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Thursday, December 02, 2004


american education

a conversation on a message board got me thinking about the consequences of globalization and the transference of some industries to lower cost regions.

what is paramount to the united states now is to retrain (or just train) people in dying american economic areas like heavy industry. this is no different than what we had to accomplish in the 19th and early 20th c in transitioning away from agriculture. in that time, america built the public school system to assimilate its immigrants and educate its young which was once the model for the western world.

unfortunately, american schools -- and the american scholastic temperament -- have been declining steadily since the early 20th c as a result of the active antagonism toward western culture that has been the most pernicious effect of the first world war.

reading the criticism of e.d. hirsch's book is enlightening:

Some have claimed that his views of teaching and learning are faulty at best and fail to respect the moral dignity of students. Force-feeding bits of information taken out of context (which Hirsch calls "culture") to children who have not yet developed their capacity to critically evaluate information results in cultural indoctrination, not cultural literacy.

Not only is the method Hirsch promotes suspect by critics, but also the content of the curriculum he prescribes. Among the concerns frequently voiced is: "Whose form of knowledge, culture, vision, history and authority will prevail as the national culture?" In other words, who will be asked to compile this list of core contents to be taught to every student across the nation? Will they, like Hirsch, be white, middle-class males? Forcing every student to accept the "national culture" that Hirsch advocates is a subtle form of racism and sexism. It is an attempt to force on all citizens the values implicit in the culture of the dominant social class. As such it is unjust.
this is the language of emancipatory individualism ascendant -- the point of the criticism is relativistic (we all have a different conception of culture, all equally valid, so none can be taught justly). such a point of view is highly antisocial, as society in large part of forged of common experience, belief and education. if none is taught, what do people sense to be in social common?

the first world war brought on the full flowering of relativism and nihilism, which had previously begun in the anti-industrial backlash of the romantic era in the form of anarchism. a fringe movement of the 19th c, these philosophies gained wide currency in the 20th as the rejection of historical western christian morality set in as a reaction to the devastation of total industrial slaughter. traditional morality and culture became dangerous.

in america particularly -- the blandly imitative junior cultural partner to europe, very much as rome was to the greeks -- there has long been, alongside the wholesale adoption of european culture, a basic euroskepticism and a vigorous mysticism (which has reduced and perverted the complex philosophy of christianity) that has particularly manifested itself as an aggressive anti-intellectualism worthy of the elder cato.

with these forces converging, the resulting social decay -- which can be seen in europe's inability to assimilate muslims, as well as america no longer being a "melting pot" so much as a tossed salad, and the despair of doing any better -- will have grave implications for education and culture generally.

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