Separation of School and State

We are living in a strange time, to be sure—a strange amalgam of the last short years of the antebellum South and Weimar Germany. If we were selling it to a studio as a film idea, we would have to say it’s the first half-hour or so of Gone with the Wind meets Cabaret. Amid the chaos caused by pandemic and civil unrest, numerous institutions in both Church and state have been tried and found severely wanting. What the incredible historical stupidity, exemplified not only by Black Lives Matter and Antifa but the mainstream organizations that are endorsing them, shows is that ignorance—willful and otherwise—is running amok. This should come as no surprise, although the transition of so many college-age children in only a few months from Eloi-like denizens of “safe spaces” to statue-tipping thugs is nothing short of breathtaking.

For these over-age tots, much of the sawdust that fills their heads is understandable, given the way in which history, literature, and civics are mistaught at the college level. Crypto-(and not-so-crypto-)Marxist doctrines are melded together with narratives of pure persecution regarding racial, gender, and mental minorities. From that point, the graduates of the more prestigious institutions enter into the educational establishment, where they spread their drivel. One thinks of the curriculum for ethnic studies proposed by the State of California’s Department of Education for public schools, and quoted in the August 18, 2019 issue of the Pasadena Star-News:

According to the draft curriculum, the “guiding values and principles” of each lesson in ethnic studies will “cultivate empathy,” share stories of “struggle and resistance” and “critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.”

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

Clearly we have come a long way from the kinder, gentler days of Jesse Jackson and his supporters chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture’s gotta go.”

Indeed, the clinical-sounding faux-neutrality of this pallid prose is guaranteed to nauseate the lover of English or any other real language. Replete with such buzz phrases as “structures of power”—as though the universities with their grade-wielding instructors were not precisely what they condemn—they spend their time indoctrinating students with the evils of everything that is not their own precious selves.

Take, for example, this delicious selection from SUNY and CUNY’s Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, “Unit I: An Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies: Grounding Theoretical Frameworks and Concepts,” under “Conceptualizing Structures of Power”:

For instance, in the founding of the United States the institutions of social life, including work, law, education, and the like, were built to benefit wealthy, white men since at the time these were, by law, the only real “citizens” of the country. Although these institutions have significantly changed over time in response to social movements and more progressive cultural shifts, their sexist, genderist, racist, classist, and ableist structures continue to persist in different forms today.

Is it any wonder that the dear little ones emerge from their cocoons of learning ready to wreak havoc against all such symbols of oppression?

And what, really, does this sort of drivel prepare them for in terms of real life? What can the proud holder of a degree in gender studies or allied arcana do with it?

Imagine, if you will, a degree-mill like Harvard or Yale issuing sheepskins in Barsoomian Studies. After four to eight years of hard learning, the freshly minted graduate shall know all of the distinctions—cultural, biological, or otherwise—between the white, yellow, black, red, and four-armed green Barsoomians, as well as the brainy Kaldanes and their brawny Rykor attachments; the intricate histories and cultures of such Barsoomian cities as Helium and Zodanga; and the distinction of powers between such native office-holders as Jeds, Jeddaks, and, of course, the awesome and supreme Jeddak of Jeddaks.

All very interesting, to be sure. But since Barsoom is a version of the planet Mars existing only in the mind of the late and much-lamented Edgar Rice Burroughs, the utility of such degrees may be questioned. Their holders would not only be unacquainted with any real world history or literature, they would be pathetically unable to fulfill any useful function in society (such as changing a tire or fixing the plumbing), save for passing on their hard-won knowledge to other poor schmoes at institutions as ridiculous as the ones they themselves have graduated from. Such is the position of the major in gender studies and the like. Perhaps it would not be so bad if having their resentments stoked would at least benefit them somehow, but it never does.

And perhaps it would not be so bad if students at least received a firm foundation in the primary and secondary grades. But they do not. One knows this in a general way, but I received a special lesson about state educational neglect in Warm Springs, Georgia. There, at FDR’s Little White House, I soon found that the State of Georgia (which runs the facility) no longer funds the audio guides. When I asked a ranger, he explained that state schools no longer teach about President Roosevelt. This means the schools no longer send classes there, and therefore will not renew said guides. When I pointed out that this must mean they were no longer teaching about either the Depression or World War II, he smiled grimly. Since students are still being kept from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., one wonders what they are being taught.

It is not as though numerous institutes and think tanks have not been warning us about the dumbing-down of American education. As early as 1955, Rudolf Flesch wrote his Why Johnny Can’t Read—And What You Can Do About It. Not only was diminution of basic skills not addressed, but, starting in the late Sixties, education acquired a malicious ideological intent. After spending twelve years learning very little, the average student goes to college, takes sufficient remedial math and reading classes to keep up (or not), and then is ripe for the ideological pixie dust his professors want to drop on him. The results of this is what we have been seeing for weeks now, and shall doubtless continue to see, unless or until governments restore order or a bloody reaction does it for them.

The question then arises, “How does one reform such a rotten system?” The most immediately attractive idea is simply to shut down all universities and colleges, and send their Marxist (and other) ideological faculty to work in the fields, even as those hapless oldsters fantasized doing with their own professors during the Cultural Revolution, at the time that Mao’s Little Red Book was the ultimate fashion statement.

Enjoyable as this might be in fantasy, there are many problems with it. But I do think there is a solution.

Firstly, there are far too many universities and colleges clamoring for students in an ever-shrinking recruiting base, thanks to abortion and contraception. Moreover, college degrees are required for the lowliest of positions. All the while, skilled professions are forced to hire foreigners as the number of students who are too dainty to become tool-and-die workers (but whose gender studies degrees won’t land them even fast-food jobs) increases. Meanwhile, purely academic humanities disciplines are corrupted along the lines set down. As a first step, we need to derail the government gravy train.

There are two points to make before I come in for the kill, so to speak. The first is that I am by no means a libertarian. If anything, I’m a good old common good-seeking integralist. In the field of American education, at this place and time, I think our paths converge. Secondly, while I do not believe in separation of Church and State (knowing the state will always be guided by some quasi-religious belief, and desperately wishing it were ours), I have come to believe in separation of School and State.

The first thing to do, therefore, is to cut off federal and state funding for education, and end accreditation, regulation, and compulsory education as well. Many colleges and universities—perhaps most—could and would not survive. Certainly, most of our formerly Catholic Land O’Lakes institutions would die as quickly as any. Many public schools districts would not make it, either. But would that be so bad a thing? What have they brought us, save toppled statues, burning cities, and a population so untrained in either academics or basic skills that it can neither employ logic nor fix anything?

Obviously, those colleges, few as they are, which are not receiving government aid, shall soldier on as before; strangely, they are also the least likely to be putting out the drivel we have been describing. School boards in locations where the populace is sufficiently interested in their children’s welfare could support and manage the primary and secondary schools, as could specific churches and other organizations, as well as the charitable wealthy, who might get tax credits for doing so from local authorities. Corporations, unions, and craft groups could begin running tech schools to train people in useful skills or they could open up apprenticeship programs. By the same token, academically aimed education could once more be specialized from an early age, with primary school students—at the age where they soak up rote information—learning Latin and Greek conjugations, declensions, and vocabulary. Secondary school students would thus be able to read Homer and Virgil in the original tongues, and university-level students could do some real work with this knowledge, thus training their minds literally to learn almost anything they might want to specialize in.

Regardless of the defects of such a system, they could not be worse than what we have. Oh, and the millions upon millions of dollars the federal and state governments would save? Those could easily be spent on compensating the owners of looted shops and restoring statues and monuments defaced or destroyed during this plague. Heaven knows that would be a much wiser expenditure of resources than producing even more of these delinquent mental larvae to burrow still further into the national psyche.

Photo credit: Getty Images News/Christopher Furlong


  • Charles Coulombe

    Charles A. Coulombe is a contributing editor at Crisis and the magazine’s European correspondent. He previously served as a columnist for the Catholic Herald of London and a film critic for the National Catholic Register. A celebrated historian, his books include Puritan’s Empire and Star-Spangled Crown. He resides in Vienna, Austria and Los Angeles, California.

Join the Conversation

Comments are a benefit for financial supporters of Crisis. If you are a monthly or annual supporter, please login to comment. A Crisis account has been created for you using the email address you used to donate.

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...