President-Elect Donald Trump’s new Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, is the best pick in the history of the Department of Education since its inception, in this veteran teacher’s opinion. With her school choice prescription, she is just the medicine that a failing educational system needs to restore it to health. Her long time support of the Charter school movement is one key reform element, but the one that will be transformational will be vouchers or tax credits for any private school a parent decides to send their child to.
The public school monopoly, headed by the National Education Association, is the greatest impediment to competition and reform and will fight tooth and nail to protect their turf and the view that children ultimately belong to the state rather than the parent. America is one of the few western nations that does not give aid to private k-12 religious schools, only to religious colleges. Betsy DeVos can change that oversight with the 20 billion dollar block grant that Trump has proposed to increase school choice. The one size fits all approach to education could become a thing of the past.
DeVos is also an advocate for the biggest trend in education, online learning and homeschooling, which can cater to a student’s individual needs from the convenience of their own home. In a Philanthropy interview, DeVos noted, “in the Internet age, the tendency to equate ‘education’ with ‘specific school buildings’ is going to be greatly diminished.” Betsy DeVos is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant swamp of educational decline where the purpose of education has been lost to modern notions of nihilism. It remains to be seen whether her reforms can re-excite the search for the good life and a certainty in knowledge that past cultures have provided for us. Author Ronald Nash, Closing of the American Heart, has diagnosed our educational problem as not financial or necessarily of the mind, but at its root it is a problem of the heart.
At a recent Charter school convention in San Diego, Dr. Howard Gardner, the author of Multiple Intelligences (the idea that intelligence is relative) was asked a question about whether truth is relative. Surprisingly, he soundly rejected the idea, stating that those who fall for the idea that truth is relative are really giving up on civilization.
Incorrectly, people accept relativism as being linked to tolerance and an open mind. On the other hand, if you believe that truth is not always just an opinion, but can be proven, you are looked at as narrow-minded. Allen Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind, points out that “Today’s students have come to believe that the ‘true believer’ is the real danger . . . the point is not to correct mistakes (of the past) and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.”
Students can’t defend relativism when challenged because they have been indoctrinated. “What right do I have to say one culture is better than another?” This is not a true oppenness but a false one that has closed the American mind to the truth as it extinguishes the search for “the good life” and replaces it with nihilism. Relativism is nothing new. The Greek philosopher Gorgias stated that it is impossible to ever prove anything to be true. Gorgias was exposed as a sophist, but today the peddlers of sophistry are mainstream.
Even though this is the prevailing thought on most universities, it is an irrational belief system that commits logical suicide. If there is no truth then is that statement true? Even the relativist must appeal to some form of absolute truth. In the schools with hard science, this relativist notion is not as popular, but one thing a professor can count on is that almost every student believes that truth is relative.
In contradiction to the prevailing paradigm, truth is not just to be found in science but also in morality. For example, the Soviet Union murdering millions of its own defenseless citizens was an absolute evil, not up for debate by any rational people. In fact, secularism and the totalitarian societies it has spawned have been the greatest threat to humanity beginning with the Enlightenment and the French Revolution and moving through the disaster of Nazism and Russian and Chinese Communism. In comparison to other historical catastrophes, only the Plague beats out secularism for total number of deaths.
As Russell Kirk points out, “The great end of education is ethical. In the college, as at all other levels of the education process, the student comes to apprehend the differences between good and evil. It is this humane tradition and discipline which makes us true human persons and sustains a decent civil social order.” Our failed education system has given us several generations of culturally and morally illiterate students. The Education industry will deny the first but are actually proud of the second achievement. The secularists have won the war against religious traditional views and are standing in front of the school doorway to prevent reform.
Over the years, we have seen a deterioration of curricula and watering down of essential courses. Today the University of Wisconsin has replaced the classics of Western Civilization with such trivial classes titled, “The Problem of Whiteness” and other such comic book pop culture fads where students don’t learn the difference between love and sex, beauty and ugliness, and good and evil. Meaningless jargon invented by PHD’s, Political Correctness, focus on socialization and a moral emptiness of college life has replaced an appreciation for beautiful art, virtue and ancient truths.
The “neutral religion” of secularism has been substituted for the moral and religious values that once infused America’s public schools and thus the new religion has impoverished their souls. The Greeks understood that only educating the mind would simply produce an educated menace to society. Conservatives have slept while the enemy planted weeds in our wheat fields and today we have a crisis of the heart and mind.
One thing that Betsy DeVos can do to end the “politically correct sharia” that dominates the university is to insist on freedom of speech and advocate for more tolerance of conservative ideas. It used to be that schools gave tenure to professors so unpopular speech could be expressed. Instead modern Academia bans free speech in order to protect the “fragile egg-shell” minds of the students.
Suing the pants off of these close minded schools that violate the 1st amendment is one such strategy to correct the liberal bias on campus. Greg Luckianoff of FIRE (Foundational for Individual Rights in Education) is representing Haydon Barnes who was kicked out of school for criticizing a parking garage structure on his Facebook page. He was awarded nearly one million dollars which will help at least that school to take academic freedom more seriously as other college thought police take notice.
If we limit speech to only what people are comfortable with, then you wind up shutting down meaningful discussion and the whole purpose of higher education: to have a free exchange of ideas. One of the most transformational minds of western civilization, Socrates, today would have been banished as a threat to our youth for getting them to question the false orthodoxies prevalent on campus.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new.” — Socrates