For Truly Liberal Progress, Leave Parents Free To Educate As They Wish

Michael Hamilton
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Posted: Jul 11, 2016 1:45 PM
For Truly Liberal Progress, Leave Parents Free To Educate As They Wish

Limiting parents’ choice of educators, methods, and venues attacks society’s chances of being populated with ordered minds.

Distinguishable mainly by the ability to think critically, an ordered mind is inherently valuable. It is also useful for creating and preserving a free, just, tolerant society. Thus, to limit educational choice is to limit social justice and tolerance.

My wife and I enjoy great liberty in our state to cultivate our children’s minds by avoiding so-called “progressive” liberal education and instead imparting a classically liberal education—i.e., one befitting a free person—in partnership with a classical Christian home school co-op. The day may come, as it has for homeschool families in other states, when families like ours are less free.

In Massachusetts, homeschool families not sufficiently “visible in the community” have said they face intrusive inquiries from the state for alleged educational neglect.

In Minnesota, a school district threatened parents of a 17-year-old child with legal action in December 2015 for not filing a notice of intent to homeschool, required only for children 16 and younger.

In Missouri, the Swearingen family was summoned in March 2016 to appear before a nonexistent court or else risk losing custody of their children. (The summons was quashed after the Home School Legal Defense Association intervened.)

Such policies and actions obstruct parents from fulfilling their responsibility to shape their children’s minds in their children’s best interests. These are just a few examples of assaults on parents’ freedom to educate their children unmolested by petty chieftains.

The upshot, at least, is petty chieftains have something to teach us about an ordered mind.

You may have heard the legend of the old Oxford don who delivered an astounding lecture rooted in the strengths and flaws of Zeus—chief of the Olympian gods, divine adulterer, and patricidal slayer of his infanticidal father, Cronus. Next, the professor held forth on the strengths and flaws of Agamemnon—the Greek chieftain who sacrificed his daughter, waged war on Troy, and stole Achilles’ concubine (whom Achilles had stolen first). When the divine and mortal chiefs could not have seemed more different, the professor seamlessly linked Agamemnon's attributes back to Zeus.

After the lecture, a young scholar who had fallen behind in her note-taking asked to borrow her professor’s notes. “Certainly, my dear,” he said, handing the young woman a used envelope. As he walked away, the student turned it over and found just three words on the back: “Zeus Agamemnon Zeus.” The professor’s essentially noteless lecture had sprouted entirely from the fertile soil of his ordered mind.

It takes an ordered mind to discern similarities among disparities—common ground between unlike groups, such as those that fill Western societies. The Enlightenment critic Samuel Johnson was right: Only “men of learning” can combine “dissimilar images … apparently unlike.” Generating insights clumsily “yoked by violence together” is hard enough for intellectuals. It is harder still, without an ordered mind, to articulate “that which has been often thought, but was never before so well expressed”—Alexander Pope’s definition of wit.

That is why, when I taught American literature and government, I kept an envelope marked “Zeus Agamemnon Zeus” pinned to the wall opposite the podium in my classroom—to challenge myself to order my mind and prove worthy of my audience. I’m out of the classroom now, but a similar envelope hangs over my home office desk as I instruct new audiences and as my wife and I cultivate ordered minds among our most important audience: our children.

We want our children to contribute to society—to make it more free, diverse, and just. We believe to do so they will need ordered minds. New and natural ideas do not spring from uncultivated intellects. Nor do they spring from monolithic, one-size-fits-all, government schools nor from petty state and local tyrants who mire in bureaucratic muck parents who resist the government mold.

The path from restricted educational choice to an intolerant, unjust society is easy to trace. Less freedom in education must lead to greater ideological similitude—which means less tolerance. (Mere monolithic agreement is neither tolerant nor diverse.)

Ideological similitude also reduces society’s inclination to think critically—the hallmark of an ordered mind and the muscle that lifts, sifts, and sorts ideas into two categories: those making humans more free, just, and humane and those making us less so.

The best thing progressives can do to ensure the post-Millennial generation progresses beyond its parents is to leave those parents free to till their children’s intellectual soil. Society will reap the harvest.