Published in the The
American Partisan, February 23, 2000
and in Spintech, on April 12, 2000.
As I write this, it has been a few days since Gary Bauer withdrew from the presidential race. Alan Keyes will probably not be far behind. Many cultural conservatives will mourn these departures as the death of the last, best hope for conservative values in this election. If conservatism means a commitment to liberty, how committed were these men to conservative ideals? Two news items from December give us an indication.
The first involves an exchange in the December 10, 1999, issue of USA Today, concerning a proposal by the New Jersey State House that public school students in the Garden State be required to begin every school day by reciting a famous passage from the Declaration of Independence. (1) Predictably, USA Today dismissed the bill as a "new political gimmick" by those who would "force official prayer back into public schools." Bauer countered by defending the recitation of this passage as "an effort to pass on to our children reverence for that great principle on which their liberty and the future freedom of our nation depend."
The second such item is a piece by Alan Keyes in the December 17, 1999 edition of World Net Daily, entitled "Educating the Defenders of Liberty." In it, Keyes proposes that we "require of every American student, in the senior year of high school, a practical civics course in the basics of firearms familiarity and safety, and of self-defense."
Both purported guardians of liberty recommend that appreciation for our liberties be instilled at gunpoint, in that most anti-individualist of institutions: public schools. It shows how far adrift we are in our thinking about our rights. Establishment conservatives take a cue from liberals act as if public schools were inevitable, and that either one way of thinking or the other must dominate there.
They tell us that if we just elect enough of the right people, we can "take back our schools" from those demon-possessed secular humanist liberals. However, they ignore the fact that by perpetuating a state education monopoly, they expose themselves to the possibility that those godless secular humanists will "take back" the schools in the next election.
We hear far too much about "our" schools and "our" children. To begin with, I have no children so the possessive pronoun "our" does not apply to me. But if I did have children, would Keyes, Bauer, et alia, recognize my God-given and constitutionally guaranteed right to educate my children as I saw fit, without any state coercion whatsoever? I think not.
Traditionalists hearken back to 50 years ago, when school days opened with prayer, and Judeo-Christian morals governed our daily lives. However, they overlook two important facts. First, there was far less federal interference in education -- i.e. public schools were locally run. Second, there was no federal involvement in education 100 years ago. In fact, as recently as 1928, more than half of all schoolchildren attended private schools.
We hear endless talk about the separation of church and state. We need to hear more about the separation of school and state. The latter is every bit as important a part of our heritage of liberty as is the former. The Constitution does not even mention the word education, let alone empower the government in this area. The Ninth Amendment guarantees the right of parents to choose their children's schools as well as their right not to have to pay for schools of which they disapprove. You will never learn about these rights in public schools.
(This idea of separation is not mine. Indeed, their is a rapidly growing movement for such a separation, which is spearheaded by the Separation of School and State Alliance.)
So much of the failure of government education stems from the fact that state education means cramming everyone into one-size-fits-all schools. As the needs and talents of students are just as diverse as the students themselves, efforts to create just the right school environment for everyone are doomed to failure. It is as if some state wardrobe board mandated that everyone wear a speedo and a Dallas Cowboys T-shirt, when my tastes run more toward baggy swim trunks and Los Angeles Dodgers T-shirts.
We do the same thing when we mandate a certain state education curriculum. Conservative Christians will not sit still for condoms, evolution, and lax discipline. Secular liberals feel extremely imposed upon by prayer, creationism, and dress codes. As a result, both sides are locked in an endless urinating contest in the pursuit of the unattainable goal of making everyone happy with state education.
In a free society, such as that envisioned by the Founders, the people would not be taxed into the pavement like they are today. Instead, people could keep 95 percent of what they earned and use it to raise their families as they saw fit. No one would be forced to attend a certain school, study a certain curriculum, or support a certain school with his tax dollars.
Education is an essential part of getting ahead economically. Therefore the huge majority of parents would have their children educated. As for those who did not feel education was important, 35 years of liberal social engineering ought to teach us that you cannot make some care about education. We just may have more kids than ever who do not care about their education.
Some parents would home school, others would send their children out to school. You would have the totally unregulated ability to send your child to the school of your choice. You could send your child to Our Lady of Mercy School, Resurrection Baptist School, B'Nai Brith Prep, the Joseph Smith School, the Allah Akbar Academy, or the Vishnu Country Day School.
Perhaps you would want to educate your children without religious overtones. Well, you could send them to the Whitney Houston School (you know, the school where the children are the future) or the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young School (where they teach your children well). Personally, I am not so sure I would want my kids to attend a school named after David Crosby. But, in any event, the choice would be mine and mine alone. I would not need to get permission!
Good teachers would always be in demand. As for incompetent teachers and administrators, all I can say is "welcome to real life." No one guarantees a job to a doctor or a farmer or an insurance agent. What makes teachers think they are so special?
If a parent felt academics at his child's school were of poor quality, he could transfer his child to another school without having to genuflect before Caesar in order to get permission. If discipline at his child's school were lacking, he could transfer his child to another school. This madness of metal detectors at inner-city schools would immediately cease to exist. Who in their right mind would voluntarily send their child into such a snake pit?
(I live about 18 miles from Columbine High School. No parent would ever be faced with the prospect of having to send his child back there.)
Would separation of school and state lead to too much social fragmentation and atomization, or to some other nightmare which exists only in the minds of social engineers? Look at our current system, in which poor kids attend their local schools and rich kids attend their local schools. Public education just may be the greatest perpetuator of racial and economic segregation.
Would separation of school and state solve all our problems? Of course not. Utopia is not one of our options. It is frivolous to argue that, because a proposed change will not bring about a perfect world, we should stay with the status quo.
You will notice that I do not refer to the separation of school and state as a "system." It is very decidedly not a system. Its key characteristic is the absence of central control. The real argument here is not which kind of system should exist, but whether a system should exist at all.
Bauer and Keyes are part of a small group who are widely considered to represent the moral conscience of our nation. Members of this group love to brag about what a large voting bloc their conservative Christian followers constitute. If this is so, all it would take to make the separation of school and state a major political issue would be for just one of these men to champion the cause. This would no doubt attract very widespread attention to the concept of school-state separation. Who among these men will have the fortitude to step forward?
(1)"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. (back)
Freely Speaking: Essays by Doug Newman ******
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