Long Live Academic Freedom

Long Live Academic Freedom

Geoffrey Botkin
June 14, 2015

In 1993 my wife Victoria performed a counter-revolutionary act. She handed a well-worn, red spiral-bound book to our six-year-old daughter. Our daughter could not read, but that was precisely the point. The book was Sam Blumenfeld’s work on phonetic English. After a few days of reading over the basic sounds and alphabetic code with her mother, our daughter concluded, “Well, that was easy; I can’t see any reason why Ben couldn’t do that.” Ben was her four-year-old brother. Within a few days of being led through the book by his big sister, he too was reading English. Today Ben has sons of his own, and will shortly introduce them to the architecture of academic freedom, as presented so straightforwardly by Sam Blumenfeld.

Blumenfeld was felled this month by leukemia. He was 88. How many 20th century thinkers will leave a positive legacy that will extend into the 22nd? Sam Blumenfeld will. He was one of the first to recognize, back in the 1970s, the potential of the home education movement to return academic freedom and integrity to America. He also appreciated the stifling power of the public schooling cartel to keep families intimidated, ignorant, and confined to the system. He started providing simple tools to parents trying to escape forced government schooling. Some of Blumenfeld’s most quoted books were short, punchy histories of public schooling. The books connected little-known policies from Jimmy Carter’s federal offices of education backward to the 17th century social engineers who knew exactly how American culture could be transformed into a socialist, anti-Christian, anti-academic leviathan. These revolutionary utopians planned to invert American culture through centralized control of education. And they were succeeding, because parents blindly delegated “education” to revolutionary schoolmarms who took care of the children. They learned to do this in school.

Education Is Not Glorified Childcare

The dawning of the Reagan administration saw the nascent religious right scrambling for seats at the policy tables in Washington. They fancied themselves traversing the corridors of power, wrangling the big issues of the day onto the front page of the Washington Post. Busy and important with the “important issues” of the day, they put up their dukes with Ted Kennedy staffers, groaned about Soviet puppets, argued with demonstrators on the Mall, convened working lunches, harped at Bennett Johnston, and positioned recruits for the next elections. But they refused to give any serious thought to education policy. What possible importance could child’s play have on the future of a nation?

Every morning the powerful champions of this moralistic majority sent their children to the temples of political indoctrination, where those children were groomed to be willing allies of the rising amoral majority. The kids of the Religious Right were schooled every day by the Religious Left, and it was not child’s play.

By the end of the century, the Religious Right had little to show for their power lunches and press conferences. Two prominent leaders admitted that the new right had failed. They had conserved nothing of importance; they had changed nothing of significance in the corridors of power. While they were busy gaining Republican “momentum,” they were losing the minds and hearts of their children.

Thanks to the government schoolroom’s power to crush individuality and bring about mind-numbed conformity, leftism became America’s universal and dominant worldview at the precise moment that the Religious Right refused to take education seriously as a policy issue. Children of the right were easily subsumed into the statist culture. Duly ashamed of their heritage, they laundered their abused consciences by quietly supporting the destructive leftist policies of the 1990s. Their Southern Baptist mommies also conformed, and voted for Bill Clinton – twice. The centralized worldview had taught everyone that right was now politically incorrect. Especially if it was religiously right. America entered the new century suffering under pessimism, family tension, moral confusion and academic stupidity.

Blumenfeld’s Counter-Revolution

How had the Left so easily changed everything? Through the same religious revolution that had been proceeding apace since the early 19thcentury. Change a nation’s religion, and you have changed the nation’s culture. It is through centralized schooling that the convictions, theology, attitudes and behaviors of entire cultures can be revolutionized.

Sam Blumenfeld knew this, but his voice was a lonely one in the ‘80s. Yet his powerful counter-revolutionary ideas were completely understandable. He gave America blunt, historical reality. To those who would listen, he also provided workable, long-term solutions to the ongoing devastation of forced public schooling. One of his first reality-bombs showed Americans that Public Education was not part of America’s legacy of freedom, but a dangerous, recent import of European statist authoritarianism.

"The plain, unvarnished truth,” he wrote, “is that public education is a shoddy, fraudulent piece of goods sold to the public at an astronomical price. It's time the American consumer knew the extent of the fraud which is victimizing millions of children each year."

Government schooling was never a tradition of the Founders. It was not the institutionalization of boys that gave men like Sam Adams, Patrick Henry and Daniel Webster their character, education or wisdom. Public Education never belonged to parents, nor was it intended to. The teacher’s oak desk in little Johnny’s classroom may be old, but everything in the teacher’s pedagogy was recently designed to make Johnny unfit for self-government, freedom, and moral heroism of any kind.

Public Education was first forced on unwilling Boston parents as a completely unwanted compulsory law, passed in 1852, after parents had enjoyed 200 years of educational freedom in that city. The forced collection of new taxes funded revolutionary teacher training centers.

Blumenfeld’s work showed us that government-mandated schooling has never been American, nor Christian, nor academic, nor Constitutional. There were plenty of his own warnings for contemporary parents, but he provided valuable historic warnings, like those of Herman Humphrey in 1820, who predicted that public education could give us a government that resembled an “iron despotism” or an “intoxicated anarchy.” And Humphrey had reason to be concerned. As early as 1816, Robert Owen formed the Institute for the Formation of Characteri>, to deliver children from religious influence in Scotland. Owen took children away from parents he considered "victims" of a religious society and started a secular school that would be imitated worldwide, most notably in statist Prussia.

Owen stated, "Give me a colony of infants; I will suppress all erroneous reasoning and all false conclusions; ...I will then so educate my children that they will grow up to despise those things which now they most value, and unite in a community of interest which will end in universal brotherly love, and unity."

Owen's son became an American congressman who pushed socialist infant education with great resolve, asking, "Who doubts the omnipotence of National Education? The religion of the world is the sole cause of all the disunion, hatred, uncharitableness, and crime, which pervade the population of the earth."

Owen concluded that "public education was the first step on the road to socialism and that this would require a sustained effort of propaganda and political activism over a long period of time."

Blumenfeld also brought to light the strategic work of Orestes Brownson, who in 1829 co-founded a socialist political party in America that would stress public education as its main tool for altering American society. Brownson later revealed, “Our complete plan was to take the children from their parents at the age of 12 or 18 months, to have them nourished, fed, clothed and trained in these schools at the public expense; but at any rate we were to have godless schools for all the children of the country. The plan has been successfully pursued...and the whole action of the country on the subject has taken the direction we sought to give it.”

The Fight for Literacy and Free Thought

But perhaps Blumenfeld’s greatest contribution was in the fight for national literacy. He documented John Dewey’s anti-campaign of getting schools to replace the phonetic approach to reading with the “whole word” or “look-say” method. He then exposed Dewey’s socialistic agenda. “True children of the future,” said Dewey, “... (will be) more socialist than capitalist, more collectivist than individualist.” “High literacy," he objected, "is an obstacle to socialism.”

Blumenfeld records, “to Dewey, the greatest obstacle to socialism was the private mind that seeks knowledge in order to exercise its own private judgment and intellectual authority. High literacy gave the individual the means to seek knowledge independently.”

Former teacher Albert Lynd noted that, “Many of Dewey’s educational disciples may be coy or confused, but the master himself is clear enough in his writings about the implications of his teaching. It excludes God, the soul, and all the props of traditional religion. It excludes the possibility of immutable truth, of fixed natural law, of permanent moral principles. It includes an attitude toward social reform which is...socialist.”

RJ Rushdoony summarized Dewey’s core belief: “A basic faith and presupposition in Dewey’s system is the state school as the new established church, the new vehicle of social salvation,” Rushdoony wrote. “Basic to this faith was Dewey’s radical reliance on stimulus-response psychology, so that the child received stimuli and responded, was essentially passive and consumption centered rather than aggressive and capable of himself creating the stimuli and the social situation.”

Not content with merely exposing John Dewey’s anti-phonetic approach to reading, Blumenfeld presented a real solution to America’s crippling illiteracy. He released his Alpha-Phonics program which was used by thousands who wanted to know how to read, including adult victims of government education.

Blumenfeld was a champion freedom and understanding. He wanted children to be able to take command of their own learning adventures, creating both the stimuli and the actions that could change society. He was no mere whistle-blower. Blumenfeld countered the machinations of Dewey and others by leading a return to literacy, giving thousands of families – including my own – the practical tools to help their children master written language. Sam continued this fight until his last days. Thankfully, he lived long enough to see tens of thousands of children learn to love true academic freedom, and to see a new generation, free from institutionalization, pass on limitless educational opportunity to their own children.

But how well will those children use those great advantages? For those of you younger readers who want to honor Sam Blumenfeld, honor the principles he lived by and lived for. Don’t allow yourselves to remain ignorant about any important issue of life. Don’t be conformed to a way of life that is built around the education cartel. Think twice before you use your high level of literacy to be a perpetual grad student in a politically correct university, a lifelong game show contestant, or a misshapen creature of the corporate world. Keep academic freedom alive by being a lifelong learner. Use your academic competencies to show the world what academic freedom can do for freedom.

About the Author

Geoffrey Botkin is a cultural analyst, political consultant, veteran filmmaker, husband, and father. He currently serves as a senior consultant to the Western Conservatory of the Arts & Sciences.

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