Some Wicked Friends of Public Schools

Free  education, the provision for the opportunity for universal literacy, is a blessing to any society. The ability to read and write has made the difference between social mobility and social stagnation.  Free public education is largely an American invention.  The Northwest Ordinances provided for land to go to public schools. 

Free, mandatory schooling appears to have originated in Scotland, where churches were required to provide schooling to all children -- male and female -- so that everyone could read the Bible.  The unintended consequence in Scotland was a virtual explosion of intellectual and cultural activity in the Nineteenth Century, parallel to the explosion of activity in America.

Public schooling in America has not only provided hundreds of millions with education, it has provided a vehicle for tens of millions of immigrants to learn about their adopted homeland and acquire the nuances of their new culture.

But as a lamentable appellate court decision this month in California shows, there is a dark side to government trying to control the education of children.  When compulsory education of children slides into compulsory education of children in a politically correct manner,  then compulsory education becomes a mere pretext to indoctrinate.  

There are many effective systems of teaching children basic skills and the building blocks of learning.  Homeschooling can work.  Private schools can work.  Public schools also can work.  It is fair for society to insist that parents make sure that children grow up literate and conversant with basic science, history and mathematics.  It is unfair for society to insist that parents only follow a prescribed path to the education of their children.

The dangers of trying to control the education of children by insisting on public (state) education can be shown by historical examples in Europe and in America.  In Nazi Germany there was a concerted effort by the Nazis to end all education except for state education, which was duly Nazified.  As Michael Power notes in his 1939 book, Religion in the Reich, when writing about a Nazi campaign against religious schools in 1935:  

"These placards, on walls, on houses and telegraph poles, proclaimed: ‘One People, One Reich, One Fuhrer - One Community School' ‘He who sends his child to the denominational school, wrongs his child - and interferes with the unity of our people,' ‘We do not want Catholic or Evangelical schools, we want the school of Adolph Hitler.'"

The Nazis also warned parents that children who went to religious schools would be discriminated against in employment.  The goal of the Nazis was to compel all children in Germany to only go to state schools in which there would be no religious instruction, no instructors except for Nazi-approved instructors, and no textbooks except those prepared by the Nazis.  When exhortations and threats ceased to be enough, Himmler simply banned all Confessing Church seminaries and instruction in 1937.  Two years later Himmler closed all private religious schools. 

The goal of the Nazis was not to make sure that German children learned to read and write -- religious schools had done an excellent job in of teaching children those skills.  What the Nazis wanted was a chance to indoctrinate children and, importantly, to keep children completely separated from all moral and philosophical systems which competed with Nazism.   

What happened in the 1930s in Nazi Germany, however, was preceded by what happened in Oregon in 1922.  The Ku Klux Klan supported and passed the Compulsory Education Law which required that parents send their children to public schools and not private schools.  The avowed purpose of this law was to get children "while their minds are plastic" and to turn the child into "a true American."

What was the Klan really after?  It wanted to close parochial schools.  It wanted to close yeshivas.  It wanted to take away from parent the right to have their children not only educated in basic skills, but also to have their children learn those skills in an environment in harmony with the religion and beliefs of the parents.  Public schools, which did not serve fish on Friday or Kosher food, would break down the stubborn resistance of recalcitrant groups that did not convert themselves into the Klan's image of America.

The Supreme Court on October 1, 1925 ruled that the Oregon law was unconstitutional, holding that parents and guardians had the right to direct the education of the children and further holding that the child was not a mere creature of the state.  That was when federal courts believed individual liberty trumped social engineering.

Many on the Left today see public education as primarily a mechanism to mold children into people who will better fit into the vision that these Leftists have for America.  Those tinkerers should know what good company they keep:  they are following in the footsteps of Nazi Germany and of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Educational monoculture is an invitation to tyranny.
Free  education, the provision for the opportunity for universal literacy, is a blessing to any society. The ability to read and write has made the difference between social mobility and social stagnation.  Free public education is largely an American invention.  The Northwest Ordinances provided for land to go to public schools. 

Free, mandatory schooling appears to have originated in Scotland, where churches were required to provide schooling to all children -- male and female -- so that everyone could read the Bible.  The unintended consequence in Scotland was a virtual explosion of intellectual and cultural activity in the Nineteenth Century, parallel to the explosion of activity in America.

Public schooling in America has not only provided hundreds of millions with education, it has provided a vehicle for tens of millions of immigrants to learn about their adopted homeland and acquire the nuances of their new culture.

But as a lamentable appellate court decision this month in California shows, there is a dark side to government trying to control the education of children.  When compulsory education of children slides into compulsory education of children in a politically correct manner,  then compulsory education becomes a mere pretext to indoctrinate.  

There are many effective systems of teaching children basic skills and the building blocks of learning.  Homeschooling can work.  Private schools can work.  Public schools also can work.  It is fair for society to insist that parents make sure that children grow up literate and conversant with basic science, history and mathematics.  It is unfair for society to insist that parents only follow a prescribed path to the education of their children.

The dangers of trying to control the education of children by insisting on public (state) education can be shown by historical examples in Europe and in America.  In Nazi Germany there was a concerted effort by the Nazis to end all education except for state education, which was duly Nazified.  As Michael Power notes in his 1939 book, Religion in the Reich, when writing about a Nazi campaign against religious schools in 1935:  

"These placards, on walls, on houses and telegraph poles, proclaimed: ‘One People, One Reich, One Fuhrer - One Community School' ‘He who sends his child to the denominational school, wrongs his child - and interferes with the unity of our people,' ‘We do not want Catholic or Evangelical schools, we want the school of Adolph Hitler.'"

The Nazis also warned parents that children who went to religious schools would be discriminated against in employment.  The goal of the Nazis was to compel all children in Germany to only go to state schools in which there would be no religious instruction, no instructors except for Nazi-approved instructors, and no textbooks except those prepared by the Nazis.  When exhortations and threats ceased to be enough, Himmler simply banned all Confessing Church seminaries and instruction in 1937.  Two years later Himmler closed all private religious schools. 

The goal of the Nazis was not to make sure that German children learned to read and write -- religious schools had done an excellent job in of teaching children those skills.  What the Nazis wanted was a chance to indoctrinate children and, importantly, to keep children completely separated from all moral and philosophical systems which competed with Nazism.   

What happened in the 1930s in Nazi Germany, however, was preceded by what happened in Oregon in 1922.  The Ku Klux Klan supported and passed the Compulsory Education Law which required that parents send their children to public schools and not private schools.  The avowed purpose of this law was to get children "while their minds are plastic" and to turn the child into "a true American."

What was the Klan really after?  It wanted to close parochial schools.  It wanted to close yeshivas.  It wanted to take away from parent the right to have their children not only educated in basic skills, but also to have their children learn those skills in an environment in harmony with the religion and beliefs of the parents.  Public schools, which did not serve fish on Friday or Kosher food, would break down the stubborn resistance of recalcitrant groups that did not convert themselves into the Klan's image of America.

The Supreme Court on October 1, 1925 ruled that the Oregon law was unconstitutional, holding that parents and guardians had the right to direct the education of the children and further holding that the child was not a mere creature of the state.  That was when federal courts believed individual liberty trumped social engineering.

Many on the Left today see public education as primarily a mechanism to mold children into people who will better fit into the vision that these Leftists have for America.  Those tinkerers should know what good company they keep:  they are following in the footsteps of Nazi Germany and of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Educational monoculture is an invitation to tyranny.