6/08 Education Or Indoctrination

Education Or Indoctrination
Dr. Alan Kors
Dr. Alan Kors is the founder and Chairman of FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE litigates on behalf of students and professors who have been subjected to the Stalinist tactics of the politically correct crowd dominating American education. Pro-Second Amendment cases are part of FIRE’s repertoire. He was a 2008 Bradley Foundation award winner for his work with FIRE and other battles he has fought for academic freedom. His remarks were given at the June, 2008 Kennedy Center awards ceremony.

We live in an age of the sad degradation of education and public debate — in our schools, in our universities, and in those media tragically or maliciously influenced by an intellectual class that simultaneously enjoys the benefits of liberty and the right to dissent, even while it seeks to discredit and cheapen the very institutions, sacrifices, risk, effort, and values that make its own freedom possible. We and our children, on the whole, are educated, entertained, and informed by individuals who have shut their eyes and hearts to the unspeakable failures of illiberal and centrally planned societies, seeing only words where they should see suffering.

Faced with the accomplishments of their own society, however, Western intellectuals have the sensitivities of the princess and the pea. In the midst of unparalleled social mobility, they cry “caste.” In a society of unparalleled bounty, they cry either “poverty” or “consumerism,” depending on the moment of the economic cycle. In a culture of ever more varied, self-defined, and satisfying lives, they cry “alienation.” In a society that has liberated women, racial minorities, religious minorities, and sexual minorities to an extent that no one could have dreamed possible just 50 years ago, they cry “oppression.” In a civilization of boundless private charity, they cry “avarice.” In an economy in which hundreds of millions have been free riders upon the risk, knowledge, capital, and military sacrifice of others, they cry “exploitation.” In a society that broke, on behalf of merit, the seemingly eternal chains of station by birth, they cry “injustice.”

At times, most of us have felt some despair at our current moment of history. The cause of individual rights, of the rule of law, of separation of powers, of legal equality, and of deep belief in one’s own free society appears to be losing not only its rightful place in the public square, but, more and more, the resonant voice of creative self-confidence, a self-confidence that it has earned in the light of historical experience. Despair, however, is never an option.

Over 60 years ago, in the midst of catastrophic war, and in a world in which the only public debates were among collectivist fascism, collectivist communism, collectivist parliamentary socialism, and collectivist New Deal economic and social planning, a voice, seemingly in the wilderness, broke through that monopoly of discussion: Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. He rearranged the pieces of the historical puzzle, and, for new and open minds, the truths about individual liberty, voluntary exchange, and the abyss of totalizing societies became clear. Almost everything he urged was confirmed by reality itself, and he planted seeds that changed the world. Who could have predicted that the future could belong to liberty if liberty only would believe in itself?

Take heart. It does require time for the reality principle to play itself out in human affairs, but reality will out against political and moral superstition and myth. Our founders had it right, even if parts of their own truth themselves took long to bear full fruit: free individuals accomplish the great things, if government is restrained from interfering with their rights; legal equality is the great hope of mankind; freedom of conscience is a sine qua non of a decent society; and when liberty and learning at last go hand in hand, a republic can flourish. Let us all pick up the privilege of fighting — as confidently, tolerantly, rationally, and effectively as we can — for those cherished things that make us free. Thank you.