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A Rebuttal to 'Why Does the Political Left Seem So Intent on Killing Public Education?'

Mr. Edward Willing wrote a well thought out response to my blog piece titled: Why the Political Right Seems so Intent on Ending Public Education? It is time to delve deeper into the issues.

Before getting into a deeper discussion of my original piece and the response to it, let me clarify a few positions.

First: One of the consensus values regarding education is that providing education to all will, in turn, provide opportunity to all. Extending the educational opportunity makes real the value of a society of equal opportunity.

Second: A literate society benefits society as a whole as well as the individual member.

Third: Becoming literate enhances the ability of each member to pursue personal opportunities and lift oneself up.

Fourth: The U.S. Constitution was written as a social contract document to limit powers of the government, while protecting the physical presence and rights of the minority.

In my original piece I used a historical analysis to support the claim that the early Puritans held literacy in high regard. Mr. Willing agreed to the importance of public education to this group. However, he misrepresents the Puritans as having come from the “Enlightenment, and had a profound respect for higher education." To be precise, the Period of the Enlightenment did not begin in Europe until around the 1650s ending around 1790 to 1800. To think that the Puritans were part of the Age of Reason is misleading. The emphasis that Puritans and other Congregationalists placed on literacy had begun as a response to monarchs and established religions attempting to limit access to newly translated and published bibles, as well as interpretation of said bibles. They choose to step outside of mainstream European society, as have many other outlier groups, the Puritans sought refuge from overly repressive regimes and societies, seeking sanctuary in North America. One of the latest groups to do so was the movement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from Nauvoo, Illinois to the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

Although the basis for the Puritans and early Congregationalists was to create basic literacy for religious purposes, it established the value of literacy and became an important part of the American traditional values system, that all should become literate. Based on their mandate, they found the best means to accomplish such was through a public education system, supported entirely by the local community.

Universal literacy has become one of the most important reforms of the American Experience and set us in the position to lead by example for the rest of the world. However, contrasting the value of universal literacy was clearly not a value of the “Old South”. Mr. Willing criticizes my critique for the introduction of the “Old South’s” approach to education as a means to link the current conservative movement to that approach; whereas, the responsibility for education is placed on the individual and their family because of the important conservative value of personal responsibility. It is linked by the nature of the arguments offered by the current fiscal conservatives. The arguments being made now could just have easily been made in the latter half of the 19th century for those defending the old system. Although the system was forced out and a public education was imposed, it didn’t find the same support as in the North and West. Funding has always been a problem and the focus has always been to provide the mere minimum.

We have developed two traditions, one of universal literacy and the other of personal responsibility. The aspect of the “Old South” is that if we privatize the schools that it will soon become a reflection of the “Old South” tradition. The progrssive position is an argument against taking the risk of privatization and undoing all that has been accomplished toward the goal of universal literacy, which is of higher value.

Mr. Willing accuses me of “making presumptions without a case”. He is reading something into it that isn’t there. Education, like any other social institution, must change in form and structure to remain relevant. The centralization of education services was consistent with the idea of the Industrial Revolution and Age. From manufacturing experience it was learned that applying economies of scale would enhance the function of the institution. This had absolutely nothing to do with the content of education but only the form and function. The changes to content came about from a number of very basic variables. Greatest of all has been the ongoing commitment to equal opportunity.

There is an assumption made by many that there is only one type of morality and that is religious morality. Contrary to that assumption is that morality does exist outside of the religious framework. Since the public schools are forbidden to teach or reinforce religion, it is only logical and proper that they teach and reinforce secular and humanistic morality. Many of the moral principles are found in both secular and religious morality, but when the moral principle is strictly religious in nature; then it is forbidden. Let me give this example; orthodox Jewish women are commanded to dress modestly. If in a public school setting, all the female students are orthodox except for one, then to teach that the one student who doesn't conform is not just wrong, but unconstitutional. Same goes for children of parents who are not legally married, the school cannot promote legal marriage as a moral or disired principal, it is best left to personal choice outside of school.  Two of the landmark decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court were Engel v. Vitale in 1962 and Murray v. Curlett in 1963. These two rulings essentially establish the abolishment of school prayer and the reading of the bible as part of class instruction. Public schools have been very careful to maintain themselves as secular institutions.

Schools do teach and reinforce respect for the law, full literacy, access to higher education and diversity. Mr. Willing’s assertion, that the secularization of schools is somehow wrong, makes no sense with respect to the law. Mr. Willing creates a logical absurdity by claiming that we should have respect for the law but then we shouldn’t secularize, when the law clearly states secularization.

Why are the federal and state governments involved in education, when by tradition it has been a function of the local communities? Quite simply it is about equal opportunity to education. To provide an equal educational opportunity for someone who is attending a small rural school and for someone attending a large suburban school, the only way to assure equal opportunity is to “level the playing field” through monetary resources. The small rural school probably doesn’t have the tax base to support education in a manner that the suburban school does, which has a much larger tax base. Therefore, funds are collected and pooled at the federal and state levels and then redistributed.  This has been found to be the most efficient means and for many conservatives the most contentious.  We the citizens, through our government have the right to know what our tax money is being spent on, whether it is local, state or federal. This has led to the creation of a system of government bureaucracy that has grown around the oversight of the distributed funds. One of the greatest criticisms of handing out vouchers is that the public has no voice or oversight into the private school.

Mr. Willing’s inclusion of the example of the Communists is not only wrong but entirely misleading. In the first place he cites the 1940s as the period of the communist threat, but in fact communism in the United States was at its peak in the 1920s and 1930s. Many of the programs instituted by the “New Deal” effectively pulled the teeth out of the movement. To attempt to equate communism to the inclusion of state and federal governments into education is categorically incorrect.

Mr. Willing goes on to claim the Political Left is killing public education through fostering policies that don’t support economic success is, at best, a strange statement. Since when is education designed to support economic success? Education is designed for one mission and one mission only, to make people literate and capable of functioning in our society. As all institutions they are interrelated with other institutions, but to put on education as a means to economic success is inconsistent with the stated mission. Mr. Willing’s statement could be equated to religious policies that support economic success, since religious institutions are a major component of our society. I have also seen where he refers to education as an industry rather than an institution. This is mixing conceptual meaning that has no logical connection.

Mr. Willing goes on to attribute the current system of education to Horace Mann and John Dewey. Both were instrumental in creating a universal approach to education. Again, Mr. Willing gets his dates wrong and the periods the two men were influential. Horace Mann, who is attributed as the father of American education, lived and worked in the first half of the 19th century, while John Dewey was a major influence in the first half of the 20th century. His critique of the two was more like claiming they were devils incarnate. When, in fact, the two contributed mightily to the emergence of a great American Society. They put the foundation under the American system.

Mr. Willing continues to claim that the liberal left is committed to killing public education by continuing the protection and adjustment of the policies of the past. I really don’t know what evidence that he has to this statement, he certainly hasn’t produced it here. There is no doubt that the left wants to reform education and make it more in line with the today’s technological environment. One of the problems the left is concerned about is the reestablishment of sectarianism, religion and the loss of oversight in the public school systems. Schools are going through a great transitional period, trying to catch up with change in other parts of society and globalization. Much of the current system was designed to accommodate the Industrial Economy and not the Information Economy. However, teaching and teaching techniques remain at the forefront of bringing about universal literacy and preparation for life’s journey.

In my closing of the original piece Mr. Willing was perceptive of my use of a Selah to accommodate further thinking. To return to previous education models, such as privatized schools, will in fact devastate the general literacy of our nation. Rather than unifying the nation, which our current system has effectively accomplished, it will divide the nation. It will become a mark of our general decline as a civilized nation.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

James R Hoffa September 19, 2012 at 04:02 AM
@Lyle - Thanks for the welcome back! However, Hoffa will continue to be sporadic at best until the situation with his family emergency has normalized. "That tradition in many locations have persisted to this day." I'm curious as to the hard data on dollars spent per student in southern state school districts compared to their northern and southern counterparts. Is it really still as big of problem as you're claiming it is here? If the data does indeed back up your position, then the low spending in the south on public education is certainly being made up for by the overspending in the north and west, as our average as a nation is still far beyond every other industrialized nation on earth. And again, for spending the most money, we're still achieving mediocre results at best! "I don't think we would be any more effective by throwing more money at the problem." Hoffa is glad that we can at least agree that continuing to throw money at the problem will not improve or fix anything. "The problem rests in the community and the group we are attempting to educate. Where we should be working is to solve the problems that interfere with the education process." The problem with this is where do we draw the line pertaining to government intervention? Is the state (people) somehow responsible for bad or negligent parenting? What role should the state play to correct such a problem? Doesn't this detriment good parents while letting bad parents off the hook?
Lyle Ruble September 19, 2012 at 12:13 PM
@JRH...I am sorry to hear that your family is dealing with an emergency, my thoughts are with you. I think, that you are perceptive with your question concerning whether or not we, as a community, have the right to intervene in parenting and family structures. This is an area that we need to debate further.
oak creek resident September 19, 2012 at 12:45 PM
It's a cowards way out, liberal coward that is. Because she cannot refute the facts. she claims "HATE SPEECH" and delete it off that basis. Cowards way out and it all comes back in the end.
oak creek resident September 19, 2012 at 12:48 PM
@Lyle It shows the inferior liberal mind in that it cannot connect A-B-C, it only sees one trend and immediately goes for the racism, sexist, etc cause. If there is an achievement gap in grade school, high school, ACT/SAT testing, why the hell would there NOT be on in workplace testing? Yet the liberal mind calls any gap racist. That, my friend, is the inferior liberal mind. I personally believe it to be a birth defect or some type of mental illness.
oak creek resident September 19, 2012 at 12:51 PM
@Lyle Yah the liberal "reform" was to dumb the testing down, or to make "F"s and "D"s acceptable grades, as what happened in some recent promotional PD testing in another city in order to allow blacks to advance. Your liberal reforms make the issue worse, and is the reason america is on such a steep decline. My reform is to kill liberal policy and do away with teacher's unions.

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