Editors’ note: Last fall, the Buckley Program sponsored an essay contest open to student Fellows and others within the Yale community. The topic, tied to our annual conference, was James Burnham’s 1964 book, Suicide of the West. Judged by three Yale professors, the following essay was written by Adrianne Elliott, a Buckley Fellow and rising senior in Saybrook College. She won the third-place prize of $250.
In our society today, liberalism and progressive politics often point toward private sources of education as fountains of ignorance. According to these arguments, traditions passed to children through family or spiritual beliefs delivered through religious institutions and churches often impede societal progress toward equality and harmony. However, these ideals are based not in the presumption of equal opportunity, but in the assumption that humans are all exactly the same and should therefore be treated the same. Nevertheless, reality shows us that each and every person is unique, and those differences are something to be valued and celebrated, for only by being exposed to a variety of perspectives can one obtain a true education.
Today, liberalism has contributed to the suicide of the West through the perpetuation of the idea that a person’s individual heritage, traditions, religion, or culture equates to ignorance. Often, such arguments are based on the idea that difference generates violence and destruction. For example, many self-described liberals argue that an adherence to religion in the modern world is, at best naïve, due to the lack of scientific evidence in a Creator and the incredibly destructive wars historically fought over differences of religion and spiritual beliefs. As a result, they argue that the world would be a more peaceable place if those around them abandoned such archaic beliefs in favor of atheism. Although religion is only one illustration, liberal proponents often further add that any element that serves to divide humanity will destroy a tenuous harmony and balance in a world that can only be maintained through absolute equality.
In order to resolve these issues, liberal policies propose a system of institutionalized education that removes these traditional or cultural elements from the child. However, these policies have been tried in the past through the boarding schools for Native Americans. During this time, the mantra was, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” They ripped families apart and sent children thousands of miles away to boarding school, where they were forced to learn a new language, cut their hair, wear new clothes, eat new food, and forget their past. Although these policies proved catastrophic for generations of Native Americans, they ultimately recovered. Today, indigenous people across the United States and around the world are becoming increasingly engaged in movements to reclaim the culture, heritage, and identity previously ripped away. These policies did not create equality, but declared an entire culture unworthy to preserve. In this way, these liberal arguments of equality ultimately result in the destruction of diversity.
Nevertheless, diversity is the foundation of an exceptional education. Each person is the sum of his or her biology, heritage, experiences, traditions, culture, and education. We are all similar and can all relate on many levels, yet each one of us leaves our own unique signature on this world when we exit. The lessons learned listening to one’s grandfather tell stories about his formative years and the sermons heard while attending church with one’s parents are more central to a person’s sense of being than the algebra lesson at public school. These moments of private education teach a person how to think, and the sum of these experiences creates a way of viewing the world unique to that particular individual. In this way, the private sphere of influence becomes the most important source of education and learning for a child in his or her most formative years.
In order to understand the world around us, we must engage with others to understand these different perspectives. Ultimately, there are very few fixed truths in this world, and the truth can be different for each person. An education informed by a diversity of opinions and perspectives allows an individual to view issues and situations from a variety of angles. In life, it is often impossible to understand a concept without its inverse. For example, we would not know what “hot” means without having experienced “cold.” Even then, each person’s definition and scale of temperature can vary wildly. In the same way that the absence of heat describes cold, diversity of opinion and perspective allows us to truly become educated about the issues of importance in the world around us.
Familial and intermediary institutions are the primary and most important educators in our society today. These private spheres of influence promote and maintain diversity important to the preservation of an advanced education today. Liberalism claims to protect diversity but in reality fears intellectual diversity and attempts to squelch it by silencing dissent in the pulpit, on the campaign trail, in the media, and in traditional educational institutions. Liberal activists attempt to control the educational environment, both public and private, because a well-informed, educated populace is the greatest threat to liberalism.