Education and the Culture Wars

26 August 2015


The  “Culture Wars”.  Not just Liberal versus Conservative and Democrat versus Republican; but Secular versus Religious; Evolutionist versus Creationist; Feminist versus Traditionalist;  MSNBC versus Fox.  Jon Stewart versus Bill O’Reilly --- or in my case, my liberal self versus my much-loved, intelligent and articulate libertarian son.

In the last primary season we saw how these basic conflicts over cultural issues translate into battles over education. Some candidates portrayed American schools as virtual dens of brain-washing --- liberal teachers and professors pushing the gay-friendly, feminist-friendly, socialist-friendly agenda of the left, and so having undue influence over another generation of voters.

Traditionally, America’s system of free public education has been a source of great pride and an engine of upward social mobility.  But now those schools are becoming a hot-bed of controversy.  Should they children about sex and birth-control?  Is teaching evolution as established scientific fact encroaching the religious neutrality enshrined in the constitution? 

That brings us to today’s issue.  Who has the right to choose what and how our young people are taught about controversial issues?

Isn’t the answer obvious?  It is the parents’ responsibility to see that their children get educated.  We have public schools as an optional and affordable way for parents to discharge their responsibility.

That’s the traditional view. Public schools should be as neutral as possible, and leave the controversy to the dinner table and Sunday School.   Parents who want religiously-infused education can send their kids to schools run by churches, synagogues, mosques.  Or they can choose private schools that reflect their attitudes.  Or if they want, they can teach their children at home.

And that’s the view I favor.  To adapt a thought from Churchill’s analysis of democracy, letting parents have the basic say in the education of their children may be a horrible system, fraught with problems.  But there isn’t any alternative that isn’t worse.

You might ask: What if they don’t want their children educated at all.

But that’s a red-herring.  It’s the parents’ job to provide their children with nutrition.  That doesn’t mean they have a right to starve them.  Children have a right to be fed, and they have a right to be educated.  The community has a right and responsibility to see that parents fulfill their responsibilities.  This usually means that attendance at a public school is mandatory, unless some other alternative is provided.  Seems reasonable to me.

So, to a considerable extent, I think parents have a right to determine the content of their children’s education.  But there are limits.  If parents teach their kids that two plus two is five, or that English sentences are read from right to left, that’s not education, that’s child-abuse. 

But what if they teach that evolution isn’t science, but secular superstition?  Or that God insists that women be subservient?  Or that the white race is superior?

I think the costs of taking the right to teach nonesense away from parents outweigh the dangers.  In some countries, parents who homeschool can be jailed.  We don’t want that here.

I think it's a mistake to suppose that the nonsense our parents teach us leaves us permanently scarred, doomed to lack what is necessary to be effective citizens.

I rejected a lot of what my parents told me.  My children rejected a lot of my liberal, secular, hippy values. 

The opposing view is that a certain level of intellectual sophistication, an appreciation of the diversity of views, and a commitment to universal human dignity are required for effective citizenship in a democracy like ours.   So the state has a right and responsibility to have these and other things taught to all of its citizens.  They can develop whatever wacko beliefs they want when they become adults.  But they shouldn’t be infused with them before they are old enough to think for themselves.

Ken and I will sort all of this out with our guest, Stanford Political Scientists Rob Reich. 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Comments (20)

MJA's picture


Tuesday, June 11, 2013 -- 5:00 PM


Truth is All our children need. Sadly though, for many and most, including our parents and teachers, truth can't be taught because it has yet to be defined.
For our children, our future, I will define it or is, empirically or mathematically, right or just here:
Equal is true.

Guest's picture


Friday, June 14, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Teaching a child how to ride

Teaching a child how to ride a bicycle can be a pleasant or frustrating experience. It depends on the approach you take.
The pleasant approach is to find a small hill, then have the child coast down it several times without any use of the pedals. As soon as he/she has a confident sense of balance, anything more that he/she needs to learn will be easy.
The same philosophy should apply to all education. First build confidence and competence. Unfortunately, the educational system often takes the opposite approach. It is concerned with neither learning nor even teaching but with schedules, curricula that must be covered, administrative issues and competition. Too often, the students are an unavoidable nuisance, to be manipulated, pressured and punished for failure rather than being imbued with confidence and achievement. Is it any wonder that so many students learn to loathe reading and writing, to fear numbers and avoid physical activity?
Sure, blame the students, their parents or even grand-parents. Even blame the teachers. But the real problem is the faulty philosophy of the educational system.

Guest's picture


Monday, June 17, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

But what if they teach that

But what if they teach that evolution isn?t science, but secular superstition? Or that God insists that women be subservient? Or that the white race is superior?
Unfortunately, although these questions are very reasonale to you and I , many people do not agree with your preface that these teachings are wrong in the first place.

Guest's picture


Saturday, June 22, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

As to the point raised by

As to the point raised by Walter Messenger, it seems to me that there is nothing to worry about. Children learn wherever they are: at home, on the playground, in the school. What they learn is not necessarily what is intended for them to learn. They are continually bombarded with disparate and conflicting messages. Which one influences them? I suppose that takes us back to the nature versus nurture debate.
"The function of education in a democracy is ... to liberate the mind, strengthen its critical powers, inform it with knowledge and the capacity for independent inquiry, engage its human sympathies, and illuminate its moral and practical choices." (Israel Scheffler, 1972)

Guest's picture


Saturday, June 22, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

I enjoyed this conversation.

I enjoyed this conversation. I am a homeschool teacher, and from my personal experience, the fears about parents indoctrinating their children into some anti-civic mentality or failing to teach them basic skills are largely hypothetical and unrepresentative. I am sure there are homeschools in this country for whom this may be a concern, but the overwhelming majority of homeschool teachers I know are extremely conscientious, capable and resourceful. And honestly, public schools are not fairing much better. The very reason we homeschool is to give our children a better education than the failing public schools in our community. The homeschool students I know are head and shoulders above their public school peers. They are interested, interesting people for whom the world is their classroom. While the state continues to fail to educate its citizens through a broken public school system, why they would ever bother to try to regulate us? What has happened in the homeschool community is that we have become self-regulating, with organizations, curriculum providers forums, etc. to support what is a challenging, but fruitful enterprise. Less state involvement is better for business, why not for education, as well?

Guest's picture


Friday, July 19, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

If we reduced the noise to a

If we reduced the noise to a signal*, culture war would be resolved through education. But things are never that simple. Are they?
(*cancel out any media transmissions that are not news; eliminate "entertainment" broadcasts that repeat aforesaid media transmissions---masquerading as news; and summarily ignore any and all attempts by no talent nobodies (i.e., baby bullshitters, etc.) to get attention.)
That said, I might watch television again. Naaah---probably not.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Friday, August 28, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Some fact that seem to get

Some fact that seem to get forgotten in these discussions:
During the Kennedy presidency court rulings directed states to "mainstream" a whole range of handicaps mentally ill and learning disabilities, as well as addicts. States all around the country began a long process of dismantling huge centralized facilities, but gave neither directive nor support to local communities to fill the need. Some "half-way" houses were opened, but local communities objected. And so the era of mass homelessness of addicts and mentally ill ensued. But local schools did what they could to see to the needs of the handicapped and learning-impaired. This entailed a sudden increase in the cost of public schools, and the concomitant increase in property taxes, making the whole country rebellious against government requirements that they take responsibility for their own costs. Then Roe vs Wade inspired the religious right, long subdued by the profanity of political action, to make a tactical change from opposition to divorce to opposing abortion (an issue that just never had arisen previously). Divorce was by then a lost cause. Since then they have been able to raise a boisterous opposition, strangely appealing to a right to life that they so persistently tolerate violating in other areas. The ascendency of the NRA ensued as the Black Panthers asserted their right to carry arms, spiraling the insane proliferation of weapons and radical opposition to anything Governments propose (aside from lower taxes and hand-outs to the rich). And then a stream of immigration swelled our schools with speakers of languages other than English (and by no means only Spanish, which, by the way, has been a language spoken in American, by many Americans, since the Mexican War). This sets the context of the "moral" and "cultural" theme of this discussion. the tensions are more social than cultural, more fiscal than moral. One more thing, Home-schooling and charter schools are largely protected by a taboo against critical review, and where they are looked at more critically a scandalous disregard for objective standards, and for the needs of children who might threaten to dispel the myth, reveals itself. And, lastly, the First Amendment protects a right to religious liberty, not religious authority. It does not even protect the ability of religious leaders to impose their doctrines upon their own membership, let alone others outside the faith, even if they are in some other way, as employees patients or applicants for services (like gay marriage) under their authority.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Friday, August 28, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

I forgot bussing, how did I

I forgot bussing, how did I do that?! It's importance, of course, is that it's occasioning "culture wars" is powerful evidence that, as usual, the real motive of the Right is not as stated. Remember what Kennedy said so famously?: "Ask not what your country can do for you....", this should have been instantly recognized as a promise to the southern states he would not mess with Jim Crow.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, August 31, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Let me put it this way, there

Let me put it this way, there is a public responsibility to see to it that every child has a right to an education free from private, or public, indoctrination. This is not a culture war, it is a war between private privilege and public responsibility.

Sofi Gray's picture

Sofi Gray

Sunday, September 6, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Suppose most of our nation's

Suppose most of our nation's schools, through some unknown mechanism, decided to stop teaching history and literature. Suppose our educators went along with this practice because it was so widely accepted, and so far advanced, that no one person could stop it. Individual teachers might still be allowed to make their idiosyncratic decisions about what to teach.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

There were many things

There were many things filtered out of the public education I received, circa the years 1956-1966. Growing up in the midwestern United States, under the watchful eye of untra-conservatism, I did not realize how many rationalizations; omissions; half-truths and outright lies I was being subjected to until at least thirty years later. I say thirty years because the realization was gradual and cumulative, and, the more I read the things of my own choosing, the more I learned about what I did not know. Luckily, I finally accepted the fate of my upbringing philosophically, and got on with the task of re-educating myself. There have been a vast number of decisions made and actions taken in this twenty-first century, AD, many of which many of us are scratching our heads over. The United States Supreme Court has gone far beyond the scope of its authority and thereby contributed to those culture wars being discussed. About eight years ago, shortly after retirement, I offered an opinion to some associates regarding the phenomenon called social media. I said it would become a social nightmare. Aforementioned associates, at the time, laughed at the notion. They are not laughing now.
Our children are being driven to suicide by the manic ferocity of competition to succeed. With the pace of education today, they barely have time to be children before they are compelled (perhaps too early) to become adults. Yet, here we are---on a rapidly accelerating bullet train. To confirm another question raised on this blog: science has replaced philosophy, and, the race to succeed is outpacing the human race.
Seems to me,

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, September 10, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Piaget showed us that

Piaget showed us that children reach milestones in development before which it is impossible to get an idea across to them or to teach them to achieve it. You can't make a baby walk as long as its legs are made of rubbery cartilage only. To try to push a child when it is not ready instills only trauma. American childhood is trauma. Just think of how many small children are allowed to "cry themselves to sleep". In most cultures this would be considered abuse. In my schooling, bullying was actually relied upon as part of the disciplinary system. Like the Spartan model of throwing them to the dogs and seeing which one thrives, as a dog, I suppose. It doesn't toughen, it barbarizes.

alberteinstine's picture


Sunday, September 13, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Culturalism has been involved

Culturalism has been involved in education to create a societal conflict so that people remain involved in those conflicts. If you go through the research papers of professionals of Write Me an Essay in they have mentioned how education has been politically developed, you will surely get shocked.

serinalevis9's picture


Sunday, October 11, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Are you referring to

Are you referring to education in the US, Europe or SE Asia? In that respect are several great movies on this theme in the English culture, besides lots of books on this subject.
When studying the culture/education before the WW2 or in the interbellic period there are so many elements to take into consideration. You need to structure your essay or come back on this board with more inside information. Assignment-Doer Uk

Guest's picture


Sunday, February 21, 2016 -- 4:00 PM

I hope education will beat

I hope education will beat culture and win this war because now its enough now still there is many country they are not permuting their business and i hope they will loss gold Someone Write My Assignment

Guest's picture


Sunday, March 13, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Submitting a slightly

Submitting a slightly modified version of your medical school essay is not recommended. Following the five guidelines below will help you create an excellent personal statement for your residency application.

mike1234's picture


Tuesday, April 12, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

cloudflare vs akamai

cloudflare vs akamai

juliavonnie's picture


Sunday, April 17, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Australia Assignment Service

Australia Assignment Service Provider
Hire Writer for University Assignments

Guest's picture


Monday, August 1, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

The essay help Canada from

The essay help Canada from this firm can enable students in getting excellent research based content eventually securing the top grades they look for.

Guest's picture


Tuesday, August 16, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

I like understanding about

I like understanding about successful people and particularly about 350-018 Dumps their early ages. Occasionally it seems like there is a convinced beauty foodstuffs of motivations and goalmouths behind success.SY0-401 Dumps