Home > Uncategorized > Right Wing Perspective on Purpose of Public Education Replaces Mann’s Utopia with Friedman’s

Right Wing Perspective on Purpose of Public Education Replaces Mann’s Utopia with Friedman’s

February 1, 2020

My phone feeds me articles on public education that come from a wide range of sources, which gives me a window into the rationale of those who favor simplistic right wing solutions to complex social problems. Readers of this blog know that I see the notion of “choice” as a implausible if not disingenuous solution to the major problems that lead to the “failure” of public education: poverty, racism, and parent indifference. A recent National Interest article by Neal McCluskey, “Why Utopian Promises on Public Education are a Bad Idea to Abandon School Choice” didn’t change my thinking on “choice”, but it did make me appreciate the broken promises voters and taxpayers made and the impact of those broken promises on children…. and on the strength of our democracy. Mr. McCluskey opens his article with this:

I recently read Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America by Johann Neem, which in its title delivers the bedrock myth of public schooling: that it is essential to building harmonious, well‐​informed, citizens of a democracy. And it’s not just in the title that Neem waxes poetic about the public schools. In his preface he briefly recounts his experience as an immigrant child in Bay Area, California public schools, concluding that “by democratizing access to the kind of liberal arts education that was once reserved for the few, the common schools prepare all young people to take part in the shared life of our democracy.” Neem echoes the rhetoric of Horace Mann, the “father of the common school,” who in the 1830s and 40s brought a missionary zeal to promoting largely uniform, free public schools in Massachusetts.

I bristled at the use of the word “myth” because, like Horace Mann and Johann Neem, I do believe that “…by democratizing access to the kind of liberal arts education that was once reserved for the few, the common schools prepare all young people to take part in the shared life of our democracy.” To justify his use of the word “myth” to describe public education’s purpose, Mr. McCluskey offers ample evidence that public schools have fallen short of achieving its ambitious goal. He is particularly concerned with the mistreatment of “religious Americans”. He writes:

Public schools were not forging unified, enlightened citizens, as was the goal, but were largely just a mundane part of life. Which would be fine, except that taxpayer support of uniform public schooling is compelled on the grounds that it is so much more than what it actually is—it is essential for “democracy,” right?—and in that privileged position it has often been worse than just ineffectual at its professed purpose. It has imposed or reinforced inequality and injustice.

I won’t go over all the injustice in detail—you can see where I’ve discussed it in more depth—but remember that for much of its history public schooling often discriminated against minority religions, most notably Roman Catholics. It often either completely barred or segregated African Americans—not just in the South—and in some places Mexican and Asian Americans. It attacked the culturally unifying language of German immigrant communities. It now systematically treats religious Americans as second‐​class citizens. And it forces people with different values, cultures, and identities to fight to see which “equal” people win, and which lose.

This is all true historically… blacks were and are still forced to attend segregated schools, foreign language students are compelled to learn in English, and those who speak a “culturally unifying language” are ofter forced to abandon it in order to succeed in school. The discrimination against Roman Catholics within public schools is debatable, but the government’s unwillingness to provide tax dollars to education children in schools that teach Catholicism as part of the curriculum is irrefutable and completely aligned with the Constitution.

The historic part of that paragraph may be largely accurate, but the idea that public schools now treat “…religious Americans as second‐​class citizens” is preposterous given that there is no way for public schools to identify “religious” students thereby making it possible for them to discriminate against them as a finite group.  And the idea that it “…forces people with different values, cultures, and identities to fight to see which “equal” people win, and which lose” also lacks credibility. The link associated with the statement regarding these identities fighting against each other for power leads to a Cato Institute “battle map” that highlights culture wars such as:

…pitting educational effectiveness, basic rights, moral values, or individual identities against each other. Think creationism versus evolution, or assigned readings containing racial slurs. The conflicts are often intensely personal, and guarantee if one fundamental value wins, another loses.

If “creationism versus evolution” is a battle between “cultures, values, cultures, and identities” it is clear to me that rigorous science should win over religious superstition.

There is a battle going on between Utopian visions… but it’s not even mentioned in Mr. McCluskey’s article: it’s the battle between the Democratic Utopia where every child has an equal opportunity for success no matter where they were born and raised and no matter how well off their parents were and the Darwinian Utopia where every child can buy whatever kind of education their parents want for them. The first Utopia requires a common agreement on truth, justice, and values. The second Utopia believes in the magic of the marketplace.

The market Utopia seems to be prevailing… and the planet and our freedom are being compromised as a result. There is still time to salvage the Democratic Utopia… but the time is getting very short.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: