How Education Protects or Destroys Sanctuary

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How Education Protects of Destroys Sanctuary

Rev. Donald A. Wehmeyer

A sanctuary will be destroyed if what the people are fleeing is not filtered out. The primary filter to keep out what is being fled is an education that explains why and how their new home is different. By adopting the philosophy of “educational formalism” the public school system has lost the ability to explain why and how the American sanctuary works. This is the Achilles heel that can destroy the American sanctuary.

To illustrate the point we will begin looking at a specific group of sanctuary seekers, Central Americans. We will then explain how educational formalism fails both the new arrivals and native born children.

Central American Sanctuary Seekers

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To give a brief picture of the Central Americans who are looking for sanctuary, I will paraphrase a few lines from a recent article by Joaquin Villalobos entitled, “The Hell to the South of Mexico” ( Hell, in 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 dominated 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.

People Bring Their Coping Skills with Them

Why are things so bad? 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 the word peasant. It is not used here in any pejorative way. Peasant refers to a person born into a particular cultural situation, it is not a commentary on their honor or dignity. The historical fact is that when Spain conquered Central America it was still a feudal state. Spanish feudal society was quite distinct from the culture of Northern European Protestants. The Protestants, by the time of the conquest, had begun to curtail the power of the nobility and eventually produced the first ‘kingless’ nation in history, the United States. This is what created the American sanctuary. In America the government was not an entitled nobility but a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

In a feudal state the peasants were not allowed to vote or serve in official roles. Often the peasants held the officials in considerable disdain because they suffered from their endless corruption. Consequently even today, Central Americans who arrive in the U.S. sanctuary bring with them the coping skills they developed during the centuries of feudalism: avoid taxes, dodge bureaucratic regulations, don’t trust officials, pay bribes and when all else fails, take justice into your own hands. Although understandable in their past context, this way of doing things cannot continue once they arrive in the sanctuary if the sanctuary is to survive.

Public Education in the United States Today

What then is the education of the immigrants and native born children of the sanctuary? Since the late 1960’s, Diana Ravitch writes, “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 Common Culture

The loss of a common culture was the deliberate plan of the Ivy League Schools.  E.D.Hirsch[i], in another 1984 American Scholar article, explains: educational formalism, “…by this I mean the theory that the aim of education … is to develop largely generalized skills… to teach how to read, how to write…”  These ‘how to’ courses were based on the idea that what is read or written is irrelevant. Formalism believes that when teaching to read, the text on a cereal box is just as important as the text of a classical author like Walt Whitman. Hirsch then compares this approach with what had been done previously. “Noah Webster was…shrewdly conscious of the connection between language making, culture making and nation making… 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.” 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.

The Loss of Morality

A third writer amplifies the disastrous results of educational formalism.  Christiana Hoff Sommers[ii] in, “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, “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.”

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

The Loss of Personal Responsibility

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 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 sanctuary.  Without self-control chaos will overcome the population.  To control chaos there are only two choices, tyranny or personal self-control.  This is not political theory.  This is the reality of human society.

The Loss of Sanctuary

The continuation of educational formalism can lead in only one direction, the weakening of the “government of the people”. Combined with the deliberate suppression of teaching the morality, the loss of common culture and the loss of personal responsibility the loss sanctuary is a clear danger. In its place will be a government of an ‘elite’, a return to feudalism, as people prefer to live as peasants rather than live in chaos.

Grandfather knew best, “It is better to keep the devil out than to drive him out.”


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

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

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

The Rev. Dr. Donald Wehmeyer was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He is a graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Master of Divinity, 1981), and received a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Presbyterian Seminary (1998). He was a Millard Scholar at Union Presbyterian Seminary in 1999. Rev. Wehmeyer has served in the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico since 1981.

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