In his book Understanding Europe English historian Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) explains that the failure of Western society “is certainly not due to the neglect of education in modern society. No civilization in history has ever devoted so much time and money and organization to education as our own.” Why the apparent paradox? In the last fifty years schools ceased to be local and subordinated to families. An ideological ruling class has successfully “alienated” students from their parents and deprived them of virtue and common sense, making them a tabula rasa for demagogues and degenerates. Dawson says that
It is this above all else which has caused the mind of our society to lose its independence, so that there is no power left outside politics to guide modern civilization, when the politicians go astray. For in proportion as education becomes controlled by the state, it becomes nationalized, and in extreme cases the servant of a political party…. [The result] is not only essential to the totalitarian state; it existed before the rise of totalitarianism and to a great extent created it.
We read that the United States spends more money per child than any other country, yet is often outclassed academically by foreign students from poorer nations. Instead of being a blessing, uniform schooling has actually sped the pace of cultural decline. In the early seventies I benefited from what was probably the last of old-style public education. Its ethos still belonged to that of an earlier generation—the rules were strict but the teachers were respected and often loved. There was no bad behavior and no bullying. Yet when I moved to bigger towns, I experienced the new educational methods combined with the effects of declining social and parental morale.
Even today when schools are able to insist on high standards (including uniforms and proper grooming) children do much better. Students are not only educated in technical skills, they are also civilized. According to Dawson this is the most important thing we can give to our children.
For related comments see my post on Brad Birzer’s biography of Christopher Dawson.