The Progressives are winning their war against the academic program and intellectual training.


The war rages on, and advocates of a proper curriculum and corresponding intellectual training have many difficult battles ahead. As Richard Mitchell wrote in 1981,

After sober and judicious consideration, and weighing one thing against another in the interest of reasonable compromise, H. L. Mencken concluded that a startling and dramatic improvement in American education required only that we hang all the professors and burn down the schools. His uncharacteristically moderate proposal was not adopted. Those who actually knew more about education than Mencken did could see that his plan was nothing more than cosmetic and would in fact provide only an outward appearance of improvement. Those who knew less, on the other hand, had somewhat more elaborate plans of their own, and they just happened to be in charge of the schools.

Mencken’s words from many decades ago have proven incisively prescient, as have Mitchell’s. The educational establishment is, in the words of E. D. Hirsch, “an impregnable fortress.”

Writer after writer has accurately denounced it, parents have risen in fury against it, special government commissions have critiqued it—all to no avail. The schools of education, and federal and state departments of education, form what Arthur Bestor called an “interlocking directorate,” championing a vision and a philosophy that they will never renounce.

From time to time, to placate outraged parents, the educational establishment claims to make changes. But under new names, they support essentially the same anti-subject-matter policies. The “change” from look-say to whole language is but one example. Hirsch notes that such reforms “have long dominated the schools.” For instance, “the repudiation of the supposedly deleterious ‘overemphasis’ on [academic] subject matter is a reform that has already been victorious for half a century.”