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Voices Online Edition
Michaelmas 2001, Volume XVI No. 3
by Sheila G. Liaugminas
Remember the old television public service spot that went something like "It's 10 o'clock. Do you know where your children are"? That comes to mind now that summer vacations have ended and, with them, that extended family time during which children best learn the most formative lessons about life. It's September. Do you know where your children are?
Without much risk of exaggeration, it is likely in this current climate that their values, consciences, possibly even their souls, are in some degree of danger at school, depending on which type of school or system they are in, and how much you know about it.
That we are in a crisis of education is a given, long acknowledged by just about everyone who has any interest in the subject. Though we have been shackled by the bad -- no, terrible -- decisions in the schools over the past few decades, it is amazing that so many are still unaware of the crisis. In some ways it seems to parallel the derailing of the Second Vatican Council's objectives, as unsuspecting and bewildered Catholics accepted sweeping changes without question.
The key words there were unsuspecting and bewildered. Both are states of vulnerability that make power shifts easy and agenda changes go virtually unchallenged. As for the schools, one can only hope that after these nearly forty years of progressively bad programs and corresponding bad results, true changes for the good of children will likewise take their place.
Strong words? Hyperbole? Hardly. What has been taking place in the public school system in this country, and some private schools, is genuinely alarming.
Call it the "psychologizing of education", since it involved the transformation from traditional wisdom and the time honored methods of imparting it, to the psycho-socialization process of values-clarification and performance-based education. And the performance is not of math and language skills but of "good citizenship" skills that require indoctrination in all the "right" attitudes and beliefs to pass the assessment tests that plague our nations' schools now. As Boston Herald columnist Don Feder states in his book, Who's Afraid of the Religious Right?:
Public schools indoctrinate in the name of ethics education, values clarification, or self-esteem training. The corrosive message is the same: Right and wrong are subjective. Feeling good about yourself is more important than doing good.
Cultural critic Michael Medved and his wife, psychologist Diane Medved, Ph.D., expose this system in their book Saving Childhood: Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence. In a section that examines how schools lead the assault on childhood, the Medveds explain the systematic process. "The first method is through honoring self-esteem over objective standards for learning", they state.
Schools could teach traditionally revered character traits and at the same time maintain students' (subjective) self-esteem; there's no either/or. But that balance of focus has in recent decades moved decidedly toward self-esteem... The outcome is that anything kids do and feel gains more attention and glory than non-kid-generated content, like facts and courtesy.
Outcome-based education. "Consider the implications", continue the Medveds.
Even students who consistently get the wrong answer in math are great students; they just need to try again. In fact, report cards have replaced the word fail with the euphemism needs to improve, lest the truth hurt children's feelings. The result is that failure has become a dirty word instead of an honest, honorable evaluation of status.... Without frank assessments of their daily work at school, they come to expect praise and approval in every context, and can't cope with many normal difficulties of growing up.... Glorifying kids' self-esteem above their achievement not only produces needless burdens for children, but also creates painful distortions when they're adults. Children who expect praise for every notion that originates with them are arrogant.
They quote the findings of Boston College professor of education William Kilpatrick, who studied this nonjudgmental approach to education and found "disastrous results". Among them: "A generation of moral illiterates: students who know their own feelings but don't know their culture".
This all really started happening in the schools at roughly the same time as the closing of the Second Vatican Council, a time of cultural chaos. In 1965, psychologist Benjamin Bloom developed the idea of what he called "Outcome-Based Education", a new system of teaching based on behavioral objectives instead of academic skills. About a decade later, Harvard educator William Spady, a sociologist, gave this OBE system more structure and turned it into an organized behavioral engineering program that focused on feelings instead of knowledge.
Education was turned on its head. Curricula were designed to produce certain outcomes (follow the jargon carefully -- it's loaded with buzzwords and codes). Those predetermined outcomes focused on changing complex behaviors, attitudes, values and morals to fit desired social goals.
But whose goals? For what purpose? As is advised in many fact-finding forays, follow the money.
For their own ulterior motives, private foundations sponsored the introduction of OBE into the schools through pilot programs. These were huge and renowned foundations (Carnegie, Robert Woods Johnson, Rockefeller, Kettering, and others), who together with intellectual liberal elites and members of government have funded and mandated OBE to advance a liberal agenda that smacks, unsurprisingly, of socialism. Such a state, with workers trained in its own worldview, would turn out better citizens and be more productive in the global community.
No kidding. If you haven't heard of all this before, you're thinking this is extremely kooky and far-fetched. But this social engineering is easy to trace and document. For instance, under OBE, something called "higher order thinking skills" psychologically manipulates students into accepting and then demonstrating behaviors that prove them capable of adapting to change, complying without protest, holding a high self-esteem, and going along with a collective group well.
All these assessment tests that parents never see (and even teachers don't always), measure these indicators with very ambiguous questions based on situation ethics. The more absolute and traditional the students' responses, reflecting well-formed consciences and family values, the more they are marked for being politically incorrect and "at risk". Being religious is considered a mental illness. If a student is considered at risk, he is "remediated" through more indoctrination, and then re-tested, until he reflects the values and behaviors that would make him a good citizen of a New World Order.
And that's the key to understanding what's going on here, because success in OBE has always been determined by businessmen, not educators; and the measure of that success is teamwork and productivity. The graduation certificate used in some states literally lists these mastered skills as "proficiency in complex thinking skills", "ability to contribute to a collaborative effort", being an "innovative producer" or a "self-directed achiever", an "involved citizen" and an "effective communicator". No concern here for reading, math, writing skills, etc. And especially no tolerance for traditional family values or faith-based morals.
"It's easier to make a computer out of cornflakes than to teach values without religion", states Feder. "Liberals have been the Frank Lloyd Wrights of our guilt-free society. They rejected sin as a superstitious relic of a barbaric past. They psychologized guilt out of existence -- cured it with conscience-killing doses of self-esteem instruction.... The victims of this pedagogy are accustomed to thinking of themselves first, to rationalizing selfishness habits that do not enhance self-control and consideration of others".
Religion went out of the classroom in 1962 when the Supreme Court banned school prayer; but the sentiment against it, as William F. Buckley noted in Nearer, My God, actually began much earlier than that. "Successive Supreme Court decisions in those days were ruling that religious ties of public school profaned the First Amendment", Buckley writes.
The reaction during the Supreme Court's war against religion in the public schools was depressing for those to whom it mattered greatly that religion was being ignored.... During this period I had thought it taken for granted that what was now missing in the public schools was not missing in the private schools.
But Buckley soon discovered, by inquiring into the practices of a dozen private schools in which he expected to find some remnant of traditional piety, that it was missing. "In all twelve of the secondary schools, there is a faculty member engaged full-time in fostering multicultural learning", he reports.
The advertised purpose of such exercises is to expose students to the ways of other cultures. But something more merely than cultural cosmopolitanism seems to be happening. It is on the order of a substitute for religion.... Although there are secondary schools that attempt to keep Christianity prominently in sight, this much is absolutely plain: there is today another God, and it is multiculturalism.
And this requires the dogma of tolerance.
Although public schools boast that theirs is a values-free curriculum, they employ teachers trained in "values clarification". Values are being taught all right, but in insidious form and content, with a psycho-social agenda.
The tenets of this system are based on the vision of a global community of compliant and productive citizens. One of these tenets is the acceptance of all forms of human pairings as constituting families -- while the traditional family is vigorously attacked. Under that model fall all the lessons and programs that strenuously promote the acceptance of homosexuality as another and (at least) equal choice that, it must be noted, students are to consider without regard to their parents' beliefs.
Other tenets include radical environmentalism to the point of idolizing Mother Earth, and tolerance of all forms of worship except Christianity.
Learning the Hard Way
If you don't believe this, or are feeling flabbergasted by learning it, I'm with you completely. I was late in realizing what the local public schools were up to when my sons were enrolled there. First, a run-through of our experiences. Then, a look at how they fit into this widespread agenda of indoctrination in our public schools.
The pieces of a disturbing picture started coming together for me when my oldest son was in junior high school and my youngest in elementary school. I figured that by home-schooling them on the Catechism, with permission from our pastor, and letting what seemed like good schools in our small village handle the academics, my sons would be fine until high school. I had a lot to learn.
Little things started showing up in projects. I learned early on that my son's fifth-grade teacher regularly assigned an astrology project involving research into horoscopes. When I talked with him I learned that he is a Catholic. I told him that this project was against our faith (Catechism no. 2116), and I asked that my son be permitted to turn in a science project on some other topic. For that year, anyway, the teacher did not assign the astrology project.
Then there was the art event I volunteered for, in which students painted and decorated small wooden chairs to be placed around the school, all with holiday or event themes. When I arrived for my shift, I saw that here were chairs for Hallowe'en, Valentine's Day, Fourth of July, summer vacation, Thanksgiving, sports teams, and a winter-looking chair and a spring one with bunnies and budding flowers. I asked where the Christmas and Easter chairs were, and was told that those are religious holidays, this is a public school, and we can't do anything religious. Hmm.
Across our small town at the junior high, my other son was in the third and final year of repeated encounters with secularism and paganism. His sixth-grade Language Arts teacher occasionally brought meditation tapes into class that led the students through "stress-reducing" sessions of New Age music and guided meditation. The tranquilizing voice on the tape led students through mental imagery that took them through paths to a lake, or some such exercise. The students were told to write in a journal their thoughts about that setting.
Health class in sixth grade involved the very explicit indoctrination in sex education by a lively and comedic teacher. The class included responsible use of condoms, and taught that homosexuality is just another acceptable choice.
That same year, my son's reading teacher gave students an assignment about which I have written elsewhere. This teacher, a young man known for his very liberal views, was also my son's social studies and homeroom teacher. His lifestyle and views insinuated themselves into the classroom. He instructed, advised and coaxed the students to hold "views of their own" and not merely follow their parents' beliefs.
In one reading assignment, he told students that they were to interview someone about why books are important to them, asking them to quote something they particularly liked.
My son interviewed me for the assignment. I chose a passage from a social/political commentary that reflects my belief in absolute truth. The book talked about the cultural war between those who live by a set of divinely inspired moral absolutes, and those who insist that morals are simply a personal decision and any attempt to enforce morality constitutes oppression.
My son got his paper back with all the margins marked up in red ink -- the teacher's responses to my views, not to my son's work. His notes ranted on about morality being "societally agreed upon behavioral rules" that are "open to questioning and change when needed". He said that "there is no universal concept of the divine -- that is defined by individual belief". He concluded: "I happen not to believe in a deity, yet I'm sure our moral values match very closely due to our shared socio-cultural background".
About the only thing we share is the air we breathe. I had a talk with the principal who expressed regret over the incident and said he would "talk with" the teacher. But he somehow worked into our conversation his own views on the flaws in the Catholic Church, of which he said he was a member.
The school counselor, a retired Methodist minister, I learned, had made my son feel that he may have mental or emotional problems because he was considering a vocation to the priesthood. The counselor expressed great surprise (and concern) that we went to Mass each morning. I asked him not to "counsel" my son again.
We managed to get through the rest of that school year. Then this same son began attending a good seminary high school in Chicago. But where to take the younger one became a pressing concern, given our experiences in the public schools.
For one year, he went into an exclusive private school in Chicago. I again thought that they would probably not deal with religion at all, and that I would continue to handle the Catechism. Many students were Jewish, and I thought this could have its benefits. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah were school holidays, and Hanukkah was observed, so it seemed that at least this place would respect faith in God.
It didn't take long to discover that ultra-reformed Judaism and New Age paganism were the main faiths there. There was a Christian Club -- a handful of high-school students who felt discriminated against because of a curriculum (especially history) that cast Christians in an obliquely sinister light. I offered to start a similar group for the junior high level, but got nowhere.
I asked the middle-school principal, a Catholic, why in mid-December there was no trace around school that this was the Christmas season, given the recognition of Jewish holidays. She expressed surprise at the question. Apparently no one had asked this before. From the health teacher, another Catholic, I learned that somewhere around the janitors' closet there was a sign that read "Merry Christmas".
Where was the great liberal arts education which parents sought for their children at this expensive and prestigious school? Where was the strong core values training one should expect from such an institution? The middle- and high-school counselor, a charming woman, rewarded students with pieces of candy for stopping by her office with something positive or praiseworthy to say -- about themselves.
The idolizing of self. The psychologizing of education. Were we the only ones who noticed that the emperor had no clothes?
No, William Buckley saw it, too. In a chapter and a follow-up appendix in Nearer, My God, he closely describes our own experience, in his inimitable style. He speaks of an encounter with the current headmaster of Millbrook School, his boyhood private preparatory school where "religious observance was routine". Buckley inquired about what sorts of religious services are scheduled these days at Millbrook, and was told that there were none; that "students were 'encouraged' to engage in spiritual activity according to their own lights".
Buckley learned of a Candlelight Service held before Christmas, directed by the school's Spiritual Life Committee. The program for this service was, he says, "eclectic", and widely varied to include every conceivable sensibility.
Commenting on the mission and goals of the Spiritual Life Committee to foster individual spiritual expression of students, Buckley writes, "[E]xplain why the Bible, which in the Christian world has more or less officially served that purpose since Constantine (d. A.D. 337), is no longer adequate to serve such purposes"?
Noting that the report avoids mentioning Christmas in referring to its "Candlelight Services", he observes:
The Spiritual Life Committee treats the word "Christmas" as Victorians treated the word "syphilis", though more Victorians contracted syphilis, one supposes, than, at this rate, Millbrook students contract Christianity. The recommendations of the Spiritual Life Committee would not have needed altering by a single syllable if the Bible had never been written. The school could with perfect accuracy advertise itself as the Millbrook School for Pagan Boys and Girls.
I borrow Buckley's analysis for its accurate portrayal of the school we left in Chicago after sixth grade. Thus we avoided the seventh grade summer reading curriculum, The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, a very dark tale disguised as fantasy adventure -- a tale of witches and daemons, little sympathetic creatures that guide and empower children's actions. The vocabulary list included "experimental theology", "Magisterium" and "Vatican Council", among other glaring red flags.
One of the big projects for the seventh grade was to study Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-god, complete with the crafting of models of this "god" and decorating the halls with them.
Instead, my son spent seventh and eighth grades at a Catholic boys school with the Opus Dei influence permeating the curriculum and a chapel with daily Mass. He has now entered the seminary preparatory high school in Chicago, joining his brother in a fine college prep school with a classical curriculum and an emphasis on character/spiritual formation.
Guarding our children's education and pursuing the best schools for their moral and intellectual development has come at considerable sacrifice, and that's what parents have to be willing to embrace for the all around safety and health of their children's minds and souls. Ours meant long, demanding commutes, long days and other hardships that, nonetheless, become easier borne when all of us realized they are, finally, where they really belong.
This is just one family's story, my own, but I've lost track of the numbers of others I've heard that mirrored it, or worse.
A couple of years ago a federal judge in Westchester County, New York, ruled that the school district there was violating the religious freedom of Christian students by permitting several quasi-religious practices that were associated with New Age spirituality.
As Our Sunday Visitor reported it, these programs included "Earth Day celebrations, the use of `worry dolls' and elements of animist worship".
In his ruling, Judge Charles Brieant banned the promotion of the Hindu religion, the use of musical tapes emphasizing Native American animism and the worship of Mother Earth.... Students were taught to believe that "the mother of us all is the earth. The father is the sun", the judge said, calling that tantamount to teaching the children earth worship. (OSV June 6, 1999)
That school district had included in its programs the Gothic-style game "Magic: The Gathering", construction of death masks and study of Mexican and Egyptian gods and goddesses, and the making of replicas of (no surprise here) the Hindu deity Ganesha.
And yet, a great many parents of our nation's public school students are unaware that this is all going on.
Such programs are often implanted in curriculum surreptitiously, in the form of stories, poetry, social studies, class projects, etc. Some of those projects are intrusive on family privacy. Students are asked to keep journals as outlets for all sorts of feelings, problems, private thoughts or facts about their families, and reactions to school assignments. But the journals are kept in the teachers' drawers, and parents are not allowed to see them. If parents question any of these programs, they're labeled as troublemakers (I've certainly been there) and intimidation is used to silence them.
Church and State
These practices and agendas run totally counter to our faith. In his Letter to Families in 1994, Pope John Paul II writes:
Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: they are educators because they are parents. They share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the state. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and their actual capabilities.... Subsidiarity thus complements paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization.
But none of that is possible when leaders of the education system in this country conceal their purposes -- and even change the language when parents do begin to catch on.
"Outcome-Based Education", for example, started to get a bad reputation among parents, so its engineers changed the program's name repeatedly. At various times it has been called "performance-based education", "enhanced basic education", and "goal-based education", among other smokescreens.
Those who design these programs do not even acknowledge that they have responsibilities to parents, and never seek their consent or authorization. The radical psycho-socialist agenda being carried out in the public schools today, with a feminist, homosexualist, multicultural diversity training core, forms an ideological scheme that works strenuously to deconstruct the Judeo-Christian tradition at its foundation, the traditional family.
But believing Jewish and Christian parents have actively engaged the battle.
In writing Saving Childhood, the Medveds state that their purpose is "letting parents see that they can resist the popular but destructive philosophy they're unthinkingly buying into -- and ultimately perpetrating".
"The need for such a conversation, in our kitchens and in our culture, is pressing and urgent. But before we can structure an effective defense, or mount any meaningful counterattack, we must first come to terms with the fundamental nature of the assault", the Medveds say. It has alarming depth and breadth, they observe, and "today, even the most conscientious and protective parents feel helpless when it comes to shielding the innocence of their children".
Borrowing from author Marie Winn, in her 1981 book Children Without Childhood, they refer to this era as a passage from an "Age of Protection" to an "Age of Preparation", or inculcation of a new world view to suit a New World Order. "As technology increasingly covers basics, schools shift their preparation away from concrete 2 + 2 academics and toward more amorphous preparation -- like promoting interpersonal skills, self-esteem lessons ... that schools never used to touch -- in part because there was little need for it", the Medveds declare:
But more and more, schools are becoming full-service institutions, "caring for the whole child" in a way once left to parents, as well documented by Eric Buehrer in The Public Orphanage: How Public Schools Are Making Parents Irrelevant. He terms this situation "educational co-dependence" and it works like this: parents can't or won't teach values, but kids still need to acquire them. Schools, therefore, willingly fill the need -- so thoroughly that they make parents feel like unwelcome interlopers.
A great majority of the research, evaluation and criticism of the various forms of Outcome-Based Education agrees that it has failed miserably. Academic achievement has dropped dramatically, costs in education have risen, teachers have defected from the system and students are bereft of values, morality, conscience and character, not to mention an actual academic education in the liberal arts that served civilization for centuries. The Medveds caution parents:
If the purpose of the preparation model of childhood is to ready our kids to confront the challenges of adolescence and young adulthood, it can only be adjudged an appalling failure. The disaster is so obvious that one can only wonder at the unshakable determination of so much of the educational, psychological and cultural establishment to press on with the new approach, regardless of its consequences, extending the assault on innocence to ever-younger victims, all in the name of equipping them for the future. This stubbornly impractical insistence fits George Santayana's classic definition of fanaticism, which, he writes, "consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim".
It is questionable, however, whether the powers behind public education in America have forgotten their aim, or just stubbornly persist in throwing money and programs at it in an effort to turn out citizens who have the right attitudes and compliance to be productive for the state in its dominance in the global community.
If this sounds like jargon, it is -- theirs. They use it to befuddle parents who try to get information or to assist in making decisions on school missions and curriculums. And they will continue so long as the government continues to mandate these programs in the schools and fund them.
Take a look at the U.S. Department of Education website, specifically all the material on Goals 2000 (www.ed.gov/G2K/). The section, "Goals 2000 Legislation and Related Items", begins:
Goals 2000: Reforming Education to Improve Student Achievement (April 1998) looks at how Goals 2000 supports State efforts to develop clear and rigorous standards for what every child should know and be able to do, and supports comprehensive state- and district-wide planning and implementation of school improvement efforts focused on improving student achievement to those standards.
What did that say, exactly? Whose standards does this refer to? It goes on to claim that "communities in 49 states are participating in Goals 2000. Find out how they and the states are using Goals 2000 funds and flexibility to accelerate progress toward their own standards-based education improvement".
"Standards-based education" is another term for Outcome-Based Education. It all means the same thing. What flexibility? How do they measure this "accelerated progress"?
"The district schools concentrate all professional development efforts -- across all disciplines -- on classroom level planning aligned to both the state standards and its process for assessing ongoing progress".
What are those standards and what is the process for assessing progress and what constitutes "progress"? The Goals 2000 report continues:
"Increasingly, teachers are organizing their daily lesson plans and assessments around the standards and measurable performance indicators".
So what are teachers teaching? Plenty of news stories over the past year have focused on how frustrated teachers are getting with "progress" like this.
A Time magazine cover story last month was "Is Home Schooling Good for America?" (8/27/01) The article swayed between understanding and appreciating this solution to the education crisis, and worrying about its effect on the community:
"If it's a choice between being good to one's family or good to one's community, it's not much of a choice at all", the writers concede. "Many, of course, try to be both, but some parents say the schools are too far gone... `The problem is that schools have abandoned their mission,'" says Luigi Manca, a communications professor at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, who home schools his daughter Nora, 17. "They've forgotten about educating".
The Time writers worried about the social ramifications of home-schooling:
Thomas Jefferson and the other early American crusaders for public education believed the schools would help sustain democracy by bringing everyone together to share values and learn a common history.
The writers seem concerned that home-schoolers take education out of the broader community setting and make it the work of a single family or small circle.
But the article also, perhaps inadvertently, shows that the original intent of public education was to sustain democracy with shared values and an understanding of a common history -- precisely the opposite of what those schools are doing now. Far from uniting and building strong communities, the educational establishment, in forcing ideology-driven agendas with altered values alien to families, and by teaching a revisionist history that denigrates even the founding fathers, is causing further divisions and separate, hyphenated, multicultural groupings.
"Home schooling may turn out better students, but does it create better citizens?" Time asks.
It depends on the definition of citizen.
In November 1885, Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Spectata Fides, On Christian Education, with an incisive and prophetic account of the importance of how children are trained, speaking of "great vigilance and anxiety, in a matter where no care can be too great: We mean the Christian education of your children".
What he wrote could probably be even better applied to our age than to his own:
In these days, and in the present condition of the world, when the tender age of childhood is threatened on every side by so many and such various dangers, hardly anything can be imagined more fitting than the union with literary instruction of sound teaching in faith and morals.
Referring to this urgent need for good Catholic schools, Pope Leo XIII continued:
for the future condition of the State depends upon the early training of its children. The wisdom of our forefathers, and the very foundations of the State, are ruined by the destructive error of those who would have children brought up without religious education. You see, therefore Venerable Brethren, with what earnest forethought parents must beware of entrusting their children to schools in which they cannot receive religious teaching.
How much more so today.
Always stressing the importance of the family, Pope John Paul II offered his update of this exhortation in an address to the Villa Flaminia Institute school at Holy Cross Parish in Rome.
This occasion affords me an opportunity to stress the importance of an educational project that, beginning with the family, can find distinct but converging spheres where it can thrive starting with the family, then the parish community and the school.... (T)he parish community is a place for religious and spiritual education. School is a place for cultural education. The two dimensions must be integrated, because the same values inspire them: they are the values of Christian families who, in a society dominated by relativism and threatened by existential emptiness, intend to offer their children an education based on the unchangeable values of the Gospel.
Former Secretary of Education William Bennett refers to this in the introduction to The Book of Virtues, his 1993 volume assembling a wealth of time-honored stories that reveal fundamental traits of character known as virtues.
"If we want our children to possess the traits of character we most admire, we need to teach them what those traits are and why they deserve both admiration and allegiance," writes Bennett.
Moral education -- the training of heart and mind toward the good -- involves many things. It involves rules and precepts -- the dos and don'ts of life with others -- as well as explicit instruction, exhortation, and training. Moral education must provide training in good habits.... The vast majority of Americans share a respect for certain fundamental traits of character: honesty, compassion, courage, and perseverance. These are virtues. But because children are not born with this knowledge, they need to learn what these virtues are.... Our literature and history are a rich quarry of moral literacy. We should mine that quarry.
William Buckley made the same point in Nearer, My God, in a chapter on how one learns about the Christian God:
Young boys and girls, young men and women, crave idealistic engagement, and I thought again, on encountering the new Millbrook School, that the Judeo-Christian tradition -- the great moral vehicle of Western idealism -- attenuates, in our institutions of learning, for reasons unrelated to the advancement of knowledge. Science has not discredited religious faith. Christianity is as viable in the post-Einstein world as when it first caught fire in the West, the stupor mundi that transformed two millennia of men and women who acknowledged God as the generator of human activity at its noblest, from the earliest martyr to Martin Luther King.
Even King has been stripped of his religious significance, his core of Christianity, to the detriment of the education of our nations' schoolchildren, Buckley observes:
A vital feature in the new religious order is the institutionalization of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., in some schools the most prominent feast in the calendar. Some schools celebrate the Monday in January with something approaching liturgical devotion. What is widely ignored, in the focus on Dr. King, is, paradoxically, his Christian training and explicitly Christian commitment. Every student is familiar with the phrase "I have a dream". Not many are familiar with the closing words of his peroration: "...and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together".
And so go the lamentations. But there are often, in the growing array of resources for parents that aim to bring them up to speed on the state of the public schools and their dangerous agendas, also exhortations for parents to take an active role -- immediately -- in guarding their children's education.
Know what is in your child's curriculum and become very vigilant about all classroom material your child touches in any way. The role of schools, though they have abdicated it, is to teach good moral basics, those that have guided civilization since Old Testament times. That is the foundation of a good society. Advocate for that in the schools.
"[T]he fact is that the formation of character in young people is educationally a different task from, and a prior task to, the discussion of the great, difficult ethical controversies of the day", writes William Bennett. "First things first. And planting the ideas of virtue, of good traits in the young, comes first".
At the beginning of The Book of Virtues, Bennett treats the reader to a perfect preface for the teaching of virtues through good moral stories. It is ancient wisdom:
You know that the beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily taken.... Shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?
We cannot.... Anything received into the mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts
Then will our youth dwell in a land of health, amid fair sights and sounds, and receive the good in everything; and beauty, the effluence of fair works, shall flow into the eye and ear, like a health-giving breeze from a purer region, and insensibly draw the soul from the earliest years into likeness and sympathy with the beauty of reason. There can be no nobler training than that.
Noble training is putting first things first. To assume our role as primary educators of our children, parents need to push for ultimate authority in their children's schools, and protection of their children's and their family's privacy. We must not be intimidated by jargon or condescending responses from school officials. Speak facts and truth.
Among the books my son was given as a summer reading assignment was Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Considering what's happening in our nation's public schools involving the collusion of business, psycho-social engineers and government, and the matter of stem-cell and cloning research and experimentation, we marvel at how close we really are to that once-fantastical scenario. This is not just a social commentary. It is a warning.
In his Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Cardinal John Henry Newman writes of "an ordinary child, but still one who is safe from influences destructive of his religious instincts". In the poetry of his theological discourse, Cardinal Newman examines the development of the child's concept of goodness and his relationship to God. This image of God within the developing child, he observes, expands and deepens through his education, social interactions, experiences and literature. To this carefully formed mind of the child, the world reflects back those truths about God that have been familiar to him from his earliest years. And then the cardinal gives warning:
Good and evil meet us daily as we pass through life, and there are those who think it philosophical to act towards the manifestations of each with some sort of impartiality, as if evil had as much right to be there as good, or even a better, as having more striking triumphs and a broader jurisdiction.... It is otherwise with the theology of a religious imagination. It has a living hold on truths which are really to be found in the world, though they are not upon the surface. It is able to pronounce by anticipation, what it takes a long argument to prove -- that good is the rule, and evil the exception. It is able to assume that, uniform as are the laws of nature, they are consistent with a particular Providence. It interprets what it sees around it by this previous inward teaching, as the true key of that maze of vast complicated disorder; and thus it gains a more and more consistent and luminous vision of God from the most unpromising materials.
We are in the midst of a maze of vast complicated disorder in our culture and in our schools. And our children are being made to navigate it with the most unpromising materials.
If your children are connected with schools in which officials think it philosophical to act towards good and evil with impartiality, they will need, from the beginning, carefully formed consciences -- and parents who will impart to them the "theology of a religious imagination". ¶
Sheila Gribben Liaugminas, a Chicago journalist, is a member of the editorial board of Voices.
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