August 5, 2002


The Civic Education America Needs (Victor Davis Hanson, Summer 2002, City Journal)
How, then, can a nation struggle against enemies who do not tolerate dissent, do not allow freedom, when many of its own citizenry, especially in our schools, are not quite sure why or how we as a people are different and therefore can or should succeed? There is a reason, after all, why there is horrific racist imagery and language emanating from the Saudi state-run presses and not from the free media in the United States; why there is an open debate about our response to terror in a way impossible in a closed Egypt; and why we support a consensual democracy like Israel when strategically it perhaps makes more sense to placate or even ally ourselves with its more oil-rich and more populous enemies. Those critical issues of values and ideals that play out in diplomacy on the international scene should be second nature to every American. But sadly they often are not-and cannot be when so many of our youth have neither facts about nor confidence in their own American heritage.

Instead, many of our citizens seemed perplexed when they saw pictures of women being shot for adultery in Kabul or of Danny Pearl being filmed as he was tortured and beheaded-as if such barbarity were atypical or the work of an aberrant few sure to be redressed by responsible government. But did they first ask instead, "Do such peoples vote? Do they have an independent judiciary? Do they believe in the worth and dignity of every individual human life? Are their presses free and their media uncensored? Do they tolerate Christians, Jews, Africans, or Asians?" If we asked such questions, perhaps we would be less surprised at the carnage we witness worldwide-and more appreciative of, and thus willing to defend, our own quite singular country here at home.

Cataclysmic changes in our elite culture, especially at our top-tier universities, have filtered down to our schools to cause the erosion of civic education that we have seen over the last three decades. We have not yet seen all the pernicious ripples caused by the great splash of multiculturalism, authoritarian utopianism, and cultural and moral relativism-ideas that are antithetical to civic education, which historically has been national, realistic, and in some sense tragic in its acceptance of man's imperfections, rather than therapeutic in its promise to ameliorate all human woes with enough money, education-and coercion.

These privileged concepts, spawned in our universities and spread by our elite media, our courts, and our politicians, finally have become the assumptions of our public schools, leaving us with the Balkan idea of a racial, cultural, and ideological mosaic rather than a confident American melting pot of shared values.

It is perhaps the cruelest of America's ironies that the Founders supported the idea of public education specifically because they understood how difficult it would be to create successive generations who all believed in republican ideals, but that today our public schools no longer teach the civic virtues to our kids. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 5, 2002 10:05 AM
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