The Role of Education (2)


Christianity and Politics (8)

(Part 1 of this article may be found here.)

Failures of progressive education
Progressive “improvements” to traditional education have been a disaster. In the eighteen years I have been teaching in college, I have watched students’ writing ability deteriorate, along with their ability to read complex material, work through the implications of ideas, and even take notes.

Since we are dealing with politics in these articles, it is worth noting that most college students fail at basic civics tests. We have become so multicultural in our approach to education that we are no longer teaching students about their own country’s government.

Equally alarming is the fact that we have effectively given up on the concept of virtue as a goal of education. Instead, schools teach “values,” but leave the definition up to the student. In our local high school, my daughter was taught that values are whatever you value. She came home and told me about this, then added, “So if I value good grades more than honesty, I can cheat?” She wasn’t serious, but she clearly understood the implication of what she had been taught.

Schools have become propaganda machines designed to inculcate progressive social values in students, including “alternative family structures” and an anything-goes approach to sexuality. “Comprehensive sex education” essentially encourages students to engage in sexual activity as long as they use condoms. We have lied to them about the emotional and health risks of sexual activity, with the results that there is an epidemic of depression among sexually active girls, an increasing number of out-of-wedlock births, and an explosion in the number of sexually transmitted diseases. Self-control and delayed gratification are foreign ideas in the school systems.

Moral relativism
A few years back a Centurion who was a high school teacher reported that his students rejected the idea of any absolute standards of right and wrong, except for the environment: global warming and pollution were evil, though nothing else seemed to qualify.

How did we get to the point where we don’t teach basic ethics in schools, much less promote virtue? For nearly two centuries elites in the Western world have rejected the idea that there is any absolute standard for ethics. The only thing that qualifies as truth is the world of science; everything else is opinion or faith.

This idea is at the root of Dewey’s moral relativism and the particular brand of multiculturalism at work in the schools today. All cultures are considered equally valid (though in practice non-Western cultures are often seen as more virtuous), and thus it is wrong to teach any one culture’s values as normative. After all, values and ethics are a matter of faith not truth, and heaven knows we cannot teach faith in schools! Instead, we do “values clarification” exercises to let the student determine what s/he thinks about ethical questions, implying that all ethical ideas are equally valid.

And yet even by the standards of cultural relativity and multiculturalism, this argument does not work. C. S. Lewis gives a list of common ethical standards across cultures in the appendix of The Abolition of Man, illustrating the point that the degree of variation across cultures is greatly exaggerated. The idea that there is no broad based consensus on ethics is thus a lie.

Further, the principles of progressive education militate against traditional virtues such as patience, endurance, self-sacrifice, discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work. Instead, it emphasizes self-esteem without achievement, “play” rather than work, and instant results rather than perseverance.

Failing schools, failing kids
While there is much more that can be said, the point should be clear: our schools are failing our students. They are not learning basic skills like writing or math or even reading. They don’t know civics, which makes it difficult to participate intelligently in the political process. And they reject any kind of moral absolutes, resulting not surprisingly in an epidemic of cheating in universities and ethical failures among their graduates. We are living out C. S. Lewis’s essay “Men Without Chests,” which I have quoted in other articles: "We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful."

Of course, the schools are not solely to blame for this situation. Virtue is best learned at home with the lessons reinforced at school. The disintegration of families is the root of the problem with education today. It’s an unpopular thing to say, but broken families are far more likely to produce failing students. If you want to fix education, you need to fix families.

At the same time, however, schools do have a role to play in developing a culture of virtue, especially with more and more of our childrearing subcontracted out to daycare, preschool, and the school system. Not only do the schools fail to do teach virtue, but they actively promote the idea that there is no right or wrong, that students can determine their own truth. This undermines the very foundation of ethics and discourages virtue, which always requires hard work and controlling our natural impulses and desires.

Toward restoring education
How do we fix the situation? Unfortunately, there are no good answers to the question. The problem is rooted in education programs in colleges and universities, in the ideology of school administrators, in the NEA, and more broadly in widespread cultural attitudes toward right and wrong. A thoroughgoing reform of education is needed, but in the meantime, here are a few suggestions.

Though Christian teachers working in public schools are constrained in what they can do by school rules, those who are called into that role can work to stem the slide by promoting ethical behavior and teaching virtue in the classroom, by taking a stand against social promotion, and by refusing to accept low-quality work. It won’t make you popular, and you may get grief from parents and the school administration, but if you care about your students, you need to hold them to high standards and teach them responsibility.

Parents are accountable before God for their children’s education, and especially for helping them to develop virtue. We need to hold our children to high standards of behavior, teach them right and wrong, and actively work to promote virtue, all in the context of their education wherever they are receiving it.

Most schools welcome parental involvement, whether as a classroom volunteer or in the PTO; some parents might even decide to run for school board. Beyond formal involvement, however, you need to be aware of what your children are being taught. If you aren’t involved and don’t monitor what’s happening in the classroom, you forfeit your right to complain, and you also fail in your God given responsibility to oversee your child’s education.

Parents should also seriously consider finding a good Christian school or home schooling. It may be a financial hardship, but given the state of the public schools, one of these may be the best option for giving our children the kind of education they need, both in content and in character.

The stakes are high, and not only for our children or for economic competitiveness. What is at stake is our entire culture, our political system which depends on virtuous citizens, and arguably our nation itself. We cannot afford to ignore what is happening in the schools, to keep teaching our children the lie of moral relativism, or to pretend that it doesn’t matter.

We need to take control of our children’s moral formation and we need to do it now.


Next steps

What opportunities for becoming involved with the education of children in your church are available to you? See what you can find out, then, in the year to come, take up the challenge Glenn throws down in his final sentence above.


Be sure to order your copy of the series, He Has Come, so that you can lead others in a powerful study of the true meaning of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.




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