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Education as a Political Issue

Summer 2010 - Vol. 52, No. 3

This issue of Modern Age continues and expands a preoccupation with education that has long been of primary concern. The goal is to illuminate the underlying, long-term causes of popular debates over educational funding, curriculum, and practice. These often seem confused and interminable, because neither political party has thought through clearly what the nature and purpose of education are before engaging in polemics over immediate policy choices. Modern Age is not much concerned with this kind of partisan political squabbling; but education is a political issue—perhaps the political issue of our time—of far profounder implications, since it is our chief social means of preparing young men and women to take part decently and justly in their societies.

With that in view, this issue offers a cluster of three essays on education, which in diverse ways all show how the politics of education has gone awry. Carl Bankston demonstrates that Federal encroachment in the public schools, although often undertaken with benevolent intent, has nonetheless produced a plethora of unintended negative consequences. Robert Koons unpacks the equivocal potential of the term "humanism" with its serious implications for academic humanities, and Jeffrey Polet offers a traditional alternative to the political debasement of civic education as it is proposed by one of America’s most prominent humanist scholars. Finally, I offer an extended reflection on the British debate over humanities funding, first mentioned in this space in the preceding issue.

In addition we are pleased to present a translation of a discussion of European liberalism by the distinguished contemporary thinker Pierre Manent, a sharply contrasting pair of poems, and a set of reviews dealing with books of even more variety than usual.

RVY