This is an online article from the Christian Research Journal.
For further information or to support the Christian Research Journal please click here.
When you support the Journal, you join the team of to help provide the resources at equip.org that minister to people worldwide. These resources include our ever growing database of over 1,500 articles, as well as our free Postmodern Realities podcast.
Another way you can support our online articles is by leaving us a tip. A tip is just a small amount, like $3, $5, or $10 which is the cost for some of a latte, lunch out, or coffee drink. To leave a tip, click here
A Review of
Pete Hegseth with David Goodwin,
Battle for the American Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation
New York: Broadside Books, 2022.
Overcoming the Enemy of Education
Pete Hegseth, author and co-host of Fox and Friends Weekend (Fox News), and David Goodwin, a classical educator, have teamed to write a surprisingly popular book with some radical advice: get out of state education and create something far better and more pleasing to God. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.
The troubles in American state education have been over a hundred years in the making, according to the authors of this significant book; but many are now just noticing. It should not have taken “Drag Queen Story Hour” or white children being told they are intrinsically oppressors in a systemically racist system to awaken Christians and others to the dangers of compulsory, government-run, tax-funded, secular education in the United States. Some of us have sounded the educational alarm for decades and have advocated for private and home schooling as alternatives to the mass secular indoctrination that is “public education” today. It is heartening that a popular book advances this cause.
Forty years ago, the homeschooling and Christian school movements were struggling to survive, since government wanted hegemony in education and did not trust parents — particularly religious parents — to educate their own children. R. J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), a prolific author and educator, traveled the country at his own expense to be an expert witness in trials regarding the freedom of parents to educate their own children. But we have come a long way, in two senses.
Radical Decay. First, government schools are failing abysmally by not teaching basic skills and by teaching gender ideology and Critical Race Theory (CRT). State schools are far worse today than they were forty years ago. This is painfully obvious when we see videos of teachers, often LGBTQ+ themselves, bragging about helping their young students discover their true sexual identities, which may not align with their God-given biological identities. Vast and increasing amounts of money are spent with few good results. The real problem is what is taught (curriculum) and how it is taught (pedagogy).
The great exception to this rapid and radical decay is some charter schools, which have more self-governance (they are not controlled by teachers’ unions) and typically more parental involvement. Charter schools far outperform non-charter schools and demonstrably help underprivileged children far better than other state schools, as Thomas Sowell proves in Charter Schools and Their Enemies.1
Homeschooling. But, second, we have come a long way in resisting secular indoctrination through the growth of homeschooling, Christian private schools, and other private schools. The authors of Battle for the American Mind both confess Jesus Christ as their Lord in the preface to their book. As of late July 2022, this book was on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists. This is remarkable because it is an overtly Christian perspective and because it cuts against the liberal-secular approach to education quite radically. This may be more than an outlier, an anomalous blip on the secular screen. It could indicate a deep change in perspective for many people. Not a few parents were bothered, if not revolted, by what they saw in Zoom classrooms during the lockdowns. Yes, there are heroic state schoolteachers who resist secularization and woke ideology, but their task is herculean, and the odds are against them. We need a better way, and quickly. Things are falling apart, and children are the causalities.
The title is well chosen, since this is a cultural, political, moral, and spiritual battle for the minds of children and young adults. As has been well observed, “The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation is the philosophy of government in the next.”2 Given the state of our federal government right now, we better get busy. Battle for the American Mind proposes a better way by explaining what went wrong in American education and calls for a return to true education.
Two Philosophies of Education. The authors speak of two conflicting accounts of paideia, a term meaning educational philosophy and ethos. “Paideia, simply defined, represents the deeply seated affections, thinking, viewpoints, and virtues embedded in children at a young age, or, more simply, the rearing, molding, and education of a child” (p. 44). The authors warn that the Western Christian Paideia (WCP) is being undermined by a secular and leftwing paideia.
Progressivism. The enemy of education is what the authors call “progressivism,” a movement away from an historic Judeo-Christian perspective on life and learning. We read, “I am a product of progressive education, and so are you. We all are, and we didn’t know it. We have been for the better part of one hundred years” (4). (While the book has two authors, the authorial voice is always that of Hegseth.3) Strangely, while the book decries “progressives” and “progressivism,” the terms are not defined until page 27. “Lenin was an economic Marxist. American progressives are cultural Marxists” (27). Progressives are socialists, anti-American, and see civil government as the solution to most problems. An indicator and model of progressivism in state schools is the use of Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States (1981). “It is not hyperbole to state that no other book has had a greater impact on the minds of American youth for the past forty years. When not assigned in classrooms, it has been fully incorporated into the mass-produced textbooks in our classrooms” (40). Thus, millions of American children have been taught that America is fundamentally unjust and “systemically racist.” Zinn was claiming this long before the phrase gained popularity. These teachings need to be reversed and replaced by a better way.
In “Part I: The 16,000 Hours War,” the authors argue convincingly that the ideologies of secular education decisively shape students’ minds in a way that families and churches are nearly impotent to counteract. By the time a student finished high school, she will have been in class for about 16,000 hours. I recently talked with a pastor who laments sending his son to a state school given the effects on his faith. The authors summarize what is now taught: “Get with the program! White people are inherently oppressive. Gender is completely fluid. Climate change will destroy the world. And America is the ultimate source of evil in the world” (6). Rather than trying to reform the system, we need to pull out and forge a better education according to the WCP.
In “Part II: The Unauthorized History of American Education,” we learn how a progressivist philosophy came to dominate state education. Lead by Horace Man (a Unitarian) and later by John Dewey (an atheist), education became socialization for political ends and focused more on learning an occupation than developing a well-rounded and spiritual way of life. Religious elements were dropped, except for the ersatz religion of progressivism. If we should not try to win back the state schools, what can be done?
Classical Christian Education. Americans need to find “a solution as big as the problem,” as the authors put it in Part III. This means a return to the WCP in private and home schooling. Reason, virtue, wonder, and beauty should be central to education as they are understood within a Christian worldview. Unlike many Christians, they argue for the existence of objective beauty and explain why this truth is needed in education (186–91).
Such an anti-secular perspective gives a meaningful framework for education and allows students to thrive in accord with their God-given natures. To that end, the author’s wisely advocate a return to the classical Christian model of the Trivium and Quadrivium. These make up the seven liberal arts, which are taught sequentially through a student’s education. The Trivium consists in grammar, logic, and rhetoric. “The four arts of the quadrivium are arithmetic (the study of numbers), geometry (the study of space), music (the study of ratios and proportions), and astronomy (the study of motion)” (210). State schools are not modeled on this time-tested classical model, which Dorothy Sayers advocated in her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning” in 1948, an essay that helped spark the Christian classical school movement in the early 1980s. Battle for the American Mind is a testimony to the power and wisdom of that movement. It has come out of the shadows into a bestselling book and a large and growing movement.
Lapses. Despite the book’s pertinence and solid arguments, some defects appear. First, there are only a few endnotes. Most quotes are undocumented, and I cannot discern any rationale for what is referenced and what isn’t. It seems haphazard. This detracts from the book’s intellectual authority. Books should forgo documentation entirely (as with a learned essay) or commit to careful and thorough documentation.4 A book taking on the whole progressivist establishment in education needs more intellectual heft.5
Second, while it addresses some subjects in sufficient detail, other comments are flippant or are left unexplained. For example, we are told that “our modern social sciences — like ‘political science,’ previously known as ‘politics,’ and ‘social studies,’ previously known as individual disciplines like ‘history, economics, geography, and philosophy’ — are by-products of Marxist philosophy” (113). We are given no references or argument to support this claim, which is, at the least, an overstatement. These disciplines are deeply influenced by Marxism, but as disciplines their origins precede and transcend Marxism per se. For example, Rodney Stark (1934–2022) was a preeminent sociologist who employed a rigorous method that was beholden to no Marxist principles. The same was true of the sociologist, Peter Berger (1929–2017).
The authors do well to speak of the WCP’s emphasis on moral virtue as opposed to mere rule keeping. However, they fumble with the example of Rahab lying to protect God’s spies. “Her faith and trust in God was [sic] a higher good than the sin of lying” (165). But the ninth commandment reads, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:6). All false testimony is lying, but not all lying is false testimony, since false testimony involves malice. Lying to save a human life is no sin. Rahab is commended in the Bible not because she broke a commandment for a higher good, but because she was courageous and broke no commandment at all (Hebrews 11:31).
I could cite several such examples of imprecision or worse that reveal a rather swashbuckling (if not lazy) intellectual style. But if you are taking on the history of ideas, you need to stay on solid ground and not veer too far off the path. This sloppiness in places might cause some readers to discount or question the book’s other contentions.6 Otherwise, you risk caricature, oversimplification, or outright error. I do insist that all books be meticulously documented treatises. Social critique and intellectual history can be done in popular form without succumbing to the weaknesses of this book. A better editor would have held the authors more accountable to develop their ideas and to document their sources.
Retreat from State Education. Whatever lapses this book displays can be forgiven (but not forgotten) because of the urgency and fundamental soundness of its message. There is no hope for American renewal without a massive change in educational philosophies and institutions. The best churches and families cannot successfully compete with 16,000 hours of progressivist indoctrination, which is only getting worse with the rise of gender ideology7 and Critical Race Theory8 in the state schools.
This requires a mass exodus from the educational-bureaucratic-complex that is state education. The author’s pull no punches: “We need to retreat from government schools — and other ‘woke’ private options — completely. We need to leave them, as soon as is feasible. There is nothing there for Christians and patriots. We are not winning there and have no prospects to win there for multiple generations” (224).9 Real school choice (vouchers and the like) will help break up the monopoly, but whenever possible children should be kept out of state schools in favor of the classical Christian model of schools proposed by this timely and significant book. —Douglas Groothuis
Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. Among his many books are Fire in the Streets: How You Can Confidently Respond to Incendiary Cultural Topics (Salem Books, 2022) and Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, 2nd ed. (IVP Academic, 2022).
- Thomas Sowell, Charter Schools and Their Enemies (New York: Basic Books, 2020).
- Quotation is commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but such attribution is doubtful.
- Typically, when a book is credited to a well-known person (in this case, Hegseth) who is author “with” a less well-known person (in this case, David Goodwin), this indicates that the less well-known person wrote the book in consultation with the well-known person.
- Historian Shelby Steele’s books lack documentation, but not intellectual authority; he writes in the learned essay form.
- See R. J. Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education (Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1963) and Samuel Blumenfeld, Is Public Education Necessary? (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 2011).
- In recent years, I have noted a laziness in how books document their claims. See Douglas Groothuis, “Restoring the Dignity of the Footnote,” National Association of Scholars, April 29, 2021, https://www.nas.org/blogs/article/restoring-the-dignity-of-the-footnote.
- See Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018).
- On Critical Race Theory, see Douglas Groothuis, Fire in the Streets: How You Can Confidently Respond to Incendiary Cultural Topics (Washington, D.C.: Salem Books, 2022).
- See Douglas Groothuis, “The Need for Christian Education: Countering Ten Criticisms,” June 23, 2022, https://web.archive.org/web/20220930202216/https://douglasgroothuis.com/2022/06/23/the-need-for-christian-education-countering-ten-criticism/.