“You are lost to history”- George Orwell, 1984
Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, is one of the most influential conservatives in America. Moreover, he does more than just talk about it, which also makes him one of the most unique conservatives in America.
And what he has done, for the benefit of anyone who wants to apply, is offer FREE online learning courses, beginning with the Hillsdale staple, Constitution 101. I think their course list runs to 17 now.
I’ve been on Hillsdale’s mailing list for its periodical “Imprimis” for years, and for the past several years I’ve pondered how their courses on the Constitution, American and World History, and Economics, might be bottled and presented to a far larger American audience. You see, we are staring down the barrel of a generation of Americans that is almost totally blank about the basic tools of building a House, growing it and passing it on the next generation – which, according to the late Moses Sands, is the cornerstone of American liberty.
After 300+ years of continuity, there seems to be a sudden break in the line of succession of the American House. Maybe restocking the American gene pool should take on a higher priority.
I’m don’t think we’ve been here before in America, at least on such a massive generational scale. Every generation laments the passing of its wisdom, only to find out that by the time they had become grandparents maybe they hadn’t done so poorly a job after all. That was my father’s thinking, at least, as well as my own, when my sons turned 40. Selfish know-nothings at 20, fine men at 40.
But in terms of keeping the American ship afloat President Arnn is among the first to recognize the drip, drip, drip of the transcendent nature of the American theology of freedom slipping away to the point, looking into the soul of the millennials, there doesn’t seem to be a glimmer of light there. I taught American Government and History to inner city Gen Xer’s (mostly single mothers) in the 1990s at a small Cincinnati business college, where their only purpose for being there was to get an associate degree in computer science, get a job and get off AFDC. (Remember the 1996 Welfare Reform Act?).
As you can imagine, morale was mixed anyway, and their interest in American history and government almost zero. My course was required for the degree, but in the greater scheme of their lives, irrelevant. My self-defined job, then, was to make American government relevant for these 20-somethings, and why it mattered to their lives and their children across the hall in the nursery.
Strangely, I found whatever I was selling, they liked. So, semester after semester the school kept inviting me back, until I finally left to work in the Soviet bloc on a more of less full time basis.
For years I patted myself on the back that I still had the hip teacher’s two-step, and could connect with people about the same age as my sons. But after a decade in the old communist world I learned there were other forces at work besides my hip approach. Even being raised in the inner city, it seemed those students had a set of core understandings about building their own House, and “being American”, that in all likelihood they never learned in school.
I was browsing my website when I ran into an archive search of an article I had written in 2011, which I had totally forgotten about, “Attrition, the Left’s Ace in the Hole”. In it I mentioned that the kids I went to school with in the 50s and who seemed not to be paying attention in class, the C-students, actually were. At least that was how it seemed to we few A-students who always wrote the prize essays on “Why I Love America”. Maybe half a dozen of us.
What is more likely, however, is that these C-steudents were guided by factors having nothing to do with school, but rather from blueprints for their futures they learned around the kitchen table, or out in the garage, or in the kitchen.
They are constitutionalists by instincts, and not by education or training. They paid just enough attention in 4th Grade to pass the test. But they instinctively understood the back-end of the “pursuit of life, liberty and happiness” promise; going out and getting a job, getting a family and building their House, paying little attention to the other political freedoms guaranteed. They never paid much attention to the front end of that promise, where all the underlying philosophy lay hidden. They were never too keen about politics, or even patriotism.
We A-students thought we were elites, but over three generations have seen how that has worked out for the “conservative movement” going forward; no longer we-we-we, but me-me-me.
So, while we squawked at one another, look who showed up to elect Donald Trump and save the country? And redefine “conservatism” to what it always was, a common sense, culture-based ideal of freedom?
Yep. Those C-students who slept through 9th grade civics.
Staring into the blank faces of modern millenials, I wonder if the attrition theme I laid at the Left’s feet raised in that 2011 essay (above) might not, in fact, be working?
Back to Larry Arnn, for years I’d lamented the small market for his important courses, as well as books such as Rush Revere publishes for America’s 4th graders. (4th grade is a seminal point in a child’s history, by the way. It’s when a child wants to believe in heroes, which the Left has known for decades, and explains why they took 4th grade away from George Washington and Neil Armstrong and handed it to Al Gore and polar bears that can’t swim. It is also that point in a child’s life that he/she can just as easily be convinced there is no god as they can be convinced there is, depending solely on the strength of their moral and religious teaching at home.)
I had always wanted to be able to bottle Dr Arnn’s idea behind these courses and make them universal, in a variety of spoon-sized doses, from 4th grade to entry-level college. His on-line courses teach the Constititon through a particular prism, one not found in a standard American Government courses, you know…with enthusiasm. In fact, many (tax-funded) schools are now abandoning American history and government altogether. And wherever taught, almost always by a smarmy little goatee’d Marxist with a sneer on his face, and a snideness about America on his lips.
Remedial Americanism, a (required) 6-hour Introductory Course
Let me make a suggestion.
Testing shows that from 20%-30% of entering college freshmen need remedial training in Math, Reading for Comprehension and English skills. A good estimate would be that as many as 80% of high school grads know nothing about the connection between their government and their about-to-unfold lives (hence, Orwell’s quote at the beginning), yet no test exists for what high school grads know about how the Constitution and blueprint of our government is relevant to their lives going forward. It really isn’t hard to explain.
My experience with inner-city 20-something mothers might be of use.
I’m a few years older than Dr Arnn, and assume his understanding of the millennial mind is greater than my own. But it occurred to me that maybe there are operative buttons that can be pushed with millennials that conventional teaching has missed..
Can we bottle the essence of the American experience as seen from the bottom up, and teach it in say a 6-hour, day-long course?… highlighting the blueprint for the American House behind the Constitution, featuring;
A common morality, a common purpose, the practical importance of reciprocity (“Do unto others…”, Matthew 7:12…only don’t tell them) in developing and protecting the rule of law, free markets and opportunity and reward, arising from merit and hard work,
And above all, gratitude, namely the shoulders we all stand on, both in a direct line of their own House and in the national American line, from the Founders forward. Virtually no American can scour their family history without finding a few C-students, even illiterates, and of course men who touiled with their hands in rolled up sleeves and women who scrubbed floors, all for the purpose of preparing this place for the student. (I have my own way of expressing ingratitude, as peeing on those shoulders, but that’s just me.)
I propose a national plan from Congress to require universities who receive federal tax dollars to require students to have a certificate of completion of just such a Course in Remedial Americanism, plus core curricula requirement in American History and Government.
And keep those little goatee’d Charles Beards teaching Political Science 400-level courses to a diminishing audience of wannabe leftists.