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Jewish World Review April 28, 2003 / 26 Nissan, 5763

Diana West

Diana West
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What Americans have to learn about cultural education | George Bush the father always said he wanted to be known as the "Education President." George Bush the son has an education plan that, if it ever comes off, would make him the "Education Wizard."

That plan is helping Iraqis build a secular education system. Such a system is a vital part of any American strategy to promote Western-style democracy, and not Islamic theocracy, in liberated Iraq (or Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and anywhere else in the Islamic world). "The most radical aspects of Islam are in places with no education at all but the Koran," a U.S. official recently told the Washington Post.

"There is no math, no culture. You counter that (fundamentalism) by doing something with the education system."

But what? For starters, "something" that inculcates respect for the rule of law, wards off tyranny of the majority, and safeguards freedom of worship and equal rights before the law. Any country decimated by dictatorship also needs to rediscover its culture, its history, and its significance in the sweep of civilization. Such serious and seriously rigorous requirements, however, make me wonder whether 21st-century America, decades into its own cultural eradication program of applied political correctness, is really well-equipped to lead the way.

This bout of doubt came over me while reading a Vogue magazine article about married foreign correspondents -- at one point "he" was Beijing bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal and "she" was Beijing bureau chief for Newsweek -- and how they raised their three young sons to be "citizens of the world," not the United States. According to author Dorinda Elliott, she and her husband very successfully expanded their children's multicultural horizons, but never, ever grounded them in fundamental American values -- a failure that shocked them on their post 9/11 return to the States.

Why the shock? The piece is a clear explanation of how privileged Americans schooled their children to disdain American privileges. Ms. Elliott prides herself on having actively imparted to her children a "healthy skepticism"; raised them to realize the world is "rarely black-and-white"; and strived to bring "current affairs into our living room." But she's out to lunch when it comes to figuring out where her eldest son picked up his rancorous attitudes. Somehow, it seems, the boy accepted Chinese propaganda on the failures of America's "so-called democracy." Somehow, it seems, he never learned of the near-sacred regard with which the Chinese hold the freedom to travel. Somehow, it seems, he had a "one-dimensional view of America as a land of random violence." Living in "expat bubbles," he never even discovered that "cheese and chocolate and other luxuries" were unavailable in China.

But how could he? What with all the healthy skepticism going around, Mom and Dad never seemed to get around to mentioning such things -- or at least not until Junior hit adolescence and it was too late. Small wonder the little darling came home to Connecticut, and, upon being asked not to wear "his favorite homemade T-shirt" ("FREEDOM IS A LIBERTY/BURN THE AMERICAN FLAG!"), the boy sulked, built an illicit fire on the backyard barbecue and grilled up the Stars and Stripes.

At this, Elliott, who wore Mao suits back when her Harvard profs "somehow left me with the impression that the Cultural Revolution was one of the great social experiments," fell into a retrospective vertigo. "Six month before, when we were still living in Hong Kong, I might have been more laid back," she writes. "But with stories about John Walker Lindh, the confused young American who had ended up fighting for the Taliban, swirling in the press, I knew I had to do everything I could to understand what Oliver was going through."

Looking back at the Vogue portrait of the family posed before the mantelpiece (adorned with a giant poster of Chairman Mao), you realize Elliott never quite nails exactly why "confused" Oliver "ended up" burning the flag. But maybe it doesn't matter. The boy is now happy at Brooklyn's St. Ann's school, "a bastion of ultraliberal thinking and creativity." (The Web site features a gallery of third-graders' painting of "Comrade Lenin.") Ms. Elliott may have plumbed the depths of denial to distance herself from her own possible influence on Oliver's jaundiced views, but she really didn't have to. The same multicultural horizons her family focused on across the globe, much to the detriment of the children's American roots, are the same multiculti principles taught within sight of the nation's capital -- much to the detriment of all our children's American roots.

Which is one reason I wonder how it is that we hope to be successful at passing on our democratic traditions to others, when we're not too good at passing them on to ourselves.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

04/21/03: In Iraq, is democracy is in the eye of the beholder?
04/14/03: The greatest generation gap
03/31/03: The great gap between the West and the Middle East
03/21/03: They just wouldn't shut up!
03/10/03: Sorry apologies for speaking the truth
03/03/03: The Eurabian alliance
02/24/03: Searching for good news
02/18/03: Love and honor -- lost, found and murdered
02/03/03: A calm that causes concern
01/27/03: Playing politics with a T-shirt mentality
01/21/03: When understanding the East means losing the West
01/13/03: Is a war on Jews a war on democracy?
01/06/03: Bush must take a stand on affirmative action
12/30/02: Questions for reflection on 2002
12/16/02: The pre-emptive war goes Hollywood
12/09/02: Protest Augusta? Why not Sudan?
11/25/02: Something to contemplate this Ramadan
11/08/02: Does Eminem now fit in?
11/04/02: No time for gloating
11/04/02: What's in a name when the name is Muhammad?
10/28/02: Jihad as a First Amendment right
10/21/02: When speaking out isn't allowed
10/14/02: Terrorism in Maryland and abroad
09/30/02: So long urgency, hello indulgence
09/24/02: That one, sturdy, missing word
09/17/02: Fingerprinting, finally
09/09/02: When 'healing' overshadows reality
09/04/02: Tales from the Techno Valley and Forest
08/16/02: Elvis shall rise again
08/14/02: War with Iraq won't harm war on terror
08/06/02: Clinton snaps over Somalia
08/01/02: 9-11 anniversary shouldn't come with apology
07/27/02: An unstable common ground
07/25/02: Hillary fights hard for soft money
07/12/02: Goretheus unbound
07/10/02: Rosie takes a shine to Republicans
07/08/02: Are you still shocked, Sami?
07/02/02: Can Britney win hearts of the Middle East?
06/28/02: A war on terror or Islamists?
06/25/02: Blame the murderer, and the messenger
06/21/02: Up front and personal with Atta
06/18/02: Terrorism at the United Nations
06/11/02: Who's policing the INS?
06/07/02: Spa Gitmo
06/04/02: Can rock gods save the queen?
05/31/02: Hillary's war
05/29/02: Have you forgotten we're at war?
05/24/02: An antiquated luxury of the past
05/21/02: From terrorists to tourists
05/19/02: Hate U.
05/07/02: Western self-loathing numbs us to violence
05/03/02: Pioneering television
05/01/02: Western self-loathing numbs us to violence
04/29/02: It's the misconduct, stupid
04/24/02: Medal of diss-honor
04/17/02: Holy sanctuary or terrorist shield?
04/12/02: Egyptian clerics solicit martyrs for murder
04/09/02: Defining terrorism down
04/05/02: The Wilder life
04/02/02: Acting, equality and the Academy
03/31/02: Speeding to conclusions
03/25/02: Hard to remove blood (libel) stains
03/21/02: The tale of Nixon's tapes --- again
03/19/02: The Big Lie lives on
03/15/02: The tunnel vision of '9/11'
03/13/02: The American Auschwitz?
03/08/02: Hating the indoctrination of hate
03/05/02: Clinton and Enron: Old friends
03/01/02: Pickering doesn't polarize, the process does
02/26/02: Destiny's prefabricated child
02/22/02: The White House heist
02/20/02: Making the grade
02/11/02: Studying student visas
02/06/02: Understanding arrogance
02/04/02: The professor's war
01/29/02: Disconnected dialogue
01/23/02: Anti-Indiscrimination
01/18/02: How much is enough?
01/15/02: Oh brothers, where art thou?
01/10/02: Air on the side of caution
01/04/02: Blacks seeing red at Harvard
01/02/02: Clinton's campaign continues
12/26/01: A tale of two exhibitions
12/24/01: Taliban Idyll
12/19/01: Right is right
12/17/01: Hillary strikes out
12/13/01: Lost files, lost presidency
12/10/01: Revolutionaries never grow up
12/05/01: Immigration reform talk is not just for 'haters' anymore
12/03/01: A new symbol of justice
11/30/01: Beyond morality
11/26/01: Can't keep a good man down
11/20/01: Tough talk at the United Nations
11/19/01: Hollywood's other battle
11/14/01: What's the matter with Sara Jane?
11/09/01: A beef with bin Laden's Beef Noodles
11/07/01: Facing up to the FBI's past mistakes
11/02/01: A school that teaches patriots to shutup
10/30/01: The gap between Islam and peace
10/26/01: The ties that bind (and gag)
10/24/01: This war is more than Afghanistan
10/22/01: The fatuous fatwa
10/19/01: Left out
10/16/01: Whose definition of terrorism?
10/11/01: Post-stress disorder
10/08/01: How the West has won
10/01/01: Good, bad or ... diplomacy
09/28/01: Drawing a line in stone
09/21/01: Prejudice or prudence?
09/14/01: When our dead will finally rest in hallowed ground
09/07/01: We want our #$%^&*() audience back!
08/24/01: The transformation from Green Mountain State to Green Activist State is all but complete
08/17/01: Enlightenment at Yale
08/10/01: From oppressors to victims, a metamorphosis
08/03/01: Opening the dormitory door: College romance in the New Century
08/01/01: How-To Hackdom: The dubious art of writing books about writing books
07/20/01: Hemming about Hemmings
07/13/01: Justice has not been served in the Loiuma police brutality case
06/22/01: When PC parades are too 'mainstream'
06/22/01: When "viewpoint discrimination" in our schools was not nearly so gnarly a notion
06/15/01: Lieberman flaunts mantle of perpetual aggrievement
06/07/01: Is graciousness the culprit?
06/01/01: The bright side of the Jeffords defection
05/29/01: Campus liberals should be more careful
05/18/01: 'Honest Bill' Clinton and other Ratheresian Logic
05/11/01: Dodging balls, Bugs, and 'brilliance'
05/04/01: Foot in mouth disease and little lost Tories
04/20/01:The last classic Clinton cover-up
04/20/01: D-Day, Schmee-Day
04/06/01: For heaven's sake, a little decency!
03/30/01: The sweet sound of slamming doors and clucking feminists
03/23/01: America's magazines and the 'ick-factor'
03/09/01: Felony neglect
03/02/01: Who's sorry now?
02/23/01: 'Ecumenical niceness' and other latter-day American gifts to the world
02/16/01: Elton and Eminem: Royal dirge-icist meets violent fantasist
02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West