“When schools truly become the centers of communities, good things happen.”–Arne Duncan, U. S. Secretary of Education1
“We must know that we can save every child. The citizen should say in his heart:
‘I await the regeneration of the world from the teaching of the common schools of America.’”–Col. Francis Parker2
Should America’s public schools be open all the time, every day, all year round? Should they be providing a plethora of services that are normally provided by churches, charities, voluntary associations, and families themselves—services that have virtually nothing to do with what most of us think of as “education”?
Our current Secretary of Education thinks so.
Secretary Arne Duncan’s vision is not new, nor is it outside the mainstream of thinking in public education. To those unfamiliar with the philosophical roots of public education, Duncan’s ideas may seem revolutionary. But in fact he wants nothing but what public schooling’s leading thinkers have always wanted.
Since his appointment at the beginning of this year to head the federal Department of Education, the former chief executive of the Chicago public school system has been consistent in his message. In public speaking engagements, TV appearances, and spots on talk radio, Secretary Duncan has been saying the same thing: the schools should be open all the time, and doing everything.
A typical specimen, which Chalcedon has archived, was this short interview Duncan gave to PBS’s Charlie Rose in March.3 The secretary’s message has not changed since then.
Schools should be open, Duncan told Rose, “twelve, thirteen, or fourteen hours a day … twelve months a year, six or seven days a week.” The schools should provide, he said, a full range of “social and medical resources,” including “drama programs, art, sports, educational enrichment … programs for parents … health care clinics … and pot luck suppers.”
Schools have always been limited, he explained, by a “lack of understanding of what our children need … Children have to be fed, have to be safe.” Under his direction, the Chicago schools provided “breakfast, lunch, and dinner … and we gave out thousands of pairs of eyeglasses.” So much provision is necessary, he said, because “children are going home to almost-no-parent families.”
All of this can be done now, Duncan said, because federal “stimulus” funds have provided “unprecedented financial resources” to the schools.
Schools also ought to “take in” community organizations like the YMCA and “all other non-profits,” Duncan said.
Finally, the reason for it all is “social justice,” and, in the secretary’s view, a matter of life and death. He said his experiences in Chicago’s schools taught him, “The difference between those who lived and those who died was education.”
While superintending Chicago’s public schools, Duncan also supported the Mikva Challenge—a program founded by an ACLU lobbyist, whose purpose seems to be to teach teenagers how to become community organizers.4 He became nationally known for trying to set up a “gay high school,” the Chicago Social Justice High School-Pride Campus, and instituting a “comprehensive sex education” program, in all the schools, which featured instruction in various sexual practices and a “pansexual”—that is to say, totally amoral—worldview.5
Duncan is not alone in his advocacy of all school, all the time. Among his more prominent and enthusiastic allies is alleged “conservative” Newt Gingrich.6
In His Own Words
Wanting to be sure our information was current, we asked Secretary Duncan a question: “In light of your statements that it’s necessary to expand the role of the school in the community, how big a role would be big enough—and how much would be too much?” This is the answer we received from him, verbatim.
“All of us need to move our schools to become community centers that address the needs of students, where instructional time and enrichment activities are coordinated. More school-aged children than ever spend time in before- and after-care programs, in support service settings, in the care of baby-sitters, or simply alone.
“Viewing schools as community centers requires us to think differently. Research shows that community schools yield numerous benefits to students, families and communities, including improved academic performance.
“In 2008, the U. S. Department of Education awarded nearly $5 million in five-year grants to 10 full-service community schools that aim to provide comprehensive academic, social, mental and vocational programs and services to meet student, family and community needs. The awards benefit grantees who aim to encourage coordination of education, developmental, family, health and other services through partnerships between public elementary and secondary schools, and community-based organizations and public-private ventures.
“The 2010 U. S. Education Department budget proposal supports a Promise Neighborhoods Initiative. The goal for schools will be to improve college access, attendance, and completion by having the schools provide a rigorous K-12 curriculum with a full network of neighborhood-based social services. The $10 million Promise Neighborhood Initiative would provide one-year planning grants to non-profit community-based organizations to develop plans for comprehensive neighborhood programs that provide the necessary support for children and youth from preschool through college so that they can succeed in school and beyond.”
In other words—cutting through the overgrowth of bureaucratic prolixity—there’s no such thing as “big enough” or “too much.”
There is no room in this scheme for anything but government. Arguing that parents are going to leave children alone anyhow, or in the care of strangers, the secretary proposes to have the schools assume virtual custody of all children in their districts. There might be something to this, if it could be shown that parents in general are simply not taking care of their children. But if that’s the case, then our society is in worse shape than we thought.
Duncan’s model is for the broken, fatherless families reduced to impotence by fifty years of Big Government “welfare” programs in the inner cities. He is proposing to “help” those families by subjecting them to the same kind of statist paternalism that wrecked them in the first place. Indeed, he proposes to “help” all families by injecting statist intervention into their lives. It seems that when he looks at America, he sees nothing but Chicago’s slums from sea to shining sea.
Quite aside from such schemes being demonstrably unhelpful, they also usurp the roles assigned by God to families and churches, not to mention the affected individuals themselves. The whole idea is profoundly anti-Biblical, and would reduce society to a mass of perpetual children incapable of managing without the state.
What price a roster of enrichment courses?
Show Us the Money
Although the Department of Education does have $100 billion in TARP money to dispose of, according to The Washington Post,7 no one has even attempted to estimate the cost of keeping all the public schools open, all the time, to do everything.
Teachers, for instance, can hardly be expected to give up their three months’ summer vacations without a commensurate increase in pay. But what are we paying teachers now, to work nine months a year? For some insight into this, I turned to the school districts in Middlesex County, New Jersey—my home.
The headline in MyCentralJersey.com immediately shed some light: “Salary Figures: 627 Central Jersey school employees earn $100,000 a year or more.”8
In Edison Township, for instance, ninety-nine school employees were making more than $100,000 this year, including twenty-seven teachers “earning as much as $114,000.” An elementary school teacher, who also happened to be president of the local teachers’ union, “is making $112,382”—and that while on a one-year leave of absence.
In nearby Old Bridge Township, twenty teachers were making more than $100,000 a year. So were six of eight school psychologists.
Given thousands of public school districts across the United States, what would it cost to pay millions of teachers to work a twelve-month school year?
What would it cost to hire multitudes of additional staff—cooks, coaches, counselors, security personnel, bookkeepers, janitors, etc.?
From the president of the United States, the Department of Education, and the national teachers’ unions on down, the rationale for spending such incalculable sums of money is always the same: American students are steadily falling farther and farther behind children in other developed countries, in all areas of academic performance. This is supposedly why we need year-round school.
“Both President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called the traditional school day and school year outdated and inadequate for the demands of 21st-century life,” Brigid Schulte wrote for The Washington Post in June.9 “Students in countries that routinely outscore the United States on international tests go to school for as many as 230 days each year, 50 more than kids typically attend here.”
But will year-round public school address that problem? “My children attend a year-round school,” Schulte wrote. Let her tell you in her own words what her children have been learning in all that extra time.
“My second-grade daughter … made potions in her Harry Potter class. My son’s class of fourth- and fifth-graders wrote movie scripts, filmed them and learned how to edit them on the computer.
“At their Alexandria public school, my kids have learned how to sail, designed entire cities in cardboard, built skyscrapers with toothpicks and marshmallows, performed in a musical and built and set off rockets on the front lawn. They’ve created passports and had them stamped after ‘visiting’ countries around the world. They’ve learned CPR, calligraphy, Japanese, rollerblading and how to make art like Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock …”
Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to fall behind the rest of the world in sailing, playing with marshmallows, rollerblading, or calligraphy. As for the art instruction, most toddlers already know how to paint like Jackson Pollock. But we have quoted this enthusiastic media person at length because we feared you just might not believe us if we didn’t.
With the United States suffering through its worse economic malaise since the Great Depression, is it even sane to propose the expenditure of untold billions of dollars for children to study Harry Potter?
But we are talking about utopian humanists, not sane people.
Duncan’s Utopian Predecessors
“[T]he educational socialization of the child means the socialization of all of life,” R. J. Rushdoony wrote.10 He was not exaggerating.
Col. Francis Parker, a Civil War veteran and one of the seminal thinkers in the evolution of public education, said, “A school should be a model home, a complete community of embryonic democracy.”11 Parker’s vision for the public schools was not unlike Arne Duncan’s. Over a hundred years ago, Parker’s thoughts were controversial. This criticism came from an editorial in The N.E.A. [National Education Association] Journal in 1891:
If the school of the future is to take the place of the parent, and attend to the entire training of children—to be responsible for bodily health, intellectual training, and moral culture; if the duty of parents is to cease when once the child is old enough to enter the kindergarten, and the school is to turn him out fully equipped for the battle of life, and for the entrance into bliss hereafter—then we must have a good deal more time and more funds [emphasis added]. It would seem as if so broad an aim would need to include dormitories, clothing-stores, and refectories … It is not desirable. Nothing of a public and institutional nature can supply the place of parents. They were ordained of God, and no incubator of modern science or education should ever supplant them.12
It’s impossible to imagine the NEA publishing such an editorial today. Meanwhile, Arne Duncan would probably answer that in many homes, there aren’t any parents for the schools to supplant: single mother working two jobs, or what have you. Nevertheless, under his scheme of omni-school, parents would in fact be supplanted.
The founders of public education—some of them, at least—would not have considered that a bad thing. “The school,” Rushdoony wrote, “which began as an adjunct of the home, was now, in Parker’s vision, to make the home its adjunct and require a prescribed course of study for mothers!”13
Picking up the torch for Parker in the twentieth century, and carrying it farther, John Dewey was hailed as America’s most important and influential thinker. Much of his thought went into public education. Consider these excerpts from his 1897 essay, “My Pedagogic Creed”:
“I believe that the school is primarily a social institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply a form of community life in which all these agencies are concentrated that will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends …
“I believe that education is the regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction [emphasis added] …
“I believe it is the business of everyone interested in education to insist upon the school as the primary and most effective interest of social progress and reform [emphasis added] …
“I believe that in this way the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God.”14
Arne Duncan would fit right in with Dewey and Col. Parker.
Translating Dewey’s labored prose, we find a vision of the public school as a kind of clearing-house for all aspects of community life. Who ever asked the schools to dabble in “social reconstruction” is not known. Elitists like Dewey simply took it upon themselves. They sought to use the schools to enact their own agenda for “social progress.”
It is an aggressive agenda, as Rushdoony noted: “If democracy be the goal and the supreme virtue, then every other standard, virtue and faith must be leveled and eliminated as hostile to democratic living. No more exclusive ‘good’ than democracy exists in that its nature requires the destruction of all other standards.”15
School as Slavemaster
It’s not all sailing and calligraphy. California public schools, by state law, require a “gay-friendly curriculum” for all subjects. In other states, the schools promote sodomy without being required to by law. Thousands of chapters of GLSEN, the Gay-Lesbian-Straight Education Network, have set up “gay clubs” in those schools.
Public education is all about the purposeful reconstruction of society along anti-Christian lines. That’s what it was in Dewey’s time, and is even more so now. From its inception more than 150 years ago, it has always been a utopian enterprise.
If children have no parents at home, who can object to the schools taking up the slack—or rather, rushing in to fill a vacuum? In doing so, aren’t the schools encouraging parents totally to abdicate their responsibilities? If the schools are feeding children all three meals a day, filling the child’s every waking moment with some kind of school-supervised activity, what is there left for mothers and fathers to do? If children are only out of a school’s custody for nine or ten hours a day—as Arne Duncan proposes—and most of that time is spent sleeping, dressing, and travelling to and from school—are parents not made virtually superfluous? May we not wonder what’s left for Brigid Duncan to do with her children? She needn’t bother trying to teach them how to sail.
It’s not just families that Duncan’s ideal public school seeks to envelop and devour. Once sucked into schools dominated by hyper-secularists, for how long would the Young Men’s Christian Association be able to maintain the “C” in “YMCA”? Training parents in their own version of how to be parents—although why parents should still be necessary, if the kids are at school all the time, is hard to fathom—“educators” would thoroughly usurp the family’s place. Meanwhile, with only Sunday to call their own—and Duncan would just as soon have the schools open seven days a week instead of six—how many families would continue to go to church? They can always get a pot luck supper at one of Duncan’s schools.
What we are talking about here is an insane vision of total ownership of the people by the government, also known as “hope and change.” From Dewey’s dream of a docile, dumbed-down public locked eternally in obedience to scientific and governmental “experts” (who, after all, know what’s best for everyone), we move on to Duncan’s dream of schools open all the time, doing everything, with nothing left over for the families or the churches or the voluntary associations to do. Given what it would cost in taxes to implement this vision, no ordinary citizen would have any money left to do anything with!
Opposed to this totalitarian wasteland stands the Kingdom of God—the real God, the “I AM” of the Bible: not Dewey’s god, a mere personification of the state, a mere front for the “experts” running it. Dewey’s “God” was a label stuck onto statism to deceive the Christians of America. Judged by the fact that the great majority of Christians in America continue to send their children to Dewey’s anti-Christian public schools, the deception has been mightily successful.
For more than forty years Chalcedon has pleaded with Christians to embrace their God-given responsibility to educate their own children with a godly education, either at home on in a Christian school. Although a few million families are now doing so, tens of millions have yet to see the light—tens of millions who do not yet realize that in the government’s eyes, they’re just one enormous Chicago inner city.
Please, please consider the implications of Arne Duncan’s message. And then ask yourselves, “Am I okay with that?”
2. Quoted by R. J. Rushdoony in The Messianic Character of American Education (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books,  1995), 103.
4. See Mikva’s website, http://www.mikvachallenge.org/
10. Rushdoony, Messianic, 107.
11. Ibid., 104.
12. Ibid., 106.
13. Ibid., 106.
14. Quoted by Samuel Blumenfeld, Revolution in Education (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), pp.16–17.
15. Rushdoony Messianic, 107.
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.