Monday, January 9, 2012
The Strongest Political Instrument
"The spirit of our people in general is adverse to State monopoly, and this for the obvious reason that such an absorption of control would mean the end of freedom and initiative. The same consequence is sure to follow when the State attempts to monopolize education; and the disaster will be much greater inasmuch as it will affect, not simply the worldly interests of the citizen, but also his spiritual growth and salvation."
-James Cardinal Gibbons, 1919
State-run education is the "strongest political instrument of our time." During the twentieth century it has demonstrated that it has the power to make culture into its own image. Without exaggeration, public, State-run education in America has evolved into an powerful machine, one that is based on a socialistic model. Is it any wonder that more and more politicians and media-types are now unapologetically in favor of Socialism? "My individual salvation always depends on our collective salvation" Take, for instance, MSNBC News Anchor Lawrence O'Donnell. He said, "...I am not a progressive. I am not a liberal who is so afraid of the word that I had to change my name to progressive. Liberals amuse me. I am a socialist." Anita Dunn, former Social Communications Director of the Obama administration, referred to Mao Tse-tung, former Communist leader of China, as one of her two “favorite political philosophers.” And Jesse Jackson took his admiration for the Cuban dictator a step further: “Viva Fidel! Viva Che! Castro is the most honest and courageous politician I've ever met." They are coming out of the closet. And why not? Our school system is pumping by the year students who feel entitled to government handouts and who are, furthermore, increasingly favoring Socialism, if not by name, certainly in principle.
As to the socialistic model of public education, for the most part, competition between schools does not exist. Most parents have no choice but to send their children to the nearest public school. State funds inevitably leads to State standards and no one elses. And the exclusion of choices and ideas is but a natural outcome of its governmental standards.
For instance, public education, since the early 1960's, has grown hostile towards Christianity, constitutional principles, and towards the family itself. Yet relatively few people give this State sponsored discrimination the attention that it deserves.
If truth be told, politics and the ballot box is where most conservatives- and even most Christians -focus their attention for change. And for that reason, much our energy is invested in congressional, gubernatorial and presidential elections. However, political victories which lend themselves to the restoration of America are short lived so long as the State has a monopoly on education. The political winds which blow through Washington, D.C. are even more uncertain today because few and fewer U.S. citizens are being trained and formed by Christian principles which have alway brought about greater stability.
Survivals and New Arrivals:
In 1929 Hilaire Belloc wrote a book entitled Survivals and New Arrivals. Belloc provides an analysis on Catholicism and the emerging threats to Western Civilization. One of those threats is what he called "Compulsory Universal Instruction." To Americans, it is better known as public or State-run education. In any case, he briefly outlines why this kind of education undermines the family, democracy and the Christian religion. He said, "The inevitable conflict between the Catholic and the non-Catholic conceptions of human nature, life and destiny, cannot but make the elementary school their battlefield."
Three Points on Education and Faith:
There are three decisive points which Belloc brings to our attention. Each one illustrates why Christians and conservatives alike should introduce a national debate on the lethal effects a State-run education has on a free society.
1. To begin with, Belloc addressed the priority parents have over the State. He said, "The State is secondary to the family, and especially in the matter of forming a child's character by education. Now here the State of today flatly contradicts Catholic doctrine. It says to the parent, 'What you will for your child must yield to what I will. If our wills are coincident, well and good. If not, yours must suffer. I am master.' At least, so the State speaks to the poorer parent; to the richer it is more polite."
Now, the necessity of parents being the primary educator of children is perfectly consistent with the Second Vatican Council's document, Declaration On Christian Education, which says, "Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators."
Belloc's prophetic statement that the public school system sees itself as a "master" is no exaggeration. Public educators in the twenty-first century, especially when dealing with sensitive subjects like sex-ed, have been guilty of a superiority complex. Indeed, throughout the America, they have shown a disregard for parental rights and have put them in uncomfortable situations by having their children opt out of certain sex-ed programs. Moreover, even though parents pay their fair share into the public school system, they have very few choices when their local elementary or high school fails their children academically.
Again, it has been a long standing teaching of the Church that the State is the servant of the family. Fathers and mothers, not public school teachers and administrators, are the primary educators of their children. Their authority over their own children in terms of education is second only to God. However, the State, as it exists today- in practice and in theory -no longer sees itself as the guarantor of parental authority but rather as its rival. This general philosophy is not only problematic in terms of parental choice and rights, but it has insidiously shaped the way children see the world. Elementary school children of today will be the policy makers of tomorrow. The question is: Do we expect them to have any appreciation of the natural law or of God's rights? One such law is that the family precedes the State and for that reason "the State is secondary to the family." This is a fundamental pillar to Western Civilization. Without it, it ceases to be free and prosperous.
Although most parents have not consciously surrendered their authority and rights over their children to the State, the Federal government, nevertheless, operates as though they did. The posture public education has assumed towards the family has left a deep impression upon the psyche of Americans. And with this, we are led to Belloc's second point.
2. In Survivals and New Arrivals, Hilaire Belloc made a valuable contribution in that he speaks to the importance of, not just the content being taught, but the emphasis given to topics and issues. For instance, he said, "For the most part what is not emphasized is not believed to exist. Often, from its unfamiliarity, that which is a stranger to education in childhood, is thought incredible [lacking credibility] by the grown man." It is not just the raw content we are concerned with in public education but also the order and emphasis to which certain topics are given. It is the latter which significantly shapes how we perceive the world.
Belloc elaborates on this point further. This truth, I might add, few take into consideration when considering the power State-run education has wielded over the minds of children. He said, "Truth lies in proportion. It is proportion which differentiates a caress from a blow, a sneer from a smile. It is the sequence and the relative weight of doctrines, not the bald statement, that makes the contrast between what damns and what saves. Let a child experience through the working day and through most days of the year that this or that is emphasized in its teaching, and what is so emphasized becomes, for it, and for all its life, the essential."
One could argue that as recent as 30-40 years ago public schools gave a high priority to the fundamentals of learning such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, however, such a claim lacks credibility. Poor academic performance and a high rate of high school dropout certainly does not plague all public schools, but it is widespread enough to be a cause for alarm. In any case, what has replaced the basics of learning as a matter of the highest importance in public education is a curriculum marked by political correctness. To be sure, high school and even elementary school students are more likely to be taught about gay rights, the proper use of contraception, environmentalism, anti-colonialist propaganda, and the evils of capitalism than they are about the truth of Christianity, the Constitution, the free market and democracy. To add insult to injury, deference to Islam is now being promoted even as discrimination against Christianity continues unabated in many schools.
Even if the content of the lesson plans and books were silent or neutral about the Founding principles of this nation, the mere emphasis and weight given to topics like big government, environmentalism and gay rights etc., has a profound effect on how children see the world. As Belloc said, what is not emphasized in their childhood education will lack credibility in their adulthood. And what is not being emphasized in today's public schools are those principles which lend themselves to a free society. Instead of fostering self-governance or teaching about the principle of subsidiary or the need to look to God for the solution to life's problems, State-run education tends to advance the idea that the answer to any crisis is to be found in politics.
Invariably, what is held out as the ideal model for problem-solving is socialism. Administrators and educators may not call it “Socialism,” but the overall worldview being advanced is one which says that government intervention is the the way to go. Accordingly, State regulations and oversight should be the check and balance against all injustices and inequalities. From this, an entitlement mentality is fostered in the mind of the student. He or she is more likely expect more from others, especially the government, and give less of themselves in their quest to solve problems. Let their be no doubt that this has given birth to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Etienne Gilson, a Catholic philosopher, in 1951 said that the purpose of State-run education, consciously deliberate or not, is the State itself! Weigh his words and determine whether or not his insight has materialized in our nation:
"To the full extent that it educates, the State educates in view of itself…The only conceivable end of a State-owned education is the State itself. States themselves may not know it. They may sincerely believe that nothing is more foreign to their honest intentions; yet, to put it bluntly, the only reason why a State may not want children to be educated in view of God is that it wants them to be educated in view of itself. Totalitarian education does nothing more than go the whole way along the same line. The result is what we know: political, economic, intellectual and spiritual slavery."
The vacuum that Christianity has left behind is a vast one. And in our day, an all-powerful State is in the process of filling that void. If God is not all things to all people, the State will be! But as Pope Benedict XVI said, when politicians seek to do the work of God, it becomes diabolical.
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.
3. This takes us to our final point: Belloc maintained that with Christian education's ultimate goal, that 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 or 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. Pius XI said, "There can be no true education 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 all other 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. As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, "If the soul is not saved, nothing is saved!"
Posted by Joe at 9:41 AM