“The present state of the world is not the proof of philosophy’s impotence, but the proof of philosophy’s power,” wrote Ayn Rand. “It is philosophy that has brought men to this state—it is only philosophy that can lead them out.”
Readers of TOS know that if we want to solve the massive political problems facing America and the world at large, we must spread good philosophy, namely Objectivism. The problem is that by the time people reach the age of philosophic inquiry—late teens to early twenties—they have already absorbed so much bad philosophy that few are able and willing to embrace a philosophy of reason, egoism, and individualism. (Observe that although many millions of young adults have read Ayn Rand’s works, only a scant few have embraced Objectivism.)
Major elements of bad philosophy—mysticism, altruism, and collectivism—regularly are touted as virtuous in movies, television, and other aspects of the culture. And children consume this conceptual poison substantially from such sources. But bad philosophy is most steadily and most effectively pushed on children by their parents and teachers.
Many parents deluge children with disastrous philosophic ideas from the day they can listen:
- Faith is a means of knowledge. Believe in God, and you will know He is real. Disbelief is a sin.
- Obey God’s will, and you may go to Heaven. Disobey Him, and you’ll burn in Hell.
- Self-interest is bad. Don’t be selfish. Put others first.
- Self-sacrifice is good. Sacrifice for others. That’s what being moral is all about.
- The group is greater than the individual. Serve the greater good . . .
And so on.
American parents typically spoon-feed their children a hash of mysticism, altruism, and collectivism. Given the extent to which parents administer such poison, it should come as no surprise that few children reach their late teens able and willing to think independently enough to challenge the status quo.
Mix such rampant bad parenting with the methods and aims of America’s schools, and you have a recipe for intellectual, cultural, and political disaster.
For several decades and counting, American children have been “educated” in ways that leave them essentially ignorant of science, literature, history, and other subjects about which they need knowledge in order to think clearly, live well, and become adults who are able to establish or maintain a free society.
Since the mid-20th century, American schools (both state-run and private) have been guided dominantly by the principles of so-called “progressive education.”
John Dewey, a founder of this approach, explains that progressive education is concerned not with conveying “bodies of information and skills that have been worked out in the past”;1 not with teaching the child “science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography”;2 but rather with preparing him for “social cooperation and community life” and “saturating him with the spirit of service.”3
Observe how progressive education dovetails with the altruism and collectivism pushed by parents and the culture at large. Progressive educators take full advantage of the fact: “The mere absorbing of facts and truths is so exclusively individual an affair that it tends very naturally to pass into selfishness,” warns Dewey. “There is no obvious social motive for the acquirement of mere learning, there is no clear social gain in success thereat.”4 Thus, schools should not focus on conveying facts and truths; rather, they should engage the student in “social activities” through which he will “conceive of himself from the standpoint of the welfare of the group to which he belongs.”5
And, Dewey emphasizes, the individual does not merely belong to the group; he literally does not exist apart from the group. “The individual is always a social individual. He has no existence by himself. He lives in, for, and by society.” Consequently, says Dewey, “The moral responsibility of the school, and of those who conduct it, is to society. The school is fundamentally an institution erected by society to do a certain specific work—to exercise a certain specific function in maintaining the life and advancing the welfare of society.” Progressive education achieves this through “the socialization of the individual in his whole outlook upon life and mode of dealing with it.”6
That’s merely a taste of the poison known as progressive education. But it indicates the nature and scope of the problem.
Given that progressive education—fueled by everyone who embraces altruism and collectivism—has dominated American schools for several decades, is it any wonder that many Americans now see themselves not as individuals but as members of groups? Is it any wonder that racism and other forms of collectivism are on the rise? And is it any wonder that many Americans are dangerously ignorant about history, geography, science, and the like?
The surge of racism and collectivism can readily be seen on college campuses, in the daily news, and on social media. Witness, for instance, the racist and nationalist “Alt-Right” movement, the racist “Black Lives Matter” movement, and the classist “Occupy Wall Street” movement.
As for the profound and extensive ignorance among Americans, here are a few telling statistics from recent polls:
- Twenty-six percent of all Americans and 32 percent of millennials believe more people were killed under George W. Bush’s presidency than under Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship.
- Thirty-three percent of millennials are “unfamiliar” with Vladimir Lenin—and of those familiar with him, 25 percent view him favorably.
- Only 80 percent of baby boomers, 70 percent of gen-xers, and 55 percent of millennials believe communism was and still is a problem.
- Only 57 percent of Americans and a mere 38 percent of millennials have a “very unfavorable” view of communism.
- Thirty-eight percent of Americans would vote for a socialist.7
- Fewer than half of Americans know that each state has two senators.
- Only 36 percent know that the Senate confirms a new Supreme Court justice.8
And here are some equally disturbing statistics from a poll of eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old Americans:
- Only half can identify the state of New York on a map.
- Sixty-three percent cannot find Iraq or Saudi Arabia on a map of the Middle East; 75 percent cannot find Iran or Israel; and 44 percent cannot find even one of these four countries.
- Forty-seven percent cannot find India on a map of Asia; 88 percent cannot find Afghanistan.
- More than half (54 percent) do not know that Sudan is in Africa; 20 percent place Sudan in Asia, and 10 percent place it in Europe.
- Three-quarters cannot find Indonesia on a map; three-quarters also do not know that a majority of Indonesia’s population is Muslim.
- Seventy percent cannot find North Korea on a map; 63 percent do not know its border with South Korea is the most heavily fortified in the world; 30 percent say the U.S.-Mexico border is the most heavily fortified.9
Americans’ knowledge of science is little better. For instance, one-quarter don’t know that the Earth orbits the Sun, and 46 percent believe God created humans in their present form in the past ten thousand years.10
Clearly, American schools have succeeded in keeping children from “mere learning” about history, geography, science, and the like.
The union of such bad schooling and bad parenting gives rise to young adults and college students who are, to put it mildly, ill prepared to think clearly and objectively. When children are raised with mysticism, altruism, and collectivism; “educated” with a focus on social activities and with disregard for facts and truths; and saturated with “the spirit of service,” they tend to reach the age of philosophic inquiry with little knowledge, damaged minds, and collectivized souls. Their deep-seated group orientation and their profound ignorance about the world render them afraid to step outside the comfort zone provided by “the group to which they belong,” or to challenge the views of their tribe. And few ever do.
Bad parenting and bad education have produced generations of ignorant collectivists.
Hence the state of America today. Our citizenry is so academically dumbed down and so philosophically messed up that it decided our best options for the presidency are Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
That practically says it all.
This is where we are as a nation. Bad philosophy brought us here, and only good philosophy can lead us out. But in order for people to understand and embrace good philosophy, they must reach the age of philosophic inquiry with their reasoning minds intact. In this sense, philosophy is downstream from parenting and K–12 education.
If we want more people to embrace good philosophy, we must work to improve the ways in which parents parent and teachers teach.
Toward that end, and with help from Sarah Biddle and Daniel Wahl, I’ve compiled an index of Resources for Rational Parenting and Education. The index (which we’ll update and expand over time) includes information about and links to noteworthy books, essays, private schools, homeschooling programs, educational games, and more.
I hope you find the index of value. If you do, please share it with others, especially parents and educators, who might find it useful.
- Individualism vs. Collectivism: Our Future, Our Choice
- The New Abolitionism: Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of Our Time
- The Educational Bonanza in Privatizing Government Schools
- How to Raise a Life-Loving Child
- The Teenager’s Guide to The Morality of Self-Interest
1. John Dewey, Experience and Education (New York: Collier Books, 1938), 17.
2. “My Pedagogic Creed,” School Journal 54 (January 1897): 77–80, http://dewey.pragmatism.org/creed.htm.
3. John Dewey, The School and Society (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980), 11, 20.
4. Dewey, The School and Society, 10–11.
5. Dewey, “My Pedagogic Creed.”
6. John Dewey, “Ethical Principles Underlying Education,” in Third Yearbook of the National Herbart Society (Chicago: The Society, 1897), 7–33.
7. YouGov and Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s “Report on U.S. Attitudes towards Socialism,” http://victimsofcommunism.org/new-report-reveals-u-s-attitudes-on-socialism-communism-on-eve-of-2016-election/.
8. Edward M. Kennedy Institute, “2016 National Civics Survey,” https://emki-production.s3.amazonaws.com/downloads/64/files/EMK_Institute_Nat._Civic_Survey_Results.pdf?1458221724.
9. Roper Public Affairs and National Geographic’s “2006 Geographic Literacy Study,” http://www.nationalgeographic.com/roper2006/pdf/FINALReport2006GeogLitsurvey.pdf.
10. National Science Board, “Science and Engineering Indicators 2016,” https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/report/chapter-7/public-knowledge-about-s-t; “In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins,” Gallup, http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/hold-creationist-view-human-origins.aspx.