Thursday, June 23, 2022


There is nothing more antithetical to achieving equality between individuals of different races than defining standards, merit, and hard work as “racist.”

City Journal

Truth is What Our Schools Need

Seeking "equity," too many schools are simply giving up on learning standardsa and an aspiration for excellence.

 Betsy deVos, June 21, 2022

Excerpt from Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child, published by Center Street.

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 set off a racial reckoning in the United States. The issue of race and how it is perceived and experienced in the United States was suddenly everywhere. Much of this national soul-searching has been a long-needed corrective. It has opened many Americans’ eyes to the experiences of their fellow Americans. It has shown us that life for some of our countrymen and women is marked by injustice and inequality. It has taken us back to the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., who called for the promise of the American founding—of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—to be guaranteed to all Americans.

But this reckoning has also called forth a poisonous ideology that rejects the belief in the fundamental goodness of America held by Dr. King. It is an ideology that writes off America as irredeemably racist—founded on the exploitation of minorities, especially African-Americans, and dedicated to their continued exploitation. This America is divided into oppressors and the oppressed. White people are racist simply because they’re white. Other groups are automatically victims by virtue of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, or their perceived gender. Far from being rooted in judging people by the “content of their character,” the America portrayed by this ideology is divided and at odds. And it can’t be healed. It can only be torn down and remade.

Critical race theory (CRT) became the catch-all phrase for all the racialized, divisive ideas about race being taught. Parents of all political persuasions and races were alarmed by what they saw. Their children, they believed, were being taught to hate their country and themselves. The education establishment responded to parents’ growing concern with condescension, denial, and technicalities. Defenders of the new teaching, from President Biden to school union bosses to members of the Loudoun County school board, told parents they were seeing things. What they claimed was on their children’s computer screens wasn’t there because, they said, CRT is not being taught in elementary or high schools. It was a “decades old” theory taught only in colleges and law schools.

That was and is a complete evasion. It may be true that CRT is taught in colleges and law schools, but that doesn’t mean the racism that animates it hasn’t found its way into elementary and high school classrooms. It has.

In 2019, an audit of Loudoun County schools by a consulting firm called Equity Collaborative concluded that the district’s public schools were a “hostile learning environment” for minority students and teachers. The county then paid the same firm almost $400,000 to create and implement a “Comprehensive Equity Plan.” Loudoun County High School changed its mascot from the “Raiders”—which was linked to Confederates in the Civil War—to the “Captains.” They produced a video apologizing for segregation. Teachers were required to undergo training for “cultural sensitivity.”

One of the training programs the Equity Collaborative offers teachers is called “Introduction to Critical Race Theory.” It defines CRT as centered on “the permanence of racism” in America. It is embedded in our system and even in the beliefs we hold. To overcome this internalized racism, teachers and students must reject tenets of liberal democracy such as “color-blindness, the neutrality of the law, incremental change, and equal opportunity for all.” These ideas function, the program continues, not to protect the inalienable rights of all, but to “allow whites to feel consciously irresponsible for the hardships people of color face and encounter daily and also maintain whites’ power and strongholds within society.”

In other words, the foundations of liberal democracy only perpetuate racism and injustice. But what were teachers supposed to do with this information? Keep it to themselves? Teach it in a law school class? No. The prompt for the final breakout session of “Introduction to Critical Race Theory” asked teachers to contemplate “How might you use CRT to identify and address systemic oppression in your school, district, or organization?”

Some Loudoun County teachers complained about a chart used in the training sessions that broke down Americans into two groups—one that “experiences privilege” and the other that “experiences oppression.” Christians were listed among the privileged, while non-Christians were deemed oppressed.

None of this stopped Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor in 2021, from claiming that it was I who had “made up” CRT.

The outrage expressed by parents wasn’t confined to Northern Virginia. School boards across the country were inundated by parents of students in schools infected with the racism of the new education ideology.

In Cupertino, California, third-graders at one school were asked to create an “identity map” describing themselves. They were told to list their race, class, gender, religion, and other traits. Then the teacher told the students they live in a country with a “dominant culture” of “white, middle class, cisgender, educated, able-bodied, Christian, English speaker[s],” which uses its dominance to oppress other people.

In 2019, as part of its effort to promote “equity, inclusion, and diversity,” Seattle Public Schools developed a “Math Ethnic Studies Framework.” The method purports to teach math by introducing divisive and unrelated concepts. For instance, the framework asked students to “explain how math dictates economic oppression” and to “explain how math has been used to exploit natural resources.” Students could also find math useful in “identify[ing] the inherent inequities of the standardized testing system used to oppress and marginalize people and communities of color.”

In Lexington, Massachusetts, fourth-graders were taught to “articulate what gender identity is and why it’s important to use nonbinary language in describing people we don’t know yet.” They learned about “gender identity,” “gender expression,” “sexual orientation,” and “sex assigned at birth” by applying sticky notes to a “Gender Snowperson” drawn in Magic Marker.

These may not technically be examples of “critical race theory.” But in the minds of increasing numbers of parents in the summer of 2021, CRT was just a shorthand for the racism and inappropriate sexual material being taught in their schools without their knowledge or consent. And it wasn’t just happening in public schools.

The Grace Church School in New York is an elite private school that adopted the practice of routinely separating its students into groups based on race, gender, and ethnicity. One day a math teacher at the school was with a “white identifying” group of students when a diversity consultant hired by the school proclaimed that objectivity and individualism were “white supremacy” concepts. The teacher, Paul Rossi, confronted the consultant.

“Human attributes are being reduced to racial traits,” he said. The consultant responded by asking Rossi if he was having “white feelings.”

Some of Rossi’s students shared his condemnation of the racism of the exercise with their peers. When word of it got back to the school administration, Rossi was publicly shamed for his questioning. He was offered to stay at the school only if he agreed to “restorative practices” for the minority students he supposedly harmed. He resigned from the school instead.

Another parent of a child in an expensive New York City private school, the Brearley School, wrote a scathing letter to fellow parents as he withdrew his daughter from the school in disgust. Andrew Gutmann’s open letter to the Brearley community is worth quoting at length because it captures the dismissal of and disregard for the opinions of parents regarding the new educational ideology—even at a $54,000-a-year New York private school.

I object, with as strong a sentiment as possible, that Brearley has begun to teach what to think, instead of how to think. I object that the school is now fostering an environment where our daughters, and our daughters’ teachers, are afraid to speak their minds in class for fear of “consequences.” I object that Brearley is trying to usurp the role of parents in teaching morality, and bullying parents to adopt that false morality at home. I object that Brearley is fostering a divisive community where families of different races, which until recently were part of the same community, are now segregated into two. These are the reasons why we can no longer send our daughter to Brearley.

Defenders of the politicization of curricula claim that these are “cherry-picked” stories that paint a false picture of schools. But these are just a few of literally hundreds of examples that have come to light as parents and teachers feel more comfortable exposing the truth about what’s happening in schools.

And truth is what is desperately needed in our schools today. America’s past is stained by slavery and Jim Crow. Racism lingers in their wake. Any and all American history curricula should deal honestly and forthrightly with these facts. Certainly, Loudoun County, Virginia, has its own troubled racial past.

But the “woke,” CRT-infused ideology in our schools goes far beyond teaching the facts of our history or even acknowledging the ongoing challenges of our present. In the name of “antiracism,” racism is being taught to American children. Fundamental facts of our country and its founding principles are at best being overlooked and at worst being distorted and denied.

Perhaps most damaging to the education of children is the fact that the solution often advocated for achieving “equity”—reducing the gap in academic performance between races—is to lower expectations and standards for everyone, not to raise the achievement of lower performers. Even though schools are awash in new funding thanks to the Covid-19 relief bills, many are simply giving up on learning standards and an aspiration for excellence. Instead they rationalize their surrender with the twisted logic of critical race theory.

Last summer, Kate Brown, the Democratic governor of Oregon, quietly signed a law doing away with a requirement that high schoolers in Oregon demonstrate that they can read, write, and do math before they can graduate. The problem was that the graduation rate of African-American students lagged that of white students in Oregon schools. So the solution, according to Governor Brown, was to make everyone “equal” by eliminating standards. Without any apparent understanding that he was demeaning the groups the governor purported to want to help, the governor’s spokesman said that the elimination of the test will benefit “Oregon’s Black, Latino, Latina, Latinx [sic], Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.”

There is nothing more antithetical to achieving equality between individuals of different races than defining standards, merit, and hard work as “racist.” Lamentably, this toxic message isn’t just being spread in public schools. In 2020, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter school chain announced that it was abolishing its traditional slogan, “Work Hard, Be Nice,” in an effort to tackle systemic racism. Apparently, the phrases “work hard” and “be nice,” in the KIPP leadership’s eyes, “supports the illusion of meritocracy.” By exposing that “illusion,” the once-great KIPP schools signaled to parents of all races that they no longer cared about the achievement and success of their students. But what parents want to send their children to a school that believes rewarding accomplishment is an “illusion?”

Monday, June 20, 2022


 from The Record

Fear, Risk, and the State of Political Expression at Horace Mann School

Ryan Finlay, Contributing Writer, 
June 7, 2022

The Horace Mann School appears on the surface to be a remarkably homogeneous community—politically. Our curricula are infused with the latest theories from the progressive academic community. An entire philosophy on American society and its future is packaged and distributed to the student body, and too often, as designed, students accept it at face value. There’s something rather important missing from this picture: a vast swath of the political spectrum. One could easily conclude that there are very few non–progressive students at HM, but this is an illusion; the community contains silent multitudes.

Here is the problem: HM, like so many other academic institutions today, fosters a learning environment that I believe is hostile to those who do not subscribe to progressive politics. This includes not just conservatives but also centrists and moderates on the left. As a result, our school has developed a political bubble in which the majority of the views expressed in classrooms are far to the left of the mainstream views of both the American public and the actual political average of the student community. A fantasy is built for progressive members of the student body, making them believe that their most radical opinions are far closer to the mainstream than is actually the case.

Over the course of this composition, I will attempt to illustrate exactly how this bubble is facilitated and maintained. I also intend to offer an explanation for why so many members of the student body who are not progressive are unwilling to express their political views in class. I will use personal examples, as well as reference the experiences of others. To protect everyone’s privacy, I will not identify by name any of the courses, faculty members, or students involved in any of these true events.

I recently spoke with a faculty member about the school’s political bias. This faculty member made the case to me that many teachers feel obligated to open students’ eyes to the inequality that surrounds them, as though taking off the horse blinders that supposedly plague children of economic privilege. Something is clearly being lost in translation. The result is a continuous pressure in the classroom to embrace visions of wholesale societal reform. Time and time again, when students attempt to contradict these ideas, they are criticized for failing to recognize the lived experiences of others, as if the lived experiences of their own families are irrelevant. At the end of my conversation with this faculty member, they estimated that perhaps ten percent of the student body is at odds with the politics of the school. I disagree; after four years and hundreds of conversations out of earshot from teachers, I propose a figure closer to thirty or forty percent, a sizeable portion of the student body, one composed not simply of white males of privilege as some might claim, but rather a diverse collection of students from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

We are constantly encouraged to think in terms of morality, which is weaponized to reinforce the political bubble. When issues of politics or social reform are raised in classroom discussions, there is a certain approach HM students are accustomed to expect from the faculty. While the specific strategies depend on the context and the individual issue, there is a common reliance, in the majority of cases, on preaching right versus wrong.

A perfect example would be the equality versus equity comparison. Every junior and senior is well acquainted with this cartoon graphic; the school makes sure of it in Seminar on Identity. For those who are not familiar with it, spectators of different heights watch a baseball game from behind a fence. On one side, labeled “Equality,” each spectator stands on a box of similar size. As a result, only the tallest can see the game. On the other side, labeled “Equity,” the shorter spectators are supplied with appropriately sized boxes so that everyone can watch the game from an equal vantage point. As the tallest spectator can see over the fence without a box, they receive none. Everyone is exposed to the graphic at some point during their HM education and told to recognize the inherent superiority of the equity model. In other words, equity is taught as a moral imperative.

The gravity of the graphic’s message is easy to miss. When it’s displayed to students, the struggle between the two choices is made cartoonishly simple, literally. The choice of equity seems so plainly obvious that if you argue for equality, it appears as if you are an elitist who doesn’t want people without certain resources to enjoy their lives. There is never any dynamic discussion on the real effects of either choice. Equality and equity are philosophies on access, but the real pros and cons of choosing one over the other, details which are decidedly complex and unable to be reduced to childish cartoons, are practically ignored. When the principle of the sports game is applied to the real world, it proposes either a rejection of meritocracy, or a denial that it exists in the first place. This approach gets students bogged down in a false impression of simplicity, leading to such conclusions on meritocracy that frequently include: the system is broken, unable to be reformed, rotten to the core, and deserving of demolition.

To those students who do not share the political leanings of the institution, the graphic is inflammatory and the associated classroom dialogues steamroll any real consideration of the benefits of equality. What is so disturbing for non–progressive students about many class discussions on politics is not just that the goal is to discredit non–progressive strategies, but rather that the merits of progressive preferences are so often steeped in moral arguments.

Students who agree with these arguments have the school’s unspoken authorization to attack opposing ideas on the grounds of righteousness. This training in moral protectionism begins early, as I recently heard one student explain: “I remember being introduced to the equity versus equality diagram back in the Middle Division. Teachers made clear that there was a right system and a wrong system.”

The school offers a range of incentives for adopting a specific outlook on society. We are at a highly impressionable point in our lives, and the school’s willingness to glue some of our ideas on progress into place while discarding others should frighten everyone. It is not a problem that some students may naturally espouse politics that are considered radical by others. It is not even a problem that they might choose to reaffirm their sentiments with a set of morals they have chosen to adopt. It is a problem when a generic set of progressive morals is pushed upon everyone else by an institution we rely upon to facilitate education.

Treating one set of political views as moral automatically labels all others as deficient. Morals are not deductive; they are a sense of right and wrong. When students are encouraged to believe in specific political ideas according to moral justifications, it becomes all too easy to decide that alternate ideas are rotten, and those who defend them are immoral. This is damaging to the community and damaging to education. It narrows the scope of perspectives deemed fit for students to engage with honestly and without unfair preconceptions. How is anyone to competently argue their position on a current political issue when the conversation assumes that one side has staked out an inherently immoral view?

Casual and sanctioned attacks on non–progressive views are frequently integrated into classes, especially the first few minutes of the period when current events are brought up for roundtable discussions. I have always enjoyed these moments: I think it is important to hear what others have to say about the latest developments around the world, regardless of whether or not we agree. What I do not enjoy is the common devolution of these conversations into vilifying conservatism, which both progressive students and even some teachers are happy to do. In one instance, a student was decried by their classmates after voicing support for deportations. Our community member was labeled immoral for speaking honestly about their political beliefs — beliefs which are accepted as perfectly normal across the country. In the Horace Mann classroom, however, this person became a punching bag for their progressive classmates.

Some teachers openly fail to set a better example, choosing to fan the flames. One year, I had a history teacher who, the day after an event that they felt merited the press’ attention, brought copies of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to class. They would place the newspapers side by side and argue that because The New York Times’ front page included more stories about social justice issues and people of color, the more right-leaning Journal was maliciously indifferent and trying to minimize the importance of those stories. No mention was made of the fact that the Journal is openly focused on issues surrounding economics and finance. The teacher held such discussions multiple times throughout the year.

In an equally blatant display, a student shared with me their experience dissenting in SOI. While voicing concerns about the political bias of the curriculum and the overall condition of free speech at school, their instructor cut them off mid–sentence, saying, “that’s enough.” It was reinforced to this student that the purpose of social justice-related curricula is not for the material to be challenged but rather to be absorbed without question.

Signs of indoctrination manifest across campus. More concerning, though, is that some of the students seem comforted by it and rely on their teachers to feed them opinions. I once heard a classmate ask their history teacher—word for word—to “tell us what to believe,” concerning a recent civil rights issue, as if it were teachers’ responsibility to shape students’ politics. It is not. We ought to think for ourselves, and the school ought to encourage independent inquiry.

The structure of the bubble leaves students with other views in a delicate position. So many of us want to resist and be open with the HM community about who we are and what we believe. At the same time, we must grapple with the vulnerability that comes with many faculty openly opposing our politics. At the end of the day, the impulse to self-censor is fueled by risk assessment: it is not worth jeopardizing academic success at HM in exchange for political expression. Unfortunately, by protecting ourselves, we reinforce the illusion that we are a small minority of limited conviction.

Every classmate I know who is not progressive self-censors in class during discussions of current events and politics. The degrees of self-moderation vary widely, depending on a range of personal factors. Most choose to keep their comments vague to leave little room for accusations of being “too conservative” about an issue. Then, there are the most saddening cases, including the few who have resigned to stay silent because the perceived risks of speaking their mind are too great. Looming over HM’s conservative students, there is the fear of unknowable and arbitrary reprisal by those in power. Even if some of those fears are blown wildly out of proportion, as I must admit, most non-progressives have determined that the safest path in the classroom is always the silent one.

It is the mystery of unknown consequences that constrains students’ desire to speak their mind on the most important problems facing our country. Just recently, I overheard a junior advising some underclassmen on how to get through discussions in humanities classes without “getting on the bad side of your teacher.” The advice consisted of: “just agree with what everyone else is saying, that’s what I do.” When I objected to this hapless approach, I received this defense: “it doesn’t matter if you disagree with it, just lie about what you believe. It’s not worth it.”

There are multitudes of HM students, with whom I identify, who privately speak of their opposition to progressive race-focused policies but would never volunteer to say this in a class discussion. None of us want to be labeled as a racist or be reviled by our peers. Those of us who have this opinion are not racist. HM’s environment would have one think otherwise. I do not claim to identify as a Republican, identifying instead as an Independent. I consider myself moderate in most of my views. That said, I leave the impression in nearly every classroom political discussion that I am a right–wing conservative, as I frequently hear through the grapevine. I have no doubt that this is because the students’ conception of the political spectrum has been so grotesquely warped from years in the bubble.
One of the fundamental reasons why so many students feel unable to share their beliefs is the endless newsfeed telling of academic scholars and regular citizens who have had their lives turned upside down by the ravages of cancel culture. It is not so much that anyone at HM fears being sent to the Honor Council for citing their support for a conservative policy. It is that many non-progressive students at HM are terrified by the ambiguity of an administration that preaches independent thought but permits and encourages attacks on it. As far as many students are concerned, the administration has practically endorsed cancel culture through its silence on the phenomenon. Currently, students’ conclusion is: watch yourself and censor yourself; you are not protected.

Even students who believe in the messages defended by the school should feel concerned over these examples. It should make you question where exactly education ends and indoctrination begins. It is easy to claim that HM is just a progressive institution and that students and families knew exactly what they were signing up for. I disagree. When my family enrolled, we were confident that HM would prioritize “teaching students how to think, not what to think.” We saw among the schools core values, “life of the mind” and “mutual respect.” The school is not living up to its own values.

I call upon the administration to clarify its policies on political expression; I call upon the administration to actively protect and sanctify diversity of thought; and I call upon the administration to disentangle itself from the progressive political agenda that has turned the school into an incubator of bias and intellectual intolerance.

Show us we are free to develop our own moral compasses. Only action can reassure us that it is okay to disagree at HM. Prove that we should be—and can be—confident in that, and the school will truly have safe spaces.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022


The student rebels in Paris in May 1968, and their assorted philosophical instructors from Sartre to Foucault, celebrated Chairman Mao in the midst of the murderous terrorist craze of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Ignorance thus combined with moral and political obscenity.

The American Mind
Don’t Hate Yourself
Daniel J. Mahoney
Reject the oikophobic temptation.

Why do well-educated, rich countries hate themselves so much? A recent book, Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations, gets to the heart of perhaps the most salient cultural and political phenomenon among Western elites in the last half century. Salutary and measured self-criticism—the hallmark of reason—has transformed into aggressive and pathological self-hatred, a self-hatred that has become obligatory among the bien-pensants. The author of the book, Benedict Beckeld, a middle-aged German philosopher who writes sprightly and elegant English prose, relates the multiple obstacles to his book even seeing the light of day. The oikophobes, those driven by hatred of our Western home, or what used to be called the West, refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of naming such self-loathing for the pathology that it is. That which is obligatory cannot be named or criticized.

Beckeld rightly sees oikophobia as the “opposite extreme of xenophobia,” which is loathsome in its own way. But it is not our problem today, when the “Other” is celebrated (but only as a helpless victim) and where the nations that once made up the Western world are seen as uniquely guilty of every sin. Beckeld puts things very incisively in the opening lines of his book:

We in the West continually come across oikophobia. We see it when a schoolteacher tells the students that Western civilization has been uniquely evil in its pursuit of colonialization and slavery, with the implication that other civilizations have not engaged in such things; when a school named after Thomas Jefferson seeks to change its name because of concerns about racism; when a commercial for a Scandinavian airline insists that nothing is truly Scandinavian; when Western universities “decolonize” their departments to make them even less Eurocentric than they have already become; when the waving of one’s own flag is decried as xenophobic while other nations are encouraged to display pride in their cultures; when wild crowds tear down statues of their country’s founders.

This lucid and altogether accurate description of oikophobic self-hatred at work speaks for itself. I will leave a fuller discussion of Beckeld’s book for another occasion since this piece is not intended as a review of his book. Suffice it to say that perusing Beckeld’s provocative book led me back to the late Roger Scruton’s measured and pungent discussion of oikophobia in a book he wrote on environmental conservatism in 2010 (Scruton, along with Victor Davis Hanson also provided an endorsement for Western Self-Contempt).

Scruton was the first to apply the term oikophobia (widely used in psychiatry) to the realm of politics and political philosophy. Scruton does not succumb to Carl Schmitt’s troubling reduction of the human and political world to deep and abiding enmity between friends and enemies, nation and nation; with the Christian tradition he affirms the moral priority of “neighbor love.” But to love one’s neighbor one needs neighbors. That means, at a minimum, a political or national home to which we belong together. Charity begins at home and no one is a truly a citizen of the world, except in an abstract or metaphorical sense. The late modern world is riddled with ideologues who “loved humanity” while despising and degrading real human beings. A morally conceited but empty humanitarianism (and globalism) is thus the other side of totalitarianism.

In Scruton’s rendering, oikophobes deride “all the ordinary forms of patriotism and local attachment as forms of racism, imperialism or xenophobia.” An occupational hazard of the intellectual class, oikophobia mocks the concrete attachments and loyalties of decent citizens and human beings (the ground of all larger loves and loyalties) while lauding distant cultures and regimes about which they often know little. The student rebels in Paris in May 1968, and their assorted philosophical instructors from Sartre to Foucault, celebrated Chairman Mao in the midst of the murderous terrorist craze of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Ignorance thus combined with moral and political obscenity. In the United States, Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States continues to sell like crazy and miseducates each rising generation in a mix of self-hatred and imbecilic para-Marxism that is truly worthy of contempt. As Scruton points out, political correctness is nothing other than mandatory anti-Americanism and Western self-contempt, and is tied to a “culture of repudiation” and negation “which spreads through school and academy all but unresisted by the guardians of traditional knowledge.” It is by no means a new phenomenon.

The true intellectual and moral antithesis of oikophobia is not xenophobia but oikophilia, a love of one’s own, tied to liberty and law, that actualizes the affections of citizens for a country and civilization worth preserving and passing on to new generations. For example, command-and-control approaches to ecological matters will inevitably be coercive and counterproductive, and necessarily ignorant of the “local” facts on the ground. But a patient and reasonable love of home can inspire common efforts rooted in social trust and local knowledge. Self-contempt can only lead to debilitating civic and moral indifference if not a totalitarian effort to negate everything good that has been passed on to us. Hatred inspires nothing constructive; the cultivation of civic affections allows even strangers to build a common world and to live in peace with one another. Conservatism, not humanitarian abstractions and virtue-signaling, promotes true neighbor-love and responsible civic engagement.

In an article in the Spectator from 2018, Scruton took aim at the cult of victimization (and the art of taking immediate offense) that is at the heart of oikophobia and the culture of repudiation.
If one uses the wrong pronoun, beware; if one compliments or offends the wrong person, be prepared to have one’s personhood potentially expunged. The easily victimized lie around every corner. Even as our elites declare the West to be guilty of crimes and sins without precedent, the norms and decencies of our own tradition of civilized liberty must give way, in the dominant account, to everything foreign, transgressive, and contemptuous of common sense and received wisdom.

Scruton gives the instructive, and provocative, example of the burka—the covering of a woman’s face and body promoted by certain Islamic fundamentalists throughout the world. As Scruton puts it, we live in a “face-to-face society, in which strangers look each other in the eye, address each other directly and take responsibility for what they say.” To hide the face, to make it completely inaccessible, is to prevent access to the personhood—the soul—of another. It is also radically at odds with “the rights and privileges of citizenship.” Elsewhere, the contemporary French political philosopher Pierre Manent notes that in the Christian West, only the executioner covered his face. Scruton and Manent agree that the face-to-face encounter is at the heart of civic freedom and mutual moral accountability. It is a non-negotiable good of civilized existence.

Yet, today, we are asked to sacrifice that precious good in the name of not “othering the Other” or succumbing to Islamophobia. What a mad “transvaluation of values,” in Nietzsche’s words. It is considered an outrage of jingoism to ask for a minimal respect for our courtesies, traditions, and civilities—which have support not only in received tradition but in the best philosophical, theological, and political wisdom—while at the same time we genuflect before and marvel at the customs of the stranger. Scruton suggests that the “others” who take offense at the decencies of our Western tradition, and the pseudo-sophisticated intellectuals who justify them, need to lighten up. Their earnestness is both destructive of civilized norms and potentially deadly, as we have seen with Islamic extremism and more recent urban violence and mayhem. With laughter and self-criticism (not pathological self-hatred) free and decent men and women of different backgrounds can build a common home together, face-to-face in relative comity, even among those who begin their encounter as strangers. These are old truths that have been almost completely forgotten. They need to be recovered and renewed with vigor and insight.

The Franco-American literary critic and social theorist Rene Girard is famous for making scapegoating and “mimetic desire,” as he called it, a central theme of contemporary philosophical and cultural discourse. Girard saw scapegoating and victimization everywhere but, unlike the postmodernists and oikophobes, he emphasized the need for forgiveness rather than eternal enmity and strife. But in an interview in 2008, he denounced politically correct ideology as radicalizing the scapegoat mechanism. Political correctness, Girard charged, puts its proponents in the position of accusing their opponents of creating scapegoats, of victimizing others, as they reproduce the exact dynamic they denounce. Girard added that the politically correct say nothing about the victims of abortion and euthanasia, except to cheer their destruction. This movement of super-victimization that Girard diagnosed was nothing but “Christianity turned upside down,” scapegoating at the service of hatred and the negation of moral decency and civilized life. It was something that true Christians and all persons of good will must vigorously oppose.

In light of Beckeld’s, Scruton’s, and Girard’s considerable insights, it is time to repudiate repudiation, to affirm the value of home rightly understood and to criticize the critics of Western civilization who use criticism as a weapon at the service of hatred, enmity, and a moral nihilism (inseparable from moralistic fanaticism) that knows no rest. Let us reject the dark temptation of oikophobia once and for all.  
Daniel J. Mahoney is a Senior Fellow at the Claremont Institute and professor emeritus at Assumption University. He has written widely on French politics and political thought. His latest book, The Statesman as Thinker: Portraits of Greatness, Courage, and Moderation, will be released this month by Encounter Books.

Thursday, June 9, 2022


The central irony of NCTE’s call to “decenter” text is this: Reading and writing were decentered decades ago…Many students don’t even read the scant number of titles they are assigned. An alarming proportion arrive at college as “book virgins”: They’ve never read an entire book.

Education Week

No, Fewer Books, Less Writing Won’t Add Up to Media Literacy

—Against NCTE’s call to ‘decenter’ print media 

By Mike Schmoker—June 3, 2022

[Mike Schmoker is an author, speaker, and consultant. He is the author of FOCUS: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning, 2nd edition (ASCD, 2018).]

Indulge me and say the following out loud: Students should read fewer books and write less expository prose.

Did that feel right? I doubt it. But that’s the message the National Council of Teachers of English is sending its members. Its recent position statement on “Media Education in English Language Arts” demands that educators “decenter” the reading of books and the writing of essays. It instructs teachers to shift their focus from print media to digital media—including GIFs, memes, podcasts, and videos.

The statement makes some legitimate points. It rightly calls for greater relevance and engagement in the classroom, for redoubled attention to the core literacy skills of speaking and listening. It insists that students learn to assess the veracity and quality of online sources, along the lines of the good work being done by Stanford University’s Sam Wineburg and associates.

But the statement’s call to “move beyond” print is profoundly misguided. The late, great media critic Neil Postman first pointed out that the ability to analyze multimedia flows directly from a strong foundation of reading and writing. Technology can only benefit education where text literacy is given primacy.

Literacy expert Richard Vacca writes that, as adults, today’s students will be required to “read and write more than at any other time in human history.” Political commentator Thomas Friedman likewise reminds us that the primary skill set for success in the 21st century is advanced proficiency at “plain old reading and writing.” And yes, speaking. It distresses Friedman that students already spend about seven hours a day absorbed in digital entertainment media.

The central irony of NCTE’s call to “decenter” text is this: Reading and writing were decentered decades ago. When I ask audiences what two activities we are least apt to observe in an average school, it takes them about four seconds to respond, almost chorally: reading and writing. Many students don’t even read the scant number of titles they are assigned. An alarming proportion arrive at college as “book virgins”: They’ve never read an entire book.

NCTE could have an immense, positive influence by reminding teachers that books enlarge our lives and experience, nourish imagination, and immerse students in the thought-worlds of people in various cultures, times, and places. Practicing teacher and literacy expert Kelly Gallagher advocates for students to become “voracious” readers. He is appalled by the increasing encroachment of pseudo-literary activities, which he has long-dubbed “readicide”—the murder of reading. Like so many of us, he knows that novels and nonfiction books open the world to young readers, offering them new modes of seeing and doing. They allow us to figure out who we are at a critical time of life.

Books also uniquely expand our general knowledge.
As cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham points out, “Books expose children to more facts and to a broader vocabulary (a form of knowledge) than any other activity.”

And writing? In classroom tours, my companions and I observe writing and writing instruction less than any other activity—even less than reading. I saw the results of this when I taught writing to college freshmen. The majority struggled mightily to organize their thoughts into a clear, coherent document. This explains why many students hit an academic wall in a variety of subjects when they reach college.

I would love to see the council take the lead on educating its members on writing’s unrivaled capacity to enable students to generate, analyze, synthesize, and retain knowledge. Writing is almost miraculous in the way it enables us to think more deeply, logically, and precisely. The eminent education reformer Ted Sizer regarded writing as “the litmus paper of thought,” which should therefore “occupy the very center of schooling.” Numerous scholars celebrate writing’s capacity to help us to express our best thinking in its best form.

The NCTE statement raises other concerns: It strikes me as being more ideological than humanistic—and overly enamored with what students find familiar and fun. And I also believe that it needs further clarification. For instance: What actual proportion of the curriculum would the council reserve, perhaps grudgingly, for what they term “traditional” reading and writing competencies?

The ELA community should absolutely acknowledge the digital era—but not at the expense of books and expository writing. If the council truly desires for record proportions of students to become literate, articulate, and successful, it should first:

Renounce the ubiquitous practices that are the primary destroyers of literacy, for example, skills exercises (think “find the main idea”); the excessive employment of worksheets, full-length movies, and aimless group work; the arts and crafts projects that masquerade as literacy activities—which are rife right up through high school.
Recenter, after years of decline, an intensive focus on reading, writing, and (thank you, NCTE) speaking and listening. Restoring these to their rightful place represents the most propitious opportunity for swift, dramatic improvements in all of K-12 education.

With so much at stake, we dare not lurch, impulsively, to satisfy contemporary but specious preferences for how we educate our children.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022


 …Here, as the authors of Life Adjustment Education for Every Youth put it, was “a philosophy of education which places life values above acquisition of knowledge.”


A traveler from a foreign country whose knowledge of American education was confined to the writings of educational reformers might well have envisaged a rigid, unchanging secondary-school system chained to the demands of colleges and universities, fixed upon old ideas of academic study, and unreceptive to the wide variety of pupils it had in charge. The speaker at the N.E.A. meeting of 1920 who lamented that the high schools were still “saturated with college requirement rules and standards” and filled with principals and teachers “trained in academic lore and possessing only the academic viewpoint” sounded a note of complaint that has never ceased to echo in the writings of the new educationists. In fact, the innovators had very considerable success in dismantling the old academic curriculum of the high school. It is hard for an amateur, and perhaps even a professional in education, to know how much of this was justified.

But two things it does seem possible to assert: first, that curricular change after 1910 was little short of revolutionary; and second, that by the 1940’s and 1950’s the demands of the life-adjustment educators for the destruction of the academic curriculum had become practically insatiable. The old academic curriculum, as endorsed by the Committee of Ten, reached its apogee around 1910. In that year more pupils were studying foreign languages or mathematics or science or English—any one of these—than all non-academic subjects combined. During the following forty-year span the academic subjects offered in the high-school curricula fell from about three fourths to about one fifth. Latin, taken in 1910 by 49 per cent of public high-school pupils in grades 9 to 12, fell by 1949 to 7.8 per cent. All modern-language enrollments fell from 84.1 per cent to 22 per cent. Algebra fell from 56.9 per cent to 26.8 per cent, and geometry from 30.9 per cent to 12.8 per cent; total mathematics enrollments from 89.7 per cent to 55 per cent. Total science enrollments, if one omits a new catch-all course entitled “general science,” fell from 81.7 per cent to 33.3 per cent; or to 54.1 per cent if general science is included. English, though it almost held its own in purely quantitative terms, was much diluted in many school systems.

The picture in history and social studies is too complex to render in figures, but changing enrollments made it more parochial both in space and in time—that is, it put greater stress on recent and American history, less on the remoter past and on European history. When the Committee of Ten examined the high-school curricula in 1893, it found that forty subjects were taught, but since of these thirteen were offered in very few schools, the basic curriculum was founded on twenty-seven subjects. By 1941 no less than 274 subjects were offered, and only 59 of these could be classified as academic studies. What is perhaps most extraordinary is not this ten-fold multiplication of subjects, nor the fact that academic studies had fallen to about one fifth the number, but the response of educational theorists: they were convinced that academic studies were still cramping secondary education. In the life-adjustment movement, which flourished in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s with the encouragement of the United States Office of Education, there occurred an effort to mobilize the public secondary-school energies of the country to gear the educational system more closely to the needs of children who were held to be in some sense uneducable.

...The conception, implicit in this observation, that knowledge has little or nothing to do with “life values,” was an essential premise of the whole movement. Repeatedly, life adjustment educators were to insist that intellectual training is of no use in solving the “real life problems” of ordinary youth.

Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (342-345). [1963] Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Monday, June 6, 2022


History has always been a sobering discipline because it presents the story not only of man’s achievements but also of his failures. History contains many vivid lessons of what can happen to man if he lets go his grip upon reality and becomes self-indul­gent; it is the record of the race, which can be laid alongside the dreams of visionaries, with many profitable lessons. Yet the modern tendency is to drop the old-fashioned history course and to substitute something called “so­cial science” or “social studies,” which one student has aptly dubbed “social stew.” What this often turns out to be is a large amount of speculation based on a small amount of history, and the speculation is more or less subtly slanted to show that we should move in the direction of socialism or some other collectivism. Often this kind of study is simply frivolous; the student is invited to give his thought to the “dating patterns” of teenagers instead of to those facts which explain the rise and fall of nations. There is more to be learned about the nature of man as an individual and as a member of society from a firm grounding in ancient and modern history than from all the “social studies” ever put together by dreamy “pro­gressive” educators.

Philosophy too is an essential part of lib­eral education because it alone can provide a structure for organizing our experience and a ground for the hierarchical ordering of our values. But under “progressive” educa­tion there is but one kind of philosophy: that of experimental inquiry in adapting to an environment. This has no power to yield insight and no means of indicating whether one kind of life is higher than another if both show an adjustment to the externals around them.

Thus, with amazing audacity, the “progres­sive” educators have turned their backs upon those subjects which throughout civilized history have provided the foundations of culture and of intellectual distinction.


Imaginative Conservative April 2016
Education and the Individual
by Richard Weaver