The Path to the American Dream
I recently watched a show on PBS called American Creed. It sounded very interesting. It featured Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Stanford historian David M. Kennedy discussing what it means to be an American. I thought that, compared to typical TV reporters, these two heavy-weight intellectuals would be able to lead a very cogent discussion on the essence of American principles, which if you have been following my essays you know forms the basis for almost all of my writing.
However, this being after all television even if public broadcasting, the program was not a philosophical discussion but rather a number of TV magazine-style video portrayals of various Americans describing their path to achieve the American Dream, often speaking about how their parents or grandparents had come to this country with virtually nothing and were able to achieve success. Many of the stories were quite moving but they were not quite what I was looking for.
But I realized there was an underlying current that ran through all these stories. It was the importance of education in achieving the American Dream. Each story described how they, or their parents, or their grandparents (and usually all of the above) had bettered themselves through education. In many cases it was a step-by-step process as each generation improved their social position through better education.
An educated populace is a public good and worthy of public funding because it is necessary for the proper functioning of any democracy. But it is not the productive capabilities of educated citizens to function in the free market economy, nor the ability of academics to do research in physics and medicine or even in the liberal arts that form the public good. It is the ability of citizens to understand the issues facing the country and their ability to exercise the duties of citizenship.
But the public funding of public education can only be justified by the creation of this public good. The current state of public education is not serving the needs of our kids or the needs of the country. We must educate our youth in American history, American principles, even American myths and, when they are old enough to understand, our American tragedies and mistakes. Public education is not intended to serve as day care for pre-K children. Nor is it a multicultural mélange that’s fit only to train our youth how to function as a dependent of the government welfare system.
We should not be ashamed to teach American values and even to say that our country and its values are the best in the world (after all that’s what other countries teach their kids). Progressives and multiculturalists will assert that this is unfair and harmful for children from other cultures. They lecture us that these immigrant children need to be coddled and in order to avoid hurt feelings be told that their home country culture is wonderful and just as good as America’s culture and the Western civilization that largely incorporates America’s values and principles.
Nonsense! People immigrate to America because their home country offers insufficient opportunity or political oppression or religious persecution. Hindus leave sati and the caste system behind when they leave India. People from the Middle East and Africa must give up the practice of female genital mutilation when they come to America. And don’t tell me a culture that permits these practices is just as good as our culture. Immigrants that come to America want to become Americans just like the success stories shown on American Creed. It is progressives promoting identity politics that are telling to them to preserve their cultures and not adopt American values and principles iso that they can chip away at our liberties in order to create a socialist welfare state.
Our children must learn that the free market economic system has provided all the material wealth we enjoy and has made America the richest and most powerful country in the world. They must learn not only that the Soviet Union failed but that it failed because of communism. They need to understand that Bernie Sanders learned his economics from Karl Marx, not Adam Smith. It is the multicultural pablum they receive in elementary and high school education that prepares them as cannon fodder for the left-wing progressive academics that dominate higher education.
Becoming educated is a duty of children and they must treat the process with the respect it deserves because it is the primary purpose of public education to turn out good citizens. Children who attend school must dress and comport themselves in a manner equal to the important task assigned to the institution. Torn jeans, pajama bottoms and flip-flops show disrespect not only for their teachers and fellow students but also for the school as an institution and, indeed, the importance of education itself. It is no wonder that our students place so low compared to students in other countries.
Some people point to the parents of our lackadaisical students and say that the parents need to do more. And that is true. But parents need a strong institution to support their efforts to form these pliant and childish minds into the citizens they need to be. And the parents who want to fight the school standards so that their precious darlings can dress or act without regard to school dress codes or cultural norms (such as the woman who insisted her darling’s piercings were okay because they belonged to the Church of Body Modification) need to be told that the public good requires standards of ethical behavior with which all must comply, and administrators and the courts need to back that up. Without adherence to standards our students will sink down to the lowest common denominator of dress and comportment and, in the process, lose respect for their school (and the country for which it toils).
Public education is intended to teach children to be citizens and American public education must teach our children to be citizens of America. The success stories presented by Ms. Rice and Mr. Kennedy (including their own stories) began in education. But it wasn’t going through the motions of education that made their American Dream come true. It was their diligent study as students and rigorous application of what they learned that made them the successes they are today.
Education, real education, is the path to the American Dream. Our education system is failing our children which is why they are losing hope of ever achieving the American Dream. The Millennials are the first generation of Americans to believe that they will not be as well off as their parents and our education system is preparing the next (as yet unnamed) generation only to ride the spiral further downward.