That Selfish Separation of School and State Crowd

April 27, 2008

by Tammy Drennan


Chester E. Finn, Jr. is an energetic and busy man with what appears to be a real heart for school improvement. However hopeless reforming compulsory state schooling proves, he never gives up, never stops working to figure out potential ways to bring about academic excellence and other goals he feels are legitimate for the state.


It would appear, based on a comment Mr. Finn made via blog recently, that one of the reasons for his fervor for public school reform is that he can’t imagine a world without government delivered and controlled education. To wit (and since it’s just a short blurb, I quote nearly the entire thing):


You gotta give it to purebred libertarians, they never let their vision of how the world ought to work be distorted by any realities about how it actually works. Nowhwere is this clearer than in K-12 education, where the CATO crowd, indistinguishable nowadays from the “separation of school and state crowd,” basically doesn’t believe in any form of public education. They believe in private education, purchased in the marketplace by parents who want and can afford it for their kids from schools that are not accountable to anybody for anything except keeping those tuition payments rolling in the door. The heck with everybody else’s kids. The heck with an educated polity or transmitted common culture.


An Educated Polity


Beginning at the end of this bloggarooing, state schooling has not given us an educated polity. We had that way before we had widespread public schooling. The more public schooling has taken over the education scene, the more education has suffered. We’ve “progressed” from a nation rife with thinkers, innovators, creators and free spirits to a nation of automatons looking to a small  cadre of such people to make our lives better and easier for us.


Common Culture


Common culture? What of the 200+ years of truly common culture this country shared before the takeover of education by government? We were on our thirteenth president before states wrestled children from their parents en masse and corralled them into “common culture” camps. We were already a nation that people from around the world were clamoring to get to. We were a nation such as the world had never seen – an amalgam of traditions and languages and rituals finding ways to work and live together in relative peace. We were a nation that had the most important culture of all in common – a love of liberty.


State education has been robbing us of our intellectual independence and excellence and the very foundation of our common culture for 160 years – and selling us a big snow job about its role in building our nation.


Greedy Private Schools


Working our way up in Mr. Finn’s blurb, we come to the idea that private schools are in it for the goldmine of tuition and are not accountable to anyone – not even, apparently, the duped parents who pay for them. This will surprise thousands of low-paid (truly low-paid, not public school low-paid) but dedicated private school teachers who throw themselves into their jobs and students every day and deliver the goods that state schools seem at a loss to even define.


Selfish Separation of School and State Crowd


Finally, we arrive at the initial criticism of Mr. Finn’s blog entry – that the CATO Institute is guilty of embracing the mindset of the “separation of school and state crowd” – that horrid bunch of people who wish to see education pried from the clutches of government and returned to its rightful place in a free society – the hands of the people.


I can’t speak for the position of CATO on this, but I can speak for the “separation of school and state crowd,” as I’ve been part of that crowd for many years.


Here’s what I can tell Mr. Finn about the crowd he disparages:


We believe in intellectual liberty, without which freedom of speech and religion and even the right to assemble and redress our grievances to the government are pretty much moot.


We know that full freedom of education will happen slowly, but we also know that it must happen – and that someone must commit to that end. There are plenty of people who will continue to prop up and empower the government education system, hoping against all hope that it can be turned into something it is not and was never intended to be.


We want freedom and excellence for all children. It’s no bigger a challenge than reforming the state school system, so why not throw our efforts into excellence rather than into mediocrity? How could we explain to children and their parents that we are dedicated — heart, soul and pocketbook — to their continued enslavement?


We believe that parents and those who support them in freedom and excellence have the best interests of children at heart – and that the state is dedicated to control and conformity, at best.


We believe in evidence.


The evidence thus far – 200+ years under a mostly liberty-based system of education and 160 years under the thumb of the state — shows that intellectual freedom produces excellence, promotes responsible citizenship, ensures shared knowledge and culture, and safeguards all the liberties we hold dear.


Intellectual tyranny by the state produces mediocrity, promotes ignorant and indifferent citizens, reduces knowledge to a litany of meaningless facts and culture to shared interests in pop entertainment, and consumes our liberty like a starving dragon.


We believe in freedom – and we believe the American people are up to it.