Conservative Tenet # 14
2 June 2003, 11:54 AM
Well, and now Your Humble Blogger is back on track, so let's punch on through the Conservative Tenets. When last we left Mr. Rossiter, he was up to:
14. The civilizing, disciplining, conserving mission of education
Let me again begin by saying that the author is attempting to portray a mindset, rather than a true set of tenets; he is describing, if you will, the Conservative's perception of the universe. This is particularly important to keep in mind when looking at # 14 up there. Rossiter is not saying that the Conservative would answer, when his little boy asks why he must go to school, "to become civilized, disciplined, and become a vessel for conserving the wisdom of the greats." Few Liberals as well would deny that the benefits of education include learning discipline, preparing the student for civic responsibilities, and conserving such wisdom as still applies. The goals of Conservative education are not, I think, much different from that of Liberal education. There is, however, a substantial difference in emphasis, which (in these days of supposedly limited resources) can lead to substantial difference in practice.
Liberals, in talking about education, often emphasize personal development, critical faculties, and socialization. None of those are anathema to Conservatives, certainly, but they perhaps take a back seat to discipline and conservation. The complaint that eighth-graders don't know when the Civil War was fought is a complaint that the schools are not properly conserving knowledge, a complaint I share and I hope all Liberals share. On the other hand, Liberals view with some horror the spectre of a generation of students who know the Gallic Wars, but can't think for themselves. There is much to complain about, and much to be improved, and there always will be (a Progressive bias of mine), and picking and choosing which to emphasize, and thus which to fund, is where the mindset does its work. What would I emphasize? Well, I think first and foremost the critical faculties (teach 9th graders logic!), and then, probably, the conservation of history and culture.
Deep under all this is a vastly more important question: what is the purpose of education, anyway, and whom does it serve? Mr. Rossiter's Conservative has described education in a way that foregrounds the benefits to society. Much of the justification for public schooling comes from the view that society requires its members to be educated, not for their own sake, but for the sake of society. I lean towards a more individualistic approach; if I could square it with my definition of rights, I'd consider it a right. At any rate, I think we are obliged to educate the ignorant as we are obliged to feed the hungry, not for our own sake (other than for the sake of our morals and conscience) but for theirs.