At some point, you were a child… And during that stage of your life, if you were lucky enough, you’ve probably received some formal education and structured training on how to do certain things or tasks, but regardless of how you were treated by fortune, you – like everybody else – certainly got accultured, i.e. you’ve acquired the cultural atmosphere of a given time, place and community.
It is a given that the experience of being exposed to culture, ideas, attitudes and experiences while we are growing up shapes our personal identities, choices, tastes and beliefs.
If you have trouble putting this into perspective, try to imagine the person you would have become if you had tasted a different family life, different experience in high-school, in religious education (if you actually had any), or social time with friends, colleagues and acquaintances. And think about what would happen if your cultural nutrients had been different, consider how you were impacted by television, music, art, movies, books, and every other cultural products that acted upon your spirit to mould your behaviour, your beliefs and inclinations.
This realization does not mean we have no volition, but instead highlights the fact that our agency meets reality at the intersection between reason (and the personal responsibility it entails) and culture (a product of the social environment we inhabit).
Why does this matter?
The cultural education of man, as Werner Jaeger stated on his classic work Paideia (published in 3 volumes from 1933 to 1947), “(…) aims at fulfilling an ideal of man as he ought to be.” And this is the key point that we need to define, for ourselves and for our children: what is the ideal?
The question matters because education is a process to transmit a certain intellectual, spiritual and aesthetical character to the individual. And when we consider the aggregate of individuals, we realize that acculturation – more than any other factor – actually dictates the future of the community.
Because this process shapes the future, it also determines your own personal Destiny.
I’ll demonstrate how easy it is to relinquish control of the cultural education process in relation to our own children (and even ourselves), but I also want to make sure I let you know what can be done to prevent this from happening.
Today, as an adult, it is critical that you are mindful that acculturation is an ongoing process (cultural norms change over time and therefore you are constantly exposed to changes, desirable or not), and more importantly, this process impacts your children, often in domains and realms effectively beyond your control.
Consider your own experience. Were your parents the only human beings that provided you with cultural and moral references and guidance? Were they even the most important factor in your development?
True, parents are a decisive factor. But their influence can be affirmative or, on the contrary, it can manifest itself by omission, in which case parents allow others to step into the void and dictate what kind of adults their children will eventually grow into. In the absence of parents, others define the ideal.
William L. Shirer (1904-1993) was born in Chicago but moved to his mother’s hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1913, upon his father’s death.
In 1925, after graduating from a local college, Shirer went to Europe and started his career as a foreign correspondent, having reported on India and its independence movement, with surprisingly intimate access to Mahatma Gandhi.
After moving to Berlin in 1934, Shirer, together with Edward R. Murrow, would begin his famous radio broadcasts for CBS in 1938. At a certain point, Shirer became convinced he would be arrested by the Gestapo and, fearing for his life, he left Germany in December of 1940.
And in 1960, building on his direct experience of living and reporting from the capital of the Nazi regime, William L. Shirer wrote and published The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, his most famous book, for which he won the National Book Award in 1961.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the description of the experience of pre-war daily life in the Third Reich, a section in which Shirer – anchored on his direct experience of the period – outlines how, in his view, the hellish outcome of the Nazi regime was made possible.
A person that clearly understood the power of acculturation was none other than Adolf Hitler. And at a certain point of his book, Shirer quotes Hitler’s speech on youth education, delivered on November 6, 1933:
«‘When an opponent declares, “I will not come over to your side,” I calmly say, “Your child belongs to us already… What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.”»
The relevance of these words is immense, because it illuminates a rarely unacknowledged fact: our children can be surreptitiously “stolen” from their parents through school text-books, language and discussions, all occurring outside the family abode.
School and popular culture are powerful instruments, that can liberate the mind, but also imprison it within dogmas and beliefs about which individuals have very little direct control.
Peter Hitchens, the self-proclaimed most hated man in Britain, alludes to this Shirer quote in one of his superb Sunday articles, aptly illustrating this problem.
The theme of the article is sex education in British schools, and a newly imposed impossibility for parents to refuse their children to attend classes on the subject. Unsurprisingly, the curriculum is organized around the dominant leftist ideology, which aims – and I am not producing a judgment of value here, but merely referencing it – to modify the paradigms traditionally conveyed by the Christian religion and Western conservative tradition.
Thus, it becomes curious to note that, strictly speaking, the principle of religious freedom has actually been emptied of its significant content, since basic tenets of Christian religious belief (e.g. defence of heterosexual indissoluble marriage, prohibition of sex outside of marriage, denial of the possibility voluntary termination of pregnancy, censure of homosexual behaviour, etc.) are now being reclassified as thought crimes, i.e. the sort of ideas you can no longer argue for in public.
We retain freedom for the rite, pageantry and pomp of religion, but not to evangelize for most of its core beliefs.
In short, a new inquisitorial orthodoxy is taking hold of the reins of power, and it’s doing it precisely through the education of our children, mostly outsourced to the state.
A moral imperative: be an educator
Considering home-schooling is not an option for most parents, that ongoing disputes and conflict with school boards can be damaging, and that an attempt of occultation of the cultural milieu is a futile effort, parents that wish to exert significant influence on their children’s education must take action.
What can be done?
As always, we can start by telling the truth. And there are a few steps you need to take in order to be effective as an educator.
First, parents need to be mindful of what is being taught to their kids (and also what is being omitted from the curriculums).
Read the materials your children are supposed to study and listen to what they have to say about their teachers, and their daily experience of the classroom.
But it doesn’t stop there… Parents need to become aware of the culture, the music, the books, magazines, videos, podcasts and influencers that permeate their children’s lives.
And most importantly, parents need to be mindful of their children’s peers. Who are they? What engages them? What do they do outside school? What is their “culture”?
Once parents are aware of the narrative that is being woven, parents must present the alternative, exposing children to facts, points of view and ideas that can counter-balance propaganda: i.e. introducing them to the alternatural.
Not only that, but as parents we must also make sure our kids become aware of the motivations that underlie the conduct of those that produce narratives. Our own included.
This means we explain why others act, but also why we are convinced our viewpoint is better, healthier and more conducive to happiness and the common good.
It is not enough to point out lies and fabrications of those in positions of authority. Parents also need to make sue children are aware of the implications of directly confronting power.
As a consequence, no matter how cynical this may be, it is important that kids, from a certain age onwards, learn to disassociate their answers in a school quiz or in the classroom from their true beliefs. Grades are important and children are not supposed to fight cultural wars or to be weaponized in one such battle. Combat is for adults.
The final step is to openly discuss significant issues with our kids, consider the arguments of the indoctrination program (and remember, this normal narrative usually contains valid points and often alludes to facts we were not aware of, thus forcing honest individuals to re-examine their own beliefs).
Keep in mind that the goal should never be to teach your children what to think, but rather to let them know how to think (to borrow one of Peter Hitchens’ mantras).
But the price you must pay for this is heavy: eternal vigilance and huge commitment of your time to the task of educating.
Because even worse than teaching your kids what to think, is to let others do it for you!
You can still listen to William L. Shirer, a “citizen of integrity”: