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Consider this thought experiment. You are a young parent with a house full of pre-school children. You and your spouse realize that you are not cut out to be homeschooling parents, but you want the best education for your children. You both sit down and think hard about the outcomes of the education you desire for your children. After serious thought you come up with a list similar to this:
We want our children's education to provide:
-- A firm grounding and solid understanding of your religious faith;
-- A comfort with and command of the core subjects (mathematics, language, history, science, and the arts);
-- Like your religious faith, a commitment of head and heart to the ideals of our country;
-- Good character based on having developed habits of honesty, self-control, generosity, persistence at a hard task, and justice.
Next, being by nature and by God's design, your children's first educator, you get to decide where to go have these educational goals fulfilled. The choices are:
A: Groups educators who have formed schools based on their educational philosophies and interests which you and your spouse share;
B: Similar groups of educators, but with a common religious orientation and educational goals;
C: Groups of educators organized and controlled by state bureaucrats, toothless local school boards, and teachers unions primarily dedicated to the well-being of teachers.
If your choice is revenue neutral and all-other-things-being-equal, our guess is that the great major of parents would select either A or B. What makes this thought experiment simply an academic exercise is, of course, the money. Choice C, the state-run schools, is "free," and A and B are expensive, and becoming more so every year. But why not begin a movement to change the system?
Currently in the U.S., citizens pay $12,000 year for the education of each child. In the state (i.e., public) schools of Massachusetts, the cost is north of $16,000 per pupil. The question of whether we are getting our money's worth is a relative question. If you are rich enough to move to a wealthy suburb, your children may be getting a better academic education than children in urban public schools. However, relative to the children of our Asian and European trading partners, even wealthy children are definitely not getting the education they need. Asian and European children are eating our children's lunch. "Lunch" in this case is our children's and grandchildren's futures.
Regarding the other goals of education -- education in the faith, character formation and understanding and adherence to civic ideals -- the behavior of the wealthy is instructive here. Whatever the merits or demerits of the rich, as a group, they are committed to providing their children with superior educations. When they move from the city to the suburbs and find the schools wanting, they open their wallets to buy the education they are convinced their children need. They reject the state schools because they have choice. On the other hand, the poor have no such choice. They have to sit by and watch their children's future shrivel. This situation is unjust and unfair and cries out to be changed.
The core question is, then, "Why the state?" Why should the great mass of us who are not rich and who cannot afford educational choice put up with this inferior, state-run system? One answer is that, "Well, the state has always provided public schooling for our children." In fact, no. Historically, churches and private groups of educators provided school for the masses. It wasn't until the 18th century that French and American politicians and policy makers saw the opportunity to use the schools as a means to impose a unifying ideology of secular nationalism. And their plan worked. Thus France, the United States of America and now almost all modern nations have developed extensive state-run school systems, systems which have gradually driven the competition out of existence.
Now clearly, the state has an interest in an educated citizenry and in ensuring that the young establish the attitudes and habits necessary to living together in harmony. But "interest in" does not mean controlling what children learn and don't learn. Our Founding Fathers wanted their new republic to have schools that taught religion because they saw religion as contributing to public order and an understanding of the basic concepts underlying our democracy. However, since then the state has moved aggressively not only to make public education a "religion-free zone," but it is allowing public schools to become increasingly hostile to the religious beliefs and principles of the majority of Americans.
In state schools, the only legitimate knowledge is "scientific knowledge." Thus, our children grow up ignorant and distrustful of non-scientific knowledge and ideals. The subtle, but strong message of the state schools is that religion and matters of the spirit are quaint artifacts of a way of life that is quickly passing away.
There is no reason, other than lack of imagination and political will, that democratic citizens should allow the state to have an iron grip on education and decide what our children will and will not learn. So, our thought experiment should end with the question, "Why are you putting up with this soul-killing state monopoly of education?"