(Reprint from Baylyblog first posted March 4, 2004)
Mark Steyn contributed an interesting piece to the January 2004 New Criterion, Expensive illiterates: victimhood & education; in which (while frying larger fish) he laments the failure of our occupying forces to exercise as high a degree of control over Iraq’s educational establishment as we have over other aspects of Iraqi national life.
Ever since the coalition victory last spring, the Americans have been in charge of the Iraqi school system. On the face of it, this should be no different from any other sphere of administration under the liberators: British and American soldiers train the new Iraqi army, British and American police train the new Iraqi constabulary, British and American civil servants train the new Iraqi public service. But …no one from the entire American educational establishment seems to have been allowed anywhere near Iraq’s schools….
This is very different from the way the British Empire dealt with the matter in the days when thousands of schoolmarms from the Welsh valleys and the industrial Midlands were dispatched to remote colonial outposts. John Southard of Emory University has characterized imperial education thus: ‘Colonizing governments realize that they gain strength not necessarily through physical control, but through mental control. This mental control is implemented through a central intellectual location, the school system.’
A couple weeks ago I had a chance to talk with the father of a young woman who has been coming to Sunday school at our church at the invitation of one of our church families. Recent immigrants from India, and Hindu, I asked the father what the common attitude was in India towards the British.
He responded by speaking with pride of his nation’s historical association with the British, making it clear he nursed no bitterness.
I asked why, in his judgement, there was such a different post-colonial experience in Africa?
He attributed it to the “British education” he and his countrymen had received, pointing out this was not the normal colonial experience in Africa.
So I’m inclined to agree with Steyn, that the lack of will demonstrated by our leaving intact the Iraqi educational system and its hierarchy is not hopeful for permanent change in Iraq. It’s likely, though, that our failure to exercise such leadership is not post-colonial sensitivity to charges of Western imperialism, but an indication of the loss within our own nation of a vision of the nature and purpose of education itself.
We are not failing to inculcate the Christian truths at the heart of the Western educational system simply because we’re afraid of being called imperialists, but because we no longer hold those truths ourselves.
Sad for the Iraqis who, apparently, will continue to suffer the benighted and oppressive culture that is the product of Islamic doctrine; but sadder for the public school systems and their young charges here in the United States who have forgotten so much and are now at the mercy of every wind of doctrine.
The atheistic doctrine is gaining currency, even among Christians, that an education provided by the common government should be entirely emptied of religious character…
If every party in the state has the right of excluding from the public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes most must give way to him that believes least, and then he that believes least must give way to him that believes nothing, no matter in how small a minority the atheists and agnostics may be…
On this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States system of national popular education will be the most efficient and wide instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.
-A. A. Hodge in 1887. (Hodge was a professor of theology at Princeton.)
American high school graduates are among the most sensitive illiterates in the world.
-Allan Bloom quoted in Mark Steyn, “Expensive illiterates: victimhood & education, in The New Criterion, January 2004, Volume 22, Number 5, pp. 5-17.