Immigration and Educational Formalism: Is Assimilation a Four Letter Word?

aztlnEvery American knows this nation was built by immigrants therefore, correctly, there is a huge sympathy for immigrants. We are a hospitable nation. At the same time we need to remember immigrants must be assimilated into this unique nation or the United States will cease to be a sanctuary; all the wars, persecution or poverty that people are fleeing will simply be continued here. To assimilate both the children born here and the arriving immigrants requires a robust educational endeavor. This is the Achilles heel for America. If the educational system is corrupted the unique American spirit will be diluted and dissipate into the fog of history. For at least fifty years the public educational system has been increasingly corrupted to the point where we can now say it is treasonous of the American founding principles.

This article will describe the context from which one group of immigrants, Central Americans, are coming from to illustrate the need for education. We will then see what is the education they and native born children are receiving in our public schools.

I will paraphrase a few lines from a recent article in Nexos, a Mexican journal, by Joaquin Villalobos entitled, “The Hell to the South of Mexico” ( The article refers to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

In only the six years between 2007 and 2013 the United States deported 462,000 people,

of whom at least 115,000 were ex-convicts. These people arrived in poor countries

with no capacity to reform or control them… In El Salvador there are far more gang

members than police and Honduras is the most violent country in the world. Three

recent developments: Guatemala has legalized the production, sale and consumption

of drugs, El Salvador has made official deals with gangs, and Honduras has given up

sovereignty of land to transnational corporations. These are indications of poor,

incapable and desperate States. The privatization of security is happening everywhere

but in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador it has changed in a way that removes this

responsibility from the governments. The results are feudal territories, some domin-

ated by the gangs and some by the private security armies… In Guatemala there are

125,000 private security guards and only 22,000 police… What is to be expected for

Mexico? 1. The transformation of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador into a criminal

sanctuary. 2. The development of a relationship between criminals in Mexico and Central America. 3. The gangs will infect and control the southern border. 4. A migration stampede will become a Mexican problem.

Many Americans do not realize that most Central and South America people have been raised in a peasant culture. Please don’t get flustered by my use of the word peasant. It is not used here in any pejorative way. The historical fact is that when Spain conquered this region of the world it was still a feudal state. Spanish feudal society was quite distinct from the culture of Northern European Protestants who by the time of the Spanish conquest had managed to curtain the power of the noble classes and eventually produced the first ‘kingless’ nation, the United States. Peasant refers to a person born into a particular cultural situation, it is not a commentary on their honor or dignity. In a feudal state the peasants neither voted nor held local, state or national offices. Indeed these government offices were held in considerable disdain by peasants because they directly suffered from corrupt officials and high taxes. Therefore, if the American spirit is to raise up self-governing citizens, a government of the people, how can immigrates who have developed skills, perhaps appropriate for their past context, of avoiding taxes and corrupt bureaucracies while customarily taking justice into their own hands, be assimilated? Does anyone doubt that immigrants from Central American need in depth education if they are going to become a part of the American spirit?

So we turn to the basic education the new immigrants and our young children, two groups of future participants in government, will receive. Diane Ravitchi cites from a report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, “if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war…” That was written in 1983 and things have gotten gravely worse since then. She goes on to explain much about how this state of affairs came about. In the late 1960’s, “When colleges ceased to require certain subjects for admission, many high schools could not find a good reason to maintain their requirements for graduation… Pushed by a philosophy of consumerism, the high school curriculum burgeoned with new electives, enrollment in mathematics and science courses diminished, homework and expository writing faded away.” The great increase in High School courses led to a “track” system where three distinct qualities of education were presented in a single school building. “…it was not surprising that the wide divergence in skills and knowledge between students at the top and those at the bottom was exacerbated by the triple-track curriculum, or that High School students could no longer be said to share a common body of knowledge, not to mention a common culture.”

The loss of a common culture was not the inadvertent consequence of a consumer approach to course selection. It was the deliberate plan of the educational philosophy of the Ivy League Schools. E.D.Hirschii, in another 1984 American Scholar article, writes: educational formalism, “…by this I mean the theory that the aim of education is in the schools… is to develop largely generalized skills… to teach how to read, how to write…” These ‘how to’ courses pretended that what was read or written was irrelevant. Formalism believes the text on a cereal box is just as helpful in teaching how to read as are any of the great literary works. Hirsch then compares this approach with what had been done previously. “Noah Webster was the George Washington of the American subject, ‘English,’ and his American Spelling Book alone sold sixty million copies before 1890. He was shrewdly conscious of the connection between language making, culture making and nation making.” And, “Our old school readers, like the McGuffey and the Baker-Thorndike readers, were self-consciously devoted not just to reading skills but to the greatest authors, the noblest moral principles, and the most inspiring stories. In earlier days we did not separate technical skills from the acculturative side of English.” Hirsch gives a concrete example of an American virtue that is put in jeopardy by educational formalism. “The tradition of pluralism is a value and a tradition like any other. Americans do not learn it just by being born in a certain place.” Finally, “From the start, national cultures have been self-conscious artifices. If we turn away from the seductions of educational formalism, we can look forward to an interesting national debate about what knowledge should now be the canonical knowledge of our tribe.” Sadly this has not happened even thirty five years later.

A third writer amplifies the disastrous results of educational formalism. Christiana Hoff Sommersiii in an article, “Ethics without Morals” pulls no punches. She cites an influential and vulgar book, Moral Education, edited in 1970 by Theodore Sizer, then the dean of Harvard School of Education, and his wife. Of this book Sommers writes, “The preface set the tone by condemning the morality of the Christian gentleman, the American prairie, the McGuffey Reader, and the hypocrisy of teachers who tolerate a grading system that is the terror of the young. According to the Sizers, all the authors in the anthology agree the old morality can and should be scrapped. The movement to reform moral education has its seat in the most prestigious institutions of education.” She then goes on to clearly show how this reform is carried out. “The teaching of virtue is not viewed as a legitimate aim of a moral curriculum, but there is no dearth of alternative approaches… Values clarification, according to Sidney Simon, is based on the premise that none of us had the ‘right’ set of values to pass on to other people’s children.” She quotes a bit of the intellectual acumen found in Sidney’s 1973 book, Readings in Values Clarification.

We call this approach ‘moralizing’ although it has also been known as inculcation,

imposition, indoctrination, and in its most extreme form, brainwashing. Moralizing

is the direct or indirect transfer of values from one person to another person or group.

One can only ask, with that kind of reasoning dominating the American school system, what could possibly go wrong?

It only gets worse. Sommers finishes her article reminding us of the following, “… a student trained in practical ethics that has avoided or de-emphasized individual responsibility is simply unprepared for any demand that is not politically or ideologically formulated. The student is placed in the undemanding role of the indignant moral spectator who need not face the comparatively minor corruptions of their own life… For the social-minded reformers, justice is the principle virtue, and social policy is where ethics is really ‘at’. The assumption is that there is an implicit conflict between the just society and the repressive morality of its undemocratic predecessor. An extreme version of this theme is presented in a little book edited by Trotsky, ‘Their Morals and Ours’, with its searing attack on the ‘conservative banalities of bourgeois morality’… The fate of those societies that have actually succeeded in replacing personal morality with social policy is the going price for ignoring the admonition of Max Weber; ‘He who seeks salvation of the soul – his own or others – should not seek it along the avenue of politics.”

A government of the people requires that the people have clear, vigorous virtues of self-discipline. The reality of natural law never got the liberal-progressive memo that there are no absolute virtues. The need for teaching high moral virtues to both native born children and newly arrived immigrants is a concern of life or death for the American dream. Without personal virtues chaos will come to the population. To control chaos there is only the tyranny of the right or the left. This is not political theory. This is the reality of human society.

The refusal of the public school system to correct the ideology of educational formalism can lead in only one direction, the weakening of the “government of the people” and a strengthening of a government of an ‘elite’ or, perhaps, a government of bureaucrats who no longer respond to elected officials. Formalism combined with deliberate suppression of teaching the morality of personal responsibility in public education will lead not only to the loss of the American vision for a free world but to an increasingly oppressive police state as the homeland descends into the disorder of hopelessly conflictive social values.

i Ravitch, Diane; “The Continuing Crisis”, The American Scholar, Spring 1984, pgs. 183,190,191

ii Hirsch, E.D.; “English and the Perils of Formalism”, The American Scholar, Summer 1984, pgs.371,373,376,379

iii Sommers, Christina Hoff; “Moral Education in America”, The American Scholar, Summer 1984, pgs. 381,382,388

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