[M]ost prevalent in the modern age is the myth that man has no constant nature. This view of the plastic nature of man means that man can be molded at will by whatever state or agency controls man. The school has for the humanist been the great agency whereby man is to be remade at will in order to be prepared for the future. The state plans to create through the school a new man for its new order of the ages.
—R.J. Rushdoony, Revolt Against Maturity, (Ross House Books, Vallecito, CA: 1977, 1987), p. 1.
Political partisans of the Religious Right have hatched a plot to destroy public education by telling baseless lies about our really quite excellent public schools — or so say the schools’ defenders.
When one side in a debate is reduced to yelling “Liar, liar!” at the other, it’s usually a sign of desperation. In the ongoing debate over education, it’s the defenders of the public schools who seem to be getting desperate.
Talk to Action, a website of the Religious Left, has lashed out at critics of the public schools. In a recent article by Bruce Wilson (http://www.talk2action.org/story/2006/3/31/13544/0640), we read of “a dual strategy by the Christian right to defund and delegitimate [sic] America’s public schools” by dint of criticism that is “baseless and partisan.”
Strong language — but there is a reason for it. The debate over how America’s children are to be schooled is central to a clash of worldviews as to what kind of a country America is to be: a “democracy” micro-managed by a secular elite, with citizens trained to obedience to the state; or a republic governed by an unchanging, written constitution, whose citizens acknowledge the unchanging, written laws of God as the ultimate moral authority.
Education as Culture War
How can we so confidently say the future of America is the prize at stake in this contest?
But that is how both sides see it. In Part II of this series, we quoted from R.J. Rushdoony’s 1963 book, The Messianic Character of American Education, a study of the ideology and the evolution of the public schools.
Rushdoony continued to argue that public education was the key to a utopian, secularist vision of America’s future, the chief instrument by which a statist paradise was to be created. Here is more of Rushdoony’s analysis, this from a Chalcedon Position Paper of August 1979 (reprinted in Roots of Reconstruction, [Ross House Books, Vallecito, CA: 1991], pp. 24–25):
“A young woman, mother of a girl of six years, described conditions in a grade school (K–6) across from their church. One teacher is openly a lesbian. Some boys regularly drag screaming girls into the boys’ toilet to expose themselves to girls, and nothing is done about it …
“Much of this stems from one of the greatest heresies of our day, the belief in democracy … [I]f our relationship with God is a democratic one, we can correct the Bible where it displeases us, eliminate what we cannot correct, and use other standards and tests for the church and the clergy than God’s enscriptured word. Then, logically, our word is as good as God’s word, and is as authoritative as God’s.”
Quoting from Lord Percy’s 1955 book, The Heresy of Democracy, Rushdoony described democracy as “a philosophy which is nothing less than a new religion. In fact, Lord Percy said of state schools, ‘This is indeed democracy’s characteristic Mark of the Beast … [O]f all means of assimilation, the most essential to democracy is a uniform state-controlled education.’ To challenge that system is to shake democracy’s structure” (ibid., emphasis added). (For those who cannot believe that Rushdoony can be so hostile toward “democracy,” bear in mind that Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution guarantees “to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,” and nowhere mentions “democracy.”)
Rushdoony is not contradicted by the defenders of public education.
Christopher Lubienski (University of Illinois), co-author of a new statistical study that supposedly proves that public schools are academically superior to private schools (http://www.ncspe.org/publications_files/OP111.pdf), published an article in 2003 entitled, “A Critical View of Home Education” (http://www.multilingual-matters.net/erie/017/0167/erie0170167.pdf). His comments support Rushdoony’s analysis.
“Increasingly, people are withdrawing from many of the common institutions that have defined social life in market democracies over the last century,” Lubienski wrote. “… [T]he decision to do so essentially represents the privatisation [sic] of educational decision-making … rejecting interference from, and accountability to, any external authority” (Lubienski, p. 167).
Removing children from public schools, he wrote, “can have detrimental consequences for institutions premised on collective participation” (p. 160), and “this situation [homeschooling] may deprive children of exposure to more diverse socialising [sic] experiences” (p. 171).
According to Lubienski, “in a pluralistic democracy, this goal for education [socialization] takes on the added imperative of exposing children to more diverse experiences,” and, “… [p]re-empting the opportunity for individuals to investigate and experience different alternatives undercuts their autonomy.” Also, “in liberal democracies that celebrate the rights of individuals, the public has an inherent interest in assuring that future citizens are exposed to different worldviews, life options, and so on” (p. 174, emphasis added).
“Indeed,” he concluded, “compared with the institution of the family, the institutions of state-supported education are better suited to promote equity — a central concern of a democratic and meritocratic society” (p. 175).
As represented by Rushdoony and Lubienski, both sides agree that education is about a lot more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. In practice, “exposing children to diverse worldviews and life options” often means teaching them that Christian morality is wrong, homosexuality is right, private property is evil and socialism is good, and so on.
The general public may not be aware that education is a main battlefront in an all-out culture war; but the actual combatants are well aware of it.
“I don’t consider myself an enemy of homeschooling per se — members of my family homeschool — but I have concerns about the way that it is being advanced, and the implications of that,” Lubienski told Chalcedon. “Certainly, public schools do transmit worldviews. Whether you or I agree or disagree with the many views at play in public schools is, I believe, a question to be settled through democratic processes.”
Except, of course, when activist judges say otherwise.
A Manufactured Crisis?
We have gone into this in depth so that our readers will understand why teachers demonstrate angrily outside reporter John Stossel’s office (after ABC’s 20/20 aired his documentary Stupid in America”— see http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=285), and why Talk to Action hurls wild accusations at “the Christian right” and the U.S. Department of Education: “[T]he Bush administration wants to see lots of public schools labeled as failures. It’s basically a long-term plan to erode the public’s faith in public schools and thereby increase support for private schools and vouchers” (see http://www.talk2action.org/story/2006/3/31/13544/0640).
As the centerpiece of its argument, Talk to Action offers a 1996 book, The Manufactured Crisis by David Berliner and Bruce Biddle (Perseus Books, Cambridge, MA), which supposedly proves “that ongoing criticism of America’s public schools is baseless and partisan.”
If anyone is partisan, it is the authors of this book, who make much of their “outrage” and the “organized malevolence” of public education’s critics (Berliner, p. xi).
The public schools’ defenders are in denial. If the schools are rife with crime, drugs, violence, and illicit sex (not only among students, but between students and teachers), it’s because the schools have the problems that are endemic to society in general — the students bring these problems to school with them. No attempt is made to explain why such social pathologies are much less common, if not altogether absent, at religious schools.
Test scores are low only because so many more students take the tests than in the past. As for the use of schools to promote sodomy, abortion, and moral relativism, the only answers provided are those of flat denial. “From McGuffey’s Reader to today’s texts, our schoolbooks have been repositories of moral messages that encourage unity in our nation” (Berliner, p. 110). It is a mystery how that description could apply to sex education texts like It’s Perfectly Normal (see http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/0408/040801-2duigon.php) — provided by Planned Parenthood for grades 5–9 (ages 9–14) in the Waco, Texas, public schools. This is about as close as you can come to a Kama Sutra for children.
When their book is boiled down to essentials, Berliner and Biddle, along with the teachers’ unions and the Religious Left, are really after only two things: more tax dollars for the government school monopoly (p. 77), and socialism. Their cri de coeur on page 286 speaks for itself:
“It is not healthy for our nation to be so divided between haves and have-nots! … If concentrating the wealth among the few is allowed to continue, this nation will see the same kind of social unrest that has marked other nations for decades. Our country now has more private security guards than public safety officers, and this is just one of the inevitable outcomes of this kind of distribution of wealth. In contrast, by redistributing income, increasing the number of job opportunities, and providing more social services we could assure that more people in our country would experience or aspire to middle-class life styles” (emphasis added).
In fact, we agree that today’s crisis in education was manufactured
- by elitist “philosophers” and “social planners” like John Dewey and his many followers, who sought in public schools a stealth weapon for remaking all of American life;
- by a careless public that accepted the “free” public schools with no questions asked, until conditions therein deteriorated to the point where questions now have to be asked;
- by lackluster church leaders, pietists, who reduced the Christian faith to a quest for personal salvation and forsook God’s calling to dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28);
- by elected officials who came to depend on money and manpower contributions for the teachers’ unions as the mainstay of their incumbency.
Many people labored long and hard to manufacture this crisis.
In the final article of this series, we will examine how the homeschooling movement offers the best solution to this crisis — and what the Left is doing to prevent it.
- 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.