Little Boxes of the Mind, Conclusion

A boy brought up reading Homer and Scott and Stevenson would not be impressed by comic book banalities that have embarrassed even that model of right-thinking,  Martin Scorsese.  I well recall my own impression, when someone dragged me to see the first Star Wars film.  I found it vastly inferior, special effects aside, to Flash Gordon serials or that superb piece of trash fantasy, Gene Autry and the Phantom Riders.  In literature as in film, the quality of our popular trash has declined—and precipitously.  Our parents once read H. Rider Haggard (She), Earl Derr Biggers (Charlie Chan), and John P. Marquand (Mr. Moto), but our children make do with J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight).  If those last two names do not fill you with disgust, then, if you wish to find the source of the problem, you need only look in the mirror.

Everyone who has opened his eyes at one or another point during the past 100 years is aware that the constant and precipitous decline in American (and more recently European) culture is due in large part to government schooling and the (mostly) unlettered government operatives who crowd the rolls of the NEA.  But, it is easier to spot the problem than to find a solution.  The problem lies, at least to some extent, with the widespread ignorance of what education is, or, rather, what it is supposed to accomplish.  Since I do not propose to define the whole purpose of education, I shall have to content myself with speaking about one primary goal of any educational system, no matter how rudimentary:  Paideia. 

The Greek word paideia (from pais, child) means child-rearing, and in its educational aspect it refers to what social theorists sometimes call "enculturation," that is, the acquisition of a hitherto alien culture or the transmission of the cultures of the tribe or nation to the next generation.  Then, what is culture?

Anthropologists use "culture" to mean all the institutions and rituals that make us who we are.  The Latin cultura [from colere, to till or take care of] can refer to the care and nurture of various things such as fields (hence agriculture).  In English we still speak of culturing pearls or bacteria, but the more relevant and lively derivative word is "cultivate".  One can cultivate a field or a taste for good wine and good music. 

If the root meaning of culture means something like the fostering or nurturing of growth, what is it that is being grown in the medium of culture, either in the sense of high art or in the anthropological sense?  The obvious answer is mature human beings.  As the social anthropologist Paul Bohannon has written:

  Into every culture and every civilization, year after year, hordes of uncultured "barbarians" descend in the form of newborn babies.  In every society a major-- indeed, an overwhelming--amount of social energy must be spent in making cultured creatures out of this human plasm....The habits that are acquired by youngsters are part of the culture in accordance with which they are brought up.

The object of cultural education, its product, are human beings who have acquired the habits that are necessary for life in their society.  More specifically, it is their character or their personality that is formed by the culture.  Some parts of our culture are universal: All over the world people live in families, worship gods, and sing songs about their ancestors; nonetheless, in practice, each culture is specific: In some cultures a man might have two or three wives, worship a snake as a god, and sing a tune that we could not recognize as music.

Although many ethnic traits are rooted in genetic inheritance, the peculiarities of national character--the things that make the French different from the Chinese--depend a great deal on the differences between French and Chinese cultures.  This includes business practices, political systems, even our conceptions of right and wrong.  Change the habits, says the anthropologist, and you have changed the culture; but, says the political reformer, change the culture and you change the habits and character of the people, and when you have done that, you have made a revolution.

Change the character and you have changed the nation.  A culture based on casual promiscuity, Gaia-worship, and mistranslations of Hindu and Mayan literature will produce an entirely different national character from one based on Homer and Dante.  While cultural revolutions replace one political class and ideology with another, they also subvert the character and morality of the people, destroy their myths and symbols, and reinvent a new national (or international) identity.  They call it "diversity," but the precise name for this is cultural genocide, or, in its most malignant form, spiritual terrorism.  In the name of diversity, they abolish all the distinctions and variety that gave life to our cultural traditions. 

If the effect of modern public schooling has been cultural genocide, it does not seem at all unfair to say, after so many decades of destruction, that the object is also cultural genocide.  The emergency remedies most urgently needed are as obvious as the first headache remedy we should recommend to a man who kept on hitting his head with a hammer:  Quit doing it!  There can be no fixing of public schooling, so long as the conspiracy of teachers unions and government bureaucrats is empowered to destroy the minds and characters of American children.  To send our children to public schools is a bit like selling them to the insidious Dr. Fu-Man Chu for one of his evil experiments that were explicitly aimed at destroying western culture and eliminating European man. 

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

3 Responses

  1. Roger McGrath says:

    “They call it ‘diversity,’ but the precise name for this is cultural genocide.” In nearly every piece Tom Fleming writes there is a line or two that could go into Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

  2. James D. says:

    Dr. McGrath,

    I stumbled on a youtube video of your talk about Ed Ramsey. I enjoyed it greatly. Are any of your other lectures available?

  3. Dot says:

    Dr. Fleming: I think one can be born into the same culture, the same household and the same neighborhood but still take a different path. It all depends upon how parents raise the children. One child can take a different path than another even though he/she had the same education through high school. We are not made of blocks of wood. It reminds me of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
    “To be or not to be, that is the question:
    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
    And by opposing end them”…

    One can take a passive stance and “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” or fight and “take arms against a sea of troubles”.

    You either do nothing, become spiritually paralyzed, and lose or fight. I’m not thinking about someone who is physically incapacitated for some reason.