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Public Schools Are NOT Commodities… they Are a Common Good

March 14, 2018

I recently read a post by Diane Ravitch on dominionism, which she called “the greatest threat to religious liberty”.  Dominionism is the belief that man as dominion over everything on earth and it is embodied in the Heartland Institute, who views the world through a combination of libertarian economic thinking with fundamentalist Christian dogma. Dominionists, in addition to believing that our founding fathers viewed Christianity as the primary religion of our nation, also adhere to the belief that rugged individualism can overcome all forms of adversity and that all individuals should be free to make choices about everything… except maybe the church they want to attend, the God they want to worship, or whether they want to worship at all.

From time to time I get articles from the Heartland Institute’s Real Clear Education on-line publication that offer me some insights into the thinking of those who adhere to their belief system. This morning I got an article titled “The Public School Myth” by David S. D’Amato who is described as an “…attorney, expert policy advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation and The Heartland Institute, and a columnist at the Cato Institute’s Libertarianism.orgThe article is a lengthy argument for allowing parents to have the freedom to choose where their child attends school and against the public schools’ monopoly. His concluding paragraph provides a good summary of his thinking:

It is interesting what we can do with words. Call it “public” education and at once the opponents of parental choice get to align themselves with that numinous entity, “the public” — as if they don’t have their own private, special interest in precluding the entry of competitors. In reality, there is no “public” they could represent; we are all individuals with our own values and preferences. This is a reality education choice attempts to grapple with meaningfully, rather than piling up empty bromides in order to preserve an unearned privilege.

He is correct that “…there is no “public” (the schools) could represent; we are all individuals with our own values and preferences.” But taking that correct assertion to an extreme, there is no “public” any government entity can represent… and democracy cannot function unless voters accept the ideal (or “myth” as it were) that their votes matter, that those we elect will do their best to represent the views of the majority of individuals they serve, and if they fall short of that they will not serve for more than one election cycle. At this juncture, the majority of elected officials in our nation and in our states hold the belief that public schools  should serve ALL students in the districts that have been established and that parents who want to use their own private funds to enroll their children in non-public schools are free to do so, but they are not entitled to the funds earmarked for ALL students who attend PUBLIC schools governed by elected officials. But based on Mr. D’Amato’s analysis of  the governance of schools, he does not believe the myth of democracy. He believes that tax revenues should be meted out to individual parents who can then use those funds to enroll their child wherever they wish. Does he feel the same way about the tax revenues we use for police protection? For plowing of roads? For provision of electricity? “Government schools” provide a community service that assures the all students in their classrooms have an equal opportunity to succeed in life. That is a value and preference we all presumably share… and it is a value that requires us to share our resources.

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