STOP the War on Children

July 4, 2011

Christian Faith: America’s “Particular Strength”

By Dr. Karen Gushta


Christian faith equals liberty. That’s not how some see it today, but Frenchman Alexis de
Tocqueville said the two were closely linked. “The Americans combine the notions of
religion and liberty so intimately in their minds,” he wrote, “that it is impossible to make
them conceive of one without the other.”

De Tocqueville made this observation in his classic Democracy in America published in
two volumes in 1835 and 1840 after he toured America, hoping to see just “what a great
republic is.” De Tocqueville saw from afar that America had achieved what the French
revolution had failed to do—a society of “almost complete equality of social conditions.”
So he decided to take a closer look.

In the course of his nine-month itinerary, de Tocqueville visited every major region of
America east of the Mississippi.  He traveled the eastern seaboard, saw the then “frontier”
in Michigan and Wisconsin, visited the thriving mid-western river city of Cincinnati, and
toured through the south stopping at Nashville and Memphis on his way to the deep-south
port of New Orleans at the mouth of North America’s largest river.

De Tocqueville experienced adventure that foreign to his aristocratic upbringing. While
on the frontier he stayed in the rough accommodations of a log cabin, and one of the
steamboats he was on sank. Yet, he also had the opportunity to converse with America’s
best thinkers including John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster. He met President
Andrew Jackson and interviewed future president of the Republic of Texas and governor
of the state of Texas, Sam Houston. Houston was living at the time among the Cherokee
in the Arkansas Territory and operating a trading post on the Arkansas River. De
Tocqueville also had the opportunity to meet the last living signer of the Declaration of
Independence, the wealthy Maryland landowner Charles Carroll of Carrollton, just before
he died in 1832 at age 95.

Democracy in America is a rich portrait of a nation that had not yet celebrated the fiftieth
anniversary of the writing of its constitution. A nation bursting with energy and strength,
fueled by faith—faith in itself and its own exceptionalism, and faith in the God who was
recognized by its founders to have played a divine role in its founding.

Yet de Tocqueville wondered whether America could escape the inexorable drive of the
democratic spirit—the spirit of liberté, égalité, fraternité, which fueled the French
revolution. When the French cast off the restraints of Christian religion by crushing the
church, killing its leaders, and declaring worship of the “goddess of Reason,” that
democratic spirit led to tyranny and despotism.

The revolution in France ended in 1799 and by the time de Tocqueville visited America
30 years later, his country had gone through three different systems of government: the
Consulate, the Napoleonic Empire, and the Bourbon Restoration of King Charles X.
Then, in 1830, just prior to de Tocqueville’s arrival in America in 1831, Charles X was
overthrown by a populist backed coup d’état and Louis-Philippe I, a member of the
Orleans branch of the House of Bourbon, was placed on the throne under a constitutional

Louis-Philippe started well, reportedly having said, “We will attempt to remain in a juste
milieu (the just middle), in an equal distance from the excesses of popular power and the
abuses of royal power.” By 1848 Louis-Philippe had lost “the middle” and his abuse of
royal power led to his forced abdication and exile to England and the French established
the Second Republic with a nephew of Napoleon I as president.

De Tocqueville’s trip to America was financed by the monarchy with the charge to study
America’s penal system and penitentiaries. Soon after his return, de Tocqueville dutifully
wrote a report on the American system and its “Applications to France.” But his primary
interest in visiting America, as evidenced by the massive two-volume Democracy in
America, was to study the question that was clearly eluding the French, for all their
revolutionary fervor and “liberalism.”

How does a democratic government avoid descent into a tyranny of the masses? To
escape that tyranny the French first accepted Napoleon as emperor and then Charles X as

De Tocqueville came to America to see democracy in action. He had recently been
elected to represent his home department (state) of Manche to the Chamber of Deputies
in the French parliament. But his focus was not on the unique system of representation
embodied in the American Constitution. Rather de Tocqueville looked intently at the
effects of the equality of conditions that he saw everywhere in America.

Being an astute student of history, de Tocqueville understood that giving citizens the
ability to own land, transfer wealth, and engage in commerce, introduces elements of
equality into society. “From that moment on, all processes discovered, all needs that
arise, all desires that demand satisfaction bring progress toward universal leveling,” he
wrote. Furthermore, America provided unique conditions for a level society, since
“America, once discovered, presents a thousand new routes to fortune and delivers wealth
and power to the obscure adventurer.”

In spite of the set-backs in the drive toward an “equality of conditions” in France, de
Tocqueville was optimistic it would continue. His goal in coming to America was “to
find lessons there from which we could profit.” “I confess that in America I saw more
than America,” he wrote in his introduction. “I sought there an image of democracy itself,
of its penchants, its character, its prejudices, it passions; I wanted to become acquainted
with it if only to know at least what we ought to hope or fear from it.”

So what did he find and is it still the same today? Democracy in America remains popular
with both conservatives and liberals today because of the profound and seemingly
prescient insights that de Tocqueville inscribed in it.

What were the principle causes that tended to maintain a democratic republic in the
United States, he inquired. One of those he found was religion, and specifically
Christianity. “America is … still the place in the world where the Christian religion has
most preserved genuine powers over souls; and nothing shows better how useful and
natural to man it is in our day, since the country in which it exercises the greatest empire
is at the same time the most enlightened and most free.”

“It is religion that gave birth to the Anglo-American societies: one must never forget
this,” wrote de Tocqueville, who was not very religious himself. “In the United States
religion is therefore intermingled with all national habits and all the sentiments to which a
native country gives birth.” It is this fact “that gives it a particular strength.”

What could erode this strength? As a careful student of democracy, de Tocqueville saw
two things inherent in democracy itself. The first was “equality of conditions.” Such
equality “makes men conceive a sort of instinctive incredulity about the supernatural and
a very high and often much exaggerated idea of human reason.”

The second tendency de Tocqueville saw was that “Democracy favors the taste for
material enjoyments.” “This taste, if it becomes excessive, soon disposes men to believe
that all is nothing but matter; and materialism in its turn serves to carry them toward these enjoyments with an insane ardor.”

The antidote to these inherent tendencies in democracies is religion, for it is a “general,
simple, and practical means of teaching men the immortality of the soul”—a guard
against materialism and a protection against inflated human reason.

This July 4th, pray for our nation. Pray that the indispensable pillars of “religion and
morality,” as George Washington called them, will continue to stand strong. For if they
crumble, America’s “particular strength” will too.


February 21, 2011

The End Goal of Obama’s “Race to Educate Our Kids”

By Dr. Karen Gushta
President Obama devoted a thousand words to education in his State of the Union Speech on January 25. “Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success,” he claimed. “But,” he added, “if we want to win the future—if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas—then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”
Winning the education race, according to President Obama, also means that by 2020 America should “once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” He challenged Americans “as citizens, and as parents,” to ask ourselves whether we “are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.”
“That responsibility,” the President said, “begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.  We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.”
There are few who would dispute the President on these points. Many of us might even have applauded him. All of the above statements are truisms—like stating that we should have clean water and the airlines should run on time.
What’s the problem, then, with the President’s remarks on education?
In my view, it was the context. In connecting America’s economic success to “giving every child a chance to succeed,” President Obama is following in the steps of the past three presidents, each of whom tried to shape America’s education system to further their economic goals for America. The President’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, explains the connection this way: “We have to educate our way to a better economy.”
George Leef, Director of Research at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, disagrees. “Just like the notion that federal deficit spending will revive the economy, the idea that getting more young Americans through college will make the country more competitive and prosperous is utterly mistaken.” Leef points out that since 1971, we have been “graduating many young people from college who learn little and will wind up in jobs that most high school kids could do.”
President Ronald Reagan once said, “Education is not the means of showing people how to get what they want. Education is an exercise by means of which enough men, it is
hoped, will learn to want what is worth having.”
As I note in my book, The War on Children, the idea of educating for virtue, which entails learning “what is worth having,” has been replaced by the view that schools should be producing “workers for the world.”
Interestingly, both those who believe in American exceptionalism and those who don’t tend to support this view. “Exceptionalists” want education to maintain America’s current status as the number one economy in the world by providing highly trained workers. “Transnationalists” want to transform America’s role among the nations by training our children to think globally and work for world peace and social justice.
What’s missing, however, in both these views is the idea, as expressed by President Reagan, that education should introduce youth to “what is worth having”—that is, the highest ideals of civilization. Such was the goal of traditional “liberal education,” which taught the classics: English literature, the humanities, and moral virtues. Liberal education, (drawing from the Latin root liber—meaning “free, independent, unrestrained”) was intended to free students from the shackles of ignorance and provincialism by introducing them to the great minds, great ideas, and the great books of civilization—primarily Western Civilization rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview and ethic. 

In the mid-twentieth century, this view of education went into a free fall decline in colleges and universities across America. The emphasis shifted to professional education, and radical professors inserted courses rooted in the ideology of race, class, and gender.  General education requirements, which provided students with a broad perspective on the academic disciplines, were dropped. As Judge Robert Bork wrote, students learned “information about narrow corners of subjects, but no conception of the larger context that alone can give the niches meaning.” Rather than being “freed from provincialism,” students are now being indoctrinated into political correctness.
Most secular colleges and universities have abandoned the idea that there is a central body of knowledge that all educated persons should have, which is the central premise of the liberal education curriculum. According to one source, as of 2009, only four percent of students in the United States attend the eight percent of colleges that still provide a liberal education.
What with the high cost of college, the real possibility of being underemployed upon graduation, and the likelihood that all they’ll gain is knowledge of “narrow corners of subjects,” high school students should not assume that college is the best route to finding God’s vocational calling on their lives.
As Dr. Del Tackett, educator and host of Coral Ridge Ministries’ Cross Examine television program, has suggested, young people should ask themselves, “Do I want to write my own story, or would I rather be part of the story of an all-wise and loving God?”
Then, whether it’s a liberal education, a professional one, or an alternative route to Christian service  or vocation, they can be sure of God’s direction—and, “Where His finger points, His hand will make a way.”

Dr. Karen Gushta is research coordinator at Coral Ridge Ministries and author of The War on Children: How Pop Culture and Public Schools Put Our Kids at Risk. Dr. Gushta is a career educator who has taught at all levels, from kindergarten to graduate level teacher education, in both public and Christian schools in America and overseas. Dr. Gushta served as the first international director of Kid’s Evangelism Explosion. She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education from Indiana University and Masters degrees in Elementary Education from the University of New Mexico and in Christianity and Culture from Knox Theological Seminary.

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