Beginning the Long March Back

Marina Ziemnick

CounterCurrent: Week of 5/8

It’s easy to bemoan the state of education in America. Nearly every aspect of our educational system, both in higher education and K-12, seems to be in some form of disarray. I don’t need to list the problems for you—but if you’ve somehow remained blissfully unaware of the decline of American education, a quick glance at the curricula taught in most schools across the country will be sufficient to burst your bubble. Academic standards have plummeted, and dialogue and debate in classrooms have been replaced with rigid ideological conformity

Now, before you stop reading, allow me to reassure you. I have no interest in wallowing in the bad news (at least not today). You can only spend so long cataloging the evidence of decline before another, more difficult question arises: Is this the end of the road? Or is it possible to rebuild what has been lost so that future generations of Americans aren’t left floundering? The real work lies in finding a path forward in the midst of all the chaos. 

Some visionaries have responded to this challenge by building alternative institutions, many with great success. Networks of charter schools now offer many students access to free classical education that, while imperfect, seems far better than what is available in most public schools. High school seniors who are disenchanted with the established colleges and universities can choose from a growing list of new colleges that have been founded to fill the void in higher education—and they can apply using their score from the new classically-based SAT alternative

Others, however, are not so eager to leave behind the institutions that have sustained America for so many generations. Their hesitation stems from more than mere sentimentality. America’s most long-lasting institutions have storied histories, and they have amassed levels of power that are hard to rival. What, then, are the chances of success for those who wish to wrest the institutions of power from the stronghold of progressive ideologues?

In this week’s featured article, executive director of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation and Minding the Campus columnist Wenyuan Wu considers the possibility of a long march back through the institutions. She believes that it is still possible for those dedicated to liberty and equality to regain control of America’s political and cultural institutions—but it will take patience, tact, and a lot of hard work. 

Wu proposes three routes for those who hope to embark on the long march back, all of which have already been taken by some intrepid citizens. The first is to “vote the radicals out.” Although turnout in local elections has been abysmally low for the past decade, the tide began to turn in 2020 after parents were spurred to action by extended school closures and widespread political indoctrination. Wu highlights the work of the 1776 Project PAC, which in 2021 alone “flipped 18 school boards and won 42 individual races out of 58 in which it invested, even in progressive areas of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, and Virginia.” Voters can build upon these successes by paying attention to their local elections and supporting candidates who are committed to rebuilding a robust, non-partisan educational system. 

The second route that Wu suggests is to “increase the transactional costs of going woke.” The primary way to accomplish this, according to Wu, is to launch public and legal advocacy campaigns that expose the most egregious displays of radical ideology. Wu writes: “The majority of Americans, regardless of color, creed, or political persuasion, simply won’t accept a race-based system as a practical solution to our social issues. The vocal woke minority will not face the sheer unpopularity of their proposals until they are confronted and made accountable to the public.”

Lastly, Wu advocates for “build[ing] dynamic coalitions to reinstate good values.” Education issues have the potential to unite people from opposite sides of the aisle who share a common appreciation for America’s history and values. The National Association of Scholars is itself a testament to the power of dynamic coalitions—since its founding, NAS has welcomed those from all backgrounds and belief systems who cherish intellectual freedom, the search for truth, and the promotion of virtuous citizenship. The diversity of views within our ranks is a strength, not a weakness, and illustrates the unifying power of these common values. 

The time has not yet come to give up on America’s educational institutions. Though the outlook seems grim, there are still reasons to hope—and more importantly, there is still much to do.

Until next week.

P. S. Dr. Daniel B. Klein, member of the NAS Affiliate in Virginia and professor of economics at George Mason University, recently published an article in City Journal titled “A Better Understanding of Justice.” In the article, Dr. Klein outlines the problems with the notion of “social justice” and suggests that we look to Adam Smith’s three-layered concept of justice instead. The article is worth a read for anyone who is concerned by America’s nonsensical discussion of “justice” today.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications Associate Marina Ziemnick. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Jose M, Public Domain

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