THE SEDER AS CIVICSBy Yonoson Rosenblum | MARCH 23, 20
The Seder instills in its participants an appreciation of the people to whom they belong and its unique mission
The conservative Powerline blog is currently running a series entitled "Is America Doomed?" The first installment was based on an article by David Goldman, "Meritocracy vs. Idiocracy: Why China Is Winning."
The key to China's future success, argues Goldman, is its rigorous meritocracy. Middle-class success in China is predicated on acceptance to university, which is entirely based on the Gaokao college entrance exam, for which the average Chinese family spends a year's salary paying for tutoring. Still, 50 percent of the ten million Chinese who take the exam yearly fail.
And once they get to university, one-third of Chinese students go into rigorous STEM subjects, as opposed to 5 to 6 percent in the United States. China graduates six times as many STEM students a year as the United States.
Meanwhile, American universities have abandoned meritocracy, as determined by any objective standard, and are instead obsessed with diversity and inclusion. The goal: to ensure that "oppressed" (i.e., non–East Asian and non-Indian) racial and ethnic groups are proportionally represented, no matter how much standards have to be jiggered.
Goldman's verdict: "Meritocracy will win, because it always does, and all the more so in a high-tech, winner-take-all world."
IN INSTALLMENT TWO of "Is America Doomed?" it turns out that what American children are "learning" threatens America's future no less than what they are not learning. They are being indoctrinated long before they reach university that America is an irredeemably racist, colonialist country.
That indoctrination takes place across the spectrum from the poorest ghetto school to the toniest $40,000- to $50,000-a-year prep schools. Fifth-graders in Philadelphia's William D. Kelley School recently completed a unit celebrating Angela Davis, "a black Communist" for her fight against "inequality and injustice." As part of their studies, they conducted a rally to "free Angela" from the jail in which she was once held on charges of kidnapping and murder.
Only 13 percent of the graduates of William D. Kelley are deemed functionally literate at the time of their graduation. But the Philadelphia teachers union has the solution: overthrow the "racist structure of capitalism," provide "reparations for Black and indigenous people," and "uproot white supremacy and plant the seeds for a new world" — presumably one in which reading and arithmetic are not necessary.
Things are no better at the nation's most expensive prep schools. In "The Miseducation of America's Elites," Bari Weiss, reports on conversations with disgruntled parents at Los Angeles and Manhattan prep schools, not one of whom would even allow their names to be mentioned out of fear that their child would be blackballed and not recommended for a top college. To question Harvard-Westlake School's new manifesto for becoming an "anti-racist" institution, one parent tells Weiss, is an invitation to being called "a racist, which is worse than being called a murderer."
The irony of schools like L.A.'s Harvard-Westlake, whose head of school draws a $700,000 salary and which recently spent $40 million on its new athletic complex, teaching their students about the evils of capitalism, is not lost on Weiss. Asked what she had learned in school that day, a primary school girl at Manhattan's Chapin School told her father, "All people with lighter skin don't like people with darker skin and are mean to them." The parents interviewed by Weiss all complained that their children are constantly made to feel like racists because of the color of their skin.
The children of the elite are being taught to speak "woke." L.A.'s Brentwood Prep — yearly cost $45,630 — boasts that "diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical components of our education," though divvying up the endowment with less privileged kids is not. The faculty is all studying White Fragility. And the school recently divided up into racially segregated "dialogue and community-building sessions."
Riverdale's Fieldston School offers an upper-class elective in "historicizing whiteness." Brooklyn's Grace Church School recommends against using the word "parents." One recent curricular zine called Accomplices Not Allies declared, "The work of an accomplice in anti-colonial struggle is to attack colonial structures and ideas," accompanied by a photo of a burning police car.
Stanley Kurtz has long been America's most thoroughgoing critic of systematic efforts to infiltrate radical chic into the K-12 curriculum, most recently in the form of the Civics Secures Democracy Act of 2021. Kurtz characterizes the Act as an attempt to "irrevocably cement the partisan Left's hold upon our culture," by de facto creating a national curriculum on civics and history.
The bill would allocate $1 billion in subsidies for curriculum development and teacher training according to two basic criteria. The first is compliance with the educational model of the Action Civics movement, which has no relationship to civics as we old folks knew it — the study of the American constitutional structure. Rather, Action Civics advocates having teachers discuss current social and political controversies in class, while class credit is based on participation in political protests and lobbying and internships with advocacy organizations.
Those projects and organizations are inevitably left-wing, emphasizing, according to a leading text of the movement, topics such as "diversity, sustainability, inequality, and global interdependence," with the goal of effectuating "systemic social and political change." The second criteria for grants is to "improve knowledge and engagement among traditionally underserved students," almost certainly via critical race theory. Illinois's recently enacted Action Civics curriculum, "Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards," designed to appeal to minority students, for instance, forces teachers to affirm "America's systemic racism, the fluidity of gender, and the need to mitigate Euro-centrism and whiteness."
Political theorist Patrick Deneen points out that Crucible Moment, the leading statement of Action Civics, fails the primary task of a civics text — a relationship to the meaning of citizenship in a particular place with a particular history and polity, i.e., the United States, and substitutes substantive policy ends for knowledge of America's policy.
"Recognizing the essential contestability of your own point of view," writes Kurtz, "is the preface to liberty." He recommends having students debate major issues and then take the other side as an ideal means of inculcating that awareness. But a taste for debate, or seeing two sides to an issue, has no place in woke politics.
SEDER NIGHT is the civics lesson of the Jewish People. The fundamentals of emunah set forth by the Ramban at the end of parshas Bo — Hashem as the Creator of the entire universe and everything in it; His continued Providence over His creation; and the truth of the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu — will all receive their due.
In addition, the Seder instills in its participants an appreciation of the people to whom they belong and its unique mission. In recent years, universalistic sedorim, with both Jewish and non-Jewish participants, have been all the rage. But the message of the Seder is a highly particularistic one, even if its impact is universal: the selection of the Jews as Hashem's Chosen People.
Rav Dovid Cohen, Rosh Yeshivas Chevron, asks at the beginning of his new sefer Zeman Cheiruseinu, why the verses in Yehoshua quoted in the paragraph in the Haggadah beginning, "Originally, our ancestors were idol worshippers," mentions that Eisav inherited Har Se'ir, before concluding, "And Yaakov and his sons went down to Mitzrayim."
The reason, writes the Brisker Rav, is that the condition of being the true seed of Avraham was fulfillment of the Divine promise at the Bris bein Habesarim, "Your seed will be strangers in a land not their own for four hundred years." Yaakov and his progeny fulfilled the condition; Eisav did not. And thus the children of Yaakov became worthy of the promise made Avraham Avinu, "to your descendants I have given the Land."
Hashem chose Avraham at Bris bein Habesarim to be the one through whom to redeem one branch of mankind from the lowly level to which it fell after the Sin of Adam Harishon. But, as described by the Ramchal, reaching that level again, as Klal Yisrael did at Sinai, would require a purification process from the contamination of Adam's sin. That was the servitude and torture endured in Mitzrayim.
Galus and Geulah (Exile and Redemption) are thus inextricably bound, one process through which the true seed of Avraham were selected to return a portion of mankind to its original pristine state. Though we did not remain at that level, our mission today remains the same.
After a run of 120 years or so as the most powerful and richest nation in history, the future of the United States today is a matter of speculation. So too is any group of Jews who cannot entertain the idea of Jewish chosenness headed for oblivion. But for those who sit at the Seder table and absorb the message of the Seder, no one is asking, even after 2,000 years of exile: Is the Jewish People doomed?
Chag kasher v'sameiach