Religion & Liberty Online

Conservatives get failing grade on education


An interesting perspective from which to study the history of the conservative movement is the relationship of conservatives to education. Every true conservative is, at some level, invested in tradition. Since Edmund Burke, modern Kirkean conservatives and classical liberals have held that historical experience is a primary guide to political life and that the survival of any society depends mostly on the transmission of this accumulated experience.

It should, therefore, be considered natural for conservatives to be at the forefront of defending traditional models of education, but this is not necessarily true.

Few conservative politicians have done nothing to prevent or reverse the process of destruction of education. While Margaret Thatcher was Secretary of State for Education hardly anything was done to stop the demolition of the grammar schools which had been a meritocratic path forward for people from the lower-middle and working classes like her. As prime minister, Thatcher did little to avert the advance of multiculturalism even after Roger Scruton’s The Salisbury Review warned people what it entailed back in 1984.

Similarly, Ronald Reagan vowed to abolish Jimmy Carter’s Department of Education and destroy Washington’s influence over local schools administration. He did neither.

It seems that education is incompatible with the discourse and practices of politicians in modern democratic societies dominated by egalitarian ideas, including most who call themselves conservatives.

In order to be a conservative one must have something to conserve. Thus, to the extent that conservatives have abjured traditional education, they abandon the very meaning of conservatism.

By contrast, the left has long understood what conservatives did not. At least since the 1950s, education throughout most of the West has been converted into a powerful instrument of leftist social revolution. In his well-documented book Machiavelli Educator (1995), Pascal Bernardin exposed the liberal educational project, the purpose of which is social engineering to ensure conformity to the social, political and legal agenda of the left.

Whether in France, the United States, Mexico or Brazil, few schools are centers of transmission of knowledge, in which the experience and wisdom of centuries of teaching are imparted to young minds. On the contrary, today’s schools have been converted into the vanguard of the grotesque, the morally objectionable, and the aesthetically repulsive. The teaching of grammar, fine arts, literature, and basic principles of the natural sciences has given place to a debate about whether boys should dress like girls and whether a child is mature enough to adopt sexual promiscuity as a lifestyle.

Beginning with John Dewey, the concept of education was immersed into the priorities of mass democracy, egalitarianism, and massification. Pedagogy assumed the role of social leveler while schools failed to pass on basic literacy skills.

Most of the practical effects of modern educational theories had been put into operation in Bolshevik Russia.  From the transformation of schools into academies of communist indoctrination to sexual liberation, as historian Orlando Figes testifies in The Whisperers (2007), similar content has made its way into most Western schools.

All major pedagogy theorists of the 20th century were either Marxists or sympathizers of the cause. Figures such Dewey, Celestin Freinet, Pierre Bourdieu, Jean Piaget, Emilia Ferrero, Lev Vygotsky and, most importantly, the Brazilian Paulo Freire sought to transform the schools into centers of propaganda in favor of contemporary leftist ideologies.

Freire was the means through which Marxist ideas permeated a great deal of educational theory and practice. His book The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) is considered to be a sort of Bible on educational affairs in wide swathes the academic world, and his method is still highly praised, especially at UNESCO.

In Brazil, Freire’s prominence and influence, underscored by successive left-wing governments, is the best explanation for the unfortunate state of the Brazilian public and private educational systems. His ideas can be understood as the complete absence of any intention to teach anything beyond ideological propaganda.

My father, for example, was educated in a public school where memorization was a fundamental part of the learning process. The natural hierarchy between student and teacher did not even have to be taught, as it was already understood. I, by contrast, was educated in a private school where constructivism was the philosophy in practice. Constructivism is the deconstructionism of Jacques Derrida applied to pedagogy. In schools which follow this idea, there is neither order nor priorities; everything follows the rules settled by children themselves.

It takes no genius to realize that everybody who comes out of such a school has in some ways been poorly educated.

The recent Brazilian presidential election involved the confrontation of two different visions about education. On the one hand, the conservative populist candidate Jair Bolsonaro defended a return of the old methods as the only way to pull the educational system out of the hole. On the other hand, the leftist candidate and former education minister Fernando Haddad, whose book In Defense of Socialism (1997) proposes the eroticization of family relations as a way to achieve a communist society, sought to radicalize Freire’s Marxist pedagogy further.

Bolsonaro’s electoral triumph can be explained to a large extent by his promise to reestablish order in the anarchic Brazilian system of education, reversing the seizure of schools by the left. The recent nomination of Ricardo Velez Rodriguez for the Ministry of Education is a clear signal that Bolsonaro intends to keep his campaign promises.

Velez Rodriguez is a Colombian intellectual who has been living in Brazil since the 1970s. A former Trotskyite who converted to Catholicism, he studied theology and defended his dissertation on Saint Thomas Aquinas in Latin. Velez Rodriguez has also published books on an eclectic range of subjects. To his intellectual curriculum, we can add a rather unusual fact: He was the first researcher to track down how the capture of educational institutions by the left happened during the right-wing military dictatorship (1964-1985).

Bolsonaro is thus placing at the head of the Ministry of Education an intellectual who understands the imperatives and strategies of cultural warfare. To give an idea of what this means, it’s as if President Donald Trump had appointed Roger Kimball to head the Department of Education.

The Brazilian right, which has come to power with Bolsonaro, understood that education should be a priority in the political confrontation with the left and is fundamental for the survival of conservatism in the long run. This lesson seems to have been overlooked by much of the U.S. conservative movement. The battle to save traditional education against neo-Marxism is perhaps the most fundamental if we want to preserve our civilization.

Homepage photo credit: Soviet Communism Threatens Education. U.S. Information Agency. (08/01/1953 – 03/27/1978) (Most Recent).Wiki Commons.

Silvio Simonetti

Silvio Simonetti is a Brazilian lawyer, graduated in international affairs from the Bush School at Texas A & M University. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Silvio loves history and the Catholic Church.