Liberal Education and Political Freedom


I don’t always put my education policy writing here on HT but this seems of particular interest – a piece I just published on liberal education and political freedom. Truly liberal education inculcates an understanding of truth and the human mind upon which political freedom depends.

A hundred years ago, educator J. Gresham Machen summed up the connection between liberal education and political freedom: “Reasonable persuasion can thrive only in an atmosphere of liberty. It is quite useless to approach a man with both a club and an argument. He will very naturally be in no mood to appreciate our argument until we lay aside our club.” Machen even testified to the U.S. Congress against a scheme for federal control of education on grounds that it would remove freedom for diverse ideas in education. (The more things change, the more they stay the same!)

Illiberal education begins not with the selfish desire to indoctrinate and manipulate (that comes later) but with a conviction that truth is constructed, not discovered:

It is out of a sincere conviction that freedom of thought produces only incoherence and fragmentation, not knowledge. If the human mind does not have a power of reason able to discover truth, we ought to demand a strong social authority because that will be our only source of knowledge.

If this illiberal view of human nature were right, highly controlled social environments such as OU would become islands of harmony and agreement. The continual degeneration of such institutions into fiercer and fiercer conflict, leading to schemes of indoctrination and brutal suppression of dissent, shows how wrong the illiberals are. Just look at how the attempt to create a women’s march on Washington ahead of the Trump inaugural was torn apart by infighting among the mutually hostile factions that make up the coalition of the illiberal left. The illiberal project eats itself, as parties fight each other to control the social instruments of indoctrination.

Because I am not a university administrator, I welcome your free thoughts in reply!

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