The Idea of Cultural Neutrality and Education
Public education, we are told, is supposed to be culturally neutral. We all know this is a lie. There is no neutrality. So what is the purpose of public education?
Yes, I gave an interview. Gio Pennacchietti of Gio’s Content Minded Corner @giantgio and I recorded a long conversation last week (three plus hours!) in which we talked about the “Austrian Painter” (you will have to listen to find out why that is funny) among other things. Gio said it should be posted in the next few weeks, so subscribe and make sure you don’t miss it. We began something like 50 conversations, got into a topic and then veered off onto a tangent that led to a new conversation. We talked about Canada, the world’s first post national pseudo-country. Canada is not a thing. @Tinkzorg is correct about this. We talked about the near breakout of “the political” during last year’s trucker protest. We discussed Ellul, Schmitt, del Noce and much, much, more. We also talked about Auron MacIntyre’s recent piece: “Cultural Neutrality Is a Dangerous Lie—and it never existed.”
It’s a good piece and Auron is doing what he does best: “noticing” things. There is real value in “noticing,” as the left propaganda machine works hard to keep us from really seeing what is going on, seeing through their rhetorical tricks and the way they structure arguments so as to avoid having people object to their agenda. This article in particular pokes at the idea that the public school system is ideologically neutral. And while it is useful to “notice” what is happening on the left and to understand how our political system is actually working—people tend to react favorably to criticizing the left—one of the things desperately needed on the right is for it to figure out what it actually stands for. I am not sure that the right knows anymore what it stands for, other than being opposed to the left. That we are all agreed on. The left is bad, evil even. I have found that content which criticizes the left always does better than content which holds up a mirror and tries to point out that perhaps a bigger problem than the left is that the right has no real idea what it means to be conservative or right wing. Outside of a few internet ghettoes, much of the mainstream right really cannot put any meaningful content into the “conservative” bucket, so as to distinguish us from our so-called political opponents. Often, when you dig into so-called “conservative” ideas, they are often not actually, you know, “conservative.”
The problem is that identifying the content of conservatism inevitably involves looking closely at and challenging many of our core assumptions. Once you do start doing right-wing prolegomena, why the right loses to the left so frequently becomes much more clear: it doesn’t offer a clearly different option. At root, far too many on the right share most of the core cultural assumptions of the left. Once these are looked at more closely, they suggest a path forward, one which is unpalatable to many on the right. Another reason for not winning.
The main topic of Auron’s piece is education and its supposed ideological neutrality. His argument highlights, with specific regard to the public education system, the fallacy that our democratic institutions are content neutral, that they exist without ideology. They are unbiased mechanisms which merely allow political content to be expressed. In a similar vein, the public schooling system is the common property all of the citizenry and is thus supposed to teach without regard to any particular political or religious affiliation. The schools are meant to pass on the knowledge of basic “Americanism.” They are supposed to teach a “fact based” understanding of American history. Just the events, ma’am, the way they happened. They are supposed to teach “civics,” that is, how the nation’s shared institutions work. And they teach reading, writing, math, science and the like. Culturally neutral. Basic “American.”
In a sense, this understanding aligns well with how many conservatives think of themselves politically. They are the guardians of “basic Americanism.” They are see themselves as protecting the core of what America was intended to be. The “Tea Party” desire to reclaim the original intent and understanding of The Constitution and the original function of the institutions of government is very much at the heart of this sentiment. They look around at the current landscape and see a corruption of the original intent of America’s Founding Fathers. The path forward then is to cleanse America of these influences and get back the “true America.” If we can get rid of the corrupting influence of these left wing zealots, our institutions can go back to a politically neutral “Americanism.”
The problem is that this is not how “democracy” or education works. First off, we have to understand that democracy is itself not content neutral. Those who put in place democratic institutions, envisioned them being used by people to govern “democratically.” That is, they were not intended for the people to vote to end democracy and install a dictatorship. Democratic institutions were intended to be used democratically by a people who believed in democracy. Democratic institutions require a people who believe that the will of the people can be and should be and is best expressed through democratic institutions. It is a belief that through these institutions a people can discuss their own future and through that discussion can give expression of the truth of the general will. But for a people to do this, they have to be able to think and act “democratically.” The process whereby each generation learns to think democratically is a process of cultural formation. This is the educational process: the enculturation of the next generation of democratically capable citizens.
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