Schoolhouse Rocks Rots

Reflections on Educational Decay from a Former Public High School Teacher (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I offered some root causes for today’s educational decay in the constructivist philosophy that lies behind it, and in how public education’s cloak of neutrality deteriorates objective truth claims. As my career as a public high school history teacher unfolded, evidence of educational rot continued to accumulate. Here in Part 2, I’d like to provide some personal examples of how public education propagates progressive assumptions and how the mechanisms of cultural production are hidden deep within the bowels of bureaucracy, making them hard to resist or even notice. Then we will conclude in Part 3 by considering some educational alternatives and hopeful signs for the future.

Public Education Propagates Progressive Assumptions

As a history teacher, I frequently noticed the power of the teacher and the textbook to frame issues in progressive language, even if the appearance was one of neutrality. One of the most common areas was in the framing of women’s roles and rights.

Teachers and textbooks frequently claimed something like this: second wave feminism in the 1960s freed women from the home where they had been confined and relegated in previous generations.[1] But this short claim is anything but neutral. It contains faulty assumptions about the past and about the nature of work, and it overlooks how the relationship between work and home was very different from what we are familiar with in industrial and post-industrial economies. But how is the student to know such a thing if it isn’t even acknowledged?

In fact, for most of human history neither men nor women “went to work” in the modern sense. Work took place in the home or on your property as part of the warp and woof of daily life, which involved mother, father, children, and an extensive kinship network or community. It’s not that women stayed home and men went to work. It’s that they divided labor in complementary ways that made the most sense in sustaining a productive household, through farming, cottage industries, producing hand-made goods, selling goods at market, and raising kids in the meantime.

How can students get an image of family life, mutual love, and enjoyment in the home, when the home is presented as something to be “freed from”? Not only is such framing not neutral, it is ahistorical, lacking any depth of understanding of how people have lived for thousands of years. To be sure, prior eras carried with them their own problems and inequities, but to gloss over the whole thing with a simplistic perspective like “2nd wave feminism in the 1960s freed women from the home” signals an ignorance of our own history and how technology, society, and family structure have changed over time.

This is just one small example of how the framing of an issue carries with it implicit assumptions. Multiply that possibility over each subject area and all the topics covered during a semester, school year, or school career, and an array of progressive assumptions are baked into the student’s mind and habits.

The Mechanisms of Cultural Production are Hidden Deep in the Bowels of Bureaucracy

The progressive assumptions built into modern education were also becoming clearer to me in what resources were blocked by the school district’s internet security software. Continuing with family life, if I wanted my students to research this topic, their online resources for doing so were being limited—and ideologically so. Here are a few screenshots of what I found.

From this “page blocked” screen, you’d think the Ruth Institute was some violent hate group. But actually, Jennifer Roback Morse founded this organization to help victims of sexual abuse, pornography addiction, and other forms of fallout from the Sexual Revolution. Hardly a site worth blocking—that is, unless anyone who upholds traditional sexual morality is a bigot.

Also blocked was the website of the International Organization for the Family, a reputable organization with well-known author Allan Carlson on its board, and whose managing editor Nicole M. King is a long-time Salvo writer.

Why were they categorized as a hate group by the school district’s internet security software? Because they uphold the model of the natural family and question the dominant narrative on the Sexual Revolution and LGBT issues.

Such sources aren’t even accessible for students or teachers, and the fact that they are blocked sends the message to students and teachers that such ideas are hateful and bigoted. Now, there’s no conspiracy at the district office in my town to block these sites.

In fact, several district employees and administrators would appreciate what these sites offer, and they probably have no idea the software is blocking sites like these. But the mechanisms of cultural and curricular production, power, and control lie far beyond each local district, hidden deep within the bowels of bureaucracy and outside the reach of the ballot box.

How in the world did such organizations get categorized as hate groups and blocked on school computers and devices? One reason is due to organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC keeps an active list of any organization they consider a hate group, and this list is taken as truth by the engines of cultural production. NBC used the list to ding the Ruth Institute in 2020. To be fair, the SPLC’s “hatewatch” rightfully exposes true hate groups, racial or otherwise. But they also unfairly lump many other groups into the list for simply upholding the traditional morality that was considered normal up until yesterday.  

The SPLC also produces a wide array of documentaries and distributes them to teachers for free. Some of them are very good and I used a few in my classes. But with each passing year progressive ideology is more clearly advanced. Following a similar trajectory is the SPLC’s magazine that teachers can subscribe to for free entitled Teaching Tolerance, which was recently renamed Learning for Justice.

I'd like to reiterate that all of these examples I’ve provided were from my own experience teaching in the state of South Carolina, a state in the middle of the Bible Belt, with a Republican controlled legislature and executive. It doesn’t matter where you are. Public schools are providing virtually the same product across the country. The curricula are similar, as are the textbooks, and more.

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying there is some plot where an evil mastermind is behind the curtain pulling all the levers. To the contrary, I’d argue no one has to be behind the curtain because the levers default in the progressive direction due to the nature of the system and the cultural environment in which we are being formed.

In such an environment, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. Coming from a family of public educators, I understand and sympathize with anyone who finds themselves struggling with what to do. I lived that struggle for many years. The goal is not to demonize public schools, and certainly not to demonize teachers or public schools. It’s not helpful and I would argue it misunderstands the nature of the problem. We need to be honest about the system as it is, and how it functions, no matter what actual teacher is in the classroom. It is from this place of honesty that we increase our odds of navigating these dilemmas well. And that requires mutual support, creative thinking, and hard decisions, even if we don’t make the same decisions. To there we will turn in Part 3.

 

[1] This hypothetical teacher quotation is the basic gist frequently evidenced in textbooks and in how teachers explain the topic. The American Pageant, one of the US History textbooks most used across the country, especially in Advanced Placement classes, reads thus: “The woman most often credited with launching the ‘second wave’ is Betty Friedan…[who] went on to write the 1963 bestseller The Feminine Mystique, exposing the quiet desperation of millions of housewives trapped in the ‘comfortable concentration camp’ of the suburban home” (922).

is a classical educator, furniture-maker, and head elder at All Saints Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Charlotte, North Carolina. He also taught high school history for thirteen years and studied at Messiah College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Winthrop University. In addition to Salvo, Josh has written for Areo, FORMA, Front Porch Republic, Mere Orthodoxy, Public Discourse, Quillette, The Imaginative Conservative, Touchstone, and is a frequent guest on Issues, Etc. Radio Show/Podcast.

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