Education: More Than Social Connections

Photo by Akshay Chauhan on Unsplash

This much discussed report by Bari Weiss, “The Miseducation of America’s Elites,” is worth a look. Her findings are troubling. Disturbing. Unsettling. But are they surprising? I don’t think so.

There’s a long debate that spans history about education–what it is, how it is done, who is responsible for doing it, and what its proper end should be. One end of education is socialization. The advancement, preservation, discovery and transmission of knowledge, imparting wisdom, and moral formation are other ends. Some educational traditions and institutions combine aims.

It is hard to read Weiss’ reporting on Harvard-Westlake, an elite private school in Los Angeles, and not conclude that socialization is of vital importance, if not for the school, then certainly for the parents. These parents choose to send their children to this school, even if their children tell them “they’re afraid to speak up in class.”

The parents are afraid to speak up, too. They’re concerned about the ideology that is being taught but not enough to go elsewhere. They’re willing to suffer discomfort to gain the connections. It’s a trade.

Weiss also reports on dynamics at a comparable East Coast school; the same logic holds.

These parents, who insisted on maintaining anonymity for this report, may not like what’s taking place at their schools. But they’re willing to accept it if they continue to believe that participation in these schools will help their children–and them–to benefit socially.

Ideological trends tend to continue until people find the courage to object. What is allowed will continue.

Alan Jacobs raises the right question, “But there’s one question that I think everyone reading such stories should ask: Will the students believe what they are taught?

Weiss reports, “The idea of lying in order to please a teacher seems like a phenomenon from the Soviet Union. But the high schoolers I spoke with said that they do versions of this, including parroting views they don’t believe in assignments so that their grades don’t suffer.”

They already don’t believe it; they know how the game is played.

Jacobs observes, “I suspect that such a system is less likely to produce True Woke Believers than to produce young people who are thoroughly cynical about education and about the dishonesty and hypocrisy of educators. And that might be a worse outcome.”

I think he’s right on both counts, concerning both what such a system will render and that such an outcome is worse.