“Properly speaking, there is no such thing as education. Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to the next.”—G. K. ChestertonI am reminded of the above quote, which is among those taped to my desk, by numerous articles and commentary highlighting the debate over civic education in America’s public schools, to wit: what is the proper role, if any, of the teaching of civic virtue in our system of public education? Lately, the answer to this question has essentially boiled down to a tug of war between the political right and left, not about whether to teach civic virtue, but which values to teach. In spite of the claims of partisans on both sides, most professional educators seem to subscribe to the view that, since there is much broader consensus on the so-called intellectual virtues than the civic and moral virtues, public education should confine itself to the former while the latter should be left to the home and religious institutions. A corollary to this view is that the schools should focus more on training the mind toward the pursuit of knowledge than on the transmission of a specific body of knowledge. To me, this is a constructivist cop-out. Public education cannot be value-neutral and, to paraphrase Rabbi Daniel Lapin, depriving children of grounding in America’s civic virtue and belief may be a form of child abuse. Of all forms of government, a liberal democratic republic is most vulnerable to failure when it cannot, or will not, transmit its founding values from one generation to the next.
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