The Backward Leftist View of Education

Your kids are going to learn values in school—make sure they’re yours. 

Drag queen Scalene Onixxx reads to adults and children during Drag Queen Story Hour at Cellar Door Books in Riverside, California on June 22, 2019. - Athena and Scalene, their long blonde hair flowing down to their sequined leotards and rainbow dresses, are reading to around 15 children at a bookstore in Riverside. The scene would be unremarkable -- except that they are both drag queens. The reading workshop is part of "Drag Queen Story Hour," an initiative launched in 2015 by a handful of libraries and schools across the United States. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

You have a right to educate your children. Say it with me, though it shouldn’t have to be said: you have a right to educate your children.

Last year, Harvard’s “nationally renowned child welfare expert,” Elizabeth Bartholet, published a glorified hit job on homeschoolers and their parents. Fretting that those who choose to homeschool are often *gasp* Evangelical Christians, she explained that “children are simply not learning basic academic skills or learning about the most basic democratic values of our society or getting the kind of exposure to alternative views that enables them to exercise meaningful choice about their future lives.”

Heaven forfend, in other words, that kids should grow up deprived of such pedagogical essentials as the gender snowperson—without a Human Rights Campaign infographic to open up before them the infinite vista of gender fluidity, how will they ever exercise meaningful choice about their future lives?

If any form of schooling in this country is designed to screen out “the most basic…values of our society” and prevent “exposure to alternative views,” it is surely the public school system. “every CPS high school will receive 200-400 copies of The New York Times‘ The 1619 Project,” said Dr. Janice Jackson, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, in September 2019. The Times’s “Project” (read: neo-Bolshevist screed) needs to be in schools, according to Jackson, so it can “help reframe the institution of slavery, and how we’re still influenced by it today.”

Long before President Biden took office, a partisan effort to install “Action Civics” in schools across the country was already replacing patriotic education with leftist activism. As a candidate, Biden partnered with Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders to declare his support for more unionization (of the kind that is now keeping schools locked down in the name of self-interested bickering and at the expense of children’s welfare) as well as his hostility toward charter schools.

On his first day in office, Biden nuked former President Trump’s 1776 Commission Report, which outlined a traditional and patriotic path for American history and civics. The report would have been uncontroversial 20 years ago; now it is not fit for the eyes of children. The Democrat platform essentially amounts to: your children will learn the values we decide upon, at the time of our choosing, and your opinion on the matter is irrelevant (plus probably racist).

Something very calculated is going on here, and it’s worth being precise about what it is. The Left understands education as a form of state indoctrination. The problem with this view is that it’s roughly half correct. This may surprise conservatives initially, wary as we rightly are of state control. But there is more to this than just “government bad.” When Trump declared that “our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated,” he was moving in the right direction — but something more needs saying if we’re going to get this thing right. Which we must: the soul of the country is at stake.

What is Education?

Education is a subject on which we have wandered far from our ancestral sources of wisdom. What is the point of teaching children at all? How do we pick what to teach? Do we teach values, or just facts?

There is an ancient answer that cuts through all these questions to the heart of what education is. Plato describes it in his Republic, though it was probably already conventional wisdom in his day. A rightly educated man, in Plato’s words, will

praise beautiful things and delight in them. He will and take them into his soul to foster its growth and become himself beautiful and good. The ugly he would rightly reject and hate while still young and yet unable to apprehend the reason — but when reason came to him, the man thus nurtured would be the first to give her welcome, for by this affinity he would know her.

To love what is good and hate what is evil: this is the mark of an educated man. Conservatives could be forgiven for recoiling at this definition: one of our strongest traditions in this country, after all, is freedom of thought and speech. How can we call our society free if we brainwash our kids to love what we love? Maybe we just ought to teach facts, and let people decide about values for themselves.

But there’s no getting away from the paradox this creates. For liberty itself — the context within which all these arguments make sense — is a value. It is not something “objective” in the sense of being merely factual. You can’t calculate our right to liberty with a mathematical equation or derive it from scientific observation. You have to believe in it, and that means knowing it as good.

Maybe the good of liberty is self-evident — Thomas Jefferson certainly thought so — but the majority of people throughout history haven’t seen it that way. Remember how the Israelites whom Moses freed longed at first for a return to slavery. Humanity had to be exposed over long years to the truth of things, to learn through hard experience the evils of tyranny and the blessings of liberty. In other words, we had to be taught — in this case, by history.

And even seemingly basic things, like math and science, involve basic values — values like reason, empirical observation, and experimentation. We’ve got these things so deep in our bones that we don’t realize that people aren’t born into the world knowing how to use them. But it’s true: we train kids to love these things. We teach them funny songs, or games, or show them puzzles, to get them used to the pleasure of finding facts out.

“Mankind by nature reaches out to know,” wrote Plato’s student Aristotle — and that’s true. But when we first reach out, as kids, we need someone else reaching out on the other end to guide our natural impulses: toward good and not evil, toward truth and not falsehood, as best as can be done in this broken world.

This is something which the Left deeply understands, albeit in a twisted and dangerous way. They want to seize control of early childhood education precisely because they do know that education is about values, and not just facts. The gender snowperson, the 1619 Project, the activism and the hostility toward home schooling: all of these are motivated by a desire to get kids schooled in their values. It’s why they’re so effective, even with their terrible ideas. Leftists know that if they can get at kids when they’re impressionable, they can teach whole generations to hate what they hate and love what they love.

Education is Politics

Education is thus political in the most profound sense. There’s no escaping it. Here’s Aristotle again:

Nobody would dispute that the education of the young requires the special attention of the legislator. Neglect this in a state, and the constitution is destroyed—for education ought to be adapted to the particular form of government…for instance the democratic spirit promotes democracy and the oligarchic spirit oligarchy; and the best spirit always causes a better constitution.

George Washington expressed much the same sentiment when he wrote in a letter to the teacher and educational philosopher George Chapman, “The best means of forming a manly, virtuous and happy people, will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.” Then again Abraham Lincoln, near the very beginning of his political career, proclaimed, “that every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance.”

The question is not whether we want to instill political principles into children by educating them. The question is which political principles we want to instill. The Left has its answer: they want children primed to hate America from as young an age as possible, trained to assume as a matter of course that their country is racist and their fellow countrymen are potential oppressors. To think of their bodies as prisons and to long for liberation from the reality of gender. That is a totalizing educational project, and it guides how the Left wants everything — from history and civics to math and science — to be taught.

What is our answer? That, too, can be found in Aristotle, at the very beginning of his Politics. The form of education should mirror the form of government, and our form of government is a free one. Its most basic building block, the natural community out of which all its other structures grow, is the family. If the family is free — if it stands firm as a self-contained unit — then communities, cities, and states can build from there.

“Nothing of a public and institutional nature can supply the place of parents,” wrote Rousas John Rushdoony in The Messianic Character of American Education. “They were ordained of God; and no incubator of modern science or education should ever supplant them.” True learning doesn’t begin the first time a child walks through the classroom door: it begins the first time a mother smiles and her baby smiles back.

The lifelong process of becoming ever more deeply human — of learning to love the good and hate what is evil — begins in the home and grows organically outward from there into the highest reaches of government. School, if it happens outside the home, is still an extension of the home, and the parents’ final authority to choose the manner of their children’s education should be absolute. That is not a politically neutral or objective view. It doesn’t spring out of nowhere or endure without care and upkeep. It is an American view, following directly from the American belief in man’s inalienable rights.

The Opposite of Leftism

The Left has set itself resolutely against this American view of education. That goes way back: already in the late 1800s, Progressive reformers were arguing, again in Rushdoony’s words, that “the family is a social product and must serve therefore as a social agency.” The attacks on homeschooling and charter schools that now issue regularly from the modern Democratic Party follow directly from this Progressive project: we decide what is good, not you; therefore we and not you will decide what your children learn.

We will need, in the years to come, a strong defense of our own right to educate our kids. That doesn’t mean everyone should homeschool — it’s not right for everyone, of course, and there are other ways to watch over your child’s education. But it does mean defending homeschooling as the basic form of education, from which all other forms of education derive their character and their legitimacy. Homescholing has produced and continues to produce extremely high-functioning, well-educated people who defy the bigoted stereotypes of its detractors. It is not a marginal oddity or a deviation from the norm. It is the baseline, the heart and soul of how education should look.

The conservative position should therefore be the exact reverse of the leftist one — not because we want to take politics out of education, but because the politics of our education should be based on the politics of the American Constitution. If the Democrat view is wokeness from the top down, ours should be Americanism from the bottom up — no matter what, against every form of opposition. Take control of what your kids learn. You have the right. Say it again, once more to close: you have the right.

Spencer Klavan is host of the Young Heretics podcast and associate editor of the Claremont Review of Books and The American Mind. He can be reached on Twitter at @SpencerKlavan.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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