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Misguided Values in Education

Kris Schnee

"Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army." Edward Everett

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has found, after decades of surveying American grade-school students, that the reading and writing abilities of our nation's kids has stagnated, and is in some cases actually falling. Even worse are the American history scores, which classified only 43 percent of twelfth-graders as having even a basic knowledge of the subject. These trends threaten the foundation of our society. And a major reason for them may be the new strategy of education a focus on social rather than academic goals, on values rather than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The idea of using schools as places for teaching morality goes back to America's beginnings, when one of the main purposes of education was to enable everyone to read the Bible. It seemed logical to combine the teaching of this important historical tradition with the teaching of good character. But then ideologies started to shift. The Supreme Court essentially banished religion from the public schools, and the World Wars and Vietnam made patriotism pass. A generation of education experts including university professors decided what was needed was "multiculturalism," a new set of values for kids to learn.

Instead of focusing on teaching students how to read and write, and about the history of their country and the world, schools became a place for teachers, armed with ideologically-loaded textbooks, to teach their students how to think "the right way" a way in line with the new liberal attitudes of the 1960s.

In the last few decades, for instance, the English-literature books even for elementary-school students have been filled with comments on racial prejudice and the environment. These are not harmless sections which get students to think about modern issues but blatant attempts to shape their opinions as well. At an age too young for them to understand complex political issues, modern students get to hear only one side of each issues (i.e. "rainforests good, loggers bad"). Sandra Stotsky, a doctor of education at Harvard, in her book Losing Our Language, even claims that education has been taken over for political ends, to the extent that goals like teaching students to read are often secondary to the goal of cultural enlightenment.

It seems that an idea which sounded good in theory putting "values" into education was taken to an extreme, so that American kids are now learning politicized versions of English, history, and everything else. It's a dangerous trend. We should not consider our culture in modern America superior to any other, we are told by proponents of multiculturalism, because while ours features advanced technology and political freedom, it also has racism, environmental damage, and a shallow "consumer culture." We should then take lessons from cultures such as the American Indians, because they supposedly lived in harmony with nature and practiced tolerance which we lack never mind that these cultures each had their own dark side.

Modern students spend a lot of time learning about the sins of America. Do you think that kids who have been told all their lives that theirs is an evil, racist, sexist, oppressive nation will be willing to risk their lives for it? It would be better to have no political messages at all in the school curriculum than to spread doctrines which teach Americans to be hostile to America.

What can we do? If we complain to teachers, school administrators, and textbook-approval boards, we may be accused of simply wanting to indoctrinate students with our own values instead of theirs. But if we allow an elite group of intellectuals to continue to put ideological agendas into our schools, "for the sake of the children" or the country, we can be fairly sure that the schools will turn out people who have one particular set of opinions. That's not democracy. Let's throw all of the ideology out!

Let's put pressure on the public schools to become completely non-partisan, and focus again on the basic skills of literacy and critical thinking, along with honest and impartial knowledge of our nation's history. Our educational system should simply present its material impartially and let students form opinions on their own, when they're able to understand and think for themselves. Not only will we be able to end the debate over whose values to teach we will teach people to make up their own minds but we can also feel proud to have a system based on honesty and freedom instead of political manipulation.