Public Education is a Public Service, not "Tyranny"
Facts not Fear
Rose West, author of a hub titled “Government interference in Education” (lately un-published) is clearly passionate about the subject. Passion, however, doesn’t make the article’s argument compelling, its points valid, or its “data” true.
The choice of emotion-laden words like “slavery” and “brainwashing,” and the sensationalism of mentioning unsubstantiated “vampire-like” attacks indicates that this essay isn’t meant to inspire rational thought, but unreasoning fear. The conclusion even states, flat out, “If this mere fact doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.” Personally, I prefer to make important decisions about my kids’ education based on facts not fear.
Full disclosure: I follow Rose West, enjoy her writing, and respect her. On this point, however, we disagree.
Liberation, not Control
There are certain arguments in this essay that bear
examination, though. Let’s take a look at them. First, there’s the assertion
that “…the government forces you to
make sure your children are properly educated (emphasis mine).” Excellent
manipulation of the emotion-laden word “force,” implying that the government is
imposing its will on parents and infringing on their rights. There are similar
laws that require parents to see that their children are properly fed, properly clothed, and
properly sheltered. Do those laws “force” parents to feed their children?
Should parents be allowed to not feed their children if they so desire, and
thus be free from the government yoke? No thinking person would argue that a
parent has the right to starve his child. How is it that a thinking person
would argue (however obliquely) that a parent should have the right to keep his
child ignorant, unprepared for an independent existence as a citizen?
Compulsory education is not some plot of the government to take control of your
children’s minds, but rather an effort to ensure children’s right to be
educated. Not to educate a child is to neglect that child, in the same way that
not feeding, clothing, or sheltering that child would be neglect. The article
does correctly state that the government only requires that children be
educated, and does not stipulate where or by whom they be educated. This is far
from “slavery.” But at the same time, the article states that the right to
require education logically includes the right to command where, how, and by
whom the education is to be accomplished. This is ludicrous. The requirement to
feed one’s children does not logically include a requirement for a certain
style of diet, or when mealtimes shall be set. The requirement that children be educated is actually a vehicle for individual liberty rather than state control, as an educated person who knows his rights is more difficult to control.
What Obama Really Supported for Kindergarteners
- PolitiFact | An absurd claim about a bill that never passed
Rose West's hub includes a link to an article about Obama's support for "sex ed" in kindergarten. What he actually supported was not what you probably think based on the headline, and the bill specified that parents would be able to opt out.
The Whole Truth and Nothing But, Please
Rose's hub asserts that the government shouldn’t be involved in kids’ education. Okay, that’s a subject we could discuss, but no arguments in favor of this assertion have been listed other than scare tactics, broad generalizations, tabloid-style gossip, and blatant falsehoods. Public education is not “brainwashing” any more than parochial education is indoctrination; perhaps even less so. Some public schools are substandard; this is undeniable. Of course, these are the ones that get all the press. A successful school with a high graduation rate is hardly newsworthy; cherry-picked data is hardly the whole truth. It’s interesting that the Rose has “heard about” vampire-like attacks in public schools. I have “heard about” some pretty vicious hazing in private schools. But both data points are equally invalid unless substantiated by evidence, and even if substantiated in one case, they wouldn’t be evidence that either style of education was inherently bad. Does violence take place in public schools? Of course it does. It also takes place in playgrounds and at the workplace and at private schools and, yes, even at home. Statistically speaking, however, kids are safer at a school than pretty much anywhere else. Finally, there is the assertion that a parent has “no oversight” over their children if they attend a public school. Poppycock. A parent of a public school student can observe a class at any time. He can volunteer in his child’s classroom. He can confer with his child’s teacher whenever he feels the need. He can opt his child out of lessons of which he disapproves. A parent of a public school student can be as involved in his child’s education as he chooses to be.
Philosophy Belongs in Philosophy Class
Oh, and the evolution/creationism false dichotomy rears its head once again. Look, the public school system is not—let me say that again—is not teaching anybody that God did not create the world. What it is doing, in science class, is teaching the current theories of science. A scientific theory is one that is testable by experimentation and/or observation. So-called intelligent design “theory” is not scientific, as the designer cannot be observed. Intelligent design may be correct. I happen to believe that God created the universe. But my belief in God as Creator is not scientific, and therefore it should not be taught in a science class. It certainly has a place in a course on philosophy, but it ain’t science. Science class is a place to learn how to draw conclusions based on observable evidence. It’s not a place to learn about giving equal time to stuff that isn’t science. We would not expect a science teacher to give the same amount of class time to astrology as he does to astronomy, would we? We wouldn’t expect the anatomy teacher to show her students where to find their chakras. We don’t demand that the math teacher show her pupils the basics of numerology. And why not? Because none of that stuff is science. It’s interesting, sure, and hey, maybe there’s something to the mysteries of the Kabbalah. But until it’s proven through repeatable experimentation, or direct or indirect observation, it. Isn’t. Science.
My Apple is Better than Your Orange?
The article compares public school graduation rates with that of private schools. This is an apples/oranges comparison for many reasons, most of which have to do with the differing average levels of parental involvement between private and public schools. But the most important reason for the difference in performance between private and public schools is this: private schools can expel a student for poor academic performance, and that student becomes another school’s (usually a public school’s) challenge. The same is true of home-schooled students. Successful home-schooled students are held up as a reason for dismantling the public school system, but the anti-public-education crowd don’t like to talk about the parents who come to realize that homeschooling is harder than they thought, or whose kids are harder to teach than they expected. Where do those kids end up? Most often, they get dumped on a public school, which now must deal with a student who is not only challenging in one way or another but is also months or years behind his peers. When a public school gets a low-performing student, it must teach that student as best it can. It can’t expel the student for failing math. It must keep that student, and try a different approach to teaching him math. If a private school had to take all comers and couldn’t kick anybody out for earning bad grades, you bet that school would start to look like it was doing a bad job (even though it might be educating its students to their full potential).
What Discrimination Really Looks Like
- First Freedom: Religious Discrimination in Education
A short list of actions by the federal government to ensure religious freedom for everyone. Note that they go to bat for Christian freedoms as well as those of minority religions.
- Discrimination against an actual minority
Somali students were harassed by fellow students because of their race or [Muslim] religion and that both districts failed to stop the behavior.
- Constance McMillen \'Sham\' Prom Accusation Denied By Itawamba School District
Discrimination by an actual majority against an actual minority.
Aren't Minorities by Definition Small Groups?
Most astoundingly, the article absurdly claims that Christians are a minority in American public schools. That’s just crazy talk. It’s non-Christians that are the minority, and it's non-Christians who face the most discrimination in our schools. Perhaps the non-Christians’ newfound courage in standing up for their rights is the force behind this irrational fearmongering; perhaps there’s some other cause. But the fact remains that Christians are still (and probably will be for a very long time) an enormous majority in American schools just as they are in society at large. Is there faith-based discrimination in our public schools? Sadly, yes, but this is not as a result of federal mandate but rather misguided local officials. Most of this discrimination is perpetrated by the white Christian majority against people the majority disapproves of.
The People Benefit both Directly and Indirectly
Finally, the most valid-seeming (without actually being valid) argument Rose's article makes is that the people support the public schools with their tax money regardless of whether their children take advantage of public education. Fair point, but I’d counter that an educated population is good, and that an uneducated population would be bad. We all benefit from having a nominally free public education system, even if we do not use it ourselves. We similarly benefit from having police, firefighters, and an interstate highway system supported by our taxes, whether we ever call the cops or the fire department, or drive on the interstate, or not.
Knowledge is Power
Bottom line: if someone doesn’t want to send her kids to a public school, she is not required to do so. She is, however, required to see that her children get a basic education so that they can function in modern society. This is not tyranny, this is promoting the general welfare. Specifically, it is looking out for the rights of children, who are as a rule not competent to stand up for their own rights, or if they are competent, are unable to physically or economically assert their rights. Of course, if kept in ignorance, children would have no idea that they have rights at all, and would thus be more easily controllable as adults than the ones who got a public education.