Gongol.com Archives: August 2023

Brian Gongol

August 21, 2023

News School years to come

Something to ponder as a new school year gets underway: While we do subscribe to some national standards, school curricula remain largely within the purview of state and local officials. Some like to innovate, but many like to adopt what others have developed. ■ Generally speaking, this variety is a feature rather than a bug. It leaves important questions with social and moral weight within the purview of the people most directly influenced by them, which in turn helps to preventatively de-escalate heated debates about standards on the national level. (Of those, there are quite enough already.) ■ But a lack of national oversight commanding states and communities to adopt particular curricula doesn't stop those relevant authorities from seeking guidance or from searching for model standards to adopt. Nor does it prevent nationally-organized groups from seeking influence. Lots of groups have short-term objectives in mind when trying to influence curriculum choices. ■ What if a group were to consciously dedicate itself to developing a model curriculum for the maximum long-term benefit of the republic? Put another way: Suppose you have been challenged to come up with a model curriculum to set the United States as far as possible ahead of any authoritarian or totalitarian rivals for the next 50 years. What would you include in that curriculum for maximum advantage? ■ Chew on that question long enough, and the serious observer is likely to dwell less on the content (the "what") and more on two other questions: How? And why? ■ The countries most likely to challenge the United States in the future -- economically, politically, or militarily -- are probably going to have something in common with our most serious rivals of the past century: A high level of command authority from the top down. Whatever ideological "ism" drives the state, it's likely to involve rigidity of thought and unity of purpose. ■ That's because the total mobilization of a state can be a real force multiplier. As Dwight Eisenhower noted in his memoir of World War II, "One French businessman said to me, 'We defeated ourselves from within; we tried to oppose a four-day work week against the German's six- or seven-day week.'" The way to check the ambitions of such a state is to leverage our own advantages. ■ In particular, America's future security and prosperity will depend upon flexibility of thought, creativity, and continued openness on one hand. On the other, those goods will depend upon a sustained commitment to common rules (even when we disagree over outcomes), an acute sensitivity to the relevance of the past, and a sense of civic pride -- a patriotism that says we believe in our strengths, consciously want to repair our weaknesses, and take pride in our perpetual evolution towards "a more perfect union". ■ Both of these hands, one broadly associated with each of the left and the right, have a vital role to play. No one can anticipate in 2023 how the next 50 years will go, and more than someone in 1897 could have anticipated a future winding all the way from Teddy Roosevelt on horseback in the Spanish-American War all the way through the emergence of jet fighters and atomic bombs. But we are obligated to spend time and effort thinking about what our real advantages are and how they will sustain us in challenging times to come.