The late American philosopher Richard Rorty (d. 2007) in describing his assessment of the role of university professor wrote: “When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization.” The re-education imperative is one that he, “like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” Rorty explains to the “fundamentalist” parents of his students: “we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.” He helpfully explains that “I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft [domination] of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.”
The sociologist Alvin Gouldner in his book The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class set forth a number of the historical developments that were decisive in the formation of the revolutionary intellectual class. Among the factors is the process of secularization which de-sacralizes authority and enables challenges to theological traditions. Another factor was the extension of non-church public schooling. The colleges and universities in particular generate “dissent, deviance, and the cultivation of an authority-subverting culture of critical discourse.” And the school teachers at all levels conceive and fulfill their tasks as representatives of (the abstract) society as a whole (whatever that is), thus distanced from and with no allegiance or obligation to the values of the parents of their students. A related factor is the structure of the new educational system: “increasingly insulated from the family system,” thereby situated to serve as “an important source of values among students divergent from those of their families.” In both form and content (which are not so neatly divisible, by the way) the state educational enterprise has been leveraged to missionary ends, further undermining parental authority and replacing its formative function.
Law Professor Samuel Levinson has with welcome candor revealed that it is not due to his sympathy for certain religious students that he prefers that public grade schools grant limited exemptions to those students with conscientious objections to portions of the curriculum. Rather, such measures are calculated to mollify those religious students, thereby keeping them in the secularizing environment of the government school where they are likely to have their views transformed. With just enough solicitude for such students’ interests, they may be convinced to stay put, and thus be “lured away from the views—some of them only foolish, others, alas, quite pernicious—of their parents.”
To push these [Christian] students from the public schools . . . will assure that they will in fact be educated within institutions that are, from my perspective at least, far more limited, and indeed, “totalitarian” than anything likely to be found within a decent public school. My desire to “lure” religious parents back to the public schools thus has at least a trace of the spider’s web about it.
And there’s more than a trace of irony in his assigning “totalitarian” levels as he plots means to manipulate the worldviews of children by coaxing them to remain in institutions designed for that very purpose. Spider’s web, indeed.
The proselytizing purpose and effect of herding the kids into secular formative venues to ensure they don’t turn out like their parents is celebrated by Stephen Macedo. “[W]e should accommodate dissenters when doing so helps draw them into the public moral order. . . . Will the refusal to accommodate religious complaints about public schooling drive religious families out of public schools and into Christian schools?” If that would be the result, “then we have a powerful pragmatic argument for accommodation.” Macedo is refreshingly forthcoming about “the transformative ambitions of liberalism.” Acknowledging that the children of “Fundamentalists” are future participatory citizens, he sees the importance of exercising leverage over their moral and intellectual development to deliver them from family influence and impose a new outlook.
If parents want their children always to be guided solely by sectarian religious teachings—both in politics and elsewhere—then their view of good citizenship is at odds with the liberal one. . . . We have good reason to hope that there will be fewer families raising such children in the future.
We should, therefore, preserve liberal institutions, practices, rituals, and norms that psychologically tax people unequally, for if that has the effect of turning people’s lives—including their most “private” beliefs—in directions that are congruent with and supportive of liberalism, thank goodness it does.
Thus does he insist that we “should not be concerned to make it equally easy for Fundamentalist Protestants and modernist Protestants to pass along their beliefs to their children.” And he later concludes: “The extinction of many of the communities that pose truly radical alternatives to liberal democratic political principles is to be welcomed.” Of course, not only to be welcomed, but be an aim of our transformative liberal social order.
The monopoly authority to centrally influence how young people understand the world is quite a prize. As we have explored in past posts (see, e.g., here and here), the idea of the religious neutrality of secularism is a myth. Secularism is a rival religion. But the myth of its non-religious character secures its governing role in our system, due to the constitutional interpretation which hands civic control exclusively to the “non-religious.” (It’s all in the categorizing, you see.) From that position of authority it is uniquely empowered to fulfill its own Great Commission to go and make disciples. Its control over the State Church of Education gives it a tremendous competitive advantage.