America, just 50 years ago, was known to have the greatest educational system in the world. Perhaps the greatest in all of history. No rational person would say the same today. What happened?
A mere 50 years, a tiny drop in the ocean of time has passed, and we now have one of the least successful, least effective, most profligately wasteful educational systems in the world. As stated by educational expert Arne Duncan, “At no level – early childhood, K-12, higher ed – are we even in the top 10 internationally. And that should scare us. It is scary and it does not bode well for the future.” (1)
What happened? Well, of course, many things have happened. Atheism happened. Scientism happened. Working moms happened. Multiculturalism happened. Abortion happened. Substance abuse happened. Indoctrination happened. But how did we get from fidelity, to foolishness in education?
Without any attempt to inject politics, “At the state and federal level, the United States spends more than $620 billion dollars on K-12 education each year,” Trump said on Sept. 8, 2016. “That’s an average of about $12,296 dollars for every student enrolled in our elementary and secondary public schools.”(2) Even the liberal-leaning site Politifact admits this is true. We once had the best schools, but now all we are left with is the most expensive schools in history.
Perhaps no single factor can be isolated upon which to cast all the blame. But we can be certain that the cause is NOT a lack of teachers, nor a lack of funding. These simplistic, knee jerk responses have been tried ad nauseam for decades, with massive, seemingly perpetual increases in funding. And the results? Massive, seemingly perpetual losses in educational outcomes for students.
Education, first and foremost, must pass on truth. Educational techniques are important but not essential. Many different teaching styles can be successful. Class sizes and budgets are, in the end, far less important than educational content. Style, in the end, is vastly less important than substance. No educational system that denies ultimate truths can, in the end, be successful.
Our public educational systems, and most of our original colleges and universities, were founded on a belief in the Bible and a desire to pass on the teachings and beliefs contained therein. Then came the scientific revolution, and the sexual revolution. And from the top down, educational systems have come to represent atheism as the new norm, and eventually to ridicule all things associated with the Bible and Christianity. Oddly enough, as that process has occurred, all the measures of educational excellence have simultaneously declined.
Columnist Dennis Prager has stated that a causal factor of the rise in atheism is the “secular indoctrination of a generation,” and that “From elementary school through graduate school, only one way of looking at the world – the secular – is presented. The typical individual in the Western world receives as secular an indoctrination as the typical European received a religious one in the Middle Ages.”(3)
What is the source or reason for this indoctrination? There have been amazing advances in the scientific fields that have captured the imagination of teachers, students, and school boards alike. So much so that they have nearly all fallen prey to the fad of scientism. And in the process, students have come to expect the “magic” of science to solve all their problems, without room for faith, logic, mind, will, or even perseverence.
Austin L Hughes, Carolina Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina, in his superb article The Folly of Scientism, writes, “Of all the fads and foibles in the long history of human credulity, scientism in all its varied guises — from fanciful cosmology to evolutionary epistemology and ethics — seems among the more dangerous, both because it pretends to be something very different from what it really is and because it has been accorded widespread and uncritical adherence.“(4)
Jason Barney adds, “Scientism is a problem because the field of education is not a hard science, but a branch of moral philosophy, scientia mōrālis. Every philosophy of education necessarily relies on a previously established account of what it means to be human. But scientism screens out such foundational questions about man, the good life, and ultimate purpose, in an attempt to be more precise—or precise in a different way—than the subject matter admits of (cf. Aristotle, EN I.3, 1094b12-15). In so doing, it does not actually attain a neutral, “objective” viewpoint; instead, half-baked philosophies and unexamined assumptions rush back in, as seven demons take the place of the one that was exorcised. Scientism promises us firmer knowledge, not swayed to and fro by the winds of history and the waves of philosophy, but in reality it delivers only ignorance of how we are recycling old ideas by recasting them into new, scientific-looking forms.”(5) Wow! What a succinct and cogent realization! If only our educators could see and understand this!
As I wrote in “To Teach. To Educate. Or to Tell the Truth“, teaching is a high calling, and that high calling involves always instilling truth, not lies. It also involves equipping students to search out truth, and recognize falsehood. But today, even in American high schools, colleges and universities this is often not the case. We instead see a focus on messengers, and messaging, and political correctness. Truth, the student is told, is always relative, not absolute. Many educators focus on instilling “liberal values” and “fighting creationist propaganda” rather than evaluating the issues themselves, or seeking out truth in the midst of lies. They have even created “safe spaces” where students and groups can avoid any open debate that threatens their preconceptions or their liberal mindset. Teachers with a more conservative mindset often feel cowed into submission, unwilling to face the persecution certain to come if they stray from the secular atheistic agenda.
The solution to “what is wrong with schools in America” is not funding, or class size. It is not methods, or media. It is not even school choice or neighborhoods. All of these may have positive or negative impacts and should be addressed. But the solution to America’s educational dilemma is admitting that:
- For decades we have taught the lie of scientism.
- For decades we have promoted godlessness and atheism.
- For decades we have allowed concern with populist topics like sexism and racism to overshadow all other concerns, including education itself!
If we could just find and teach the truths of literature, history, and science in their proper context, in the eternal light of God and the Bible, all these other educational concerns will vanish. If we return to teaching Truth, the minds of our next generation will be the best educated in all of history.