Why Modern Education Fails
Because it has the wrong view of students and their proper end.
One of the more heated debates in the education field today concerns one’s preferred “educational philosophy.” One central aspect of such philosophies is the question of what one sees as the purpose of primary and secondary education. The question is so contentious that my own school once attempted to come up with a unified educational philosophy to be shared by all teachers, only to abandon the venture when it quickly proved too contentious, and when too many faculty had sharply divergent views.
The reason that modern education is so poor, however, is also related to another major trend increasingly visible in the news: left-wing teachers and administrators more and more see school primarily as a platform for indoctrination into their views. This is evident in how schools are promoting gender transitioning for children while trying to hide it from parents. One assistant principal was recently videotaped explaining how he deliberately hired left wing teachers (but avoided Catholics) because those left wing teachers were “savvy about delivering a democratic political message to students.”
That principal merely said the quiet part out loud. Those paying attention have long known that schools are failing to instruct students in the traditional purpose of school, but are more focused on indoctrinating them into left-wing politics. What has been less obvious is the way in which this behavior in school is connected to those educators’ educational philosophies, their beliefs about the purpose of education, and their utterly flawed views of students and their final ends.
Educational philosophies today are often considered to be divided into several main categories:
Perennialism stresses the importance of teaching the received wisdom, knowledge, and great ideas of the past, especially of Western Civilization.
Essentialism focuses on transmitting to students a core curriculum (which may change) that will make them productive and successful members of society.
Progressivism is often associated strongly with John Dewey, who held that curriculum should be relevant to students’ lives. Hence student interests will shape activities and even curriculum.
Critical Theory/Postmodernism focuses on the student as revolutionary. The point of education is to enact social change, even social revolution and hence the student must be trained a revolutionary to go forth and enact the social changes desired by his educators.
Essentialism is often considered the most common today in the public school system, but I think that, more and more, the influence of critical theory or postmodern theories of education are driving much of modern education, including the specific examples cited above. Why don’t educators want parents to know what they are doing at school? Why is the assistant principal deliberately hiring teachers with the intention that they turn students leftward? Shouldn’t he want to hire the best teachers?
The issue, of course, lies with his education philosophy. Since, to him and so many others today, the point of education is to enact leftward social change, even post-modern or neo-marxist revolutionary change, the students must be formed into agents of that change. Their education, in the proper sense, does not matter. (In this movement, the teaching of mathematics is a tool of oppression.) All that matters is that they be formed, whether they know it or not, into foot soldiers of the postmodern revolution. The success of the student’s education depends on whether they end up “far left” enough.
These philosophies are often referred to as “student-centered,” but, of course, it should not be evident that they are not student-centered at all. The student, in these views, is merely a means to an end, a tool to be formed to bring about the leftist social changes desired by the educators. (The student, of course, is made to believe that such changes are for their benefit.)
In essence, the student is not seen as a person, but a tool, a means to an end. And this is why the modern educational system fails so miserably: because its view of the student is literally inhuman.
The disregard for the dignity, humanity, and end of each student is also present in the milder (but still damaging) error in essentialist views that were so common since the industrial revolution and remain so today. One sees it in the assumption that school is to prepare a student for the workforce. This view also fails to do full justice to the student. Where postmodern/social theory saw the student as a warrior in the revolution, essentialist views tend to see the student solely as an agent in the workforce, a part in the economic machine. And this, no less than the postmodern views, fails to do justice to the student as a person.
For, students are not merely a means to an end, whether a means to social change or a part in the factory. Human beings are ends in themselves, and, not only are we ends, but we are made for a higher end than mere economic prosperity. In short, the purpose of human life is not a high paying job, two cars, and a nice house in the suburbs. And, in fact, a student is not a “failure” if they do not achieve such a lofty status.
Older views of education understood this–views propagated by Catholics, who built the first universities in the West. The ultimate purpose of human life is union with God, that is, man’s proper end or the purpose for which we exist. There is a reason that, in the Middle Ages, Theology was called the “queen of the sciences,” for it not only studied the most elevated topic, but was also suited to best prepare students for their natural end, the purpose for which they were created.
This view is exactly what underlies so many traditional views of education, where education should pass on the great ideas, values, and wisdom of the past. Students must be formed, developed by the curriculum, not into agents of social change or workers in the economy, but into morally good people with minds made to know and love goodness, truth, and beauty. They would be introduced to great works of philosophy and literature, (as opposed to modern “culturally responsive” nonsense), great figures, moral models, and the very purpose for which they exist: eternal union with God. This form of education exists not to propagate a particular social or economic stance, but to serve the good of the student–to aid them in reaching heaven.
As long as modern schools refuse to recognize the true end of students, they will continue to fail students. As a society, we have to recapture the idea that real education is student-centered only when it is God-centered, because God is He for whom human beings are made. Any lesser idea guiding education is a failure we cannot afford, and which students do not deserve.