How to Educate an American
The Conservative Vision for Tomorrow's Schools
In the years after A Nation at Risk, conservatives’ ideas to reform America’s lagging education system gained much traction. Key items like school choice and rigorous academic standards drew bipartisan support and were put into practice across the country.
Today, these gains are in retreat, ceding ground to progressive nostrums that do little to boost the skills and knowledge of young people. Far from being discouraged, however, conservatives should seize the moment to refresh their vision of quality K–12 education for today’s America. These essays by 20 leading conservative thinkers do just that.
Students, according to this vision, should complete high school with a thorough understanding of the country’s history, including gratitude for its sacrifices, respect for its achievements, and awareness of its shortcomings. They should also learn to be trustworthy stewards of a democratic republic, capable of exercising virtue and civic responsibility.
Beyond helping to form their character, schools ought to ready their pupils for careers that are productive, rewarding, and dignified. Excellent technical training opportunities will await those not headed to a traditional college. Regardless of the paths and schools that they select, all students must come to understand that they can succeed in America if they are industrious, creative, and responsible.
Anchored in tradition yet looking towards tomorrow, How to Educate an American should be read by anyone concerned with teaching future generations to preserve the country’s heritage, embody its universal ethic, and pursue its founding ideals.
Preface by Senator Lamar Alexander
Introduction: Time to Re-engage
by Michael J. Petrilli and Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Part 1: History, Civics, and Citizenship
Chapter 1: Irradiating the Past
by Jonah Goldberg
Chapter 2: History: Critical and Patriotic
by Eliot A. Cohen
Chapter 3: What Causes—and What Might Cure—Illiberalism and Groupthink in Education?
by Robert P. George
Chapter 4: Philanthropy and the Civic Education Challenge
by Adam Meyerson and Adam Kissel
Part 2: Character, Purpose, and Striving
Chapter 5: The Education of Character
by Peter Wehner
Chapter 6: Restoring Purpose and Patriotism to American Education
by William Damon
Chapter 7: Race, Discipline, and Education
by Heather Mac Donald
Chapter 8: Educating the Gifted
by Michael Barone
Chapter 9: Focusing on Student Effort
by Rod Paige
Chapter 10: From Help to Need: A New Education Agenda
by Arthur C. Brooks and Nathan Thompson
Part 3: Schools, Families, and Society
Chapter 11: School Choice and the Toughest-Case Kids
by Naomi Schaefer Riley
Chapter 12: Can Education Ease America’s “Men without Work” Crisis?
by Nicholas Eberstadt
Chapter 13: Rethinking the Mission of High School
by Ramesh Ponnuru
Chapter 14: The Cultural Contradictions of American Education
by Kay S. Hymowitz
Chapter 15: You Can’t Argue with Success—Or Can You?
by Mona Charen
Chapter 16: Measure What Matters: Family Structure and Student Outcomes
by Ian Rowe
Part 4: Renewing the Conservative Education Agenda
Chapter 17: Back to Basics for Conservative Education Reform
by Yuval Levin
Chapter 18: Rebuilding a Conservative Consensus: The Need for a Great Relearning
by William J. Bennett
Conclusion: How to Educate an American
by Michael J. Petrilli and Chester E. Finn, Jr.
"How successful we are in educating the next generation of Americans will determine our nation’s future. This collection of essays from leading conservative minds is the conversation-starter we need. How to Educate an American is a welcome contribution to our understanding of what ails our schools and how to fix them."
“It is a commonplace to observe that our national success depends in large part on the effectiveness of our K-12 education system. There the agreement ends, and we have sharp differences about how to reshape and improve that system. Regardless of point of view, those who want to enter this debate owe it to themselves to absorb the facts and reflect on the insights of this remarkable collection of thought leaders.”
“A thorough, thoughtful, and critical attempt to bring conservative thought into a central and productive relationship with American schools. It begs for an equally deep response.”
"For many years, conservatives have struggled to explain just what we're ‘for’ when it comes to education. In this invaluable volume, Petrilli and Finn have assembled a dazzling array of conservative thought leaders to answer that question. Whether a reader is seeking conservative counsel or simply trying to understand how conservatives think about schooling, this collection of lucid, challenging, and immensely readable essays is just the ticket."
"These essays seek to grapple with a set of important topics, and they do so in a variety of interesting and challenging ways. The contributors don't seek to peddle a new orthodoxy; they challenge us to think about a fundamental civic challenge."
"This volume presents an opportunity to access in one source a plethora of views on a conservative vision and its rationale for American education. Some permit a provocative contrast with politically liberal views; some would leave education to the school and economic marketplace and others to the needs of particular groups of students with educational needs. This provides considerable diversity of perspectives for a single volume on How to Educate an American.”
"Many of the most important policy debates for the future of America are getting no oxygen right now. In How to Educate an American we get access to a dozen and a half big arguments, and you should hear every one of them."
Law & Liberty
"Timely and necessary . . . lays the intellectual groundwork for a policy agenda that conservatives should strongly consider . . . state and local leaders would be wise to read How to Educate an American."
The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal
"Together, the book’s authors and editors articulate the great need for reform at all levels of American education and present a compelling vision of what education might look like if everyone involved—from policymakers to parents—finds the political will to do it."
"Petrilli and Finn are realistic reformers . . . the two do not underestimate the difficulty of fighting the K–12 establishment’s resistance. Yet the coeditors capture the spirit and direction of the volume in their conclusion, which boils down the book’s purpose to three critical themes: fostering informed citizenship based on history and civic knowledge; restoring character, virtue, and morality as important for all schools; and building an education system that confers dignity, respect, and opportunity for every student. Those who want to strengthen the school’s role as a critical mediating institution that transmits the best of our culture to future citizens are advised to read and ponder this volume."
"If you’re interested in education policy and want to get a grasp on how conservatives view education reform, How to Educate an American is definitely a worthwhile read."
"How to Educate an American offers insight into what the relationship between conservatism and American education may look like in the future."
“Each author clearly articulates his or her vision for public schools and does so in a thoughtful and reflective manner. The chapters address meaningful topics related to student learning and the critical role public schools play. While the work focuses on nationwide policy questions, it is very applicable to advocacy work at the statehouse. Its depth will help superintendents and board of education members gain more knowledge about these topics and help them to engage in deeper conversations with elected officials.”
—Justin B. Henry, superintendent, Goddard Public Schools, Goddard, Kansas
Library of Economics and Liberty
“Solid and informed, the book explains the context of education reforms today and proposes a future path that many conservatives will support….Congratulations to Petrilli and Finn for their heroic effort to try to refocus conservatives on reforms in public education. They have assembled an informative and articulate set of writers who offer readers stimulating ideas all in one volume.”
New York Post
“A passionate case for a return to Jefferson’s values after decades spent chasing higher graduation rates, glittering college-enrollment numbers and top standardized-test scores.”
“The collection offers many thoughtful, ambitious ways of understanding the social, cultural, and civic functions schools ought to play.”