What are schools for?  Why go to school?  For traditionalists, the answers to these questions call on some fundamental truths about human nature, culture, and youth.  In the traditionalist vision, progressives have deformed American education because they have operated with a radically inaccurate understanding of these basic truths.  To begin healing American schools, traditionalists could insist, we need to recognize a few of these central ideas:

  • People are not all the same.
  • Left to their own devices, people will not naturally choose to improve themselves.
  • Left alone, children will act viciously and often wallow in their own ignorance and slothfulness.

If we acknowledge these fundamental truths, traditionalists could insist, we will be able to think about schooling in a clear-eyed, practical, effective way.  We will recognize the genius of the cultural legacy we have inherited.  We will be able to see that the answers schools used for generations are better than the answers offered students in so-called progressive education.  In the traditionalist view, once we understand these important facts about culture, education, and youth, a few basic notions about formal schooling will become clear:

1.) School is for transmitting information to students.  New information; things they did not already know.  Not a chance for them to develop themselves as people.  That is the job of the family and church.  And not simply a way for them to explore their own lived experience; that’s fine for rich kids but it leaves the disfranchised disfranchised.

2.) School is a chance—not a guarantee but an opportunity—to improve one’s economic position.

3.) Schools must transmit values.  We can articulate those values without imposing traditional Biblical Christianity on the unwilling.

In a nutshell, the traditionalist idea of schooling can be based on much more than a vague nostalgia for the America of the past.  It can be more than just a knee-jerk insistence on a return to the Little Red Schoolhouse, to the good old days when we all walked ten miles to school, uphill both ways.  In its most compelling form, the argument in favor of more traditionalist education offers more than just a masked insistence on a return to schools dominated by Protestant theology or ruled by racial and class segregation.  At its best, traditionalist education can suggest a compelling argument about the nature of education.

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