Adam Smith and ‘free’ education

By Ellis Washington

Note: This column is based on an excerpt from “Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 1: The Great Conversation – The Substance of a Liberal Education” by Robert M. Hutchins.

“A man without the proper use of the intellectual faculties of a man, is, if possible, more contemptible than even a coward, and seems to be mutilated and deformed in a still more essential part of the character of human nature.”

~ Adam Smith

Apart from John Dewey, the so-called father of the modern public schools and today’s progressives, up to about 1900 it was self-evident that the majority of academics, intellectuals, even educators, politicians, lawyers, judges and literary writers held that education through serious, systematic reading and study of the literary canon – the “great books” and the “liberal arts” – was ipso facto the finest education for the few. Yet my thesis here is: Could it be the best education for the many if the many have not the capability to seize it?

“Ellis, are you crazy? This is the 21st century, the age of the Internet where at the touch of a computer key any student virtually anywhere on the planet can not only read the Classics, but access entire libraries in virtually any language they desire.” Indeed, yet this begs the question: If it will maximize culture and societal intelligence for everybody to be educated, if it is in society’s best interest that the State provide everybody with “access” to a good education, then is not the question of ultimate concern: Can everybody get it [a good education]? This is the most essential question in education. Possibly it is the most essential question in the world.

Perhaps this is a rhetorical question that cannot be answered. Now, it can be argued, that we are living in one of the few times in history when everybody has the ability to get a liberal education, yet why are dozens of millions in America so functionally illiterate, incapable of even rudimentary inductive/deductive reasoning, let alone critical thinking? We can, nevertheless, examine the choices and the consequences of education vs. mis-education. If relaxation, idleness and political power are objectives for liberal/progressive education, then everybody in America now should possess this life-goal. Therefore, should everybody where democracy and progress exist ultimately demand this “good” education?

This is the Holocaust scenario: What if We the People have been so dumbed downed by decades and decades of mis-education by the State, that the State can more efficiently enslave and manipulate the masses to vote for this party or that party, vote for this entitlement or that entitlement in the name of “freedom” or “choice”? Aren’t we then incapable of attaining the education that a responsible democratic republic mandates of all its citizens? If the answer is yes, then democracy is doomed, America’s republic de facto dead.

America spends more per student than any other nation in the world, yet are we the best educated in the world? No!

The economic question is of ultimate concern and can be explained that liberal/progressive education is worthless to a man who is in poverty, or in the words of Adam Smith to the man whose mind “seems to be mutilated and deformed.” Nevertheless, progressives teach us that the first obligation of man is to contribute to society through work, by learning and appreciating the value of work furthering society through work and earning. The First Education Model was from Adam and Eve up to Darwin. The Second Education Model (c. 1860s-present) replaced the Judeo-Christian worldview with an evolution atheist one openly hostile to and possessing a venal hatred of God, family, tradition, freedom, capitalism, natural law, natural rights and American exceptionalism. The ubiquitous question for this Neo-Pagan Age is this: Whose side are you on? – i.e., C-O-N-T-R-O-L. The State is now aggressively fostering to enslave as many millions of new recipients to embrace the welfare state or entitlement mentality worldview as ever before.

Adam Smith proclaimed the case over 200 years ago: “A man without the proper use of the intellectual faculties of a man is, if possible, more contemptible than even a coward, and seems to be mutilated and deformed in a still more essential part of the character of human nature.” He argues that this is the state of nature of “the great body of the people,” who, by the division of labor are shackled in their employment “to a few very simple operations” whereby the worker “has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur.” The consequence, according to Smith, is that “the torpor of his mind renders him, not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life.”

As early as 1857, the year the National Education Association was founded, this egalitarian rhetoric of “education for all, from childhood to the grave” was propagandized to the nation. Yet, two years later the advent of Charles Darwin’s evolution atheism with the 1859 publication of his “On the Origin of Species” would begin to systematically replace Western civilization’s Judeo-Christian worldview, first in Europe, next in America and now throughout the entire industrialized world, with a militant, intolerant, evolution atheist worldview.

Nevertheless, what has 160-plus years of “free public education” given the world? Certainly not the education utopianism and egalitarianism, neither the apotheosis of the “New Man” John Dewey promised, nor an overall more literate society, but just the opposite. We have become a nation of mis-educated slaves. Through the Internet and tens of thousands of public libraries, we are able to literally possess the Classics at our fingertips; however, most children (and adults) choose to become obsessed with watching trash TV or posting some strange picture on Facebook or tweeting some inane babblings of a monkey to friends and strangers across “cyberspace.”

It is that modernization pushing society into the abyss? It is that modernization that has both the tendency to devolve a man into a robot, yet also provides the economic foundation, leisure and idleness that will empower him to seize this elusive and paradoxical liberal/progressive education? Indeed, this is the paradox. Absent a serious, systematic study of the Classics over many years (including the Bible), will this “good education, this “modern” education make him truly a man, or will this liberal/progressive “free” education turn him or her into an unremarkable, uncreative, mis-educated cog in the Leviathan machinery called the State?

Media wishing to interview Ellis Washington, please contact [email protected].


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