The Farce of American Education

I consider myself relatively fortunate in that I grew up in a middle-class suburb with a decent education system.  Although the district had its share of bureaucratic red tape, it was at least competent when compared to the vast majority of the public schools in America, so upon graduating, one might at least get a job at the city clerk’s office or alike.  Those who did better, might get into a local college, and a select few would be admitted into some prestigious colleges around the country.  Of course, this came at a cost: property and school taxes were through the roof, making it prohibitively expensive not to attend the school in the first place.

Even in one of the country’s better public schools, things were far from perfect.  There was a big emphasis on standardized testing, and as a result, a majority of the taxes we paid were funneled into “special education” for the kind of kids who could barely tie their shoes.  There was a program for “gifted students” when I was in elementary school, but it was more or less a study hall where we twiddled our thumbs and got the occasional snack, when there was one.  By the time I got to middle school, it consisted of listening to a lecture once a week by some stiff-nosed educational bureaucrat giving us a motivational speech and telling us to be good citizens.  By the 8th grade, anybody was allowed to join the “gifted students” group (as long as your parents paid the $75 fee), and by my sophomore year in high school, it had been phased out completely in order to avoid offending the more politically correct parents.

There were, however certain special programs for those who were “more than equal”.  There was a program for girls to get more involved in science, and programs specifically tailored towards blacks and Hispanics.  The rest of us had to be content with whatever we could get out of the “regular” curriculum.  Outside of a few math and science classes, classwork and testing consisted mainly of memorizing long lists of names, dates or factoids.  Many times it would be dangerous to disagree with the opinions of leftist or liberal teachers, as critical thinking was frowned upon, despite the frequent exhortation that we should “question everything”.

On one occasion, I casually questioned why we spent one month in history class learning about the Holocaust, and the same month in English class reading Holocaust literature, culminating in a 3-hour long assembly about the Holocaust and Israel (at which a large Israeli flag was hung over the stage, and the Israeli anthem sung, and Israel praised for much of the presentation) that coincided Holocaust Remembrance Day.  A few hours later, as I worked away at a physics test, the phone rang.  The teacher looked up at me, then back down at his desk, then hung up the phone. He walked over to my desk and said that I was wanted in the principal’s office immediately.  And so, down the hall to the principal’s office I went.  The police were there, as was an official-looking man who was never named.  After being informed of the situation, I was summarily told that I was relieved of attendance for the remainder of the week.  After that, I learned to keep my opinions to myself, or at least to wait until I was in the proper company to express them.

There’s no doubt, that even in the very best of American schools, education has gone down the drain.  On the average, they train you get a menial job after you graduate, and at worst, they won’t even do that, all while indoctrinating you to their political ideas.  That is to say between incompetent teachers, their unions, the red tape, annoying parents, and a populace that probably wasn’t too clever to begin with, the American education system is essentially worthless.

That’s not to say that college is any better.  Since 2010, most graduating high school seniors (68.1. percent) will go on to attend college, up 45 percent from the previous decade.  Here, the cycle begins again.  One is confronted by a wall of political dogma in any of the social sciences, where one is, on the risk of failure or even expulsion, to declare political allegiance to the American left.  Fields such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering are better in this regard, as they can be taught in an apolitical manner.  Nevertheless, at all but the most elite of universities, classes are dumbed down so that football fans and fraternity brothers with wealthy parents can learn enough to pass the course.

With the egalitarian spirit of American society, education is not what it once was.  The classical and traditional models of education, such as those espoused by the Platonists and the Scholastics held value in discovering some form of higher reason.  Education in the medieval universities emphasized things like grammar, logic, and rhetoric (and later geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music) as ways of distilling the Absolute into an accessible form.  Moreover, in the classical world, this type education was not necessary for everyone, and hence the scholars were highly respected.  At the same time, it was perfectly acceptable and respectable for a man to learn a trade in the city or to farm if he was a rural dweller.

Modern “education” is precisely the opposite: a bourgeois obscurantism which espouses a false sense of equality through standardization, and where every principle is subordinated to a manufactured and artificial ideal.  This can be illustrated in a scene that I witnessed many years ago.  I overheard some rather typical liberal arts students at a large university discussing the state of education in the United States.  One of them claimed that mathematics, chemistry, and physics were “reactionary” disciplines.  When challenged on this, he claimed that these disciplines are by and large “reactionary” because they are not accessible to everyone.  Moreover, he claimed, mathematics and science espouse “negative absolutism,” because they do not allow for one’s emotions to be adequately expressed.  To him the ideal fields of study were in the social sciences, because they served the ends of liberalism.

This is not to say that we need to eschew education altogether.  The world needs engineers, physicians, economists, and policy makers, and if Traditionalists wish to effect change, they themselves must become proficient in these fields.  Even beyond this, attainment of knowledge itself can be a worthwhile surrogate activity, and indeed should be a pursuit of all cultured people.  However, it is needed to radically define what is meant by education:

  1. We must abandon the liberal, bureaucratic and egalitarian nature of the current educational system and return to the original spirit of building knowledge from the basics.  While most people are capable of learning essential skill sets for running a small business or trade, not everyone is cut out to attend college, or even high school.  At the very least, we must re-introduce a competitive spirit which encourages the best to rise to the top.
  2. We must embrace moral as well as practical education.  Moral education is the quest to achieve a state of balance and self-sufficiency in internal affairs.  Setting priorities and knowing what is important is essential in one’s quest for moral refinement.  Family values and personal orderly conduct are an important part of such a moral education.

The American education system is no doubt in dire need of reform.  Education must be viewed as intricate and interrelated system rather than a discrete set of facts.  No one aspect of learning is isolated from the other and failure to cultivate a single aspect of one’s learning will lead to the failure of learning as a whole.  Failing to recognize this, the educational system will continue to be a pariah for years to come.

About William van Nostrand

William van Nostrand is a native of Chicago, Illinois and is currently the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of He holds a B.A. in Economics as well as a minor in cultural anthropology. His interests are highly varied and include late medieval European architecture, German romantic classical music, and travel.
  • Theresa Reichley

    I agree.  The bubble has already burst IMO.  When you need a BA to answer the phones, you know the system has already gone south. 

    I don’t think testing per se is a bad idea, but testing should be a gate-keeping mechanism — in other words, if you don’t know what a 4th grader should know, you repeat the 4th grade.  If you test low in the entrance exam to high school, you go to a technical school, not a college bound school.  It works in Asia, where results still matter and being able to do science and math is a priority. 

    But egalitarianist thought has too long of a history especially in the US to really change it.  It started with the Declaration of Independence “all men are created equal”.  While that’s true in the sense that we are created in the image of God, it’s false in that the implication is that anyone can do anything.  It’s not so, and we’re activly imploding our society as we shake our fist at reality.  Not everyone should be going to college, most of us would have been far better off learning a trade or working.  Not everyone can be upper middle class, so we shouldn’t structure our society to ONLY deal with those types of incomes. 

    • William van Nostrand

      In some circumstances, standardized testing is a very good way of determining capabilities. The problem is that tests are so dumbed-down that anyone can study for them with a little effort. In the past, a decent score on the SAT – say a 1500 out of 1600 – was something remarkable. Today, it is still difficult to get such a high score, but the standards have gotten much lower. Also, most public school teachers spend a lot of time teaching kids how to game the system instead of how to think for themselves.

  • Karen Woods Reichley

    I don’t think it’s possible to teach via virtual reality is really all that good. The problem isn’t that butt in chair learning is useless, just that the