I Don’t Trust the Professors. I Trust the Parents

By Anthony Esolen Published on May 28, 2019

Put not your trust in princes, says the psalmist. Well, I don’t, nor in those princes of the scholastic world, professors. Spending your whole adult life in education, what Malcolm Muggeridge called “that fraud and mumbo-jumbo of the age,” isn’t likely to make you a trusting sort of fellow. It’s hard for me to take the experts in another field seriously, when I know how harebrained the experts in my own field are.

And yet, for all that, I do trust one group, in one situation. I trust parents to educate their children well — when the state lets them.

A Minimal Trust

It’s a minimal trust, but I have it, and I should confess it. I believe that local people, mainly the parents, should oversee their own schools. They should oversee the curricula, hiring and retaining teachers, extracurriculars, dress codes and other policies for ensuring order, keeping the grounds, and maintaining the building. Want to turn your history class into a political soapbox for current events? Not on our dime, pal. Do what you are hired to do. Finished with the ancient Greeks? Here’s Rome.

I am a localist when it comes to education. Do I think that the local overseers will always do a good job? No, I don’t. I think they could hardly do a worse job, take it all in all, than do those who run the system as it is now constituted. After all, their interests are immediate: it’s their children. It’s Christopher and Jessica, Sarah and Hannah, Jonathan and Davey.

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I have greater confidence in them than I have in educational experts who have run the schools as proving grounds for one wild idea after another, all of them predicated on the modernist fantasy that People Were Stupid Before We Were Born. They sit in their schools of education talking to other experts, reading the books of other experts, jetting to conferences with other experts, training people who want to be expert. For them, the children are only types — sixth grade white male, second gifted African-American female — impersonal examples of a theory. And almost always a very bad, a very ignorant theory.

Parents would not have lost an entire generation of school children to innumeracy, attempting to teach them arithmetic by way of set theory, as if little kids would eat up abstractions and jargon like ice cream. They would not have dumbed down the readers and done away with phonetics, on the strange supposition that written English is like Chinese pictograms.

Parents might be so foolish as to get in a lather about Huckleberry Finn. They would never be so foolish as to get in a lather over Angels in America.

The Main Reason

But the main reason I want the locals to run the schools? It is their job. It is the chief way in which ordinary people, in their local places, will be “political” in the ancient sense: will come together to try to secure the common good. I don’t want to rob them of that. Here if anywhere I believe in democracy. Let the people make their mistakes, which at worst will be local and temporary, and let them enjoy their successes. And anybody who really believes in “diversity” must be with me on this.

Why should your school in Stump Field use the same books as they use at the school in Frogtown? What are we, Prussia?

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