloc maintained that in comparison with Christian education with its ultimate goal being the salvation of the soul, nothing else counts. "It is good to be able to read and write and cast up simple sums; it is better still to know something of the past of one's people, and to have a true idea of the world around one. But these are nothing compared with the Faith." In other words, knowledge and mere intelligence, by themselves, are woefully insufficient in preparing students to become productive citizens of our commonwealth. If the content of learning is not ordained towards noble purposes, such as the good of one's soul, the welfare of the family or the betterment of society at large, then intelligence can become a vice; indeed, it can easily be co-opted for evil purposes.

During the same year Belloc wrote Survivals and New Arrivals (1929), Pope Pius XI published an encyclical entitled, On Christian Education. In it he confirms that the Faith is of the highest importance- not only for the student and his salvation -but for the integrity of education itself. "There can be no true education," he said, "which is not wholly directed to man's last end." To be sure, the Gospel upholds God and eternity as being among the most important truths. All other truths, all other subjects and considerations, hang on this point. And it is only by having God and eternity on top of the hierarchy of truths that history, science, math, and language can be used for the common good. And as for the individual student, the Catholic Faith has always held that salvation is paramount. Belloc was right, nothing else matters in comparison. Without it, all is lost.

Pius XI went on to quote his predecessor, Pope Leo XIII, showing that Christian principles are equally necessary for a conducive learning environment: "Every form of intellectual culture will be injurious; for young people not accustomed to respect God, will be unable to bear the restraint of a virtuous life, and never having learned to deny themselves anything, they will easily be incited to disturb the public order." Since God was expelled from public schools in the early 1960's by the U.S. Supreme Court, discipline, order and safety has suffered considerably; even in the rural areas of America.

President John Adams said that the Constitution was made for a religious people. The sacrifices and the discipline required to sustain liberty and progress are only intelligible under patronage of Christianity. But in order for Christian principles to have a place in the public square, they must- they must -find a home in our nation’s schools. This will not happen as long as the State has a monopoly on education. There is no other way: The U.S. Department of Education has to go! Education has to be returned to the local communities and to the private sector! The Republic depends on it.