“The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation becomes the philosophy of government in the next.” Often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, the statement captures a timely truth. Undeniably, progressive ideologies are dominating public education classrooms with the aim of producing young people beholden to the worldview of their schooling. Alarmingly, in many cases, the ideology is at odds with the values of the students’ parents.
While the majority of parents devote substantial time to raising their children, time is also a powerful force working against their efforts. The outsourcing of 16,000 hours of learning time to education establishments over the course of a child’s K-12 years has stacked the deck against parental influence. Couple this with the teacher’s recognized authority in the learning realm, and the stage is set for schools to dominate the formation of children. As a result, there is a battle waging for the American mind.
According to Pete Hegseth and David Goodwin, the confrontation is far more than a clash of worldviews. “It is a battle. A war — a war over correct ideas. … The classroom is our battlefield, the hearts and minds of our kids the prize. The very survival of the American Republic, and the greatness of Western civilization, are at stake,” they write.
G.K. Chesterton famously stated, “Education is not a subject and does not deal in subjects. It is instead a transfer of a way of life.” And the way of life taught in today’s schools is leading to the downfall of our country. We did not arrive here overnight. While the COVID-19-induced-closed schools gave parents access to the public school teachings, propaganda and priorities, the attack on our nation’s Judeo-Christian founding began nearly a century ago. In its place is progressivism, rooted in Marxism and radicalism.
Progressivism’s ascendancy in K-12 public education dates back to John Dewey in the early 20th century. But it was Mr. Dewey’s associate, secular humanist Charles Potter, that provided the most explicit revelation about the goal to dominate the influence on the hearts and minds of children through the classroom. Recognizing that many Americans were church-goers at the time, Mr. Potter boasted in 1930, “What can theistic Sunday School, meeting for an hour once a week, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching?”
But the battle over who controls American primary and secondary education goes back much further — President Ulysses S. Grant and Sen. James Blaine worked strategically in the 1870s to ban public money from going toward religious schools. While the Blaine Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was defeated in 1875 by the Senate, it laid the groundwork for Blaine Amendments in 36 state constitutions. The message was sent — our nation’s founding Judeo-Christian worldview, and the high value it placed on faith, would be pushed out of the most formative years of a child’s life. The First Amendment’s freedom of religion was now exchanged for the notion of freedom from religion.
The drive of progressives to control the education of all children — not just public school children — was also witnessed in the 1920s with efforts to close private schools. Oregon led the way by attempting to outlaw all private Christian schools with the Compulsory Education Act of 1922. Other states had similar plans underway until the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck the law down in 1925 with the Pierce v. Society of Sisters decision.
Beginning in the late 1960s, public education control has undeniably been held by the mega teacher unions in political alliance with liberal politicians. They have used their power to deeply root progressive philosophy dominance in K-12 public schools.
This brings us back to today. Mr. Hegseth and Mr. Goodwin lament that countless parents nationwide send their children off to school “knowing that what they will encounter there—eight hours a day, five days a week, and nine months out of the year—reinforces none of those things” they teach them at home. In other words, “we ship them off to Democrat camp … every day.” Mr. Hegseth and Mr. Goodwin summarize the sad state of affairs: “We are willfully blind to the indoctrination of our kids, because it’s easier, cheaper, and more comfortable.”
But they also highlight an alternative path. They challenge us to muster the courage to “stop doing it. Pull your kids out. Choose a radical reorientation for your life, and the life of your kids … you will not regret it.” The stakes are high, as radicals are grasping the hearts and minds of our children in irrevocable ways, robbing them of their innocence and undermining the flourishing of their minds that comes from knowledge and critical thinking skills rather than political indoctrination.
It’s not too late. If enough Americans commit to winning the battle for their children, as a nation, we can win the war against the dominance of detrimental progressive ideologies. Collectively we can change the tide, reasserting parental authority, breaking the monopoly of powerful teachers unions and the K-12 education bureaucracy, and unbinding our children from destructive education malpractice.
• Keri D. Ingraham is a fellow at Discovery Institute and director of the Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education.