Philosophic Liberalism's Underming of Education

Liberal education philosophy continues to support secular schooling. However, I believe evidence for this support is weak or nonexistent. Children and society are benefitted when the wisdom of those who care for them shapes their school day.

The word liberalism is thrown around in many different settings. Most frequently, we hear the word in political discussions where it is actually used quite differently than it would be used in a political science classroom. I won’t go into those distinctions, but rather, I want to use the word in a different context with a different meaning... philosophic liberalism, which provides many of the foundations for other areas of liberalism.

Philosophic liberalism, which has many of its roots in the writings of German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), places supreme value on individual autonomy — especially autonomy of thought. He believed that the existence of God and morality were unprovable, thus, individuals should be free to exercise their personal judgement as to what makes for the happiest life.

His writings were very influential in America and served to support the secularization of public education. Not only was secular public education believed to bring diverse Americans together to strengthen unity, but as Kant’s ideas took root in the universities of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, secular education served to “deliver” or “protect” children from the imposed beliefs of their parents. I find that philosophic liberalism among university professors is STILL the greatest source of opposition to religious schooling.

For example, writing in
Bridging Liberalism and Multiculturalism in American Education, page 92, scholar Robert Reich supports autonomous education (i.e. education in which basic beliefs and values are untaught) because it “prevents in children the development of servility to the values of their parents or the traditions and norms of the cultural group(s) and state in which they are born.” I could site many other contemporary (and well respected) scholars who share the concern that children be protected from the “imposed” beliefs of their parents and others.

Much could be said on this topic, but I would like to focus on the presumptions behind this. Though it may be true that God and morality are less “provable” than many other “facts of life,”
it is false to say that individuals will be happier if they are prevented from gaining wisdom from those who have gone before them. Not only do I believe that it is virtually impossible for parents to “impose” their beliefs on their children, but it is apparent that the intergenerational transmission of beliefs and values provides stability and health to communities. Autonomous children, who have failed to academically engage the bigger questions and issues of life, merely tend to live intellectually shallow and materialistic lives.

Liberal educational autonomy not only undermines the health of the nation, but it deprives children of much of the richness others have found through the experiences of their lifetimes. The supports for secular education, once thought to be strong, have been shown to be weak. It is time supporters of religious schooling speak up regarding the strengths of their schools beyond “getting good grades.”
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