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The Pride-ful attempt to co-opt education and control culture

By attacking book banners through lawsuits or other tactics, the Pride movement is announcing that, despite rhetoric calling for diverse perspectives, America can only have one culture: the culture that celebrates LGBTQ.

(Image: Redd F/

In Florida, which has become ground zero for America’s educational culture wars, a free speech organization called PEN America has joined forces with the nation’s largest book publisher, Penguin Random House, in a unique offensive. The tandem has filed suit in federal court against Escambia County School District for allegedly violating the First Amendment by banning from school libraries certain books pertaining to race and LGBTQ themes.

In its press release, PEN America declared that the school district’s “interests are in censoring certain ideas and viewpoints” from children, who are being denied what Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House, called “equitable access to a wide range of perspectives.” This, he continued, is censorship, which constitutes “a direct threat to democracy and our constitutional rights.”

But, to make their case, the plaintiffs are relying on an understanding of education that America abandoned decades ago. In this view, which stemmed from ancient Greece and continued unbroken until the modern age, education’s primary purpose was not to prepare citizens for democratic participation, nor was it to create “critical thinkers” or train young people for the workforce. Those goals are the legacy of pragmatist John Dewey (1859-1952), the most influential educational reformer America has known.

Rather, the primary goal of education was to pass on a culture—a way of living, thinking, and acting that is constitutive of a particular people—to the rising generation. At the heart of a culture is its self-understanding, its principles, its morals, its values. School curricula have the special task of communicating these beliefs. Selected books, art, music, and classroom instruction are all parts intended to present a coherent whole, a vision of how things are and how they ought to be. And while school lessons are taught, the culture is also caught through other means: religious and civil observances, media and marketing, work and recreation.

For centuries American schools passed on the culture known as Western Civilization, and the seven liberal arts served as its means. Western Civilization presented a vision of the true, the good, and the beautiful that derived from the Christian synthesis of two prior cultures: ancient Greece and ancient Israel. The former posited universal reason; the latter proclaimed a universal God. For Christians, Jesus Christ, as the Word of God made flesh, embodied the union of these two traditions.

Formal education was established in Europe and then in America so that, by encountering the best that has been thought and said in Western Civilization, students could grow in the wisdom and virtue that derive from it. Academic subject matter was chosen to foster student growth in these two areas. The ability to perform any job and participate responsibly in representative government was considered a byproduct of developing a strong intellect and upright character.

The Enlightenment rejected the Christian aspect of Western Civilization, and it transformed education to pass on its vision of culture. Following the educational philosophy of French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), John Dewey denied the existence of God, universal truth, and objective morality. Rather than pass on an inherited body of knowledge and way of living, Dewey argued that education should socialize students to participate in democracy. Students possess their own unique gifts; the teacher’s task is to draw out their potential not through teaching content, but through experiments, group work, and problem solving. The subjects studied and knowledge gained are secondary to the skills students acquired.

Unwittingly, Dewey’s progressive education does pass on a culture. This one, which has supplanted Western Civilization, believes that morals and values are relative; that utility trumps truth and beauty; that the individual’s will is the greatest good in society. Contemporary American life, from entertainment to business to law, all emanate from this culture.

The Pride movement that has swept through America in recent years has recognized that progressive education, with its “anything goes” approach, can only take the movement’s goals so far. So it has returned to the ancient model of education by establishing specific school curricula in order to normalize and pass on its vision of culture.

From children’s books such as Uncle Bobby’s Wedding and Sparkle Boy, which seek to normalize same-sex relationships and gender fluidity, to adolescent books such as Gender Queer and graphic sex-ed books such as Our Whole Lives, to mandatory Pride celebrations in schools and public places, the Pride movement promotes its culture of sexual permissiveness and experimentation where individual consent is the only governing norm. Given the large number of American individuals, institutions, and corporations—to say nothing of the Biden administration and U.S. embassies across the globe—now facilitating the transmission of this culture, the Pride movement has quickly reached maturity.

Because LGBTQ advocates are so dedicated to passing on this culture, they have marshaled fierce attacks against any attempts by concerned parents to resist their school curricula or library displays. Media routinely sneer at “book bans” that bar such books. PEN America and Penguin Random House have taken this fight to a new level, not only by filing suit against an offending school district, but by claiming that restrictions of Pride books violate the free speech of authors.

But this claim is a red herring. School books are not chosen—or omitted—because authors have a right to speak to students through their books. They have no such right, as this is not what freedom of speech is about. Rather, books are chosen or omitted according to the culture they convey.

By attacking book banners through lawsuits or other tactics, the Pride movement is announcing that, despite rhetoric calling for diverse perspectives, America can only have one culture: the culture that celebrates LGBTQ. In this, the Pride movement has proved itself savvier than John Dewey, for it has realized that knowledge, not skills, is power.

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About David G. Bonagura, Jr. 35 Articles
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary and Catholic Distance University. He is the 2023-2024 Cardinal Newman Society Fellow for Eucharistic Education. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism. and Staying with the Catholic Church: Trusting God's Plan of Salvation, and the translator of Jerome’s Tears: Letters to Friends in Mourning.


  1. I just unfollowed Penguin Random House on Twitter after reading this! I had absolutely no idea they were selling out to such nefarious tropes which sorely compromise the Church’s tradition on morals & ethics since I always thought they were all for classical values. I am so disheartened to learn Penguin Random House are giving their voice over to supporting really worldly values. It’s a wonder there hasn’t been an uproar from within the publishing company by those who value the classical traditions which Penguin used to pride itself on. I mean, SER-IOUS-LY!

  2. Dear Mr. Bonagura,
    To what extent could the free speech and/or legal arguments PEN and Penguin House use to promote the display of LGTB books at public high school libraries (is it at private schools as well?) be reverted against them by pressing for the presence and display of religious (Catholic) books?

    We could perhaps also envision that, with the presence of those religious books in the schools’ libraries, seminaries and presentations , including excellent video materials (such as the iBible app, please see, could be organized and presented at the libraries or at the schools, (after hours, of course). I am sure theare are many Sunday school teachers and other religious persons who would gladly participate in making available to our kids an alternate world vision that the woke narrative.

    We shouldn’t just be at the defensive, we should also be actively promoting what WE all believe in, defending our rights in the process!

    Yours Truly
    Raul Lacayo

  3. In the 1980s I was an associate editor and administrative assistant for a prominent and influential New York editor. On the wall of his office was an award for his support of gay rights. This movement to create a powerful and far-flung influence on education has been in process for decades. They call it a movement. It’s always been a war. AIDS only made it a more sympathetic one. As we have learned in recent years, never let a man-made disaster go to waste.

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