Our Education Platform

Anybody who cares about America’s future and about America’s children, both of which are causes of deep contemplation for thoughtful people and desperate action for active, knows that everything depends on education.

The stimulus bill famously set aside 100 billion dollars for America’s public schools. Plenty of people would argue that this is itself a desperate action by people with too much confidence in contemplation. But the present reality is that we have a public school system, that our children are compelled, under pain of law, to get something called an education, and that most of them attend these public schools.

What can be done for our schools? Purists say, shut them down. Save the $500 billion/year spent on them (equal to our federal deficit prior to this year, though not paid by the federal government) by entirely privatising schooling. The JS Mill side of me agrees. But it isn’t going to happen, so we have to look realistically at the world we actually live in rather than fuss and bother about one that will not exist for at least a century, if ever.

But what about the calls for reform. This Economist article about Arne Duncan reminds us that Bill Bennett once called the education bureaucracy “the blob” because it was so amorphous and ungovernable. Can Arne Duncan help? I’m watching anxiously.

Here’s what I want to see in the public schools, since they can’t be shut down:

  • Extensive provision of tax credits for school choice, such as that provided by Pennsylvania and a few other states on a small scale. Again, this article shows the flaw in vouchers: the government still maintains dictatorial power over the provision of the money and that leads to control of schools from impersonal government agents.
  • A great deal more support for charter schools, especially the classical charter schools that are doing so much good in, e.g. Colorado Springs and Fort Collins.
  • Breaking of the stranglehold on innovation by the teacher’s unions.
  • Breaking of the stranglehold on creativity by the accrediting agencies, especially the one that accredits the teachers colleges.
  • A deep reconsideration of the Pragmatic/Progressivist philosophy that has undercut every impulse toward discipline and creativity and knowledge. Actually, I’d prefer a rejection. This is a theme of our conference this summer.
  • Tremendous restoration of authority to the local communities. This is one area where I think the Economist article gets it completely wrong. They suggest that we have a problem because there are 16,000 local districts running schools.

In fact, this is one area that needs some extensive research. Education has centralized any number of functions that need to be decentralized and has decentralized some areas that might conceivably benefit from centralization.

But education has to turn from its military/industrial mentality, which is totally unsuited to its very nature, and return to more of an agrarian mentality, which is more consistent with its nature. Civilization has never been the product of armies and factories. It is the fruit of the always tenuous marriage of the farmer and the merchant. Education must restore this dynamic.

As with everything about the Obama presidency, there is reason for hope. Then let us hope with our eyes open.

Follow this link to read the Economist article: The Golden Boy and The Blob.

Three obstacles seem to hinder everything the schools do: the American history of racism, the unimaginably extensive Byzantine bureaucracy, and the fear and loathing of religion. Perhaps I’ll be able to develop each of these in later blogs.

What elements do we need to add to our platform?

5 Responses

  1. Andrew,

    I heartily agree with all you’ve said. 🙂

    It’s interesting to see in American history how Christians actually chose to give education over to the states (initially). (Wallbuilders.com has some great info on this that would interest you, I think.) Of course, they never predicted that it would turn into what we have today. That’s a good lesson for us to remember…

    I am all for private educators. All of my children are in a classical, Christian school. And, dare I say, we’ve actually seen other private schools raise the bar academically and spiritually because of our presence in our community. Quite an interesting thing to watch! (And our enrollment for next year is already beyond the current year, even though other private schools’ enrollment in our area is down.)

    I fear that the current federal political environment is rapidly moving us away from a mindset that would welcome the type of reforms you suggest. (Sigh.)

    It’s a mighty good thing we serve a mighty great God! He will achieve His purposes, regardless.

    Thanks for opening up such a great and vital topic of conversation.

    P.S. For those interested in learning about the Pragmatic/Progressivist philosophy that Andrew mentions, I highly recommend “John Dewey and the Decline Of American Education: How the Patron Saint Of Schools Has Corrupted Teaching and Learning” by Henry T. Edmondson III.

    • you point to two crucial realities:

      1. The Gospel is leaven in a culture, not a sparring partner. By being a good school, your school is changing everything around them.

      That is by far the most important thing and the reason Christian classical schools need to have the courage to be what they ARE!

      2. We probably can expect a reaction to Obama and the great federal takeover. However, once government agencies are put in place, and once non-governmental agencies exercise governmental powers, and once the government runs industries, reaction won’t be enough. It will be cute.

      Truly, the only hope our country has is Christian classical education and the people at home or in schools who insist on providing it to their children.

      3. (I can’t count): it’s not words Christian classical that matter, but the reality.

  2. I agree that “in a perfect world” we would just do away with public education.


    would the Church really, I mean, REALLY, meet the call to fill the void that’s left? Especially for the children who can’t even feed themselves, the ones who have severe special needs. Who will educate them to their potential, no matter where that lies? Will the Church or the private sector serve these kids?

    I’ve walked the halls of public schools and seen these children and the desperate parents who bring them with relief and small bits of hope. Their school is a life line for them.

    Say all we want about the many evils of public education (and there is much to say)… but at least they are caring for the least of these. I know of no private school that does, except for one an hour away that charges over $15,000 a year.

    For all of its wretchedness, God still uses public schools to bless and pour our his common grace, even while it denies Him.

    Let us at least acknowledge that in our discussion.

    • Sharaya,

      Thanks for the response. You ask a great question the answer to which is untestable because there are too many variables and no laboratory in which to test them.

      But I would have to argue that the public schools offer some hope in some specific cases, but my experience and all I’ve read about education for the poor indicates that, as a sociological phenomenon, the state schools are not meeting the needs.

      Within those schools, many teachers strive to, but they get so much opposition from administrators and other teachers who are invested in the status quo that they can hardly do anything.

      I wish we could find out the answer to your question. I know it was the church that educated the poor from the days of LaSalle to the 20th century. I know that the Catholic church does more in inner cities than is well known. And I know that the public schools are heavily regulated, undercut creativity, and send most of their money to the suburbs.

      So the discussion is valuable, but the actions I think can be taken right now or at least can be moved toward are in our platform.

      Here’s my thesis: The more power we give to private educators, the more effective American education will be.

      • Heck, the more power we give to educators instead of to administrators the more effective education will be.

        That’s the fundamental problem, state run or private.

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