Public schools are Pro-government control, Pro-corporate sales, and Pro-humanism values. . . Is that what we call American now?

How’d that happen?

Somewhere in the flow of the river of public opinion, it has become popular to sneer at private schools: “for the wealthy;” “elitist;” “un-American;” “Undermining public schools.” These are words that might even make headlines sometimes.
It’s easy to agree that it is unpleasant to pay tuition for a private or faith-based education. Public schools are “for free.” Or are they? Home and property owners pay substantial taxes to support local public schools. Even with this tax money pouring into the public schools system nation-wide, billions are added from private donors and foundations (usually connected to corporations: The Gates Foundation; Zuckerberg; Google; The Lucas Foundation; the Annenberg Foundation). Hundreds of thousands of additional dollars are added to the billions spent on public education in the United States in tag and bake sales, candy sales, raffles, and other fund raisers for outings, sports teams, extracurricular activities, and other things not covered by the enormous bags of money powering through public schools systems in America. For free? Hardly! Yet the truth of this public school “for free-ness” is in the fact that each parent need not pony up to pay directly for the tuition of each child.

The rhetoric around this has built up with increasing volume over the last two decades of moral outrage that private schools dare to charge tuition when public schools teach children “for free.” Added to this rhetoric is the class-ism, recently made popular, of declaring private schools against America because they pander to the upper class, remove the brightest, best and wealthiest from the public schools weakening the strength of those community schools, and, perhaps worst of all, outperform public schools every time. This seems to prove somehow that private schools are undermining all that America represents.

Yet history speaks otherwise about private schools. Our nation was forged from private schooling simply because there were no public schools at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Any education anyone could acquire was acceptable. No “standards” or test scores or comparative studies on schools existed. One could read his way to being well educated (As with Abraham Lincoln, for example) and there was no stigma attached to this: a man or a woman was recognized as well-educated without admirers ooo-ing and ah-ing over its origin from Harvard or Groton. All education was considered desirable.

Ponder these facts:

  • John Adams was taught to read by his father, had a tutor named John Marsh and entered Harvard a year later than most. He got a B.A. there (1755) became a school teacher and then practiced law.
  • Thomas Jefferson was sent to boarding schools starting at age 5. At age 17 he accomplished two years of College at William and Mary and then studied law under George Wythe, which study counted in years of William and Mary education. No degree, only what was then considered a “proper education for a gentleman.”
  • George Washington did not have a college degree and was tutored at home. No formal education after the age of 16.
  • Benjamin Franklin went to a year in the equivalent in a public school but then went to a private school, George Brownell’s English School, until the age of 10 when he was apprenticed to a candle maker. He had no more formal education and went on to become an accomplished inventor, scientist, writer, philosopher, statesmen, diplomat, and architect of our form of government and our constitution.
  • Patrick Henry went to a local private school and was home schooled. No education after age 15. Who could be more American or more articulate than he was?
  • Thomas Payne, author of “Common Sense,” one of the more influential writings fueling the American Revolution, was educated in the Thetford Grammar School in the village where he grew up and was apprenticed, without additional education, at age 13.

These men forged a new nation and won a war to be able to do that. The variety of schooling and the learned tolerance for different ways of thinking made our constitution what it is. Most all of the education present in forging these mighty personalities was private education. Private school education is the most American kind of education imaginable. Why then this recent dismissal of private education as undermining of America?

Public school education is only 160 years old in this country. The impulse to start it came from two primary directions. One direction was businessmen (robber barons among them) at the end of the Industrial Revolution who recognized that they needed a trained work force and a trained consumer force to continue the trajectory of capitalism. Another direction was from the aristocratic class in America who were concerned about the children of factory workers who were growing up under the influence of their rough-and-tumble, gin-drinking parents without culture. This led to mandatory schooling with truancy laws that made it illegal to miss school or to hold your children away from school. The hours were set to keep children away from (bad) parental influence for as many hours in the day as was practical. It became a deed of noble altruism to teach in these public schools and to contribute to these public schools.

It seems to me that it is public schooling, with this original commercial impulse and the impulse of keeping children away from the bad influence of their parents that is un-American, not private schooling that is designed to teach youngsters to think for themselves. We now have a public school system designed to regimentalize children’s thinking to train them to be good consumers. All children must learn the same things in the same way at the same time and pass the same tests to prove the system is working well. Their free time is usurped in hours of homework and stressful, dry, uncreative effort without good results. The schools exist to support giant industries like the technology companies, the pharmaceutical companies, text book companies, the food industry. And all, all, all children are taught to think in the same way, to pass the identical tests. No America could be forged out of that!

Private and home schooling are the American way. All we need to do is take back the money being harvested from us en masse to support these industries, or, if you need to look at it another way, our public schools. Then everyone could really educate their children the way they choose, not how the government dictates. Pay attention to the debate currently underway. DeVos wants school choice and a group of people are vehemently against this whole idea. But if people spend tax dollars on whatever school they wish, the government will insist on monitoring the schools who accept the tax money and before long there will be no school choice. All the schools, private and public, will be responsible to a government that will control all schools, test all schools in the name of “accountability” and the consistent excellence, independence from the government, and diversity of private schooling, that grand American tradition, will be gone.

Whatever you might imagine about the glory of public schools, these schools are failing nationally and internationally and the government is not going to fix it because the government in bending schools to fit the needs of the industries that serve them. If everyone is trained to think and answer multiple choice questions in the same way, there will likely be increasing intolerance for anyone who thinks differently. The so-called “wealthy” people everyone seems to want to resent for wishing for private schools will not “bring the schools up,” everyone will be dragged down into sameness. And that’s un-American.

The government knows little or nothing of educating children. Why then do we entrust the setting of “one-size-fits-all” standards for our young to those in government? Michael Moore has made a movie about Finland’s successful schools in which there is little or no homework, in which teachers are trusted and respected, and in which students have much free time for dreaming, play, and creating during the school day. He concludes that there are no private schools in Finland so all the wealthy have to stay to make the schools the best they can be. Really? Is it so hidden a fact that Finland’s government does not control the schools there — it supports what schools and teachers decide to do with tax dollars — and that this is the problem in the US, not private schools?

We need not DeVos vs. public schools but free schools for which the government pays from collected tax dollars. Teachers and parents will know when it is working. Children will prove when it’s working with happy eager learning and success — all children.

 

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