This is not headline news. The problems in our public education system are frequently discussed in the media. There is much hand-wringing over how to address the dysfunction that seems to be rampant there. But Professor Deneen says that focus misses the point. We fail to see what is really happening in our nation’s schools. He says, “Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of our educational system – it is its crowning achievement (italics mine)…The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctable outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists...It is the civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide.” In other words, this is not a result of schools failing to accomplish their objectives. Our schools, he says, are producing precisely what they are trying to produce – students with near zero knowledge of our civilization’s history and heritage.
In Romans 1:22 Paul wrote, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” This educational approach seems to me to be another example of this. There are some obvious problems such cultural ignorance will inevitably produce. One has to do with what ties us together. America is a nation of immigrants. People come here bringing their own cultural background. What is it that allows us to live together in peace? It is that we are all share in some common culture. It is the culture of the American idea that keeps us together. If we drain that out of our society, what is left? How are we to live in harmony? We won’t. The result at some point will be totally disharmony and likely eventual oppression of some groups by a majority that has gained power.
Furthermore, there is a familiar saying often attributed to Peter Marshall, the chaplain of the U.S. Senate back in 1947. He said, “Unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.” Professor Deneen says one of the disturbing traits of his students is they have nothing to fight for. They have nothing to believe in. If nothing is true, right and good, what is there to fight for? It is likely when a society gets to the place where it generally believes there is nothing worth fighting for, it is ripe for tyranny. Nature abhors a vacuum, and where there is a vacuum of conviction there will likely be a force that will come to fill that vacuum.
This lack of cultural heritage ignores a reality. People need to know who they are. Professor Deneen wrote that he loves his students but, “I weep for them, for what is rightfully theirs hasn’t been given…I discern their longing and their anguish and I know that their innate human desire to know who they are, where they have come from, where they ought to go and how they ought to live will reassert itself.”
Calm down, Christian. It is common to read things like this and panic. What can we do? How can we change this situation? We’ve got to do something now! In writing this I’m not issuing a call to action. I’m issuing a call to trust. Our security is not in America or American ideals. Our ultimate passion is not for this nation. Our security is in God and our passion is for his kingdom and his glory. We must remember that he is sovereign. He is the King of kings, which means he is also the King of education systems and cultural elites. Jesus said he is sending his followers out as sheep among wolves so we must be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” It is good to understand what is happening in our world and why. It is fine to do what we can to change it if we can. But in the end our hope is not in our ability to bring about change or in our nation’s heritage and its strength. Our hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ.