(Terry Scambray, who contributed this piece, lives and writes in the Great Central Valley of California and has published in New Oxford Review, Touchstone, Commonweal, The Chesterton Review and elsewhere.)
When Education Becomes the Tool of Tyranny
Until the 1960s public school personnel acted in loco parentis, “in place of parents,” meaning that during school hours, the school staff were quasi parents. Apparently that has changed to in loco imperii, “in place of government”, meaning that parents now must conform to the dicta of the school.
A recent rationale for parent replacement is a study by the University of Massachusetts and published in April in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (Disbelief in human evolution linked to greater prejudice and racism) This study based on surveys taken in 19 Eastern European countries, 25 Muslim countries and in Israel showed that skepticism about Darwinian evolution is linked to greater prejudice and racism.
Skepticism about Darwin, if laid beside the right variables could, I’m sure, be linked to an endless number of things like, a preference for coffee over tea or a preference for Chevrolets over BMWs.
Regardless, a doctrine that purports to show that all creatures, great and small are perpetually at one another’s throats, is now being divined as a civilizing force, encouraging social cohesion! It makes one wonder, if this study shows more that Darwinists, or some sub-species thereof, do not understand evolution rather than that Darwin skeptics are bigots.
This study is reminiscent of The Authoritarian Personality by Theodore Adorno which was published in 1950 as the post WWII world grappled with the devastating effects of the twin cults of Marxism and fascism. Adorno’s book was based on surveys in which “traditionalists” scored higher on the F-Scale, F standing for fascism. Adorno’s work evokes a tone of scientific disinterestedness that belies its intent which was to tarnish the great triumph of the West and especially America as bourgeois, populist societies who themselves were ripe for takeover by a Hitler or Mussolini.
Also by the 1950’s the revisionists, encouraged by Stalin, had firmly planted the lie that fascism was born during the death throes of capitalism rather than as it truly was, Marxism with a national face. This made it possible for Marxism once again to skirt death and live another day, indeed many more days even to our own time.
Adorno was part of the Marxist Frankfort School whose most prominent American advocate was Herbert Marcuse, whose doctrine was that tolerance was repressive; thus, people, the uncredentialed, the hoi polloi, deserve to be muzzled because they are incipient fascists.
Max Horkheimer, another member of the Frankfurt School invented “critical theory”, another admirable sounding marketing gimmick which should be called, “selective critical theory” the purpose of which is to tear down repressive structures like religion and capitalism. In other words, Freud and Marx engaging in a cultural full court press.
Richard Hofstadter recycled Adorno in The Paranoid Style in American Politics, a book with a baleful influence on the credulous American intelligentsia who are predisposed to like imported European ideas, wines, cheeses and cars.
But studies like these are really ad hominems dressed in social science babble which caused such great leaps forward because they were heralded by advance men like Sinclair Lewis and H. L. Mencken who, while demeaning their countrymen generally, showered Fundamentalists and Evangelicals with special disdain. The most vociferous supporter of Darwin in Germany was the scientist and eugenicist, Ernst Haeckel, who was also a big influence on Lewis.
In the March 14, 2022, New Yorker, Harvard historian Jill Lepore, reprises Mencken in her take of the 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial.” (Why the School Wars Still Rage | The New Yorker) She sees the rubes of Mencken’s time as akin to our contemporary provincials who criticize schools for teaching Darwin, Critical Race Theory, and other progressive concoctions.
As the Harvard historian waxes: “But behind parents’ rights, lies another unbroken strain: some Americans’ fierce resistance to the truth that, just as all human beings share common ancestors biologically, all Americans have common ancestors historically.”
Ah, the mantra that Americans are addicted to sugary noble lies about their biological and cultural uniqueness is itself a noble lie that the intelligentsia continually uses against their fellow Americans. It is repeated, for example, when dreadful events occur like the Kennedy assassination or 9/11, the epithet suggesting that Americans can’t stand the truth so they conjure up fantasies which declutter a complicated, messy world full of loose ends.
Really? Are everyday Americans more prone to self-delusion than other groups? So truck drivers, mothers, firefighters, and roofers don’t live in messy worlds? Apparently, according to their class betters, they are too insensitive to notice what’s around them!
Professor Lepore further insists that parents really have no choice in what the schools teach because “the idea of public education is dedicated to the cultivation of that bigger sense of covenant and obligation and toleration.” Thus, their children must be taught the 1619 Project as well as the Mayflower story of 1620 and also the story of “Indigenous peoples” and also about the Europeans who arrived later and also about later arrivals including Hmong, Sikh, Guatemalan and many others.
In the first place, Professor Lepore knows that choices of what to present must be made because of time limitations as well as the fact that some things are more foundational than others. Since Ms. Lepore knows this, is she attempting a bait and switch? Appealing to tolerance and then once her pet narratives are accepted, she privileges them as part of the continuing parade of victim studies that inflict our schools and society.
But taking her at her word, does she and her like-minded multiculturalists really want equal time for all ethnicities and groups to be subject to “critical theory”?
Of course not, for that would mean that the Indian suttee tradition, the human sacrifice tradition of the Aztecs and the Incas, the slavery, cannibalism, internecine warfare and the imperialism of “Indigenous peoples” would have to be examined. Of course, such an examination would not actually happen because Ms. Lepore and her esteemed colleagues would claim that such open discussion is repressive, hurtful, and involves judging “the other” by Western standards.
But Western standards are based upon the words spoken by Jesus Christ: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
And the truth can best be arrived at by examining all sides of an issue. Employing such a dynamic is the unique achievement of the West. And though such an achievement is never safe from interlopers, the goal is inherent in its founding traditions like the dialectic tradition of the Jewish rabbis and of Plato’s dialogues; documents like The Ten Commandments, Roman law, Canon Law, the Magna Carta, the laws of the medieval Italian Republics, the Napoleonic Code, English Common Law, the American Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution with its guarantee of free speech.
Finally Ms. Lepore, in repeating Mencken’s version of the 1925 Scopes trial, fails to understand Darwinian evolution. She thinks that portraying man as a “common ancestor” to apes will make him tolerant. But the dynamic which caused all the transformations from molecules to man is, according to Darwin, natural selection, a weeding out of the unfit. It is a destructive process and has never been shown to create anything new, like new legs, organs or wings which are necessary for such transformations as squirrels “evolving” into hawks or chimpanzees into copy editors. Even over vast periods of time!
But, alas, Francis Galton, Darwin’s brother-in-law, saw this process of weeding out the unfit as the way to perfect society; thus, “the science of eugenics” was cooked up which, for Galton and his fellow utopians, meant expelling the human slag that impeded progress.
In Mencken’s melodramatic rendering of the Scopes Trial, William Jennings Bryan, the Great Commoner, is the foil who argues for a literal reading of Genesis as opposed to the progressives who argued for the teaching of evolution. In fact, Bryan was not a Biblical literalist. But what he did keenly see was that the demotion of humans as mere means to an end could lead, exactly as it did lead 20 years later, to the death camps of central Europe.
Ronald Reagan in his 1965 speech, “The Myth of the Great Society”, tells of a group of distinguished college presidents who were concerned that federal monies had compromised academic freedom; they consequently proposed that taxpayers could specify an amount of their taxes to be sent to the respective colleges of their choice. The proposal was going nowhere in Washington when, Francis Keppel, United States Director of Education, finally blurted out, “You don’t understand, under the plan proposed, we couldn’t achieve our social objectives.”
But what if these “social objectives” are not to our liking, Reagan asks?
Reagan concludes by reminding us that, “Education is the bulwark of freedom, but you remove it too far from the community and the parents’ control and education becomes the tool of tyranny.”