Education is certainly political

Published 9:54 am Saturday, September 13, 2014

Progressivism is the main philosophy taught in schools of education and used to measure quality instruction. Though widely accepted, it is not good.

Progressives believe that there is no politically neutral position in education. I actually agree completely with this statement. No, I have not gone soft; I just happen to know enough history to recognize that this is not a progressive idea at all. Politics are central to education and they always have been. The progressive tendency to view life through a political lens reminds me of the excited student who comes to tell me about this great band he’s discovered. “Mr. Scott, have you ever heard of Led Zeppelin?”

Long before Karl Marx, John Dewey, and others, there were a couple of Greek gentleman named Plato and Aristotle who viewed much of life through a political lens. The English word politic comes from Greek roots. In fact, many attribute the current English form to Aristotle based on his book of the same name often rendered “affairs of the city.”

The absence of politically neutral ground in education is not a matter of partisanship. If this were merely a Democrat vs. Republican issue, then there would be all kinds of “middle ground.” Politics is about power, the “who” and the “how” of collective decision making. There is not a “neutral” position in this sense because, as [The Band] Rush pointed out: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” One can yield his political voice to another, but doing so is still a use of that voice. This is often illustrated using a political power graph, like the one above. On the far right is Anarchy, where every man is a king unto himself. This graph labels this end “No Law,” but it could also be called “Individual Law” because each person would be free to do as he or she wishes without regard for anyone else. On the far left is Tyranny or “Ruler’s Law.” This is the Central Authority that I have been writing about.

As we study we not only pick up facts and figures, we also develop a framework for understanding the world around us. New information can only be meaningful when it connects to that framework. Thus the way we are educated affects the way that we will make individual and shared decisions, including political decisions. When we choose to yield our political voices, we move to the left. When we reclaim our political voices, which is much more difficult to do, we move to the right. This is why a Republic such as ours relies so heavily on having educated citizens. We believe in People’s Law, that spot right in the middle, the balancing point.

Politics certainly are a part of education, just like flour is a part of bread. Even if we wanted, it cannot be avoided. What we need is an honest declaration of what is being taught and modeled — specifically that we are teaching our children the indicators that our society is shifting too far in either direction. The story goes that as Benjamin Franklin emerged from Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention a woman asked him, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

Mr. Franklin replied, “A republic, madam — if you can keep it.” Franklin knew that keeping that balance of “People’s Law” is difficult and it only happens with conscious effort. The political education of our children needs to be such that we can “keep it.”

CLAY SCOTT is a former teacher from Southampton Academy and Franklin High School, and he was also an administrator at SA. He is the co-founder of Telios Academy and a doctoral candidate at George Washington University. He can be reached at