Why do only one-third of the Millennial Generation—8- to 29-year olds, born between 1982 and 2003—choose capitalism over socialism for our economic system? By the time most American students leave high school, they have often been instructed in Marxist theory, social justice, anti-capitalism, and class envy against the rich by public education.
The high school textbook used by my granddaughter in 2008, United States History: In the Course of Human Events (1997), still reflects the radical National Standards for United States History that the U. S. Senate condemned in January 1995 by a vote of 99 to 1. Her textbook states:
The United States Constitution, argued Charles Beard, a Columbia University historian, was not an inevitable product of social evolution. It was, he wrote in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (1913), an economic document designed to protect men of property.
Beard’s work, refuted by later historians, surreptitiously sows the seeds of Marxist “economic determinism.”
The textbook seeks further to implant in young minds a disdain for a free-market economy by prominent coverage of long-discredited reformers who sought redistribution of wealth, such as Henry George in Progress and Poverty (1879) and Edward Bellamy in Looking Backward (1888), a novel of evolutionary socialism in which industry was owned by the state and there were no merchants, shopkeepers, or bankers. Bellamy approvingly described a system in which “the nation guarantees the nurture, education, and comfortable maintenance of every citizen from the cradle to the grave.”
Finally, the textbook laments that “all people had not shared equally in the blessings of industrial wealth,” adding: “Economist Richard T. Ely rejected the idea that inequality of wealth was natural and inevitable. It could be explained by an analysis of banks, corporations, and other institutions that helped concentrate wealth in the hands of the few.” Ely was a progressive-era economist hostile to private property.
In the early twentieth century, John Dewey introduced the concept of progressive education and “taught that the school, which heretofore had been the locus of intergenerational transmission of received scholarship, learning, and wisdom, needed to become an agent of social betterment and change.” He turned the role for schools towards constructing “a new social order…which would eventually bring into being a democratic socialist society."
A new multicultural egalitarian order became the aim of education starting in the academy of the 1960s. Multiculturalism presents the historical account of America as the story of subjugation of oppressed groups, which is rooted in the work of Marxist historians and social scientists, notes Peter Wood in Diversity (2006). A review by a panel of distinguished historians in 2004 found social studies textbooks, despite the Senate action, still to be “mostly a disgrace that, in the name of political correctness and multiculturalism, fail to give students an honest account of American history.”
University schools of education, observed Heather Mac Donald in The Burden of Bad Ideas (2001), continue to denigrate Western civilization, condemn white guilt and privilege, and portray America as a racist, imperialist country, using texts such as Literacies of Power (2nd Edition, 2006)), “an illiterate, barbarically ignorant Marxist-inspired screed against America.”
NAS has identified another doctrine that schools of education, applying critical pedagogy, have imbued in teachers and teaching: social justice, defined to mean “the advocacy of more egalitarian access to income through state-sponsored redistribution.” In A Degree in Agitprop, Peter Wood and Ashley Thorne note that Marxists appropriated the term social justice as the goal of class struggle and that it is the foremost stated objective of the modern Left. And Ashley Thorne has also shown in The Sustainability Inquisition that social justice is an element of the sustainability ideology that now pervades schooling.
“Social justice” is even being incorporated in the teaching of basic skills. In The Negative Influence of Education Schools on the K-12 Curriculum (2008), Sandra Stotsky shows how social justice theory influences literary study. Mathematics and science skills are addressed by Sol Stern in The Ed Schools’ Latest—and Worst—Humbug (City Journal, Summer 2006). While U. S. students have not improved in mathematics since 1983 and remain 25th among 29 OECD nations in that subject, a new Marxist textbook, Reading and Writing the World with Mathematics: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Justice (Gutstein, 2005), uses calculations to argue that the U. S. economic system mainly benefits the superrich. While the U. S. ranks 17th in science, Teaching Science for Social Justice (Barton, et al. 2003), leads students to see science as a way to transform the power structure. Ironically, molding of students’ attitudes towards social justice appears to be more important than helping them close their continuing achievement gap.
America was founded on the Western concept of human nature that began with the Greeks, was imparted by the Scottish Enlightenment, and is being affirmed by modern evolutionary psychology. A deep-seated capacity for envy along with unequal faculties and competitiveness are part of human nature. Western history demonstrates the failures of past republics due to envy, class warfare, and economic and factional conflict. Thus the Founders established a commercial republic with a reciprocal exchange economy, shaped by Adam Smith’s recognition of the common human ethos of reciprocity, by which man competitively seeks prosperity through the private sector rather than political power through the state.
In The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth (2005), Harvard Political Economist Benjamin Friedman explains that another distinguishing feature of the American experience was classlessness, which opened the opportunity for advancement and “provided an impetus for the unprecedented economic growth that Americans as a whole have enjoyed over a span of more than two centuries.“
After reading On the Origin of Species (1859), Karl Marx declared that it furnished a “basis in natural science for the class struggle in history.” Marx was hostile to the very idea of a human nature rooted in biology and adamant that human nature has no enduring properties. Capitalism, industrialism, and class structure had corrupted man. Historical—not biological—evolution would liberate and create a New Man through economic determinism. Charles Darwin rejected that notion and saw the social struggle as a “natural” expression of human competition, as did our Founders.
Instead of instilling class envy and resentment against the rich, schools of education and public schooling should improve teaching of basic skills such as reading and writing, mathematics and science needed by our youth to earn wealth rather than seek it from the work of others through government. And our colleges and universities should again teach the knowledge of Western Civilization and American history including our economic system, rather than leading our children down the path of failed Marxist theory (in its new costume of sustainability) that has led to poverty and class economic conflict. Capitalism, properly regulated—not socialism—is still the best system for creating wealth and prosperity for all.
This is one of a series of occasional articles applying the lessons of Western civilization to contemporary issues relevant to the academy.
The Honorable William H. Young was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to be Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy and served in that position from November 1989 to January 1993. He is the author of Ordering America: Fulfilling the Ideals of Western Civilization (2010) and Centering America: Resurrecting the Local Progressive Ideal (2002).