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The battleground for public schools

Posted by Chance on May 11, 2006

Currently, the California state legislature is considering the addition of gay studies to the curriculum.

Predictably, and understandably so, conservative Christians do not like this, and many are fighting it. In my personal view, whether or not someone is discussed in history textbooks should really depend on the contribution they made to history, not what their sexual orientation happened to be. Concerning the overall battle, however, I cannot help but wonder if the battle is being fought in the wrong way.

I believe that the best way for Christians to fight the culture wars is not through the public schools. I think many Christians understand that you can’t teach exclusively Christian values in the public schools, but they want their children to be free of the secular philosophy pervading public schools. But I think conservatives and/or Christians need to think outside of the box. The battleground is not our public schools, but how our children our educated in general.

The idea behind public schools is that it is a secular state system, and it is available to all. In theory, socialized institutions appeal to a certain side of me, despite my libertarian nature. The idea of school for all, healthcare for all sound like a good idea. Unfortunately, I believe the empirical data shows that market health care works far better than socialized health care, and many conservatives who keep up with financial matters would agree. The idea of socialized schools is not so hotly contested, and really, only libertarians support the abolition of public schools. But I digress.

As mentioned above, public schools are secular, and ideally, suppose to remain value free. The idea is that the public school system is supposed to be immune from religious influences. Whether “freedom” from religious influences implies freedom from moral values is not so clear. Many claim that a school can teach grammar, mathematics, and even history without them being entwined with moral values. Some claim that schools can teach children values, just not those influenced by religious teachings, such as the value of diversity and tolerance and all the things public schools focus on these days.

There are several points I would like to make.

1) Schools cannot be value free. They just can’t. As with the gay studies, value judgments must be made on whether homosexuality is even an acceptable lifestyle or not, and public schools will say that it is, and to say otherwise would be due to an influence of religious values. And maybe this is the case. The same issue with intelligent design vs. “unguided” evolution. I say unguided to mean theories of evolution that reject the existence of a creator. Critics of ID argue that it is just creationism light. However, “unguided” evolution outright rejects an intelligent force, based on a materialistic view of science. I understand that current science is based on what can be observed, but I argue that science does not have to outright reject what cannot be seen, or even dismiss the unseen as a possibility. The materialistic view of science does not have to be the only way. Finally, I was having a discussion with my wife about sex ed. I realized the need for teaching sexual education in schools, but the problem I have is that this subject has to be intertwined with more value judgments. Should abstinence be encouraged, along with, or in opposition to safe sex? Should sexual education include the teaching and promotion of alternative lifestyles? Sex ed cannot be taught without making some statement on the appropriate time to even have sex.

The point is, value judgments are going to be taught one way or another. Many will argue that public schools are value free, or whatever values that are taught are okay, because disagreement with those values would only (supposedly) be based on religious reasons. But one thing I believe for sure, education cannot be value free.

2) Ideally, institutional education should be an extension of parental education. We, as Americans, have accepted the idea that there are different spheres of children’s education. There is the home, where the child is taught or exposed to religious values, political values, etc… then they go to school, where they are supposed to be taught in some neutral environment free of these values. Why does this have to be? Why does there have to be a dichotomy between what the child learns at home and what he/she learns at school? Who said that schools have to be value-free? Now, I understand that public schools cannot be this way. But parents should take this into consideration.

The point here, I am making, is that education should ultimately be up to the parent. The above paragraph could, I imagine, trigger several objections. When the parent’s ideas are a little off-kilter, some would say that public school would somewhat normalize what the child is exposed to. I believe that this can still happen, however, with a private school. I see the objections as reasonable towards homeschool, where the child is not exposed to a more diverse array of viewpoints, but even in this instance, many homeschools form co-ops. Even then though, I believe socialization of the child should be up to the parent, not the government.

Now, there are two main ideas being proposed as alternatives to the typical public school system, well, three if you consider the idea of throwing more money at the public school system.
1) School choice within the state system. This is currently done through the pushing of school vouchers, or through charter schools, in which parents have a more direct role in the school’s policies. Parents still receive state money, but they can simply choose where they direct this money.
2) Outright separation of school and state. A much more radical approach, no doubt.

Option 1) of course, ultimately means that education is still state-funded, but the money follows the parent. Some school vouchers are even transferable to private schools. Liberals have issues with this due to separation of church and state issues. Personally, I do not, because in this instance the child is not forced to attend a religious school. Since the child has a choice, I do not believe there is an “establishment of religion”, but this leads to a bigger debate.

Many conservatives support option 1), but many do not. There are liberal arguments and conservative arguments against vouchers, which can be summed up here.

Liberals typically reject options 1) and do not consider 2) as an option.

Libertarians, I believe, ultimately support option 2), for the same reason that they reject state involvement in anything. Some support option 1) because it is a transition step, or at the least, something more acceptable to the general American public.

So my point is, concerning the Christian’s involvement in changing the education system, I really think they need to focus on school choice issues, and give less priority to reforming the public schools.
For right now, I support the voucher system. I don’t know what would happen if the state completely got out of education. As I said in a previous post, I am still a sucker for the poor in some instances, just because, like I said, we are used to government taking the responsibility for educating our children. I support using vouchers as an intermediate step, if anything.


One Response to “The battleground for public schools”

  1. Lee said

    I agree with a great deal of what you said. But I would have to support 1 over 2 because while I have a libertarian streak, it is one that is within one larger conservative nature.

    And a two facets of my conservativism are appeased by vouchers. One, it is competition, which can only improve the situation for the better for everyone.

    Two, anything drastic, such as the ultimate separation of state and school brings the law of unintended consequences into play.

    It may be where we need to go, but I want a sloooow evolution to get there.

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