Tell me what year you believe it all went wrong, and I will tell you what kind of right-winger you are.

Perhaps you think it’s 1968. (Woodstock.) Perhaps you think it’s 1789. (The French Revolution.) Perhaps you think it’s 1517. (The Reformation.) Perhaps you think it was 33 AD. (As a Catholic, I respect anti-Christian Nietzscheans, though I disagree.)

When it comes to education, the mainstream right usually has a date, and it’s usually 1968. In France, that annus horribilis was when the far-left, though defeated politically, wrested control of cultural institutions, including the schools, from the Gaullist state, creating the latest and most venomous iteration of the French version of the Cathedral.

Regarding schools specifically, the story goes, traditional French public schools were rigorous. “Morality” was a course taught from primary school, and urged such values as sacrifice for country. Academically, emphasis on Latin and math produced the generations of engineers and administrators that kept France one of the leading nations of the West. Blind, competitive examinations rewarded merit. And most importantly, the system was shamelessly elitist: you had to pass an exam even to be allowed to continue past primary school. Otherwise, back to the farm! And if you showed promise even as a primary school child, you were tracked to elite schools, with need-based scholarships available. In 1945, the Baccalauréat, the high school-leaving diploma granting admission to university, was granted to 3% of high school leavers; these days this rate hovers between 98% and 99%. Clearly, the French of 2021 are orders of magnitude smarter than their grandparents! Another record harvest, Comrades!

There is some merit to this story. Rote, cramming-style learning, combined with high standards, will certainly produce results. I often tell the story of my friend who, in his sixties today, having left school at fourteen to start an apprenticeship in a trade, has better spelling than a good portion of my classmates at a top-ranked French university. This was accomplished through simple repetition: every morning, pupils from the age of six had to do dictation. Traditionally, throughout your schooling, if you submitted homework on any topic (say, history), which had more than one spelling error, the teacher would stop reading, cross over the entire paper with a big red “X”, and give you a failing grade. So it would be impossible to pass any class without perfect spelling. I lived through the moment when this tradition was abandoned even in elite schools, when it was realized that it would mean failing every pupil, every time. French is a more complex language than English, and so, unless you are a literarily inclined child and imbibe language through voracious reading, repetition really is the only way to get it in. And so now, in the country that has produced the most beautiful language, literature, and poetry in world history, even its best-educated members have often lost basic fluency.

But mass public education is a product of the 19th century, which means we must at least regard it as suspect. And I will go out on a limb and guess that if you are reading this, you probably attended some sort of gifted-and-talented program, or at least experienced the rote-learning parts of traditional education as almost physically painful

If there is a political “horseshoe”, perhaps it is universal healthcare or breaking up Facebook, but perhaps, even more so, it is about schooling. If the only thing I tell you about someone is that they say “I don’t want my kids to go to public school; in fact, I think I’d pretty much want them to just run around and climb on trees and study what they want,” can you guess their political orientation? Well, you pretty much have only two choices: “far-left” or “far-right.” I remember a very amusing-to-me conversation at a meeting for education radicals, talking to a San Francisco homeschool mom who had no idea about my political proclivities, talking about how she had to take her children out of public schools because the curriculum was so colonialist and sexist (in San Francisco!) and then adding thoughtfully… “You know, I hate them, but I have to give credit to Christian conservatives because they’re the ones who fought for our rights to be able to do this.”

I am now an advocate of Montessori education. I was introduced to this cult by a very right-wing friend. We must get something out of the way quickly. Montessori is associated with liberal hippies. This is a historical accident. Dr. Maria Montessori was a devout Catholic, whose theories were actually looked down upon by post-60s reformers. Her method was empirically-derived–she never used the term “Montessori Method” (and failed to copyright her name, which means anyone can call anything “Montessori”), instead referring to “scientific education.” You sometimes hear it said that in a Montessori classroom, children “can do what they want.” This is not true. The rules are simply different than in the usual classroom, and much more rigidly enforced. For example, an easy way to tell if a preschool is faithful to the Montessori system is to observe whether the class is completely silent. Only Montessorians can get thirty-five children between the ages of three and six to consistently stay whisper-quiet even as they move about unsupervised. It is true that, within prescribed limits, children in a Montessori classroom choose their own activities, but this is not because of some hippie idea about “freedom”, instead the goal is to develop independence, self-reliance, and an appetite for work, since small children will naturally gravitate towards whatever is most challenging to them at a particular moment.

Montessori sounds downright reactionary sometimes. For example, “learning through play” is like nails on a chalkboard to a Montessorian, because the goal of Montessori is to teach that work is intrinsically rewarding, whereas “learning through play” implies that work is drudgery and the only way to make it palatable is to sprinkle some play on it. No “educational games.” There is playtime, but play is play and work is work.

Compare what you think of as the “traditional” school, which is really the invention of 19th century progressive ideologues. It was designed to create bugmen. As Dr. Angeline Lillard writes, the late 19th century was the age of the factory, when progressive reformers tried to turn everything into a factory so that everything could be more “efficient.” This Taylorian ideal saw humans as a small machine and society as a large machine to produce more output more efficiently from those small machines. According to Lillard:

“In the public discourse, which Raymond E. Callahan documented in his classic work Education and the Cult of Efficiency, schools were referred to as ‘plants', children as ‘raw materials,’ and teachers as ‘mid-level managers’. Elwood Cubberly, then dean of Stanford University’s School of Education, put it bluntly: schools are ‘factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life’” (citations omitted).

Single-age classrooms, one of the most absurd ideas ever invented, and this even though literally every person on the planet knows perfectly well that children progress at different speeds, so that age is not an academically or developmentally-appropriate criterion to sort children, comes from this era. Before the progressives got in, of course, the iconic American public school was a mixed-age one-room schoolhouse. Humans naturally grow up among siblings, and so we are wired to learn by learning from the older and teaching to the younger (which is why teaching something is one of the best ways to learn it).

The 19th century progressives imitated the factory down to things like school bells (like the factory bells) and shifting children from room to room with each class (like a product moving through an assembly line). This is worse than the Longhouse.

They embedded many more Satanic assumptions into their teaching: the Lockean blank slate theory, which assumes that children are just empty, passive vessels for knowledge, even though everyone knows you learn more by doing or by actively engaging with material; Gnosticism, which radically separates minds from bodies and leads to the absurd idea that children ought to be made to sit still for hours, that this is even possible, and if it is, is conducive to learning.

I will let you make up your own mind about Montessori. I believe it is ideal, at least for younger children. Maybe you disagree. My point is merely this: as conservatives, or reactionaries, or whatever, we cannot simply want to go back to the school of 1952, or even 1902. When I look at many “Christian charter schools” and the like, I admire what they are doing, but I also feel sad about a lack of imagination. It is basically a Lockean 19th century school with a Christian curriculum. Obviously this is infinitely preferable than handing over your children to the CRT snakes, but it still leaves me feeling wistful. We have to look for something that will look both older and more futuristic.

Before the Modern era, it was understood that education of the body and education of the mind went hand in hand. Medieval Kings of France had to learn the arts of war and knighthood, of course, but even after the Renaissance, when Kings no longer fought personally on the battlefield, they had to learn a trade. Louis XV trained as a cabinet-maker, and Louis XVI as a clock-maker. This was understood as preparation for statesmanship–it is hard for us to even get into the imaginative world of a culture that sees this as obvious.

As in a Montessori classroom, it was understood that skills transferred from one subject to another, and things were set up so that they did: for example, French musketeers had to learn dancing, since it taught footwork that was useful for fencing. Is there a better example of the traditional French marriage of refinement and warlike brutality?

Dr. Montessori died before she was able to realize her vision for education for teenagers. It is, again, something, where, depending on how you squint, you may think this is hippie, or you may think this is fascist. Basically she wants to send all of the teenagers to the farm, to work with nature and animals. She writes that teenagers are too hormonal to learn anyway so they should work off that energy with manual labor. And over time, farm work will enable them to learn math (learn geometry to build that barn, balance the books of the farm…) and so on, and over time they can start doing classroom work.

I was reminded of this when watching a documentary that I want to recommend to all of you, The Motivation Factor. In the 1960s, President Kennedy started a pilot program where high school students would do one hour of fitness every morning. If you told me this is why they killed him, I might believe you. Basic calisthenics, outside (the first program was in California, but we have all learned since Wuhan grids how important Vitamin D is to the overall balance of our bodies). The results were incredible. Not only did all the students look like a 1935 German propaganda film, but they found that this boosted academic results, as well as dramatically improved discipline and camaraderie. Imagine this: teenagers have a lot of energy to burn off, so if you give them an opportunity to burn off that energy they will learn better and get into fewer fights. Almost as if humans have bodies. Incredible stuff. Imagine if we did this today, and added deadlifts and slonking eggs.

In this article, I have thrown out many examples, from French history, from Montessori, from American history, basically to get people’s imaginative juices flowing. Education paradigms have been captured by the bugmen for 150 years now, which means that not only is it a source of many evils, but also that we have not even begun to scratch the surface of how we can create schools that truly enhance human life. The jacquerie against CRT in American politics is one of the most exciting developments since Trump, because it has brought many normies to realize two key things: one, that there are lizards who run these institutions and that they are not just misguided but truly evil; two, that it is not enough to pass legislation, and that if we want real change we must actually capture the levers of state (even if it is just local public schools at present). Homeschooling, school choice, these are wonderful things, but ultimately if our side does not capture public schools we will keep living in a country where the majority of our fellow citizens are brought up to hate us. The dissident right has been a wonderful source of fresh ideas and fresh thinking for the right as a whole, in many different areas. It is possible in America and other countries to start experimenting with start-up schools, but also with the long-term goal of changing all schools. As I say, when it comes to education, we have not even begun to scratch the surface. I hope we begin. Soon.