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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

Armstrong Williams: the decay of education

PUBLISHED: April 28, 2024 | www.baltimoresun.com


The decay in American education is an alarming national security threat. Many high school or college graduates know little more than their sexual orientation or Taylor Swift’s juvenile lyrics and strutting. They are unable to write a single, succinct, evocative sentence, like the magnificence of a “rosy-fingered dawn.” They could not pass the civics test required for naturalization.


They do not know the fundamentals of citizen duties, including informed voting and participation in politics, eternal vigilance over their government servants, and petitioning for redress of grievances.



They do not know the majestic, inspiring gospel of the Declaration of Independence.

They do not know the United States Constitution or the separation of powers, its crown jewel finding expression in judicial review.


They do not know The Federalist Papers, the greatest assemblage of political wisdom in the history of mankind.


They do not know President George Washington’s Farewell Address or President Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, both warning against the bane of extreme partisanship.

Parents should be complaining about what’s not in school libraries and classrooms more than what is there.


They do not know the unhappy history of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Missouri Compromise, the Trail of Tears or Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.”

They have not mastered the Bible, the Holy Koran, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucius, Seneca or Epicurus.


They are clueless about Aristophanes, Sophocles, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Plutarch, Chaucer, Shakespeare, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, John Donne, John Milton, Samuel Johnson, Balzac, Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass and countless other literary giants.


Parents should be complaining about what’s not in school libraries and classrooms more than what is there.  Indeed, if education was made vastly more demanding in reading, writing and arithmetic, there would be no school time remaining to squander on obscenity or sexual orientation.


The survival of the United States is more and more a race between education and ignorance. Many in the new generation are incapable of self-government. They do not understand the importance of process over personality.  They are easily swayed by demagogues because their cerebral faculties have left their innate hormonal urges undomesticated. They are lonely, feel worthless, lack faith and believe in little beyond themselves. They crave being part of a cult more than marching to their own drummers. and searching for truth without ulterior motives and acting accordingly.


Thomas Jefferson advised, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”


President George Washington’s first State of the Union address elaborated:


“Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. In one in which the measures of government receive their impressions so immediately from the sense of the community as in ours it is proportionably essential.


To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways – by convincing those who are entrusted with the public administration that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people, and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burthens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness — cherishing the first, avoiding the last — and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws.”


We desperately need a new birth of education. No student should be permitted to graduate from high school or college without passing an exacting civics test and writing a lucid essay about the principles of natural law and government enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.


During the regular school term, students should be required to devote at least eight hours per day to reading or writing. Debate contests should be preferred to athletics, the thinker to the armored knight. Parents should be required to visit teachers monthly and be tasked to encourage and monitor the study habits of their children. They should read with them at least one hour each evening an age-appropriate book.


Self-government without education and critical thinking is a fantasy.  Aristotle advocated state-supported public education for all to foster good judgment and wisdom. But education should not end in the classroom.  It should be with us every moment of the day like inhaling and exhaling. It is our deliverance from an animal, hormonal existence.


Armstrong Williams (awilliams@baltsun.com; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun. This column is part of a weekly series written from “The Owner’s Box.”

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