Editorial Slams Public Schools As ‘State Church’
Dayton, Ohio; and Columbia, S.C. - Americans would revolt if the government forced them to join a state-established church. They guard too fiercely their liberty of conscience, guaranteed by the First Amendment. Yet when some parents choose not to submit their children to the government-operated school system – whose curriculum and culture embody beliefs and values with which they disagree – they still must pay taxes to support the system. Even then, they often face opposition.
We contend that the conduct of schooling in the United States should be determined by the rights of conscience of parents, in accord with the democratic nature of our society and our confessional pluralism. Parents who choose not to send their children to public schools should not be subject to harassment. Nor should they be forced to support the state system as well as their preferred educational arrangement.
Most recently, a small but rapidly growing number of parents, a majority of whom are conservative Christians, have chosen to educate their children at home. Holding to the proposition that parents have the primary right to direct the education of their offspring, a right affirmed by the Supreme Court several times since the landmark Pierce v. Society of Sisters decision of 1925, they are the most radical dissenters yet. Like earlier dissenters, most home-schooling families believe the public school system transmits an orthodoxy alien to their belief system. As a matter of conscience, they feel bound to provide an education congruent with their worldview. And like other dissenters from earlier state churches and the current functional equivalent, the public school system, these parents have had to pay taxes to support a government-privileged institution as well as the costs of the education they prefer, been occasionally harassed, and sometimes hauled into court.
The Christian Science Monitor ran this editorial by Thomas C. Hunt and James C. Carper supporting the practice of home schooling as some sort of fundamental right. They are bothered by the idea that home-schoolers still have to pay taxes to support the public school system. But most home schooling is designed to promote a religious indoctrination so severe that children graduate from it ill-equipped to participate in the mainstream. They have been so brainwashed by extremist religious propaganda they may never have a chance at academic excellence, critical thinking or intellectual honesty. By strategic and systematic miseducation, they have been rendered impotent and unable to participate in an increasingly technical and competitive society. This is a burden these kids should not have to bear. The original mandate for public education recognized the value of a consensus-based curriculum, and a pluralistic marketplace of ideas (which Hunt and Carper purport to subscribe to) for the advancement and progress of humanity. This is not just for the benefit of individuals, but for the strength of the whole society.
In addition, the home-schooling movement fails to take into account the vital impacts of peer socialization, which arguably amount to more important life-skill training than academics. Further, the deliberate withholding or twisting of sex education in religious conservative households leads to adults who lack important knowledge that could affect their very survival in a world of ever mutating and more virulent STIs.
If parents want to opt out of public education, Hunt and Carper argue that it is their right to do so and decide for themselves what is best for their children. It’s a libertarian claim: Why should parents pay for an educational system they don’t agree with and aren’t using? From the standpoint of economic liberty, it makes some sense. But a counterargument can also be made: many home-school curricula teach blatantly and provably false ideas about the universe. Parents (or “imprimers” as Marvin Minsky calls them) have an inordinate impact on their children. Kids are biologically designed to give high value to such parental input. Because of this, society should hold home-schoolers to extraordinarily high standards of truthfulness and academic rigor.
Instead, what exists is a watered-down patchwork of regulations which basically allows home-schooling parents to teach anything and everything as long as their kids can pass basic competency tests. But sequestering children in this manner and force-feeding them blatant falsehoods should not only be financially discouraged by the state, it should be considered child abuse and punished accordingly. Parents do not own their children. We do not allow parents to abuse children’s bodies, so why do we stand by and let them abuse their minds?
Hunt and Carper’s editorial fails to convince on another count as well: the accusation that secular schools represent a ’state church.’ Secularism is not and could never be considered to be a religion. This kind of “framing device” used by religious conservatives is a blatant attempt to misinform and mislead. Secular schools expressly exclude the official teaching of religion. That is their point. To insinuate otherwise is to do violence to the language and common sense. The authors of this editorial clearly have no concern other than advancing their narrow parochial interests at taxpayer expense. They should be roundly condemned for their anti-democratic and theocratic folly.