Friday, March 24, 2023



The British fight against the attempt of a revolutionary France to dominate the world lasted twenty-two years. It began in 1793 when men who had set eyes on Protector Richard Cromwell were still living, and ended in 1815 when others who were to know the youth of Adolf Hitler were already born. It saw the end of an old age and the beginning of a new.

In that struggle there were only two constant factors. One was the French resolve to create a New Order; the other was the British refusal to admit any Order not based on law. Other nations were tossed in and out of the storm like leaves. Only Britain, though she bent, never broke. For a generation, sometimes with powerful allies but as often alone, she fought on against a nation with twice her population and animated by a strange revolutionary fanaticism which gave its devotees the strength of a man in delirium. Such was its power that at times Britain found herself fighting almost the whole of Europe, including her former allies, without, apparently, the slightest chance of victory and with very little of survival.

Yet her patient, rock-like people never compromised, never gave in, never despaired. They had no Churchill to lead them, for Pitt—the pilot who weathered the early storms—was Chatham's son only in his faith and fortitude but by no means in his understanding of war, in which at first he was the veriest bungler. After three years in which Britain lost almost all her allies and reached the verge of bankruptcy, her enemy threw up the greatest military genius the world had known. For thirteen years, until Sir John Moore twisted his tail in Spain, no soldier got the better of Napoleon or, save for the stubborn Russians for a few months in the Polish mud of 1806, was even able to stand up to him.

Arthur Bryant. The Years of Endurance: 1793-1802
(Kindle Locations 47-61). Endeavour Press. Kindle Edition.

Friday, March 17, 2023


Madison had begun his statements on this question in Federalist LV and LVI, published in mid-February 1788: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind,” he then wrote, “which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.” Four months later he elaborated the point in what was for him a remarkable outburst. It was touched off by Mason’s insistence, in the Virginia ratifying convention, that legislators will do everything mischievous they can think of and fail to do anything good. Why is it not as reasonable, Madison replied, to assume that they will as readily do good as evil?—not that one should “place unlimited confidence in them, and expect nothing but the most exalted integrity and sublime virtue.” And then followed this statement of his basic philosophy:

I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.

Other federalists, equally convinced of the power of self-interest, greed, and corruption, said the same. Washington wrote Lafayette that the guarantee that the American government would never degenerate into despotism lay in the ultimate virtue of the American people. John Dickinson asked, “will a virtuous and sensible people choose villains or fools for their officers? Or, if they should choose men of wisdom and integrity, will these lose both or either, by taking their seats? If they should, will not their places be quickly supplied by another choice? Is the like derangement again, and again, and again, to be expected? Can any man believe that such astonishing phenomena are to be looked for?” Similarly, the federalist Reverend Samuel West in the Massachusetts convention demanded to know whether it was likely that people would “choose men to ruin us…May we not rationally conclude that the persons we shall choose to administer [the Constitution] will be, in general, good men?”

Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (369-370). Harvard University Press. [1967, 2017] Kindle Edition.

Friday, March 10, 2023


I see progressive pedagogy as apolitical albeit painfully mediocre, critical pedagogy as self-consciously radical and destructive.

Education Next

Winter 2023

“We speak in whispers behind closed doors”

A right-of-center middle-school teacher explains what it's like
Frederick Hess

Daniel Buck is a middle school English teacher in Wisconsin who’s recently published his first book, What Is Wrong With Our Schools: The Ideology Impoverishing Education in America and How We Can Do Better for Our Students (John Catt Educational, 2022). When he’s not working on lesson plans, Buck is a senior visiting fellow at the Fordham Institute and has contributed to outlets like the Wall Street Journal, National Affairs, National Review, City Journal, and RealClearEducation. Buck is one of the most prominent conservative teacher voices in education today. Given that, and the fraught climate of schoolhouse politics, I thought it worth chatting with him about his experiences, perspective, and new book. Here’s what he had to say.

Daniel Buck
Hess: Dan, so you’re out with your first book. What’s it about?
Buck: It’s a polemical book with a rather simple argument: All of the trendy debates about education ranging from funding to class size or even school choice miss a foundational flaw in our system. We have built schooling on incorrect first principles and faulty ideas about how students learn. I trace out the competing ideologies in American education through an intellectual history and then dive into more specific debates about curriculum, instruction, behavioral policies, and others.

Hess: What prompted you to write it?
Buck: A publisher reached out and asked me to. The more interesting question is why I started writing. I was in grad school, encountering these radically progressive and politicized ideas about education, and I needed an outlet to process, contend with, and make sense of it all. As I wrote, more and more teachers and parents reached out asking me what were the alternatives to John Dewey or Paulo Freire—veritable educational saints—and I didn’t always have a succinct answer. If not project-based learning or critical pedagogy, what else? This book is my attempt at answering that very question.

Hess: Can you say more about the “ideology” that you reference in the title?
Buck: Really, I should have made the title plural, referencing instead “ideologies.” There are two. At the turn of the 20th century, progressive education was the pedagogical philosophy du jour. With its roots in European romanticism, progressive education holds that society and its traditions are corrupting. In the spirit of Rousseau, any imposition of traditional academics or rote learning merely snuffs out a child’s inherent goodness. As such, no content is worth learning in itself but only that which naturally appeals to the child.

The second ideology is critical pedagogy. It goes a step further, following the work of Paulo Freire. It suggests that not only should we keep society and traditions from molding the child—we should encourage children to mold and remake society. It’s overtly radical and the reason we see so much politics creeping into American classrooms. As an educator and observer of education, I see progressive pedagogy as apolitical albeit painfully mediocre, critical pedagogy as self-consciously radical and destructive.

Hess: I’m sure plenty of readers push back when you say that. I suspect many tell you that anti-racism and DEI are just a healthy, necessary response to real problems. How do you respond?

Buck: The most frequent contention I see is that anti-racism, DEI, CRT, or whatever trendy acronym is just the teaching of “accurate history.” Well, they’re not. I’ve taught the beautiful poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, evils of chattel slavery through Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, reality of redlining and segregation through A Raisin in the Sun, and trials of the civil rights movement through Martin Luther King’s letters and speeches. But in teaching these units, I always emphasize that these historical crimes and evils occurred in spite of American ideals, that our improving political equality is a fulfillment of our founding documents, not a repudiation of them. DEI and anti-racism aren’t teaching accurate history; rather, they use history as a cudgel to condemn classical liberalism and our exceptional American system.

Hess: In the book, you talk about some of your own formative classroom experiences. What are one or two that loom particularly large when you think about your own evolution?

Buck: My first year teaching was particularly formative. I did everything that I learned in university. My students designed their own behavioral rules, they chose their own books, I formulated my lessons based on their interests, I built relationships, and still everything was chaotic. Progressives like to prattle on about emotional safe spaces; my classroom was bordering on physically unsafe. There were no fights inside it, but it certainly got close a few times. It wasn’t until I learned to assert some healthy adult authority in the room and guide the classroom through great literature that things slowly came into order. I saw that progressive education wasn’t working and started to look for something else.

Hess: It can feel like our debates are stuck in a doom loop right now, where we just talk past one another. Have you found thinkers or colleagues who see issues differently but with whom you’ve still been able to constructively engage or find points of agreement?

Buck: Unsurprisingly, to me at least, I’ve found a lot of teachers both online and in person agree with me. They want to keep Shakespeare on the curriculum and dole out consequences to kids who misbehave. It’s administrators, professors, activists, and journalists with whom I have the most ideological clashes. When it comes to in-person conversations, such disagreement has proved tense but remains civil. Online, it’s hopeless.

Hess: I feel like I don’t read much that’s written by right-leaning teachers, even though polling tells us there are plenty of them. Am I just missing it?

Buck: In every school that I’ve taught at, there have always been a handful of teachers on the political right. We speak in whispers behind closed doors. There are plenty, but many just don’t think it’s worth the professional or interpersonal strain that comes with speaking out. We have to work with our administrators and want cordial relationships with colleagues. Picking political fights in the teachers’ lounge jeopardizes that professional peace. That being said, as I mentioned before, most teachers have many values that are traditionally associated with conservatism—local control, smaller bureaucracies, classically influenced curriculum, strict discipline structures—even if they don’t identify as conservatives per se.

Hess: What are a couple of the practical things that you think schools are getting wrong right now?

Buck: In particular right now, I think the movement away from punitive discipline and consequences will prove most immediately disastrous. Based on the progressive notion that discipline and consequences are oppressive, this puts classrooms at risk for serious disruptive behavior. Schools in chaos cannot function no matter how exquisite their curriculum.

Hess: If you could recommend a couple specific changes to teacher preparation or professional development, what would they be?

Buck: The reading lists in university preparation programs need an overhaul. Progressives like John Dewey and critical pedagogues like Paulo Freire or Henry Giroux dominate education school curricula. They’re the equivalent of homeopathy or chakra enthusiasts on medical school websites. If any educational conservatives like E.D. Hirsch gets mentioned in these programs, it’s usually with derision. Getting more cognitive science or even a single conservative into the hands of prospective teachers would be a major win.

Hess: What’s surprised you about the reception to your book?
Buck: Many have been quick to criticize it or me for various reasons: They think the subtitle is too long or that I have an insufficient number of years in the classroom to speak with authority. It’s rarely an argument and more a thinly veiled ad hominem. The irony of it all is that none of the criticism comes from folks who have read the book. Every review or comment from someone who has actually cracked a page is positive.

Hess: Looking ahead, what’s next for you?
Buck: Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to best build educational alternatives and more substantively replace the dusty progressivism in our schools. That could mean staying in the classroom, writing full time, returning to the schools of education that I so loathe, working for an existing organization, helping craft a good curriculum, or who knows what else. So, I’m trying to figure that out myself.

Frederick Hess is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and an executive editor of Education Next.
This post originally appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.

Thursday, February 16, 2023


The truth is that what’s destroying American education is the lack of actual content. The justifications for eliminating from the curriculum books with information in them have come in various forms. But at the heart of all of them is the idea that teaching is itself “oppressive.”

Bucking the Trends
By Naomi Schaefer Riley
February 14, 2023

A Wisconsin-based teacher named Daniel Buck once showed his high-school freshmen a documentary about the Great Depression, which mentioned that some American workers had moved to the Soviet Union during this period. When he asked the students why they thought this was, he writes, “the class gave me the silent stare that so many teachers dread.” He asked himself the questions he was taught to ask during his teacher training: “Had I framed the question poorly? Did I have an adequately accepting classroom culture?” As it turned out the problem was much more elementary. One student finally broke the silence: “Is the Soviet Union a country?”

Buck’s new book, What Is Wrong with Our Schools, is a powerful and succinct explanation of how we got here. As he notes, the kids in his district had learned “a smattering of U.S. and ancient history.” But any kind of instruction about the World Wars and the Cold War had been saved for later on in high school. “How could I possibly ask them to think critically about the Great Depression and the Soviet Union when they knew nothing about it?” he writes. “I might as well ask them to water a garden with an empty pail.”

While it is not uncommon or unwarranted to focus on the politicization of American classrooms—from critical race theory and gender-bending ideology to apocalyptic environmentalism and plain old cheerleading for the welfare state—the truth is that what’s destroying American education is the lack of actual content. The justifications for eliminating from the curriculum books with information in them have come in various forms. But at the heart of all of them is the idea that teaching is itself “oppressive.”

From John Dewey to the more recent pedagogical texts offered at almost every education school in the country, the message is clear: Students are best off when they are discovering things on their own. Memorization is to be avoided at all costs. Teachers are better off playing “guide on the side” rather than “sage on the stage.” Learning should be driven by student interest. Imparting skills is more important than imparting knowledge. The 21st century doesn’t care whether students know facts because they can look up everything on the Internet. All students need is to be trained in critical thinking.

What Is Wrong with Our Schools manages to debunk all of these myths in 200 pages, and if there’s any philanthropist out there willing to send a copy to every superintendent and school-board member in America, trust me, there are worse ways to spend money. Short of that, please give this book at baby showers. It will be much more useful than another onesie.

Let’s start with reading. Many American parents will recognize in their children’s classrooms the scenario Buck describes. Grade-school students are asked to pick books off the classroom shelf based on how many words they don’t know on a page. Once they have a “just right” book, they go off into corners of the room either in groups or alone and read. Middle-school students are asked to choose their own book or share one with two or three other kids and come up with subjects for discussion.

This choose-your-own-adventure strategy is at the heart of the Lucy Calkins Units of Study program, which has been employed in classrooms across the country for decades and was the subject of a New York Times exposé earlier this year for its extraordinary failure. As Buck explains it: “The child’s natural interest and personal will come to direct the curriculum, and we as teachers are only there to react. Unfortunately, there is little research to suggest such an approach works well for most students, not to mention that it’s a rather isolated affair.”

Buck contrasts this to the situation in class when he reads aloud Tom Robinson’s conviction in To Kill a Mockingbird. He does it so that students “can experience the build-up and disappointment together.” He writes: “Every year someone lets a ‘No!’ slip out; when the bell rings, my students walk out of the classroom talking about how affecting that scene is.” Much is lost when the classroom “transitions to Rousseau-influenced workshop models,” he says. “The individual child’s interest is so centralized as to atomize the class; we no longer commune around books.”

Buck criticizes the relentless focus on “relatability” in choosing what children should learn. He notes that kids have a natural curiosity about things outside of their experience, and teachers should be exploiting that. Moreover, teaching students actual texts and important pieces of knowledge makes it easier for them to acquire more knowledge as they go on. Citing the work of E.D. Hirsch, Buck notes that acquiring more knowledge helps build more connections and creates more hooks for students to hang future learning on. Asking students to start from scratch every day and come to new discoveries on their own is not only ineffective, it is also extraordinarily frustrating. Education, he argues, is not all questioning: “We open our minds to close them again around something concrete.”

Come to think of it: That might be Buck’s most radical suggestion. When was the last time you heard a teacher suggest that the class should actually try to arrive at answers?

Again and again, Buck cites evidence from studies of educational settings with the same conclusions. Project-based learning, student-driven classrooms, and skills-based curricula are failing our kids. Children need and want instruction on actual subjects with regular assessments on what they have learned along with all of their classmates.

How have we strayed so far from this older model of education? Of course, the nonsense on offer for teacher training is the root of the problem. But there are reasons that it has been so readily embraced. One of them is the fact that it allows principals and school boards to avoid the question of what should actually be taught. Buck is firmly on the side of teaching old books and teaching them to everyone, regardless of the reading level they are at. “Tradition provides the language and arguments we need to understand the present,” he writes. “Macbeth helps me to understand power-hungry politicians. The arguments between Booker T. Washington and WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X help us to understand current debates over racial justice. These works provide the very language we use in our current debates. We cannot emancipate ourselves from tradition any more than an animal can emancipate itself from air.”

But Buck also sees the imparting of knowledge to his students as deeply practical: “Most people would consider a school a failure if its students were unable to comprehend a major newspaper.” He notes, “Professional writers assume a certain level of background knowledge. Otherwise newspapers would have sentences constructed out of endless appositive phrases and clarifications.…A writer in the New York Times will assume that we know certain foundational texts, major figures from history, general country locations and much more that they will not clarify. It would take too much time and too many words to do so.”

Educated adults should have a certain automaticity of knowledge—we don’t spend all day trying to get through a newspaper by googling where Germany is or what is contained in the Declaration of Independence or when Pearl Harbor was attacked. We should help students develop that, too. Not only in their academic subjects but in their personal habits, as well. When schools create expectations of punctuality, order in classrooms and hallways, and civil behavior, students are able to focus on the educational tasks in front of them. Throughout the book, Buck returns to this theme of how the leaders of schools are responsible for inculcating habits—habits that will free students to accomplish greater things. He uses Rousseau’s opposition to swaddling infants as a metaphor for explaining how the ideas that societal restrictions on children are detrimental to their proper development have shown themselves to be not only wrongheaded but deeply unhealthy and destructive.

When you start with the fundamental assumption that teaching is oppressive, it becomes all but impossible for teachers or administrators to put rules in place, let alone demand that students follow them. He notes the terrible consequences of recent bans on school suspensions or any kind of punishment for kids who misbehave. The students who are in the class cannot learn. Instead of thinking about the topic at hand, they are worried for their own safety. Buck, whose Twitter account I also recommend, regularly posts about the emails he gets from teachers who disagree with him on everything but who see an urgent need for school discipline both for their own safety and the well-being of their students.

Perhaps the fact that Buck is a teacher will allow this book to gain a greater audience. I am more cynical than Buck about some of these developments—student-driven learning can be a much easier lift for teachers who don’t want to do any actual work, such as creating lesson plans. Still, it’s fair to assume that most teachers do want their students to learn but have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to how best to make that happen. “The direct instruction part of [learning] is foundational,” Buck writes. “Without explanation, children cannot learn.… Phrased differently, students need a teacher.” From Daniel Buck’s lips to God’s ears.

Monday, February 13, 2023


Over the past decade, the social justice Left has pressed school districts to be “inclusive” of students with disabilities…School districts are pressured to keep the most extremely disruptive students in regular classrooms.

The Policies Promoting School Shootings
By Max Eden
Washington Examiner
February 10, 2023

The school shooting in Newport News, Virginia, involving a six-year-old who shot his teacher, fell from the headlines before we could learn our lesson from it. 

An article in the 74, a website dedicated to education news and commentary, was titled, “After three weeks and a flood of new details, VA school shooting grows more unthinkable.” According to the reporter, with every new detail about the events leading to a six-year-old shooting his teacher, the incident “becomes harder to understand.”

If only that were the case.

Unfortunately, the recent shooting is all too easy to understand. Teachers put their finger on a root cause quickly. At a school board meeting shortly after, teachers inveighed against the school board for its lenient school discipline policies. “It was just a matter of time before something like this happened,” one teacher said. “Teachers often joke about how students get sent into the office for discipline and come back ten minutes later with a snack and pat on the back.”

This is a common teacher complaint in school districts that eschew traditional discipline in favor of a social justice effort to fight the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Thanks to an Obama-era Dear Colleague Letter, it is now conventional administrative wisdom that teachers are biased against minority students and students with disabilities, that consequences harm students, and that discipline policies are successful insofar as they reduce disciplinary statistics. A week after the shooting, Newport News’s superintendent boasted that “the number of disciplinary incidents and student infractions across the school division declined by 40%.”

But, as one teacher said, “ask any teacher … why discipline incidents declined. Infraction numbers are down because incidents aren’t always officially reported. The message we are being given is that suspensions count against us.” School administrators who, like the Newport News elementary school principal, pride themselves on being “anti-racist,” blame teachers for misbehavior, sweep it under the rug, and claim credit for improving discipline even as conditions deteriorate.

Understand this, and the actions by administrators at the elementary school stop being inexplicable.

According to the lawyer of the teacher who was shot, administrators were warned three times that the six-year-old had a gun. The last time, administrators allegedly told an employee that he couldn’t search the student and should just wait it out because the school day was almost over. Such behavior makes no sense if you assume that school administrators put safety first. But it starts to make sense when you understand the pressure to prioritize statistics over safety. Such profound negligence is almost certainly not accidental, but rather policy-induced.

The other should-be-inexplicable-but-isn’t detail is the fact that this student was in a traditional classroom. According to reports, his misbehavior was so severe that the school required a parent to accompany him to class. The week the shooting occurred was the first week the parent’s presence was no longer required.

According to reports, this student has a severe disability. While education privacy laws prohibit confirmation, it seems all but certain that he had an “emotional and behavioral disability” (EBD). Over the past decade, the social justice Left has pressed school districts to be “inclusive” of students with disabilities. When the disability in question is physical or related to learning difficulties, it might be best to keep a student in a traditional classroom rather than educate him in a special classroom or at a specialized school.

But “inclusion” becomes extremely problematic with EBD students. School districts are pressured to keep the most extremely disruptive students in regular classrooms. Then, school district administrators are pressured to sweep their misbehavior under the rug.

As I argued in Why Meadow Died, it was the combination of these two policy pressures that enabled the Parkland school shooting five years ago. School shooters tend to display plenty of disturbing behavior before carrying out their attacks. If you press school officials to ignore the signs, you all but invite disaster. This is, according to a lawsuit, what happened in Oxford, Michigan, where school administrators allegedly willfully refused to refer a student to law enforcement after being warned he had a gun. And it is, according to this teacher’s lawyer, what happened in Newport News.

It’s a tragic reality that some students pose a clear and direct threat. So long as social justice policies pressure schools to keep those students in normal classrooms and ignore the warning signs, we should not be surprised when the “unthinkable” happens again and again.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023


        I want to add two further observations about the liberal arts in our high schools, one bad, one good. First, the bad. I know the degree to which historicism has taken over so much of our collegiate academic analysis. Historicism is part of the reason why much of what goes on in college looks like a defense of cultural relativism. But a kind of pop-historicism has set up shop in our high schools, and while it looks like part of a liberal education, it actually is the antithesis of it. 

        The code phrase is “looking at things in their historical context.” I know that many of you have used these words, perhaps thinking this is what good teaching and learning does. It certainly sounds benign. And I can imagine a level on which it is benign. If our students read, say, Dante, by all means they should try to understand him as he understood himself and not make him what we would like him to be. Nor does it hurt to know that he lived in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, that he was seriously involved in politics, and that he had a spectacular command of theology, biblical interpretation, and church history. Yet even all this and much of the rest of what we know about him we will learn from reading what he wrote, not reading all we can find in Wikipedia about medieval Florence. (Indeed, much of what we know about his “time and place” we will learn from him rather than him from his time and place.) But, still, what's the problem? 

        I worry that by “contextualizing” everything, we don’t explain things; we explain them away. By contextualizing them, we immediately make them “other.” With this, we set up a barrier to learning from the men, women, and events of the past since we do not inhabit their universe. If what Dante wrote and did and thought, he wrote, did, and thought because he was a late-medieval Florentine—if we can only truly understand him by understanding how he was a product of, or reflected, his “time and place”—then he can teach us very little, since we do not inhabit his world. Thus, the writers and thinkers of the past become not teachers but curios.

John Agresto, The Death of Learning (223-224). Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

Friday, February 3, 2023


I have no hesitation in saying that liberal education in America is dying not by murder but by suicide.

        Perhaps there are universities that still proclaim the liberal arts to be the pinnacle of their offerings, but that’s not what the figures show, not what the world thinks, and not what American or foreign students go to university to study.

        Of course, there are any number of reasons, some even good ones, for this flight from liberal education. A few involve forces more or less beyond our control—the current and universal gravitation toward practical and professional training coupled with feeble job prospects for liberal arts graduates ranks high. But some of the decline is due to our own hubris, narrowness, and self-inflicted wounds. If the final obituary for the liberal arts is ever written, it may read: “This beautiful project died not from old age, not only from neglect, and not exactly from murder, but from self-inflicted wounds that look a bit like suicide.”

        …So, yes, you might think the liberal arts have weathered so many storms that they will weather this. But notice: Almost all the political attacks I’ve mentioned came from without. They came from ideologically driven public sentiment and from powerful politicians. They were promoted as part of the agenda of clearly sectarian political/religious institutions. These opponents of liberal higher education we could and did withstand. But today the dismantling of the liberal arts comes from the professors, students, and administrators within bedrock universities and liberal arts colleges. It comes from radicalized departments of history, literature, classics, American studies, and all the myriad of other studies connected to ethnopolitical interest groups. It comes from virtually every school and college of education. This is why I have no hesitation in saying that liberal education in America is dying not by murder but by suicide.

Jonn Agresto, The Death of Learning. [2022] Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, February 2, 2023


Robert Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow
New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, 232-233
An activist recalls [Stalin’s forced famine in the Ukraine]:

    “I heard the children…coughing, coughing with screams [from government-planned famine]. And I saw the looks of the men: frightened, pleading, hateful, dully impassive, extinguished with despair or flaring up with half-mad, daring ferocity.

    ‘Take it. Take everything away. There’s still a pot of borscht on the stove. It’s plain, got no meat. But still it’s got beets, taters ‘n’ cabbage. And it’s salted. Better take it, comrade citizens! Here, hang on. I’ll take off my shoes. They’re patched and repatched, but maybe they’ll have some use for the proletariat, for our dear Soviet power!"

    It was excruciating to see and hear all this. And even worse was to take part in it…and I persuaded myself, explained to myself. I mustn’t give in to debilitating pity. We were realizing historical necessity. We were performing our revolutionary duty. We were obtaining grain for the socialist fatherland. For the Five Year Plan.”

    He adds, “With the rest of my generation I firmly believed that the ends justified the means. Our great goal was the universal triumph of Communism, and for the sake of that goal everything was permissible—to lie, to steal, to destroy hundreds of thousands and even millions of people, all those who were hindering our work or could hinder it, everyone who stood in the way. And to hesitate or doubt about all this was to give in to ‘intellectual squeamishness’ and ‘stupid liberalism,’ the attribute of people who ‘could not see the forest for the trees.’

    That was how I reasoned, and everyone like me, even when…I saw what ‘total collectivization’ meant—how they ‘kulakized’ and ‘de-kulakized,’ how they mercilessly stripped the peasants in the winter of 1932-1933. I took part in this myself, scouring the countryside, searching for hidden grain, testing the earth with an iron rod for loose spots that might lead to buried grain. With the others, I emptied out the old folks’ storage chests, stopping my ears to the children’s crying and the women’s wails. For I was convinced that I was accomplishing the great and necessary transformation of the countryside; that in the days to come the people who lived there would be better off for it; that their distress and suffering were the result of their own ignorance or the machinations of the class enemy; that those who sent me—and I myself—knew better than the peasants how they should live, what they should sow and when they should plough.

    In the spring of 1933 I saw people dying from hunger [eventually about 14.5 million human beings were made to starve to death]. I saw women and children with distended bellies, turning blue, still breathing but with vacant, lifeless eyes. And corpses—corpses in ragged sheepskin coats and cheap felt boots; corpses in peasant huts, in the melting snow of the old Volgoda, under the bridges of Kharkov…I saw this and did not go out of my mind or commit suicide. Nor did I curse those who had sent me out to take away the peasants’ grain in the winter, and in the spring to persuade the barely walking, skeleton-thin or sickly swollen people to go into the fields in order to
fulfill the bolshevik sowing plan in shock-worker style.

    Nor did I lose my faith. As before, I believed because I wanted to believe.”

Tuesday, January 31, 2023


 A Message to High School Teachers and Principals

I would like to believe that many of the high school teachers and administrators who will read this are the products of a liberal education. If so, at some point your mind was touched by a teacher or your imagination was excited by a field of study. You decided you had a vocation in teaching, so you put aside easier and more lucrative endeavors to show adolescents something of the joys of knowing. Some of you, the best of you, use the classroom, with its conversation and its readings, to expand your own horizons and continue to grow in knowledge yourself. It’s been my experience that many of you truly love some aspect of the liberal arts. Even more than many university professors, who can sometimes be devoted more to their research projects than to the broad sweep of their field, you are in love with history or literature or French or science. You persist in this devotion despite all the challenges and disappointments we all know are part of the life of a high school teacher.

Having said that, I hesitate to burden you with another problem, with a thought both true and sad: If your students do not get a liberal education under your tutelage, they almost certainly will never get one. And for the great majority, even with the beginnings of a liberal education from you, they will abandon what you love, and they will go on to other things. The liberal arts will not play much of a part in their future lives. To reshuffle some of the figures I set out in the introduction, in one recent year over 300,000 undergraduate degrees were given in business, with only 37,000 in philosophy, English, and history combined. But the problem isn’t that so many of your students will go to college with particular career or vocational goals before them. Let’s hope that you’ve widened their interests to a degree that even in the most technical of fields they can find issues and questions that will lead them to continue to expand their minds regarding important human questions. No, my real worries are different. Even if your students do go to an ostensibly liberal arts college, we all know how deeply specialization and “research” have set down their roots, even at that level. I worry that, with your having sown the seeds, they will go to college in search of even greater liberal learning…but the seed will shrivel and die…

…Of course, even at the best liberal arts colleges taking courses in biology, history, or anthropology often means not learning the broad sweep of the discipline but, rather, learning how to be a professional biologist, historian, or anthropologist. I’m sorry to tell you this, but in the vast majority of cases, the last chance for our children to see the world and see it in its breadth and complexity rests with you. Their last best hope of seeing the broad sweep of this civilization and its works is in your hands.

John Agresto, The Death of Learning (221-223). [2022] Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023


Finally, what seemed to start as an attempt to tear down the high and exceptional—great books, high culture, the ancient and modern Hellenic/European literary and philosophic tradition—has now moved on. Having debased and degraded the high, it is now in the midst of an attempt to defeat the ordinary—ordinary family life, heterosexuality, simple love of country, traditional virtues, traditional religious habits and outlooks. To do this, universities use not only their course offerings but all the controls at their disposal—regulations, codes, freshmen orientation, residential and extracurricular student life, sensitivity training, required diversity courses, the dismantling of “the canon,” and more. This is sometimes done quietly, relying more on acquiescence and acceptance than threat, though the more committed among them can, if provoked, openly turn against their own (reflect, again, on the hapless Dr. Summers).

From the start, the real goal of the multicultural movement and then the politicization of liberal learning was not simply to enrich the study of music or add to our appreciation of new poetry; the real goal was the transformation of society at every level, from high to low. In order to accomplish this goal, what previously was deemed ordinary needed now to be stigmatized. To believe, for example, that racial preferencing has no place in institutions of learning is now considered not reasonable but racist. To entertain notions of possible differences between men and women is now not only unacceptable but sexist. To think that one might learn something of value from ancient writers is now not ordinary but elitist. To think that a survey of Western civilization should be offered in a university core rather than courses sponsored by the women’s studies department or by the coalition for LGBTQA+ studies is to open yourself to charges of sexism and homophobia as well as any number of other iniquities. 

To hold to orthodox religious observances and beliefs, above all to believe in any standard religious/ethical framework, might put you at odds with current views regarding lifestyle “choices” and thus at odds with modern understandings of social justice. Especially be careful of any displays of old-fashioned patriotism or love of country. You may not be censured by your fellow students; often their souls are not so dead. But you can easily run afoul of the faculty and administration acting as diversity police, protecting international students from being affrighted by any display of possible student chauvinism. Along with the high, what was once regarded as normal has now been derided and jettisoned, and a new regime of belief has supplanted what was once merely ordinary. In all this, of course, liberal education has come out the worst. Just as dogs know the difference between being tripped over and being kicked, students know the difference between being taught and being indoctrinated, know the difference between ideas examined and ideas thrust. So, despite new requirements that mandate a certain number of liberal arts “diversity” courses, student adherence to the liberal arts continues to drop.

John Agresto, The Death of Learning [2022] (103-104). Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023


A few years ago, when the College Board was about to scrap the writing section on the SAT, I suggested that they instead simply send a copy of the essay to colleges and have it replace the corrupt, time-wasting exercise that is the personal statement colleges currently require…Offer students the option to write an essay in a one-hour or two-hour proctored setting. Send the results in some secure fashion to college administrators or employers. 


AI, Your College Student and the End of Individual Achievement

By Naomi Schaefer Riley
Deseret News
December 30, 2022

What can students do on their own? It’s a question that college admissions officers may increasingly be thinking about in the coming years. Unfortunately, they will have no way to measure this.

The recent news about how artificial intelligence apps can manufacture a high school or college essay from scratch has prompted the obvious observation that it will be much easier to cheat. Those who are inclined to do so won’t have to pay someone else to write it or even worry that the professor will be able to find the same essay online. And you can ensure that the essay will actually sound like you or someone at your level actually wrote it.

But truthfully AI is only the latest nail in the coffin of measuring individual achievement. The campaign against standardized testing is probably the largest part of the problem. Many colleges have made the SAT and ACT optional. Those who defend testing are considered backward, if not racist. And while some schools, like MIT, quickly realized this was not feasible if they were going to maintain high standards, others (where it is easier for students to switch to grade-inflated humanities majors) will stick to their guns. 

These changes have started earlier than college too. Cities have started to do away with testing to get into high schools for high-achieving students. The prestigious Boston Latin School, for example, is now accepting students via standards based on census tracks. Even testing students to see whether they are “gifted” is fraught now.  

But it’s not just testing. Elementary, high schools and colleges’ relentless focus on collaboration means there is little room for students to demonstrate their individual level of achievement. Every class is chock full of group projects, and schools are eager to tell parents that they are preparing children for a world of team building, leadership, cooperation and interpersonal negotiation. English classes feature student-led reading circles. Math classes include group quizzes (no, I’m not kidding). Social studies and science projects are jointly created Google slides presentations. 

But colleges and employers don’t simply want to know how well you work with others (which, when it comes to group projects, could also mean how well you coast while letting others do the work or how well you edit everyone else’s slides without offending them). They want to know: Who is this person applying to my school or for a job with me and how will they perform if I hire them?

Newspapers used to require copy-editing tests that were taken on the spot. Secretarial work required the demonstration of a certain number of words typed per minute. A few years ago, when the College Board was about to scrap the writing section on the SAT, I suggested that they instead simply send a copy of the essay to colleges and have it replace the corrupt, time-wasting exercise that is the personal statement colleges currently require. 

Sure, the SAT writing section might be short and maybe it doesn’t show the full breadth of a student’s ability but at least you know he or she did it alone, without a parent or a coach or the internet. You can read it to find out if a student has a basic grasp of the English language and maybe some familiarity with logic.

The College Board didn’t take up my suggestion. But there’s still a chance for some other company to try. Offer students the option to write an essay in a one-hour or two-hour proctored setting. Send the results in some secure fashion to college administrators or employers. Of course, the company could grade them, but such a score would almost be irrelevant. Different schools and employers want different things out of their applicants. Maybe one school wants to see some creativity and another values clarity above all else. Maybe there is some school out there that cares whether students have mastered the rules of grammar.

Now that there is a push to do away with the LSATs, law schools might also want to consider whether they want a measure of a student’s individual abilities. Surely being able to write a clear brief still has some market value in the legal world. Judges don’t want to see your collaborative Google slides presentation. And most law professors don’t want to be tasked with teaching kids basic writing skills. 

Technology has made it harder to measure individual skills, and it has often made it more difficult to teach those skills too. But that is not a reason to give up on the goal. While no man is an island, simulating the conditions of one can occasionally be useful.

Thursday, January 5, 2023


Schools are switching to curricula that “aim to systematically build students’ knowledge about the world”…

Joanne Jacobs

Teaching reading in high school

Memphis high schools are teaching reading skills to teenagers who didn’t learn to read well in the early grades, reports Sarah Mervosh in the New York Times. Some need to learn basic phonics, she writes. “Every student—including top performers—is learning to break down new vocabulary words, part by part.”

With his new tools, Roderick studied “I Have a Dream,” the speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—no longer skipping unfamiliar words, but instead circling them to discern their meaning.

Literacy is embedded in English, social studies and science classes

Tennessee’s Reading360 initiative doesn't just train teachers in the science of reading, writes Scott Langford, assistant director of schools in Sumner County, in Curriculum Matters. It gives teachers curriculum tools.

Furthermore, the state is training upper-grade teachers in reading science across all content areas, he writes. Teachers say the training is "incredibly beneficial."

In Sumner County, using a more rigorous curriculum exposed the fact that “so many of our kids were guessing at words,” writes Langford. But improving reading instruction in the early grades isn’t enough. Teachers were seeing reading problems in upper grades, until “our shift to knowledge-building curriculum.”

His bottom line: Foundational skills are the easy (and important!) win; knowledge-building is harder.

Schools spend a lot of time teaching comprehension skills and strategies, such as finding the main idea, but not nearly enough teaching knowledge, writes Natalie Wexler. For example, “kindergartners who got a literacy curriculum grounded in science topics had better reading comprehension” than similar students taught general comprehension skills, according to recent research.

2022 was a big year in reading instruction, as states and districts climbed on the "science of reading" bandwagon, writes Sarah Schwartz in Education Week. This part of her summary struck me: The “science of reading” isn’t just about building a foundation. It includes “evidence-based strategies for teaching vocabulary, comprehension, text structure, and other skills and knowledge that students need to become skilled readers.”

Schools are switching to curricula that “aim to systematically build students’ knowledge about the world, diving deeply into topics like the solar system or the civil rights movement by introducing them to lots of different texts on those topics,” she writes. It seems to work.

Monday, January 2, 2023


The people who are warring on the reputations of our great founders and heroes are in fact trying to deliberately dismantle this country: hero by hero.

New York Post

We must rescue America’s heroes from those who tear them down.

Douglas Murray
December 22, 2022

[Murray’s latest podcast “Uncancelled History” focuses on American historical figures who have been at the forefront of scrutiny in recent years.]

When I first moved to the United States I did what any new arrival should do. I read about the country. And the first book I chose was Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People. Published 25 years ago, it has a memorable opening line: “The creation of the United States of America is the greatest of all human adventures.”

Just one thing that struck this then new arrival was that 25 years later it would be almost impossible for a book about this great country to begin with such a positive line.

Even in the period I have been here I have seen the whole story of this country turned on its head. A country that used to feel good about itself is being taught to feel bad about itself. A country which has done such a power of good in the world has been told to consider itself a great force of evil in the world. Almost everything in the American story has been turned on its head. With a quite deliberate intent.
For instance, we hear much about the propaganda of the “1619 Project.” Yet such initiatives cannot even be described as pseudo-history. They are mere propaganda exercises. An attempt to turn the story of America into a story of original sin, slavery and much more.

What is worst is that they have done this to our nation’s heroes. Every single one of them.

So earlier this year I decided to try to make my own small effort at hitting back. I do not have the resources of the New York Times at my disposal, but I got a team of the best young technicians and researchers and put together a list of the American figures who have been most maligned in recent years. I am sorry to say the initial list was very long. It would have been easier to create a list of American heroes who had not been lied about in recent years.

But in the end we decided to focus on the absolutely central figures. The Founding Fathers, Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and more. Throughout the course of this year I have been sitting down with some of America’s— and the world’s—leading historians to fill in the gap of ignorance that has been deliberately inserted into American society.

We called it “Uncancelled History” and you can listen to it on all podcast channels and watch each hour-long episode for free on YouTube among other places. I hope it will be a great learning resource. I am very proud of the results.

For instance speaking to the great Jefferson scholar Jean Yarborough, she told me things about Jefferson that I doubt one in a million Americans know. For instance we have been told for 30 years that Jefferson took sexual advantage of his inherited slave, Sally Hemings. The evidence was said to be conclusive.

Not so, says Yarborough, who sat on the commission that looked into the DNA evidence in the 1990s. As she showed, one of the most base claims against Jefferson would be chucked out if it had ever come into a court of law. The reputation of this most extraordinary man has been completely unfairly maligned. And even Monticello— which is meant to preserve the great man’s legacy—has gone along with such calumnies.

Historian after historian came up with similar nuggets of truth. But what struck me most was something that came up when I asked each historian why this is happening now. Why would anyone want to attack all of our heroes? Why would they want to wage war on these of all people? The answer was given by the Lincoln scholar I spoke with, Andrew Fergusson. Loving Lincoln, he said, is a way of loving America. And so hating on Lincoln is a way of hating on America.

There is a great truth in there. That the people who are warring on the reputations of our great founders and heroes are in fact trying to deliberately dismantle this country: hero by hero. These critics want to say that there is nothing good about us, that we never were good and that the whole thing was rotten from the start. If you want to push that agenda you can push it fastest by trying to pull down all the idols of the country.

Well it is time that Americans pushed back against this. It is something I am trying to arm people to do, in my own small way. I think this country is an extraordinary place. If I didn’t then (like millions of others) I would never have made my way here. But America is amazing not by accident, but by design. It is time we understood that design, and paid due reverence to the designers themselves. Because we have not just something—but everything—to be thankful to them for.