Those Americans who love liberty have had little to cheer about in recent generations. Those who desire to see a specifically Christian liberty in the context of a growing Kingdom of God in the West have had even less success, with one exception.
The future histories of the West will note the first cracks in the monolith of twentieth-century statism in America appeared with the revival of distinctly Christian education, first in the day schools of the 1960s, then the homeschool movement a decade later.
Criticism and critiques of government education played a very real part, but had little to no effect on either government schools or future generations. It was the willingness to create and finance alternative means of education that has made this trend one of major significance. It has been the most successful program of Christian reconstruction to date. Nevertheless, the damage done by statist education is substantial.
“Public” Is a Euphemism for “Government”
That which is “public” is always, in reality, “government.” What is public belongs, in principle, to everyone, so it belongs to no one. Civil government then creates an agency to oversee it, bureaucrats to administer it, and workers to operate it. All these individuals must be paid and provision made for their retirement. Nowhere is cost effectiveness or efficiency a fundamental necessity, because government operations are always a political mandate financed by taxes and are never designed to be self-funding. A few years ago, numerous state parks in California were slated for closure due to lack of funding until it was discovered the park service had millions of dollars in fee income in bank accounts it had hidden from the legislature. The park service had been assuming all operating costs were to be financed through the state budget with no offsetting reduction for collected park entry fees.
Stagnation and Regression
Civil government is a monopoly that ultimately represents the threat of power (by confiscation, imprisonment, penalties, or death). The truism that “you can’t fight city hall” becomes even more apparent as civil authority becomes further remote at the county, state, or national levels. All government tends to make its operations self-perpetuating; reform from the outside becomes nearly impossible.
The result is that government creates systems of organization and operation that are so cumbersome, they are impossible to reform except from the inside and so they stagnate. Civil government has no incentive to downsize and become efficient, much less to innovate or privatize. Each generation of students repeats the same dated list of subjects with no real inquiry as to the skills needed in the present. The high school math curriculum still has many absurd geometry and trigonometry calculations rarely encountered in real life yet fails to teach basic accounting or business math. The only innovation in curriculum, it seems, is in history and literature, where both are, in fact, set aside in order to indoctrinate in political correctness.
Contempt for Liberty
Government schools are the torchbearers not of liberty, but of compulsion. “Compulsory education” is by definition not an education in liberty, but conformity. The “liberal arts” is a term that originally implied there were certain things free men needed to learn to make their exercise of liberty fruitful. Instead, we have compulsion, as witness the widespread attempts in the 1970s–1990s to regulate or outlaw any parental choice in education. The general defeat of those efforts was one of the great victories of the Christian community in the last generation. The initial attack on homeschools in California was led by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Bill Honig, who later went to prison for corruption in office.
Government schools cannot foster liberty because they represent a manipulation of citizens. The one consistent success of government educators is the production of young statists. Periodically I have seen a parade of school children marshaled in support of one liberal cause or another. Such charades speak far more about the teacher’s manipulative skills than anything else. Those who are indoctrinated for twelve years or more in statist ideas are unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them. They are so entirely accustomed to “the government” in their lives, they seldom know any alternative.
All those in government schools are subject to the social experiments and fads of the system. At one time it was the declared policy of government schools to “Americanize” new immigrants. “Americanization” is now considered a cultural evil, so those same schools now actively foster pluralism, as well as ethnic and linguistic identity.
A similar social experimentation was earlier suffered by Native Americans in the ultimate government system, the reservation. They were put on the reservation so they could maintain their way of life, but then it was decided they needed to be Americanized, so their children were forcibly sent to boarding schools and came back as strangers to their tribes. Later, this policy was reversed, and the government decided to re-Indianize the Indian, to preserve ways that were remote to modern life. Under each policy, the Indian was dictated to, and treated like a laboratory experiment to be manipulated by all-knowing paternalistic government decrees from Washington, D.C.
Since the rise of the U.S. Department of Education, public school students have likewise been the victims of social experimentation, and social, sexual, ideological, and political manipulation by remote bureaucrats taking their lead from a small cadre of social engineers in academia.
Government schools cannot teach liberty any better than can prisons. They can and do teach compulsion, regulation, inefficiency, manipulation, bureaucracy, and statism by bureaucrats, but not liberty.
Statism and the Decline of the Family
It is the paternalism of the government educational system that is, perhaps, its most objectionable feature, because it injects a governmental authority into the family regardless of the content of what is taught. When Indian fathers tried to hide their children from their forced deportation to boarding schools they were, at times, tied to a post until the child was surrendered. The issue was one of authority. The government employee of the public school acts as the uber-parent and his responsibility is first and foremost to the government. As I write this, there is news of a Georgia mother of an honor roll student being arrested and placed in shackles because her child had twelve absences, seven more than allowed. When a civil authority becomes tyrannical, the police power then becomes a tool of oppression.
If push comes to shove (as it frequently does these days) the family is always treated as subordinate to the state, who hands the children over to yet another state agency, Child Protective Services. Control is presumed to be the state’s, and the parent must seek its permission to reclaim custody.
The government school, where children are monitored by civil employees, has been the necessary facilitator of this tremendous power grab by the state. Compulsory education has, then, not too surprisingly led to compulsory vaccinations, to mandatory reporting, and to compulsory health care including abortion counseling and services. The state claims increasing authority over the family but does not accept the corresponding responsibility. Over and over we hear complaints of the lack of discipline and delinquency problems in the schools answered by blaming the home: “We got the students this way; it’s not our fault.”
Ignorance of Economics
Government agencies like schools have budgets, but these do not correlate to the financial constraints in a business. Government schools have never operated under the same profit/loss demands of private schools or businesses. They instead propose needs and expect funding to be granted by schools officials out of tax receipts. What students see around them, what they use in equipment, and the advent of new programs all depend on a distribution from government.
In the private realm the lack of resources presents a solution: pay for it. The obvious question then is, “Who will pay?” In a government school the only question is why isn’t the school district giving us more tax receipts?
The economic system of government education is socialism. If the schools need funding the answer then is the need for more taxation. The economics of big government becomes the economic model seen by the students and the parents: “I need, therefore someone else must be made to pay; it’s their civic duty!”
No Independent Thinking
Independent thinking is essential to liberty, but it is feared by statists. The statist sees education as a way of molding its citizens for the good of the many. Before its budgetary problems began a few years back, ideas were being floated to have a pre-school attached to every elementary school in California. That way, apparently, the state could “prepare” students for primary education. Yet the progressive educators have never been proponents of an early preparation that included reading, because independent readers become independent thinkers, and the purpose of “democratic” education in their thinking was a citizenry whose thinking was directed toward what they as visionaries of a better world deemed good for society. The word “democratic” came to mean “group think” (assuming the progressives were in charge of what that thinking was, as independent thinking became “regressive”). This is why homeschooling has been the target of such vicious contempt; it represents socialization out of the context of the statist social model.
The contempt for independent thinking is evident throughout government education. The bizarre math problems are not geared to a methodology that would provide real-life application but to a bizarre line of thinking deemed necessary by academics. Group projects, not individual competency and responsibility, have been the norm for many years. This creates a bureaucratic mentality where everyone shares in the accomplishments of the few. One young woman who received her education in Christian and homeschools was involved in such a project in college. The instructor asked each member of the group to grade the others. One boy was incensed when he was given an “F” by this girl. “Why would you do that?” he demanded. “Because you did absolutely nothing!” she replied. He believed in socialism applied to grading. She believed in reward for productivity.
The Loss of Excellence
It is remarkable that any child can come out of a government education with a commitment to excellence. If they do it is likely a reaction to what they have seen in the school. Teacher unions serve the teachers, not the students. Competency testing of teachers is resisted tooth and nail. Each presidential administration pushes a politically devised program which a new set of statists claim will reform and improve the system. George W. Bush’s program was No Child Left Behind. It was a failure. Barack Obama’s program is the bizarre Common Core. Each time one fails another one is offered to solve the same problems. Each is an attempt to fix government ineptness with a government solution.
If any private enterprise had the dismal record of government schools, there would be a hue and cry from the statists for government oversight to solve the problem. Of course, once the government controls something, reform is nearly impossible. The only solutions will come with alternatives to the government system. This is why Christian day and homeschools have been such a dynamic and positive phenomenon. They did not try to reform a dying government bureaucracy, but created alternatives to it.
Over fifty years ago my father described education as necessarily religious. Today, it is not uncommon to hear the public school referred to as the state’s sacred temple. People who are trained by the government tend to become statist humanists. Christianity is now a remote idea in America thought. Few are governed by its tenets, even in the church, where the anti-theonomy, anti-dominion crowd seek to deny the faith’s implications for the culture.
Modern man has been reared in the temples of the state and is now moving from being ambivalent toward Christianity to the virulent hostility of true believers. Still, being anti-Christian is not a positive, forward-thinking ideology. All that this anti-Christian secularism has done is to move men away from God. It has not created a culture-building ethic or ideology. The destruction caused by statist humanism is becoming readily apparent. Our modern world is nearing a dead end at a high rate of speed.
Some Good with the Bad
The assaults on Christianity have produced some positive results in the church itself. Statist humanists are always focused on the here and now because that is all their ideology acknowledges. This has forced the church to address real-world contemporary issues which has brought at least a segment of it out of the pietistic “spiritual” other-worldliness into which it had lapsed by the middle of the twentieth century. First came the Christian day school movement. Then came the anti-abortion pro-life movement. It took some time for Protestants to organize against the Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion. When they did decide to oppose it on Biblical grounds, they had to turn to the Old Testament, of all places! At least the church is abandoning its pietism on an issue-by-issue basis. When it does so consistently, it will know a relevancy it has not seen in several generations.
Moreover, the opposition to the secularists has not been by the large, institutional church, but by individuals and smaller Bible-believing churches. The homeschool movement has demonstrated that there are millions who have not bowed their knee to the Baalim of our day. The dynamic of the Christian resistance to statism is the individuals who have said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” It is likewise with those courageous pastors who sometimes have to fight their own members, church boards, and denominations to proclaim that, not the state, but Christ is King.
The government school has been the single greatest mechanism of America’s degradation, but the answer is not to fight it but to let it die a natural death. Its funding mechanism will continue to fail it.
The fight we face is a positive one for the Kingdom of God and His Christ. If the public schools collapsed today we would have a cultural mess, one comparable to that created by the collapse of the U.S.S.R. We must build for the future, and today we have a core group dedicated to doing just that. There is hope because Christ is on His throne and the Father has promised to put all enemies under His feet. One of those enemies is government education.
- Mark R. Rushdoony
Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.
He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.
In 1998, he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at www.chalcedon.edu.
He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.
Mark Rushdoony lives in Vallecito, California, his home of 43 years with his wife of 45 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.