Lewis On Egalitarian Education: Will It Breed A Nation Which Should Survive?

Democratic education, says Aristotle, ought to mean, not the education which democrats like, but the education which will preserve democracy. Until we have realized that the two things do not necessarily go together we cannot think clearly about education.

For example, an education which gave the able and diligent boys no advantage over the stupid and idle ones, would be in one sense democratic. It would be egalitarian and democrats like equality. The caucus race in Alice, where all the competitors won and all go prizes, was a “democratic” race: like the Garter it tolerated no nonsense about merit.1 Such total egalitarianism in education has not yet been openly recommended. But a movement in that direction begins to appear. It can be seen in the growing demand that the subjects which some boys do very much better than others should not be compulsory. Yesterday it was Latin; today as I see from a letter in one of the papers, it is Mathematics. Both these subjects give an “unfair advantage” to boys of a certain type. To abolish that advantage is therefore in one sense democratic. 

But of course there is no reason for stopping with the abolition of these two compulsions. To be consistent we must go further. We must abolish all compulsory subjects; and we must make the curriculum so wide that “every boy will get a chance at something.” Even the boy who can’t or won’t learn his alphabet can be praised and petted for something—handicrafts or gymnastics, moral leadership or deportment, citizenship or the care of guinea-pigs, “hobbies” or musical appreciation—anything he likes. Then no boy and no boy’s parents, need feel inferior.

An education on those lines will be pleasing to democratic feelings. It will have repaired the inequalities of nature. But it is quite another question whether it will breed a democratic nation which can survive, or even one whose survival is desirable.

C. S. Lewis | Present Concerns ed. Walter Hooper (San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1986), 32–33. | “Democratic Education” is Lewis’ title his “Notes on the Way” from Time and Tide, vol. XXV (29 April 1944), pp. 369–70.


1. The Order of the Garter, instituted by King Edward III in 1344, is the highest order of knighthood. Lewis had in mind the comment made by Lord Melbourne (1779–1848) about the Order: “I like the Garter; there is no no damned merit about it.”



  1. Putting my kids in a private Christian school this year has been a real eye-opener about the plummeting quality of public ‘education.’ The problem is, it costs an arm and a leg in an already high-cost state with a progressive income tax. We need vouchers or tax breaks, but how do we wrangle them from the Left and how do we keep the government’s tentacles out of the private schools if we get them?

    • Vouchers are an idea whose idea has come in many US states. There are voucher bills in state legislatures and committees. There are organizations pushing vouchers successfully. In deep blue states, however, where the teachers unions have the state government in a headlock, vouchers will be a tough sell. The only way I can see to move forward is for a larger numbers of people to opt out of the school system and thereby starve local districts of cash. We need to pit the local boards (districts) against the unions.

    • This was Richard Hanania’s conclusion as well – starve them of children and cash. They’ll adapt to this strategy though. In blue states, I suspect the teacher’s union-backed legislation will lead to an exodus to other states which is not what blue-state pastors want to hear.

      Curtis Yarvin has another idea behind a paywall on his substack. I haven’t read it.

      Perhaps we can pray for a eucatastrophe.

    • Well, the unions cannot force people to send their kids to public schools. The courts have spoken. The old monopoly is dead. In that regard CA is ahead of Nebraska, which doesn’t even have charter schools and that’s a very red state. So, it’s not as hopeless as it might seem here. It’s much better for homeschoolers here than it was when we were doing it.

    • They can’t force people to send their kids to public schools but they can heap administrative, regulatory, and bureaucratic requirements on homeschoolers and private schools. The sky is the limit.

  2. RSC – maybe I’m misunderstanding something in your sentence, “… The only way I can see to move forward is for a larger numbers of people to opt out of the school system and thereby starve local districts of cash …”, but in the state of my residence schools (i.e., teacher’s salaries) are funded through local property taxes. So, if people want to remove their child from the public system and send him/her to a private one, they still have to pay the property taxes that keep the public school system afloat as well as the college tuition level fees for the private school. That takes a large bite out of the resident’s wallet while doing no harm to the public institution. The only way I can see that working long term is if nearly every parent in a given school district would pull their children out of the public system, ultimately rendering the given local school unsustainable, forcing its closure. [this, of course, is in a location where vouchers are not available and since strong local unions manage to beat down the voucher approach, aren’t likely to any time soon]

    • George,

      Yes, schools are funded by property taxes but they apportioned to the district by the state according to how many children are enrolled in the district. Each child is worth $8-10K or more in the district. When children are in-enrolled, the district loses $ from the state. So, as people leave the district (and they are leaving nationally in droves) the district will be made to come to heel or collapse financially.

    • Ahh, thanks. This explains why when the former (state) speaker of the house proposed pushing the school funding from the state level down to each local jurisdiction, it failed dramatically – it was the unions were against it.

      Which leads me to make a statement (that could lead to protesters outside my house hurling insults, rocks, or even incendiary devices): I have never been in favor of late 60’s/early70’s SCOTUS decision giving “public servants”, be they teachers, firefighters, police, road maintenance workers, etc. the right to collective bargaining (i.e., forming unions). What we’re seeing nowadays in public education is the ultimate end result of such a decision.

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