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The Relevance of Conservatism 2 - Education

Conservative educational policies make freedom and democracy possible.

By Will Offensicht  |  January 31, 2013

The first article in this series explained that conservatives hold to their own version of the "precautionary principle" that says that new ideas ought not to be tried until they're known to work.  Conservatives apply this principle to social questions by arguing that we shouldn't try "new" ideas which are known to have failed in the past..  Our experiments with fatherless families which are supported by government welfare programs has led to greater sexual permissiveness.  In the past, all sexually-permissive societies collapsed.

This article discusses conservative horror at another liberal-driven disaster, the collapse of our educational system.

What is Education For?

The original purpose of taxpayer-funded American education was stated in the "Old Deluder Satan" act of 1647.  As its name suggests, Massachusetts lawmakers had explicitly religious motives:

It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures... It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the parents or masters of such children, or by the inhabitants in general.

The great and the good of 17th-century Massachusetts felt that reading the Bible was so important that Bible-based education deserved funding from the "inhabitants in general," that is to say, all taxpayers.  This goal of basic Biblical literacy was all-but-universally met until 1963 when the Supreme Court ruled that the Bible could not be taught in public schools, leading to our modern politically-correct regime where people have been thrown out of school for even bringing their own Bible.

The original religious orientation of  public schools had been supplemented by other subjects such as arithmetic, science, English composition, and the like.  Teachers understood their duty to impart knowledge whether the students wanted to learn or not.

Beyond mere academic facts, the teachers understood their explicit duty to teach the children how to be Americans.  When waves of Irish, German, Italian, and other immigrants arrived, their kids weren't instructed in Gaelic, or German, or Italian, they were taught in English.  The goal was to teach the new citizens to leave their original cultures behind, become proficient in English, and grow up to pay as much income tax as possible.  Teachers knew that their pensions couldn't be paid unless the next generation of students grew up to be productive taxpayers.

National Competitiveness

When the USSR launched Sputnik, the first device to orbit the earth, in 1957, the American educational establishment reacted in shock and horror - how had the Russians managed to get so far ahead of the Americans in such a highly technical endeavor?  For a while, American educators focused on hard subjects such as science and math.

This increased emphasis on technical education supported the Apollo program which landed our astronauts on the moon.  Unanticipated technical fallout from this effort led to advances in computer, aircraft, and automotive technologies which have boosted most parts of the US economy over the following decades.  The emphasis on national competitiveness produced measurable economic results.

Enriching Democrats

Unfortunately, in the ensuing decades, the goal of substantive education has been abandoned.  Instead of educating students, modern national educational policy is intended to empower teacher's unions which funnel campaign contributions to Democrat politicians and provide manpower during election campaigns.

In the late 1970s, President Carter created the federal-level Department of Education as a reward for the electoral support he'd received from teacher's unions.  This boondoggle has poured billions of dollars into state education budgets without improving educational outcomes one jot.  The much-vaunted "No Child Left Behind" program has failed even more egregiously: with careers depending entirely on high-stakes test, many teachers have wound up going to jail for falsifying kids' test scores to "earn" a raise.

The "Common Curriculum" is the latest federal fiasco.  The idea sounds reasonable - have the feds publish a set of standards specifying what students ought to achieve in school.  The problem is that the standards being offered fall far behind the standards which are used by successful educational systems in countries like Finland and Japan.  Stanford University math professor James Milgram concluded that the common core would put US math students two years behind their peers in high-achieving countries whose products compete with ours in international markets.

This is all the more threatening because our Asian competitors educational goals are very clear.  Schools are expected to prepare kids to gain as much money and political power as possible.  As we all know, the only way to gain serious money other than going into government and stealing it is starting a business and creating jobs.  China and India have such large populations that they both have more honors students than America has students.

Protecting Incompetence

American teacher's unions have a vested interest in lowering educational standards so that their members won't have to work as hard.  Good teachers have no need for unions; the only way the union can justify its membership dues is by protecting incompetents.  Lowering standards makes it easier to defend bad teachers.

Conservatives argue that our earlier knowledge-oriented educational system served us well and that local voters are well aware of how well their schools are working.  Liberals prefer to have the state and federal governments mandate what schools have to do.  Teachers' unions don't have to deal with angry voters at the local level - they can claim that everything they do is required by state or federal law.  They can ignore the actual angry parents standing in front of them and tell taxpayers they simply have to come up with the money.

Is it possible to operate a modern, high-tech economic system when fewer and fewer people have the intellectual muscle to understand how it works or the training in how to fix whatever breaks?  Our Founding Fathers, who long predated modern technology, didn't think an uneducated people could even operate the Constitution they designed.  Indeed, we're finding our national governance to work less and less well as voters become more and more ignorant.

It's become obvious that so-called "progressive" education is ineffective.  Parents who can see that their kids are being shortchanged ought to be natural conservative voters - if only the Stupid Party would reach out to them, explain what's wrong, and plainly describe how it can be fixed in ways that make sense to individual people's lives.

The next article in this series shows how our legal system, which used to promote justice and enforce business contracts, has been perverted into another money machine for Democrats.