Conservative Scholars Rethink Public Education’s Purpose

Dec 06, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC — Education reform in recent decades has focused intensely on producing college graduates in the image of the reformers themselves. This has failed on its own terms but, more importantly, it has failed even to focus public education’s core purpose: to strengthen the nation and prepare citizens for productive roles in their communities. A new American Compass collection, Failing on Purpose: How We Forgot What Public Education Is For, explores the profound failings of the American education system and proposes a new set of goals.

The collection includes a foreword from American Compass’s Oren Cass and essays by the National Association of Scholars’ John Sailer and the Walton Foundation’s Bruno Manno, the American Enterprise Institute’s Yuval Levin, the Hudson Institute’s Arthur Herman, and the Claremont Institute’s Arthur Milikh. Each essay describes a core purpose of public education and shows how the American education system lost its way:

  1. Empowering the Common Citizen: Public education has shifted to focusing on moving students along a conveyer belt of high test scores, college admission, and a high-paying career likely far from home. The goal instead should be to provide all people with a foundation of knowledge, skills, and habits atop which they can build productive lives and participate fully in their communities.
  2. Forming a Virtuous Elite: At the elite level, public education should prepare elites to serve the public, but the focus on self-knowledge and meritocratic entitlement have undermined this goal. Rather than telling students to “check their privilege,” universities must teach them how to earn and deserve it.
  3. Advancing National Power: Education policy is defense policy, and public education must cultivate excellence, support the nation’s industrial base, and expand the technological frontier. Our system has turned its attention away from these goals, instead allocating its resources to whatever pursuit of knowledge students and faculty find most ennobling.
  4. Instilling Civic Virtues and Shared Allegiances: Public education plays an indispensable role in shaping democratic citizens’ shared identity and values. In America, it now accomplishes the opposite. Policymakers should ensure that the education system strengthens the social fabric rather than tearing at it.

Click here to read the collection foreword and first essay today.

The following essays will be released over the course of this week.