‘The purpose of education’ — and the failure to pursue it

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It would seem obvious that how we educate our children is also how we preserve our culture. It is the solid foundation that allows us to even speak of a culture — a shared experience that defines who we are.

If that is the case, then modern education has failed.

Because for the past hundred years, the solid foundation has cracked, the shared experience has shrunk, and our culture extends no farther back in the past than to the last Harry Potter movie.

Yet some people act as though education is beyond criticism — simply because the purpose of education is to teach. But that misses the point of criticism — and of education.

As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in “The Purpose of Education” when he himself was a student at Morehouse College, “Education must ... train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking... We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda... I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths.”

Can we get an Amen? Thank you, Rev. King, for the lucid thinking and the clear warning: If you are looking for objective and unbiased truths, don’t look for them from “the press, the classroom, the [political] platform, and the pulpit.”

I have written often about how the press is pursuing an agenda of “half truths, prejudices and propaganda.” And it is obvious from polls that show an approval rating as low as single digits for Congress that most Americans no longer trust politicians to do the right thing. As for preachers, these days many of them seem to be as changeable as the wind, following the path of least resistance from their parishioners rather than the path of greatest insistence from their God.

But once again we must ask ourselves how did we get to this point? How did the politicians, the preachers and the press get so far off kilter?

And there is no doubt what the answer has to be — the shift in the purpose of education from 1900 when America was still a strong, tradition-based society to 1947 when the Rev. King was already seeing “half truths” in the classroom all the way to 2011 when education has become a vehicle for social change rather than the conduit of self-evident truth.

Everything that was taken for granted in schools 100 years ago is taken to the garbage dump today. Ask yourself: Do public schools still have the courage to promote the brilliant accomplishments of America and Christianity? Or do they toss our traditions aside for the Golden Calves of multi-culturalism, relative truth, and the propaganda of social justice?

The answer, of course, is that as an institution — not necessarily as individuals — modern education has joined with Karl Marx, Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers in questioning the value of America’s contribution to society and the worth of our founding principles.

Of course, that is because most educators do not teach objective truth any longer — which ultimately means truth that is based in what C.S. Lewis called the Tao, the moral underpinnings of natural law that allow us to make judgments unashamedly.

Without the Tao, we cannot say “this is bad” or “this is good.” And, of course, even if individual teachers DO know what is right and wrong, they are not supposed to teach that to their children any longer because the Tao implies some sort of religious viewpoint, some acknowledgment that mankind is not jetsam and flotsam in the turbulent eddies of nihilistic infinity. Thanks to the ACLU and other similar organizations, the mere acknowledgment of a higher power, a deeper meaning in life, has become not just unconstitutional, but also un-American.

That leaves teachers in the position of letting students make their own “relative” judgments about history, politics, and right and wrong instead of teaching them what mankind has always known to be true. And, of course, this has a huge impact on the future of the culture with which these students have been entrusted. Every absolute has been jettisoned and replaced with a merely convenient truth.

Think about what that means.

Whether you like your own child’s teachers or not, they are neither permitted nor equipped to pass on the “objective and unbiased truths” that Martin Luther King took for granted, as did Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers.

With the educational system now totally untethered from the Tao, we are still providing knowledge to students, powerful knowledge, but without any guidance in how to use it. It is the equivalent of providing a loaded gun to a baby. You can see the result last month in Greece, last week in London, and coming soon to a rowdy mob near you.

Martin Luther King recognized the danger of this kind of half-education instinctively, even as a teenager. That should not surprise us, as King was well-grounded in the Tao, having grown up as the son of a preacher and a proponent of individual responsibility and traditional morality. King’s argument in his 1947 paper on “The Purpose of Education” when he was just 18 years old parallels in brief form the argument of C.S. Lewis in “The Abolition of Man” that education freed of the moorings of morality is reduced to mere propaganda.

Though educators may resist this notion — though some parents may wear blinders — it is inarguable that what schools pass on to children today is a wholly different world view than what was provided to Martin Luther King, who as a black man knew just how dangerous a society that ignored the Tao could be to individual liberty.

No wonder he wrote the following words:

“To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. [But] we must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.

“If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, ‘brethren!’ Be careful, teachers!”

I think it goes without saying that Martin Luther King Jr. was not against education when he wrote these words, nor should anyone mistake my words for a personal attack on teachers. No one is against teachers. No one is against schools. But what we want is what every culture expects — whether Native American, Southeast Asian, Muslim, or African — an education system that promotes the values, traditions and beliefs that make the culture unique, and which ensure its survival.

Short of that, just what is the point?

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