The second and third point that speaks to the lethal effects a State-run education has on a free and religious society is as follows:
Secondly, in Survivals and New Arrivals, Hilaire Belloc made a valuable contribution in that he speaks to the importance of, not just the content being taught, but the emphasis given to topics and issues. For instance, he said, "For the most part what is not emphasized is not believed to exist. Often, from its unfamiliarity, that which is a stranger to education in childhood, is thought incredible (lacking credibility) by the grown man." It is not just the raw content we are concerned with in public education but also the order and emphasis to which certain topics are given. It is the latter which significantly shapes how we perceive the world.
Belloc elaborates on this point further. This truth, I might add, few take into consideration when considering the power State-run education has wielded over the minds of children. He said, "Truth lies in proportion. It is proportion which differentiates a caress from a blow, a sneer from a smile. It is the sequence and the relative weight of doctrines, not the bald statement, that makes the contrast between what damns and what saves. Let a child experience through the working day and through most days of the year that this or that is emphasized in its teaching, and what is so emphasized becomes, for it, and for all its life, the essential."
One could argue that as recent as 30-40 years ago public schools gave a high priority to the fundamentals of learning such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, however, such a claim lacks credibility. Poor academic performance and a high rate of high school dropouts certainly does not plague all public schools, but it is widespread enough to be a cause for alarm. In any case, what has replaced the basics of learning as a matter of the highest importance in public education is a curriculum marked by political correctness. To be sure, high school and even elementary school students are more likely to be taught about gay- rights, the proper use of contraception, environmentalism, anti-colonialist propaganda, and the evils of capitalism, than they are about the truth of Christianity, the Constitution, the free market and democracy. To add insult to injury, deference to Islam is now being promoted even as discrimination against Christianity continues unabated in many schools.
Even if the content of the lesson plans and books were silent or neutral about the Founding principles of this nation, the mere emphasis and weight given to topics like big government, environmentalism and gay rights etc., has a profound effect on how children see the world. As Belloc said, what is not emphasized in their childhood education will lack credibility in their adulthood. And what is not being emphasized in today's public schools are those principles which lend themselves to a free society. Instead of fostering self-governance or teaching about the principle of subsidiary or the need to look to God for the solution to life's problems, State-run education tends to advance the idea that the answer to any crisis is to be found in politics.
Invariably, what is held out as the ideal model for problem-solving is socialism. Administrators and educators may not call it “socialism,” but the overall worldview being advanced is one which says that government intervention is the way to go. Accordingly, State regulations and oversight should be the check and balance against all injustices and inequalities. From this, an entitlement mentality is fostered in the mind of the student. He or she is more likely expect more from others, especially the government, and give less of themselves in their quest to solve problems. Let there be no doubt, the philosophy behind public education has given birth to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Etienne Gilson, a Catholic philosopher, in 1951 said that the purpose of State-run education, consciously deliberate or not, is the State itself! Weigh his words and determine whether or not his insight has materialized in our nation:
"To the full extent that it educates, the State educates in view of itself…The only conceivable end of a State-owned education is the State itself. States themselves may not know it. They may sincerely believe that nothing is more foreign to their honest intentions; yet, to put it bluntly, the only reason why a State may not want children to be educated in view of God is that it wants them to be educated in view of itself. Totalitarian education does nothing more than go the whole way along the same line. The result is what we know: political, economic, intellectual and spiritual slavery."
The vacuum that Christianity has left behind is a vast one. And in our day, an all-powerful State is in the process of filling that void. If God is not all things to all people, the State will be! But as Pope Benedict XVI said, when politicians seek to do the work of God, it becomes diabolical.
In Survivals and New Arrivals, written as long ago as 1929, Hilaire Belloc addressed why public education is the "strongest political instrument of our time." Eighty years later, his insights on State-run education and its power to shape a nation's character speak directly to America's political challenges today.
This takes us to our third and final point: Belloc said that “compared” to Christian education's ultimate goal- that being the salvation of the soul -nothing else counts! "It is good to be able to read and write and cast up simple sums; it is better still to know something of the past of one's people, and to have a true idea of the world around one. But these are nothing compared with the Faith." In other words, knowledge and mere intelligence, by themselves, are woefully insufficient in preparing students to become productive citizens of our commonwealth. If the content of learning is not ordained towards noble and moral purposes, such as the good of one's soul or the welfare of the family or the betterment of society at large, then intelligence can become a vice; indeed, it can easily be co-opted for evil purposes.
During the same year Belloc wrote Survivals and New Arrivals (1929), Pope Pius XI published an encyclical entitled, On Christian Education. In it he confirms that the Faith is of the highest importance- not only for the student and his salvation -but for the integrity of education itself. Pius XI said, "There can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man's last end." To be sure, the Gospel upholds God and eternity as being among the most important truths. All other truths, all other subjects, and all other considerations hang on this point. And it is only by having God and eternity on top of the hierarchy of truths that history, science, math, and language can be used for the common good. And as for the individual student, the Catholic Faith has always held that salvation is paramount.
Belloc was right, nothing else matters in comparison.
As Bishop Fulton Sheen would say a few years later: "If the soul is not saved, nothing is saved!"
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.