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Should we separate school and state?

Posted by Chance on April 12, 2006

Perhaps my most radical political beliefs involve public schooling. I think a society in which school and state is separate is preferable. I am a little hesitant to have such a position, because I like the idea of the poor having guaranteed schooling. Yes, despite being a limited welfare, free market kind of guy, I still hate the idea of having government schooling taken away. Maybe it is because it has been the status quo for decades. However, there are some reasons I think the benefits of separating school and state may outweigh the disadvantages (many scholars argue that even in the economic arena, the poor are better off). At the very least, I believe we should have a voucher system, where, even though government funds support schooling, the parents at least have a choice where they send their kids.

The secularization of society.
Somehow, we have gotten the idea that there is a way to be taught that is totally value free. We have this idea that we can and should separate moral values from the rest of schooling. But I do not think this is possible. Sure, things like mathematics and grammar are easy to teach without attaching moral values. But what about history, political science, or sex education. So many courses make subjective judgments about our society, including our history, and moral values. I believe that whether it is religious belief or outright secularlism, some values are going to be attached to what we are taught.

Even if the public school tries to be value free, certain values are going to be taught. Sex ed, for instance. Even the decision whether or not it should be taught in schools is a value judgment. If it is taught, do you discuss contraceptives, STD preventative measures, abstinence?

There is also the debate about intelligent design vs. evolution. Either way, the school has to make a judgment call. Should a school consider the possibility of outside forces of what is directly observable in considering the causing forces of the universe? Science is science, but it seems that it is getting to the point where you have to open your mind to the possibility of outside forces, or you have to close your mind to them. Instead of a state government or federal court making a decision for all the schools within the reach, I think it would be preferable for parents to send their kids to the school of their choice.

For Christians, who says that you have to separate religion from schools? Who says that at home you can be taught spiritual values, but when you go to school you have to be taught in an institution that pretends religion does not exist? Why does there have to be taught in two different spheres, where the moral and spiritual values have to be separate from the sphere in which you learn math, history, and spelling. Any way you go, children are going to be taught certain values, whether it is the Baptist school in town, or the secular philosophy that public schools bring.

Government Bureaucracy and Efficiency
I believe the problem with public schools is not simply an issue of not enough money. Public schools are managed by huge bureacracies that are inefficient. Furthermore, as I touched on earlier, with government controlled schools, legislatures and judges make decisions affecting what is taught for schools across several districts, or the entire state.

Competition ensures quality, efficiency, parents wishes With a free market, schools would have the motivation to operate efficiently, to keep costs down. They would also operate more effectively. They would be directly accountable to parents, who can move their children to a different school if they choose. Parents have more say in disciplinary policy, what is taught, the manner of teaching, the educational philosophy, etc…

Some advantages for the poor.
Right now, the rich have school choice, by choosing the neighborhood they live in which they live. The poor do not have this luxury. Sure, in the free market, they will still be the distinctions between the schools the poor attend, and those of the rich. However, the difference between rich housing and poor housing is in the tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands. I do not believe this will be the difference between rich schools and poor schools.

I know this is a radical idea. I am sure I did not do this justice as a persuasive piece, I am just summarizing my thoughts on the subject. Half of me hates the thought of not having public schools, because I think of the poor not having guaranteed schooling and many look to public schools as someone evening out class distinctions in society. The other half thinks that public school is leading to the secularization of society, in which spiritual values and education are viewed to be in different spheres, and the way to eliminate this is through having schools that reinforce the parents’ values. The idea of a secular state educating our children bothers me. It also bothers some other Christians as well, Marshall Fritz, founder of The Alliance for the Separation of School and State. It also bothered C. S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis, in his last chapter of the Screwtape Letters, paints a scene in which demons in hell are meeting, discussing their strategy against the humans.

In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.

Of course, this would not follow unless all education became state education. But it will. That is part of the same movement. Penal taxes, designed for that purpose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in order to have their children privately educated. The removal of this class, besides linking up with the abolition of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of the spirit that says I’m as good as you. This was, after all, the social group which gave to the humans the overwhelming majority of their scientists, physicians, philosophers, theologians, poets, artists, composers, architects, jurists, and administrators. If ever there were a bunch of stalks that needed their tops knocked off, it was surely they. As an English politician remarked not long ago, “A democracy does not want great men.”

Now, I just read this the other day and have not had time to absorb this all. I am not saying everyone who supports public schools are supporting the devil’s plan, or anything like that. It is just something I read the other day, and wanted to bring in his perspective. C. S. Lewis was a classical liberal who feared the attempts of government to produce an egalitarian society, and he saw public school as a means to do that.


2 Responses to “Should we separate school and state?”

  1. The Prophet said

    Good Post. Well, if the government is trying to even everyone out with public schools, they’re not doing a very good job at it. I don’t know how it is in your neck of the woods (or mountains), but here it separates the upper from the lower class. There are 3 large private schools within 5 miles from my house. And most likely my children will go to that school, because of the conditions you mentioned in your post.

  2. Chance said

    It is the same situation here. There is one school district where no one I know wants to be, and there is a school district where everyone wants to be. Some people are fortunate enough to have the money to live in the nice school district, others are not so lucky. Fortunately, if we have to send our kids to public schools because we don’t have the money, our school district is somewhere in between.

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