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The Unraveling: The Forgotten Student

February 9, 2017 0 Comments


In my last post, I discussed the history of an 1883 essay called “The Forgotten Man.” In that essay, Yale Professor William Graham Sumner asked the reader to imagine four men.  Two of them, A and B, observe a third man, X, who is in need.  They decide to use the machinery of government bureaucracy to transfer wealth to this third man, X.  But the man who pays for this wealth transfer is neither A nor B, but a fourth man, C, whom we today might say is among the middle or lower middle class.  In Sumner’s original construct, C was the forgotten man.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used this same essay in the 1930s to justify his New Deal program.  However, FDR revised the concept to exclude C from the conversation and make X the “forgotten man.”  This change in the metaphor relieved X of any responsibility for his circumstances.

According to historian Amity Shlaes in her book The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, this was the beginning of the “modern entitlement challenge” as Roosevelt figuratively re-wrote the definition of the word “liberal,” changing its application from individual liberty and individual rights to that of group identity and rights. [i]   This effort to reshape the character of the American people truly exploded under President Johnson’s Great Society programs.  In 1984, Charles Murray’s book, Losing Ground, in which he documented the transformation of the American character caused by those entitlement programs.

A century after the original “Forgotten Man” essay was written, Murray explained how modern social policy had expanded the concept beyond income transfers.  In his chapter titled Rethinking Social Policy, there is a section on education policy, Robbing Peter to Pay Paul:  Transfers from Poor to Poor.  Murray introduces the section by stating:  “But in a surprising number of instances the transfers are mandated by the better-off, while the price must be paid by donors who are just as poor as the recipient.”[ii]

I find this to be a profound statement.  Murray is talking about wealthy politicians who put their children in private school, while passing a lottery to pay for education.  Research has shown that lotteries, especially the daily ones that pay out only a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, disproportionately hurt lower middle income people.  Yet it is precisely this group of people that pay the majority of the cost to fund education programs for “at risk” students.  Meanwhile, with funding by the teachers unions, these same politicians will attack anyone who wishes to dismantle the Education Monopoly through school choice or home schooling.

forgottenstudentIn his chapter, Murray provides a thought experiment wherein two poor inner city students are alternatively benefited and harmed by the federal government’s education policies.  He posits a teacher in an inner city school with students facing identical ethno-socio-economic circumstances, where one behaves in a “mischievous” way, and another does not.  Out of a desire to protect the “mischievous” student’s civil rights, the education system prevents the teacher from disciplining him. As a result, Murray writes:[iii]

I find that the quality of education obtained by the good student deteriorated badly, both because the teacher had less time and energy for teaching, and because the classroom environment was no longer suitable for studying.  One poor and disadvantaged student has been compelled (he had no choice in the matter) to give up part of his education so that the other student could stay in the classroom.

Since the creation of the US Department of Education, the debate over education policy has been fought between those who want some sort of national curriculum and federal control on one side, and those who advocate for parental rights and local control over the teaching of subject matter and moral values.  Because of this constant battle, America has ignored the Forgotten Student, and succumbed to what Alan Bloom called “The Closing of the American Mind” to such ideals as right, wrong, good, and evil.

The Progressive Movement has advocated this “great closing” as a way to deliberately move away from the inculcation of Christian values in the minds of young students, and directly mold the character of our people.  Not surprisingly, Charles Murray has also taken a stab at opening a conversation on this topic as well.

In the fifth article in my series of posts on The Unraveling, I will explore what Murray calls the “Four Virtues,” and how they have not only been eroded, but this erosion has been deliberate   Click to read the other posts in this series.

This series is based on an essay that I have written which you can find at  In that essay I lay out my thoughts as concisely as I can, with a full series of references endnotes (27 for those with a scholarly bent).  In this series of posts, I wish to expand on the original essay, and make it easier to digest via social media.

I also wish to invite a discussion on this topic.  To do so, please see my posts at DISQUS.

It’s time that all of us work together to reverse course, and restore the American spirit of self-reliance and pride in self-accomplishment exemplified the American spirit.

[i] Shlaes, Amity (2008). The Forgotten Man:  A New History of the Great Depression, p. 11.  New York, NY, Harper Collins

[ii] Murray, Charles (1984).  Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980, p. 199.  New York, NY.  Basic Books.

[iii] Ibid., p. 200.




About the Author:

David Lantz is a self-published author, adjunct college professor and leadership consultant. Visit my online courses at and like my facebook page at and

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