The ends of true schooling are also not the good of an individual alone, but of a community as well.
When we educate the young properly, we transform them into thoughtful, civil persons, capable of understanding their duties in a well-ordered society, and capable of carrying out those duties. A young person benefits from being so molded, but the rest of us benefit equally by receiving into our midst such virtuous citizens.
The traditions of the various learned disciplines are benefited too by true education. Rational argumentation, principled politics, scientific knowledge – all of these things, and the goods that they entail, are preserved when we teach our young correctly. And since the preservation of these traditions is one end of education, we must hold students to the standards derived from those traditions, demanding of them nothing less than the kinds of learned excellence embodied in the “best that has been thought and said in the world.”
We must often notify students when they fail to achieve that standard, and on occasion, conclude that there are some students who are likely to prove incapable of measuring up to that standard, no matter how much effort they put forth. And because the work which is required to master these traditions is often of the most monotonous variety, we will need to handle students with some form of compulsion, to make them persist in a necessary labor, against which their natures will revolt in the most pronounced fashion.
Our individualistic culture, with its emphasis on self-esteem, self-affirmation, and self-fulfillment, is at enmity with each and every one of these principles, and will admit none of them into its pantheon of prevailing educational dogmas.
A near unanimity of American parents regard a school simply as an institution designed for the benefit of their child, and not also for the community as a whole. As each and every negative appraisal of their child’s performance constitutes a threat to his self-esteem, they will allow his teachers to make no such appraisals. They will allow his teachers to maintain no standards which are beyond the capacities of their child, even temporarily, for fear that the resulting failures will fracture his psychological placidity. Such things confound their cherished conception of education, which is essentially therapeutic – the prolonged cultivation of their child’s emotional ease. As a consequence, rather than holding the students to certain expectations, our schools now frame their expectations to the limits of their students; this is the process of “dumbing down” which has been an unmistakable feature of the American educational landscape for over three generations.
What is basically wrong with our schools is that there is simply no way to educate contemporary American children properly, given the cultural presumptions of their parents.
The fundamental reason why American children are not educated properly is simply because the American people do not want their children to be educated properly. So they’re not.