Last year, I wrote a feature titled “From Western Traditions to Political Indoctrination: A Cultural History of Education.” The six-part series covered developments in North American education from faith-based 17th-century schoolhouses to the woke indoctrination mills of the 21st century.
In a more recent Epoch Times column, Heritage Foundation Fellow Stephen Moore described America’s public schools as a “national disaster.” Signs of decline in education continue to unfold, and the consequences are becoming more disturbing than ever.
A Golden Era for Education in the Americas
In the early years of Anglo, French, and Spanish colonies in the Americas, settlers were inclined to catechize their children in the traditions of a Judeo-Christian culture. Despite language and denominational differences, Bible-based societies preserved a shared religious civilization.
In a 2022 book titled “Battle for the American Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation,” authors Pete Hegseth and David Goodwin suggested that the natural human desire for a well-ordered life is driven by a force the Greeks called “paideia.” The writers argued that North Americans were once guided by a “Western Christian Paideia” that passed on traditional virtues, productive habits, and responsible moral behavior.
During the 18th century, Enlightenment avant-garde philosophers challenged the authority of religious institutions. Passion for the power of reason, science, and technology produced a declining trust in Christian education.
A secular paideia commonly known as “liberal education” was brought forward to neutralize religious divisions and develop schools that focused primarily on the literary, scientific, and civic advancements of Western civilization. Scores of devout North American parents set aside their attachment to denominational schools for the promise that a liberal education would provide their children with exceptional opportunities.
Throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century, it’s fair to say that classical North American liberal education produced widespread literacy, greater social mobility, equality of opportunity, and more general prosperity than any form of schooling in world history.
But golden eras in human civilizations seldom survive the destructive interventions of presumptuous intellectuals.
Progressive ‘Student Liberation’
Around the middle of the 20th century, classical scholars began to notice what Mr. Hegseth and Mr. Goodwin referred to as the “heist” of North America’s public schools.
A challenge to traditional liberal education came in the form of a formidable new movement inspired by the iconic American educational philosopher, John Dewey.
Dewey craftily fused the kingdom-purpose of Christianity with the Utopian promises of a socialist revolution. His progressive education model was attractively wrapped in the rhetoric of social democracy.
Progressive “educators” claimed to be “liberating” young minds from tedious teaching practices and outdated ways of thinking. “Teach the child, not the subject” became the call to prayer in fashionable new “student-centered learning centers.” Essentially, however, John Dewey and his disciples were old-school Marxists who looked forward to a “long march of the left” through the formative institutions of liberal-democratic societies.
A fuller account of the links between Dewey and Marx and the 20th-century pedagogy of revolution can be found in Parts 4 and 5 of the Epoch Times series mentioned above. But there’s a sequel to this dark tale of indoctrination that deserves further examination.
Paulo Freire’s ‘Politics of Education’
As the memory of John Dewey faded into the complex cultural history of the 20th century, a new prophet of pedagogy took his place.
Paulo Freire was a third-world liberation theologian from the former Portuguese colony of Brazil. He saw himself as a champion of the “colonized people” whom French West Indian Marxist philosopher Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.”
Last December, American scholar James A. Lindsay published an insightful analysis of Freire’s influence titled, “The Marxification of Education: Paulo Freire’s Critical Marxism and the Theft of Education.”
Mr. Lindsay contended that Freire’s books “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and “The Politics of Education: Culture, Power, and Liberation” drew heavily from Marxist critical theory and are now setting the tone in schools and universities throughout the West.
Parents concerned with the well-being of their children want schools that produce graduates with the academic knowledge and skills required to flourish in a productive Western socio-economic paradigm. Mr. Lindsay explains how “Freire schools” downplay the importance of academic achievement, or “actual literacy,” in favor of neo-Marxist consciousness-raising or “political literacy.”
Freirean “facilitators” are trained to arrange “dialogical” thought-reform sessions between woke faculty members and impressionable students. They have little interest in teaching a STEM curriculum that focuses on academic achievement in core subjects.
Freireans complain that traditional models of education exclude “ways of knowing” possessed by “marginalized peoples.” They say the Western liberal paideia only produces academic proficiency that supports existing “power structures” that need to be “deconstructed” and “transformed” to achieve “social justice.” Twenty-first century “experts in education” insist that “authentic learning” must lead to “consciousness raising” and a perpetual dialectical struggle between “oppressors” and “oppressed.”
Mr. Lindsay says that Freirean methods go much further than the Dewey-era insertion of Marxist narratives into the Western liberal humanities curricula.
According to the author of “The Marxification of Education”: “It is a far deeper shift in the theory of education that has redefined how we educate our students throughout the United States and now around the world. … The closest parallel is to the brainwashing thought reform in Maoist re-education prisons and schools.”
Mr. Lindsay’s book is a must-read for those who seek to understand the consequences of post-modern education.
The Direction of Perpetual Revolution is Always Downhill
Without a shared understanding of history and an affection for truth, nations are like rootless trees—easily toppled and left to decay on the forest floor.
The “national disaster” referred to by Stephen Moore is linked to a report that ACT scores have been falling for six straight years. Mr. Moore warned that “high school kids are less equipped for a job or college than at any time in three decades.”
Declining academic competency is just one of the outcomes we have come to expect from 21st-century “Freire schools.” Others include an utter disdain for Western civilization, neo-Marxist cultural indoctrination, politicized curricula, the hyper-sexualization of childhood, pathological racial discord, undisciplined adolescents, and fearful authorities who are totally intimidated by the power of woke identity politics.
Early 20th-century President Theodore Roosevelt once reminded Americans that “A revolution is sometimes necessary, but if revolutions become habitual the country in which they take place is going downhill.”
A lot of us would agree with Teddy on that one.
William Brooks is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.