A Case for Abandoning Government Schools
Let My Children Go:
A New Case for Abandoning Government Schools
by Steven Yates
E. Ray Moore, Jr., Let My Children Go (Columbia, S.C.: Gilead Media, 2002). Pp. 352. $14.95.
On March 28 of this year, Rev. James Dobson, President of Focus on the Family, issued one of the strongest warnings to date about government schools today. "In the state of California," he said, "and in places that have moved with the direction that they've gone with the schools, if I had a child there, I wouldn't put that youngster in public schools. Theyï¿½re being taught homosexual propaganda and these other politically correct, postmodern views. I think it's time to get our kids out. We cannot sacrifice our kids on the altar of some kind of public school's ideal." On July 8 he expanded on that indictment. "What I was saying was that this godless and immoral curriculum and influence in the public schools is gaining momentum across the nation in ways that were unheard of just one year ago. It's as though the dam has now broken and activists representing various causes, including homosexuality, are rushing through the breach in ways that are shocking." He singled out Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington, Wisconsin, Vermont, Washington, D.C., and also targeted Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, and Alaska as promoting homosexuality in government schools as a normal, alternative lifestyle choice. "It isn't just California that has drifted into this dangerous stuff," he said. "This is where we are, especially on both coasts, but to some degree throughout the nation."
Last year on this site I reported in detail on the Exodus Mandate Project, Rev. E. Ray Mooreï¿½s name for his working strategy aimed at persuading as many Christian parents as possible to remove their children from what he frequently calls Pharaohï¿½s school system, and either home school them or send them to private Christian schools. Shortly after that interview Rev. Moore began discussing a book he had started to write. He wanted to produce a Christian education manifesto setting out the case against government schools and for Bible-based education in one concise package. He was looking to provide a kind of tool that could be used to encourage pastors and other denominational leaders to support both home schooling in their areas and the founding of church-based Christian schools at their churches. Extremely busy with his Frontline Ministries as well as building up Exodus Mandateï¿½s nationwide network (and given that we were living less than ten miles apart at the time), Rev. Moore eventually came to me for assistance in editing the manuscript, assistance I was more than willing to provide.
The book is now here. It is a tour-de-force that should be very accessible to the lay reader, and it could not have come along at a better time.
Let My Children Go begins on familiar territory, distinguishing Christian from secular humanist worldviews. The first chapter describes how Rev. Moore and his wife Gail sought to provide a Christian education for their four children, how they became one of the pioneering home schooling families in the country, and how their oldest son went on to become Valedictorian and Regimental Commander at The Citadel, in Charleston, S.C. ï¿½ having been well ahead of other young people in his age bracket. Rev. Moore contrasts these results with the dominant agendas in government schools over the past couple of decades: Outcome Based Education, Goals 2000, and School-To-Work. These movements are not just anti-Christian, he tells us. By assuming or promoting the idea that the only valid goal of education is workforce training for the global economy, these movements are virulently anti-academic and anti-intellectual as well.
Rev. Moore develops three lines of argument for abandoning government schools. Interestingly, these lines of argument are mostly independent of one another, so one should not have to be a convinced Christian to recognize their aggregate impact. The first is mostly historical, the second is mainly economic, and the third is Scriptural and theological. It is sometimes said that the vast majority of those in the home schooling movement are Evangelical Christians. The actual figure is around 70 percent; to this extent, Christians have indeed taken the lead. There is nothing stopping libertarians from getting involved. To my mind, libertarians can learn from Christians on this issue; many might even become Christians as a result of their involvement. There are reasons for thinking that Christian and libertarian thought are compatible.
In the first line of argument, presented mainly in Chapter Two (colorfully entitled "Get Behind Me, Horace Mann: The Rise and Fall of State-Sponsored Education), Rev. Moore shows how state-sponsored schools, as he frequently calls them, were never a part of the Framersï¿½ original vision. It is common to point out that the Constitution never mentions education. The assumption of the time was that education would be private, and any government involvement would be strictly local. It is important to realize that in the early history of the United States, literacy was over 90 percent. The Federalist Papers were published in the New York newspapers of the time, and read by an educated public. Then state-sponsored education was imported from Europe ï¿½ specifically, Prussia ï¿½ with the first true state-sponsored schools set up in Massachusetts by Horace Mann and the Unitarians in the 1840s. Mann and his colleagues set down three principles: (1) compulsory attendance; (2) teacher certification from a state teachers college ï¿½ showing that teachers have been taught what to teach; (3) ownership and administration of schools by the state. Rev. Moore notes how 19th century theologians such as R.L. Dabney warned against the new system. But almost no one sensed danger. Then came John Deweyï¿½s Progressive Education. Little by little, state-sponsored schools became places intended to produce a certain type of human being: compliant, group-focused, and above all, obedient to governmental authority ï¿½ as opposed to independent-minded, capable of individual critical discernment, and skeptical of centralized authority (the mindset that characterized the pioneers in every field who built this country). In short, state-sponsored schools slowly became hotbeds of social engineering.
The second argument for abandoning state-sponsored schools appears mainly in Chapter Four. It, as we said, focuses on economics, and employs the arguments of key figures of the twentieth century Austrian school such as Ludwig Von Mises and Murray Rothbard. Our country was founded on the idea of private property rights. Goods and services should be delivered by the free market and not by the state. Rev. Moore shows how both home schooling and private Christian schools would exemplify the operation of a free market in education. Government schools, on the other hand, exemplify our countryï¿½s drift toward socialism, and it is to be expected that Progressive Educators dispense education for a socialist society. One of the most important points here is whether they are starting up new, private schools or dispensing materials (e.g., curriculums) for home schooling parents, those participating in a free market in education must deliver the goods at what their customers consider a fair price or they will not be able to stay in business. In a free market, if your customers are unhappy they will go elsewhere. This will ensure a return to the quality education that government schools can no longer deliver; it has already fostered an environment in which home schooled children are years ahead of their government-schooled counterparts, having won national spelling bees and other contests and being accepted into top-rated universities.
The third argument is theological and ought to impact on Christians especially: Rev. Moore presents the Scriptural passages where God directly commands parents to take charge of their childrenï¿½s education. These include Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Psalms 127:3-5 and 78:5, Proverbs 22:6, Matthew 28:18-20, and others. As Rev. Moore expresses this, "A major proposition of the Exodus Mandate Project is that God gave education to the family with assistance from the church." The command is to the family ï¿½ more specifically, to parents ï¿½ and not any governmental entity. Rev. Moore sees a profound need to reach out to pastors and denominational leaders, seeking to inspire them to take seriously the need to address educational issues. These range from supporting home schooling groups in their congregations and communities to overseeing start-up church-based schools affordable for those parents who cannot home school (which, today, is probably the majority). To supplement this critical point, Rev. Moore draws on the Nehemiah Instituteï¿½s detailed documentation of how youth raised in Christian homes but attending state-sponsored schools tend to abandon their faith and stop attending church after they get to college. He cites the observation of Brig. Gen. T.C. Pinckney (USAF ret.), former Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention, in a speech before the SBCï¿½s Executive Committee last September: "We are losing our children. Research indicates that 70 percent of teens who are involved in a church youth group will stop attending church within two years of their high school graduation." Government schools change their worldview at a fundamental level ï¿½ and then university education makes matters worse. The PEERS test developed by the Nehemiah Institute (PEERS stands for Politics, Education, Economics, Religion, Social Issues) documents how a secularist worldview comes to dominate teenagersï¿½ thinking and utterly overwhelms their one-day exposure to Christian education (often limited to Sunday school). Let My Children Go, in this case, is a tool for reversing this process. There is no need to fear that schools set up to promote a Christian worldview will be anti-intellectual. The Bible contains many passages endorsing the pursuit of knowledge (Hosea 4:6, Psalms 94:10, Proverbs 1:5, 10:14, 15:7, 18:15, and so on). It is secular humanism that has turned anti-intellectual, ranging from its acceptance of postmodernism to its promotion of job-skills training in place of academics (the School-To-Work model).
From all this Rev. Moore infers that Christians need a new paradigm for education, one that takes as its point of departure the realization that state-sponsored education is a "renegade school system" that was fundamentally alien to American founding principles and hostile to Christian belief from the start. So abandoning state-sponsored education is the logical thing to do; it was never anything more than a snare for the unwary.
One of the key chapters in Let My Children Go focuses on "Minefields on the Road to the Promised Land." A large chapter (almost 40 pages), it presents the case Rev. Moore had assembled against educational vouchers before the recent Zelman decision, arguing that a voucher system would eventually rob private religious schools of their autonomy and sabotage their distinct mission. As I argued recently, there is abundant evidence that this is already happening. Rev. Moore also considers both charter schools and accrediting agencies. All have the same problem: wherever you have government money, you have a slowly encircling web of government controls ï¿½ with the watchword being "accountability." The separations clause in the First Amendment becomes a secularist weapon against religious identity (something that would have horrified its authors who wanted to prevent the establishment of a state-sponsored church, such as the Church of England, not erase Christianity from public life).
Rev. Mooreï¿½s final target in this chapter is an unexpected one: character education. Unexpected, because a substantial literature presents character education as an alternative to relativism, situation ethics and values clarification. Moreover, many character education supporters see themselves as Christians. Clearly there are character educators who mean well. Character education spells trouble, however, because although it may avoid the blatant relativism of values clarification it still attempts to place ethics on a secular footing, relying on such work as that of Lawrence Kohlberg and his "six stages" of moral development. Rev. Moore shows, with citations, that character education in practice is unable to avoid reinstating current fashionable dogmas about multiculturalism, universal tolerance, and so on ï¿½ because these agendas control the mainstream, and secular ethicists have no significant defenses against them.
The entire issue of reforming state-sponsored schools turns on a single question: can reform work? The evidence is abundant and growing that it cannot. If we pay close attention to the three lines of argumentation seen above, we see why. State-sponsored schools not having been a part of the original vision for the country, their dismal performance is not a deviation but a product of the secularist and statist agenda that has driven (and funded) them from the start. A secularist mindset controls the institutions through which any reform must be administered.
The better strategy, therefore, is a new Exodus from Pharaohï¿½s schools. There is abundant evidence that government schools (1) have become laboratories of behavior modification techniques, including the use of legal (because govern ment-approved) mind-altering drugs such as Ritalin, (2) teach politically correct but historically false views of history and government including groupthink which prepares them to live in a socialist society, (3) promote tolerance of everything except Christianity, (4) are therefore places where youth from Christian homes lose their faith, (5) have been the scene of declining levels of literacy, the oft-referred-to dumbing down of the country, so that graduates donï¿½t understand economics and wouldn����������������������������������������¿½t know socialism if they saw it; and (6) have become physically dangerous to both students and teachers.
Each of these could be explored in great detail ï¿½ some have been explored in depth by other authors. Beverly Eakman, for example, explores the role behavior modification has played in state-sponsored education in her The Cloning of the American Mind. John Taylor Gatto documents how the basic philosophy of state-sponsored schools was lavishly funded by power elites in huge tax-exempt foundations (especially the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation) and came to service their interests in The Underground History of American Education. Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt weaves both threads together in her monumental compendium The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America.
These works are not superficial treatments. They are meticulously documented; both Eakman and Iserbyt have worked in government and "know the ropes," so to speak. They show that the point of state-sponsored education is to produce a "mass man" (and "mass woman"), calling for mass workforce training for a global economy micromanaged by a global government (otherwise known as the New World Order), respectful of a "diversity" which in turn respects everyone except independent-minded, straight white Christian males. There is thus no incentive to teach real history, for example ï¿½ or necessarily to teach history at all. Such subjects have been ratcheted down in importance since School-To-Work education became the fad of the 1990s (its successor is George W. Bushï¿½s No Child Left Behind.) Children can then be induced to accept politically correct ideas, having no means of evaluating them for themselves and nothing to compare them with. They can be taught one form or another of ethical relativism ï¿½ or simply to accept what has become the prevailing secularist view of education in modern life, that its only aim is training for a supposedly high paying job ï¿½ a job that might not be there if by some chance the U.S. economy continues on its present course towards what could become a new depression.
Finally, the evidence that state-sponsored schools are no longer physically safe is abundantly supported by the rash of school shootings that has occurred over the past ten or so years, the most dramatic being the Columbine killings in April, 1999. In this case and in at least one other it is clear that Christian students were deliberately targeted because of their Christianity. That government schools arenï¿½t considered physically safe even by the state and local governments running them is demonstrated by the metal detectors on the doors, the presence of security patrols in the halls, especially of inner-city government schools, the regulations banning gang insignia, and since Columbine, new rules calling for backpacks to be transparent. Even with all these regulations, weapons continue to find their way into state-sponsored schools. Statisticians will argue that the number of violent incidents actually declined during the 1990s. However, no one can dispute that of those incidents that did occur, they increased in their intensity and level of violence, and that they occurred among progressively younger age brackets ï¿½ occasionally even among elementary school children!
The argument is that Christians had better become cognizant of all this before it is too late, remove their children from these schools and build up substantial alternatives in the form of home schooling and private, Christian schools, church-based or otherwise. Rev. Moore does not deal with every issue we face. Many Christians who would home school do not have the time because of firm work obligations, and cannot send their children to private religions schools because they cannot afford it. Those are the people who will find vouchers very hard to resist. Even if that problem were solved, Rev. Moore is conscious of what all of us supportive of or involved with this might eventually be up against. Decisions to home school or to place oneï¿½s child in a private, church-affiliated school do not mean that we are out of the woods, not by a long shot. If anything, I fear Rev. Moore understates the danger. Home schooling is the largest and fastest growing independent educational movement in the country. The total number of children being home schooled in America is now greater than the number of children in government schools in New Jersey. It is well on its way to becoming the biggest threat the dominant educational institutions (and the power elites behind them) have ever faced.
The point is, the home schooling movement in particular and the secular educational establishment are on collision course. Let My Children Go thus presents a Biblical view of the civil disobedience that might someday be necessary if Christians have to choose between obedience to government and obedience to God. It is important to be clear: Rev. Moore is no anarchist who would abolish government or encourage people to break the law. The Bible makes a place for governmental authorities who are themselves subservient to Godï¿½s law. But when these authorities abandon Godï¿½s law and set themselves up in Godï¿½s place, Christians have to choose who to obey: government or God. Thus, other things remaining equal, I foresee an eventual collision between two opposed philosophies, the Christian one that places God in the center and the secular humanist one that substitutes government for God. This is essentially the same collision coming between the political and economic philosophies that stress independence in this world and thus support decentralization in one form or another and those leading to more and more centralization. In the former, the individual depends upon and places his trust in God, not society or an employer or government. Government is limited to a few, carefully delineated functions. The latter has set out to make human beings dependent on a massive welfare system with a globalist orientation: global government and global economics (which, despite all the hype about "global markets" is not a free market system or anything close). This, naturally, calls for concentration of power in a centralized, au thoritarian apparatus and an educational system controlled by those capable of turning out "massified" people who can expected to be obedient to and even worshipful of their rulers.
Rev. Mooreï¿½s book contains or implies all this, and much more. One of its merits is that it is short; unlike Eakman, Gatto or Iserbyt, he did not set out to produce an encyclopedic treatment but a call to arms. Let My Children Go should alert Christians to the full range of dangers of the renegade school system. It calls on them to remove their children from it. It call on pastors and denominational leaders to become informed about the situation in government schools and act in ways that support alternatives, including setting up schools in church facilities that are practically unused six days of the week. Home schooling has become one of the more significant parallel institutions of our time ï¿½ parallel in having become a spontaneously developing alternative to dominant institutions seen as corrupt, corrupting and irredeemably hostile to Christiansï¿½ interests ï¿½ for that matter, to anyone who wishes to live a life free from the clutches of centralized power. Exodus Mandate has begun to receive national attention, as Rev. Moore has now done numerous radio interviews explaining these ideas and received a favorable mentions in such forums as Christianity Today, World and The Washington Times. A momentum is developing. As Rev. Moore says repeatedly, "God gave education to the family with assistance from the church." The time has come, in the memorable phrase given currency by both Sheldon Richmon and Marshall Fritz, to "separate school and state."
August 10, 2002
Steven Yates [send him mail] has a PhD in philosophy and is a Margaret "Peg" Rowley Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press, 1994), and numerous articles and reviews. At any given time he is at work on any number of articles and book projects, including a science fiction novel.
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