Lessons on Education from Books Our Children Read

Irate parents at school board meeting

Irate parents at Loudon County, VA, school board meeting. Yahoo! News.

Nearly four decades ago, I produced an educational film entitled Books Our Children Read.1 It documented a constructive approach to resolving parent-teacher conflict over education in a rural Ohio school district, at a time when such conflict was erupting in violence in other American communities.

The film focuses on the study of literature in the English curriculum. But the issues it deals with and the insights it offers are broadly pertinent to other areas of education. And they remain even more relevant today, when American schools are being torn apart by profound disparities between parental values and the “progressive” agenda of the education establishment.

As I wrote in the Study Guide to the film,

What sort of education is possible in an environment of confrontation? Can meaningful education occur if . . . parents feel that their deepest convictions and values may be undermined in the classroom? Can children caught between loyalty to family and identification with school feel other than confused?

In that connection, it is worth remembering the following observations by Thomas Jefferson, quoted in the Books Our Children Read study guide:

To compel a man to [support] the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.

[I]t is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible . . . education of the infant against the will of the father.

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

Who Should Be Teaching Whom?

Recent trends have cast doubt on the assumption that education is exclusively from the top down, because those officially charged with teaching the next generation often seem alarmingly devoid of what Jefferson alluded to as “wholesome discretion.”2

With respect to the issues now roiling American schools—from transgenderism to racism—the view expressed several decades ago by Professor Allan Glatthorn, in the book Dealing with Censorship, remains especially relevant. As further noted in the film’s study guide, he rightly argued that “dialog between schools and the communities [they serve] needs to go far beyond the patronizing condescension and manipulation that too often pass for school public relations.” In his clear-sighted view:

[T]eachers need to show more acceptance and respect for values other than our own. Most of us are intellectuals who see ourselves as liberated, but too often such intellectual independence becomes distorted into a smug conviction that the traditional values of church, country, and family are childish aberrations that must be corrected.

Glatthorn’s sage advice applies equally to today’s school boards and administrators, whose heavy-handed imposition of misguided “progressive” attitudes and policies is being opposed with justified ire by the parents whose children are entrusted to their educational supervision.

Notes

  1. Readers who would like to view a clearer print of the film than that on Vimeo can search for it in libraries on WorldCat.
  2. Regarding dubious ideas all too readily embraced and promoted by today’s education establishment, see “Canary in the Coal Mine of America’s Future,” American Greatness, August 21, 2021; and “Poisoning the Well of Art Education,” Academic Questions, Fall 2021.