With the recent selection of Betsy De Vos as secretary of education, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth about the effects on public education. As a staunch advocate of private and charter schools, Ms. De Vos frightened many people who believed that she would promote those sorts of choices to the detriment of public schools.
The debate made me consider what I think is an important question: What exactly is the purpose of schools? I teach in a private school, and my wife has home-schooled all of our children through at least the elementary years, so I am very familiar with the debate over these forms of education.
One frequent concern expressed is that public schools will suffer when the “best” kids, those from middle-class homes with on-level skills and stable home lives, are removed from them. On the one hand, I understand the concerns; as a teacher myself, I certainly appreciate when I get students who are motivated and equipped. I know the value of having some bright students to “raise the bar” in a classroom.
As I thought about this more deeply, though, I came to see that those who make this argument are putting the cart before the horse. The party that ought to be most important, the one that stands to gain or lose the most from parental choices, is not the school system but the individual child. When we make decisions that will benefit the organization over the individual, we are moving into dangerous waters that are deeply un-American.
I recently read a fascinating book called “Modern Fascism: The Threat to the Judeo-Christian Worldview” by Gene Edward Veith. His contention is that “fascism” has become an epithet we throw around to insult anyone we dislike, but that most of us have no idea what it really means. One distinct value of the fascists was that the state took precedence over the individual. Hence, when we make decisions to protect (or sustain) a poor public school system by giving students no other alternative, I would argue that we are not too far from that ideology.
We don’t exist to serve the public school system; it exists to serve us. If parents believe that it does not do so effectively, then perhaps they should be able to opt out, even if those parents are poor and can’t afford a pricey private school.
I recommend the book. As we consider Ms. De Vos’s efforts, let’s remember that our primary education goal ought to be giving all our children the opportunity to pursue their dreams, not sustaining a particular system.
Andrew H. Jobson