My formal education effectively ended in the eighth grade. I attended a Catholic parochial school for eight years. I do retain memories of that experience, some of them not so fondly but now recalled with humor. One is of a nun aptly named Sister Barbarossa, of the order of St. Joseph, a six-foot-plus ogre tough enough to beat up the school’s football players, and with a permanently red face that reflected a high blood pressure problem, congenital anger, or constant inebriation. She would persecute the disobedient and dream up unusual punishments. She often whacked my knuckles with a wooden ruler for doodling instead of studying, and many times made me sit in the leg space beneath her desk and kicked me with her brogans.
Another nun, Sister Angela, one day decided to introduce the notion of “government” to our seventh grade class. We would elect a class “president” by secret ballot. I thought so little of the idea – I couldn’t imagine what benefit there was in having a pretend “president” – that on my ballot I entered the name of a classmate who was as dumb as a doorknob (I don’t think he could even read) and given to epileptic fits and whom we’d been instructed to be kind to. When he had a seizure, he would foam at the mouth and it would take six of us to hold him down because he would acquire the strength of two Sister Barbarossas.
In any event, Sister Angela grew red in the face when she read my ballot. “Who,” she demanded, “put Robert’s name on this ballot???” The class gasped as one. Robert, who as a rule sat like a vegetable at his desk, seemed to smile. But, then, he always seemed to be smiling.
Without a tinge of guilt, I raised my hand. Sister Angela chewed me out, and subsequently informed my parents of my act of cruelty. My parents chewed me out, and sent me to my room without dinner. (Steadfast Catholics, in a later year they burned my small library after I declared my atheism, but that’s another story.)
Still, for all that, I learned how to read, write and “cipher” (that is, do math). I learned something of American history, world geography, absorbed dollops of science, and I excelled in art. I was drawing three-dimensional human objects when everyone else was stuck on stick figures. However, I remember nothing of the mandatory religious instruction, except that it employed rote memorization, which I was never good at.
The money set aside to send me to a Catholic boy’s high school was eaten up by hospital expenses for my grandparents after they were in a car accident. I don’t know if I should be grateful for that accident, to judge by stories I’ve heard about such schools. But not attending school was not an option. Parents were obliged to send their kids to some school, regardless of its quality or reputation. So I wound up going to two “free” – albeit taxpayer supported – public high schools, where I effectively learned nothing of value but gained a distaste for public schools which I have since honed into utter contempt.
Memories? Among many others, my U.S. history teacher would hold “bull” sessions to ponder hypothetical questions such as: If all the guns fired during World War II were fired simultaneously in the same direction, would it alter the rotation of the earth? My world history teacher would have the class dress in the national costume of a country and sample its cuisine, with a desultory mention of the country’s history. My English teacher would lecture the class on sentence structure, grammar, and parsing in such an incomprehensible and drill sergeant manner that I’m still recovering. My chemistry teacher would chalk equations on the blackboard to solve as homework, but then talk to us about honesty, ethics, and how great a man was Franklin D. Roosevelt, without once instructing us on what the symbols and numbers meant.
My high school years spanned the early 1960’s. As I later learned, John Dewey was the principal-at-large in both schools and his anti-intellectual, anti-mind pedagogical philosophy reigned supreme and unopposed even then. I shudder to think what public high school students must endure today. If Americans acquire any real-world “smarts,” it is only after they have left school and escaped the brow-beating cajolings and ministrations of teachers dedicated to indoctrinating students to become selfless, tolerant, non-judgmental, and self-sacrificial “good citizens.”
On July 12th, State Senator Aaron Osmond of Utah called for the end of compulsory education.
The idea of forcing children to attend school is outdated and should be scrapped in favor of a system that encourages learning by choice, state Sen. Aaron Osmond said in calling for an end to compulsory education in Utah.
“Some parents act as if the responsibility to educate, and even care for their child, is primarily the responsibility of the public school system,” the South Jordan Republican first wrote on a state Senate blog on Friday.
Moreover, Osmond noted that:
“As a result, our teachers and schools have been forced to become surrogate parents, expected to do everything from behavioral counseling, to providing adequate nutrition, to teaching sex education, as well as ensuring full college and career readiness.”
Opposition to the idea was immediately voiced by a state educator:
State School Board member Leslie Castle said she agrees that schools have become burdened with nonacademic responsibilities, like daily nutrition, basic health screenings and behavioral counseling. But the reality of Utah’s increasingly diverse population is that many children require those services….
She said because of compulsory education, teachers and educators are typically the first to see evidence of trouble at home, from abuse to malnourishment. Without the requirement to attend school, or if nonacademic services were removed from the public education system, it would be necessary for the state to create some other form of publicly funded service to fill that role.
I had to laugh when I read that “teachers and educators are typically the first to see evidence of trouble at home….” Trayvon Martin, the “child” shot by George Zimmerman in self-defense, was “trouble” looking for punching bag, preferably a human one. What did his public school or his parents do about his “nonacademic” problems? School suspensions, slaps on wrists, behavioral counseling, and impotent finger-wagging.
Senator Osmond’s position on compulsory education is laudable. But it fails to address the issue of why schooling is compulsory. What, after all, is the premise behind the forced education of children? Are children wards or the responsibility of the state (or of “society”), or are they the responsibility of their parents. In short: Who owns them?
Logically, no one, not even the parents. But parents are responsible for bringing a child into existence, and for its education. They are responsible for preparing their children to live as rational, responsible adults. Public school educators could make that same claim, citing the need for a civil society of a population of rational, responsible adults and that compulsory schooling was the best answer to that need, because the state had the facilities and resources to address a multitude of issues. And I’ve never read of any public school advocate say that without qualifying the claim by including some form of collectivist virtue that should be imbued in children as well as in the parents.
And where do those facilities and resources come from? From taxpaying parents, and also from taxpaying individuals who have no children to send to any school, public or private. Individuals produce children. Governments do not. There is no such thing as a government-run stud farm (or a Huxleyian Brave New World “hatchery”) that produces children who automatically become the responsibility of the state, which nominally “owns” them after parents waive custody of their offspring.
Governments do not even produce children in the most collectivist, totalitarian countries. Parents do. All the state can do, whether it is totalitarian or “democratic” in nature, is appropriate children for the state’s purposes. Whether or not those purposes are benign or malign, is irrelevant. Nor do state-run orphanages “own” the children in them. Such institutions are inappropriately charged with the responsibility of sheltering and feeding children left parentless.
State-run orphanages and state-run educational systems grew and spread in direct proportion to the growth and scale of taxation and expropriated private wealth. Privately owned orphanages, run as voluntary charities, and private schooling, have diminished in direct proportion to state interference and state intervention in the private sector.
Together with public school teachers’ unions and our left-leaning news media, the state is a natural enemy of private education, and especially of homeschooling, because children being educated by their parents are removed from the state’s power to “mold” and “shape” children according to its collectivist notion of a “good citizen.”
In April, Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC expressed that idea in a controversial commercial:
MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry recorded a commercial for the network in which she stated that children do not belong to their parents, but are instead the responsibility of the members of their community.
“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children,” she says in a spot for the network’s “Lean Forward” campaign. “So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”
Harris-Perry ropes everyone into a “community organizing” gestalt to overcome that “private idea” and bolster the “collective notion” of mutual responsibility for children between parents, the state, and the “community.” Harris-Perry’s notion is frankly Nazi in essence and in practice.
The travails of a homeschooling German family who applied for asylum in the U.S. to escape the punitive measures of a government aggressively hostile to homeschooling, are a case in point. The government, specifically Attorney General Eric Holder, opposed granting the family asylum because the benefits to “society” of public education trump individual rights and parental controls, values and discretion. The family is evangelical Christian and the parents wish to imbue their children with Christian values, but that is irrelevant. Holder and the Justice Department would oppose, for the same reasons, the homeschooling of children by their atheist parents, as well. In May the family lost an appeal to remain in the U.S.
The Justice Department said German laws outlawing homeschooling do not constitute persecution and they want a German homeschooling family kicked out of the United States, according to a briefing filed in a high profile asylum case.
“The goal in Germany is for an open, pluralistic society,” the Justice Department brief states in their battle against the Romeike family. “Teaching tolerance to children of all backgrounds helps to develop the ability to interact as a fully functioning citizen in Germany.” Germany has a national law requiring children to either attend public school or a government-approved private school.
The Romeikes had already been fined and German police once forcibly escorted their five children to school. They were notified that they could ultimately lose custody if they continued to home school.
Persecution by the German government in the form of fines, jail, and loss of custody of the children by the parents, was not reason enough to grant the Romeikes permanent asylum, the court decided.
The Romeikes fled Germany in 2008 when they were subjected to criminal prosecution for homeschooling, which is largely illegal in their country. In 2010, however, the family was granted asylum by Immigration Judge Lawrence O. Burman, whose decision was overturned by the Board of Immigration Appeals in 2012. A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit heard the Romeikes’ appeal on April 23rd and issued a unanimous decision against the family.
In its decision, the court said that the Romeikes had not made a sufficient case and that the United States has not opened its doors to every victim of unfair treatment.
While the court acknowledged that the U.S. Constitution recognizes the rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children, it refused to concede that the threats of heavy fines or loss of custody of their children by German authorities if the Romeikes refused to send their children to government schools were enough to classify them as a persecuted group and warrant asylum in the United States.
Petitions to the White House to allow the Romeikes to remain in the “land of the free” will undoubtedly be ignored. Since when did President Obama care about individual rights? He’d look at a child and say to the parents, “You didn’t build that.”
Todd Starnes of Fox News reveals the collectivist alliance between our Justice Department, our courts, and the German courts.
In their latest court briefing, the Justice Department referenced international court rulings that held “parents could not refuse the right to education of a child on the basis of the parents’ convictions, because the child has an independent right to education.”
They [the court] also referenced a German court ruling that states “the general public has a justified interest in counteracting the development of religiously or philosophically motivated ‘parallel societies’ and in integrating minorities in this area.”
Of course the German government is against the development of philosophically motivated “parallel societies” – except for the viral Islamic one that is growing right under its nose, complete with its own philosophical motive of imposing Sharia law on all Germans.
Daniel Greenfield in his Front Page article cites the Justice Department’s collectivist position:
“The goal in Germany is for an open, pluralistic society,” the Justice Department brief states in their battle against the Romeike family. “Teaching tolerance to children of all backgrounds helps to develop the ability to interact as a fully functioning citizen [sic] in Germany.”
Except when the fully functioning citizen (whatever that might mean in Germany) is being harassed and raped by Muslims and taxed by the government to support state-supported Muslims-only schools and “cultural” programs. Here in the U.S., to teach “tolerance” to the plane loads of intolerant Muslims being imported into the U.S. by President Obama and his cronies (as refugees seeking asylum from their Islamic hellholes) would be deemed racial or religious “profiling” and highly “offensive” to Muslim “convictions,” and that wouldn’t be, well, tolerated, either.
The best solution will go Senator Osmond one better: Get the government out of education altogether, repeal all compulsory education laws, auction off all state or government schools (including universities), and return the educational custody and responsibility where they belong morally and politically: to parents.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Edward Cline is the author of the Sparrowhawk series of novels set in England and Virginia in the decades leading up to the American Revolution, and also of Whisper the Guns and First Prize. His essays, books reviews, and other nonfiction have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other periodicals. He is a frequent contributor to Rule of Reason and The Dougout.