Evidently, the Chinese are actually not the source of the curse “May you live in interesting times.” But whatever its source, that curse seems to have landed on us in double strength. Our time is more than interesting—it is revolutionary. The revolution you and I are living through is a counter-revolution; it is un-doing the America which was made at the founding.
A serious scholar has presented the un-making of America with startling clarity in a Frontpage article, and another serious scholar has told the story of the making of America with unprecedented precision and in astonishing detail. Together, they tell the tale of where we are, where we came from, and, unless we manage to change America’s direction, where America is headed.
If you missed Bruce Thornton’s recent posting here at Frontpage about what has happened to education in America, I encourage you to read it.
“Today our educational institutions are grubby, rent-seeking businesses, and propaganda organs for illiberal, incoherent ideologies based on the “higher nonsense” that has captured “higher education,” and from there trickled down into K-12 schools.”
That was not the case when Thornton’s university teaching career began in 1977. Today, a serious scholar like Bruce Thornton is no longer welcome. Real scholars have been replaced by propagandists, as America’s universities abandoned their reason for existing.
What is astonishing about this transformation is how quickly it happened. In the span of a single career, America’s educational institutions were transformed. The “higher nonsense” replaced the best that has been known and thought so rapidly that it was fully accomplished before most people noticed. Americans continued donating to their alma mater without realizing it was no longer even the same kind of place it had been when they were there.
The consequences of this revolution are grim, terrible, horrific: the un-making of America. As Thornton writes,
“No wonder the majority of the products of those failed institutions, like Generation Z, support letting murderers go free, censoring speech that challenges their ‘stock notions and habits,; joining the anti-carbon ‘green’ cult, and subjecting children to drag-queen shows and inappropriate sexual curricula.”
These young people have been conditioned to reject America and, beyond that, even to reject simple common sense. The American republic it has been our privilege to know cannot survive a population mis-educated in this way.
We should have known that to allow our schools to be captured as they have been would be fatal to the Republic. After all, Abraham Lincoln warned us: “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” And Lincoln’s warning aside, it’s just common sense. Americans abandoned common sense when we abandoned our schools to people who hate America.
Amazingly, America’s original design was also the result of a revolution in education.
Andrew Browning’s magnificent new book, Schools for Statesmen: The Divergent Educations of the Constitution’s Framers makes that clear. From the book’s jacket:
“Schools for Statesmen explores the fifty-five individual Framers of the Constitution and argues that their different educations help explain their divergent positions at the 1787 Constitutional Convention…The more traditional schools that focused on Greek and Latin classics (Oxford, Harvard, Yale, William and Mary) were deeply conservative institutions resistant to change. But the Scottish colleges and the newer American schools (Princeton, Philadelphia, King’s College) introduced students to a Scottish Enlightenment curriculum that fostered more radical, forward-thinking leaders…Nearly all the delegates who took the lead at the convention had been educated at the newer, innovative colleges…”
A revolution in education profoundly shaped America. And that revolution happened so rapidly that those at the Constitutional Convention who benefited from it got an education that had only recently become available, just as Generation Z got a mis-education that has only recently become available.
Scots—especially John Witherspoon, the President of Princeton and James Madison’s mentor—brought the ideas to America that defined the America we know. Educators trained in Scotland transformed the content and the manner of higher education in America. That transformation made America and changed the world.
The Scottish common sense thinkers had a decisive influence on the Declaration, the Constitution, and The Federalist Papers. It was from them that the Founders got the idea of unalienable rights and it was from them they learned to think in terms of self-evident truths.
The impact of the Scottish common sense thinkers on the American founding, once known to virtually every American, has been largely forgotten. The tragedy of that forgetting inspired me to write my book, Common Sense Nation. I made every effort to tell the whole story as briefly as possible, to provide you, as I wrote in the preface, “the maximum of understanding in the minimum of pages.” I examined the Declaration, the Constitution, and The Federalist Papers. Professor Browning takes a different approach. He keeps his focus on the Constitutional Convention. Instead of striving for brevity, he tells that story in 278 pages of close text and 45 pages of notes of astonishing detail.
Books that make the case for the importance of the Scottish common sense thinkers to the American founding, books like my brief book Common Sense Nation and Browning’s extraordinarily thorough Schools For Statesmen, are rare but very important. They are important because the American system, once so robust, is now evidently breaking down around us. That breakdown is rooted in a counter-revolution in American education. Our political elite and our educational elite have been taught to reject the American idea, and for much longer than many of us are ready to admit, young Americans have been taught in schools and colleges to reject America. We have one political party dedicated to getting rid of the Constitution as fast as they can, and an opposition party that does not seem to know how to restore or even defend the Constitution. Consequently, if we the people are going to rise to the challenge of getting America back on track, we must take it on ourselves to reclaim the American idea.
Robert Curry serves on the board of directors of the Claremont Institute and is the author of Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea and Reclaiming Common Sense: Finding Truth in a Post-Truth World, both from Encounter Books.