A cultural history of education


The first five parts of this series can be read here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

American Civil War President Abraham Lincoln once asserted that “the philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”

The ancient Greeks used the term “paideia” to describe the impact of education on the citizens of the city-state. In “Battle for the American Mind”, Pete Hegseth and David Goodwin state that “Paideia, taught in schools and at home, is transferred to the culture of the next generation”. The late American journalist Andrew Breitbart summed it up by saying, “Politics is downstream from culture”.

Schools are the main engines of culture, and it is difficult to overstate the importance of education in the life of a nation and a civilization.

The Consequences of Liberal Silence

Over the past 100 years, the Western worldview has shifted from Judeo-Christian to classical liberal to progressive Marxist, and finally, to the neo-Marxist and post-Marxist zeitgeist that divides nearly all of our formative institutions.

Reversing this cultural race to the bottom will require tenacious intervention from freedom-loving parents, citizens and politicians across North America.

The steady advance of the neo-Marxist movement in North America is comparable to a situation that the American historian Gertrude Himmelfarb once discovered in British historiography.

In his book “The New and the Old History”, Himmelfarb asked: why, in a country so resistant to Marxist socialism, were there so many influential Marxist historians? Why in Britain, whose unique institutions and traditions were “so remarkably inhospitable” to Marxism, has historiography become so deeply influenced by Marxist interpretations? Was it the result of the superior will and tenacity of Marxists, or simply complete indifference on the part of everyone else?

Himmelfarb concluded that the extraordinary impact of Marxism was not an inevitable side effect of democratic capitalism; it was the result of a conscious commitment by a group of dedicated ideologues to impose their influence on Britain’s national history.

Liberal scholars have generally remained silent about the growing influence of Marxism on the grounds that it would be vehement or inappropriate to label a historical interpretation as Marxist.a bit like making an “ad hominem” argument.

For Himmelfarb, it was neither out of place nor disgraceful to point out that a philosophical position, a public policy or a professional practice could be influenced by Marxist assumptions. In fact, refusing to do so limits the quality of public discourse because it amounts to refusing to take seriously what Marxist intellectuals themselves took very seriously.

A similar reluctance to speak out could explain the meteoric rise of Cultural Marxism in North American schools. “Fair and balanced” liberal dithering almost always favors the strident left.

A statue of Karl Marx in Trier, Germany, May 5, 2018. Over the past 100 years, the Western worldview has shifted from Judeo-Christian, to classical liberal, to Marxist progressive, and finally, to neo-Marxist and post -Marxist has awakened the zeitgeist that has captured almost all of our educational institutions, writes William Brooks. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Recognize what matters

For decades, education policy studies have focused on statistically measurable outcomes such as achievement levels in reading, science, and math; graduation rates; availability of special needs programs; education budgets; and public funding.

All of the above merit attention, but none reach the same level of importance as the battle for the spirits and the influence of the “paideia”.

Until recently, the progressive paradigm, with its neo-Marxist revisions and awakening modifications, went largely unchallenged. Parents and politicians ceded control of education to government experts, and any intrusion into their jurisdiction was viewed with the utmost impatience.

But avoiding contentious issues will not produce the necessary educational reform. Avoiding controversy out of a reluctance to appear rude or disruptive means accepting the student political indoctrination and systemic deception of the progressive movement.

As the late Charles Krauthammer suggested, people need to identify the “things that matter”. We have a duty to seek to better understand what is happening in our schools. It is up to citizens to ensure that the ideas that guide education conform to the values ​​and customs that Western society has experienced over the centuries.

Funding reform

After 40 years in the education sector, I couldn’t help but conclude that progressive teachers’ unions care very little about the quality of education and student outcomes.

Unions are most interested in the funding needed to provide job security, wage increases, professional development, progressive curriculum initiatives, conference travel, technical advancements, and smaller class sizes that facilitate teaching and assessment.

Independent schools have always been a promising option, but for many they are too expensive and just as “woke” as their public counterparts.

Growing hostility between schools and parents over changing radical left curricula, inappropriate sexualization of children and unnecessary lockdowns has already led to an explosive growth of grassroots parent advocacy groups across the continent.

Ordinary people see through the evil mission of the left-wing elite and begin to demand that education tax money be allocated to the child instead of the school. This would break the monopoly of public schools and provide real choice for families in a wide range of economic situations.

In the United States, some suggest that there are constitutional barriers preventing denominational schools from directly receiving public funds in the form of education vouchers. Perhaps this is why Hegseth and Goodwin recommend the option of universal education tax credits at the state and federal levels.

In Canada, where guarantees for Catholic and Protestant public school systems date back to Confederation, no principle of “separation of religions” should constitute a constitutional bar to reviewing voucher programs.

Perhaps more than any other initiative, fundamental changes in public funding policy could open the doors to real choice and virtually reset the history of education.

schoolchildren in class
Students do their work in a classroom. Parents have the right to ask questions about what their children are learning in school. (AnnaStills/Shutterstock)

The need for cultural restoration

In the crucial decades ahead, citizens cannot afford to give up their right to raise important questions about what students are learning in school.

Hegseth and Goodwin believe that the most important mission in the war to reclaim Western culture is the restoration of classical Christian education from kindergarten through high school graduation. They may be right.

Others argue that focusing on restoring classical liberal education is a more realistic option in the context of an increasingly secular and multi-faith North American society.

Classical Christian and classical liberal school reformers face fierce opposition from the left and need a new alliance to move forward. Either option, or some combination of them, would be considerably better than the current progressive model that has an iron grip on education policy.

Many dedicated teachers still seek to play a role in the development of a just and productive society. Many remain dedicated to the best interests of their students and community.

For decades, parents have given public education systems failing grades while calling their own child’s teacher excellent. But progressive education faculties, government consultants and union leaders are radicalizing prospective teachers before they even step into a classroom. Critical race theorists teach that Euro-American culture must be destroyed and replaced by a global, multicultural society.

Teachers arrive in schools completely indoctrinated by the same Marxist and neo-Marxist ideologies that have fractured, vulgarized and impoverished societies for the past 100 years. They become willing political activists for the left, and those who are dissident find themselves “persona non grata” in colleges across the continent.

Awakened educators are determined to be agents of radical change. They tackled a dishonest social justice agenda with an urgency that borders on obsession. They misrepresent anti-Western narratives as “teaching honest history.”

Ordinary men and women must become agents of cultural restoration. They must find the courage and imagination to win back the hearts and minds of their own children and fellow citizens.

Failure to act will mean accepting assisted suicide from the West.

Something has to be done !

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Epoch Times.

William Brooks


William Brooks is a Canadian writer who contributes to The Epoch Times from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He sits on the editorial advisory board of “The Civil Conversation” for Civitas Canada.