Education conservatives and political liberals are — or at least ought to be — natural allies, writes Mark Bauerlein at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brainstorm blog.
“Education conservatives believe that liberal education should be centered on a core body of knowledge. In the humanities and “softer” social-science fields, all students should study a set of books, ideas, artworks, theories, events, and personages more or less stable over time. Those items are chosen on a variety of grounds: aesthetic excellence, historical impact, intellectual brilliance, ethical positions, etc. They may contradict one another and represent vastly different people and places and outlooks. The important thing is that the learning of them produces a thoughtful, informed, and responsible intelligence.
Education conservatives catch a lot of flack from both the left and the right however “one ideology does jibe nicely with education conservatism,” Bauerlein notes, ”political liberalism.” This is a point that’s at the heart of E.D. Hirsch’s work, and indeed Bauerlein quotes from Hirsch’s most recent book, The Making of Americans, to explain the natural alliance:
“I am a political liberal, but once I recognized the relative inertness and stability of the shared background knowledge students need to master reading and writing, I was forced to become an education conservative. The tacit, intergenerational knowledge required to understand the language of newspapers, lectures, the Internet, and books in the library is inherently traditional and slow to change. Logic compelled the conclusion that achieving the democratic goal of high universal literacy would require schools to practice a large measure of educational traditionalism.”
“To Hirsch, educational conservatism is the best curriculum for ensuring the kind of social mobility and access essential to liberty and equality,” writes Bauerlein. ”One way to keep low-income and disadvantaged youths in that downward place through adulthood is precisely to deny them the knowledge that would allow them to enter and remain in college, and to join middle- and high-income spheres that do, indeed, demand a certain level of cultural literacy,” he concludes.