Chapter 2 of The Case for CCE is titled “The Rise and Fall of Secular Education in America.” Wilson tells a disturbing story — a story of the transformation of education in America from a distinctly religious activity under the Lordship of Christ and open to all to a distinctly secular activity that is the right of all and sufficient because of man alone. Wilson traces the devolution of education from Mann to Dewey to Adler around the central principle of education’s secularization: its tie to democracy.
Democracy is a treasured word in the American lexicon, but it has gained a stature our founders never intended it to have. If you have qualms with that sentence, I encourage you to read Wilson lest I misstate him. However, it is pretty clear that the democratization of education — not to speak of America as a whole — has had massively deleterious effects.
While Wilson has great esteem for Mortimer Adler (especially his push for high standards in American education), he nonetheless critiques him heavily.
Adler’s approach to education was democratic because of where his faith was placed. A Christian desires to bring education to all, but not because every person is inherently good and deserves to be educated. Rather, all people are sinners, but the grace of God has been revealed to us, and we should want to teach all people so that they might come to salvation and grow in their gratitude for His grace. But the democrat places his faith in man, and the provision of education is a matter of justice, not a matter of kindness and grace.
Wilson notes the educrats’ and reformers’ inveterate hostility to orthodox Christianity, and the fruit of that hostility: the establishment of secular education. R.L. Dabney, the 19th-century Southern Presbyterian theologian, saw it coming with remarkable prescience. “Make [education] godless, and [the child’s] life is made godless.” Christians would want Christian fruit to grow from the now-secular tree, which is impossible. Behind this new educational methodology was the myth of neutrality. “There were many areas of life that could be studied apart from any reference to the authority of Scripture.” The pluralistic nature of American life came to be accepted not as a reality requiring missionary work but “rather as an authoritative voice, requiring every practitioner of every religion to submit and fit in.”
And this is why even today we hear “pluralism” as a code word requiring Christians to shut up. Of course, we are a pluralistic country. And ancient Rome was a pluralistic empire, but Jesus still told His disciples to preach the Gospel there.
Pluralism is simply polytheism in another guise. But “Christian education cannot be sustained apart from the exclusive worship of the Triune God. And such worship cannot be offered to Him and to demos” — the god of democracy.
This is pretty strong medicine, medicine that not all are willing to gulp down. But if Wilson is right, and if the story he tells is a true story, then the Christian church as some serious repenting to do. Thankfully, there are many families who see the situation, at least some part of it, for what it is and have formed Christian schools dedicated to the Lordship of Christ. In any case, faithfulness to the Triune God of the Bible is the answer to what ails us.
Wilson is telling a story that most have not heard. With strong words and pointed statements, he is building his case. I hope you will continue to hear him out.