Why Does the Political Right Seem So Intent On Ending Public Education?

Public education has always been a contentious issue in the United States; but, now it is under attacks that appear to be leading to the ending chapter of public education as we know it.

When the Puritans first set foot on the North American shores to form the Massachusetts Bay Colony, public education was a major goal for the early colonists. Although, their goal was to endow each person with the ability to read the Christian bible, to be able to write, and to do basic mathematics; it had a more profound impact on the population, making a literate society capable of embracing new ideas, incorporating change, and a commitment to success. The first recorded community public school was built in the Town of Dedham, Massachusetts, shortly after the town’s founding in 1635. Two years later, the Bay Colony founded the first university, Harvard, for the training of clergy. From these humble beginnings; the notion of a literate society was born and has grown with the nation over the nearly 400 years since the initial European habitation.

The colonies and states of the Old South followed a much different philosophy with regards to education from the North. The Old South adopted the British Model of education, which made education a function of personal responsibility and the family. Therefore, general education wasn’t a community responsibility and fell to only those that could afford to send their children to the various private academies or obtain the services of a private tutor. Also, whereas the education program of the North was not gender specific; in the Old South, it was the males who received the majority of education effort. Upper class women were taught to read and write and possibly perform basic “sums”; but, there education was focused more on the domestic arts and how to run a household. With the close of the Civil War, the Old South education model ended and they were pulled kicking and screaming into the public education model of the North. It took nearly another 35 years for the South to finally adopt a public education system and that which what was adopted had severe structural weaknesses, race being one.

As public education emerged into the new 20th century, it was not the education system that we see today. Many states had mandatory education only through the 8th grade. However, public education adapted to the changes in the economic system and focused on turning out students to work in the wider growing industrialized society. Discipline, regimentation, time efficiency and education level completion became the core principles of education; many of these principles are still found in our current system. The end of the Second World War found the nation unprepared for the new challenges facing education.

The Baby Boom changed education forever. Never before or since has our nation faced such a large cohort to be publically educated. We approached the problem just like we had to win the war. The federal government became more and more involved, making up for the shortfall that local communities and states were experiencing. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare was founded in 1953 to address the education crisis and was broken up into two cabinet level departments in 1979 creating the Departments of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. From the 1950s on to the present, public education has become a flash point between the politically right and the political left.

Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling in 1954 began the school integration process and signaled the starting point for civil rights. From the Brown v. Board of Education ruling onward; liberal and conservative forces have lined up in opposition to each other over the secularization of schools, the funding of schools and the regulation of schools and curriculum.

Since states have sovereignty over education within their borders, as long as they meet federal mandates and regulations, they have been able to sculpt systems to maintain, more or less, local control. In the close of the 20th century, a number of states have moved to voucher programs, charter school programs, school choice programs and home schooling programs. The variety of personal choice education programs has received wider support from the political right than from the political left. There are a number of variables which attract the political right to these programs.

There isn’t one single reason for privatizing the education system. On the surface, it comes down to the general perceived universal failure of the public school model. The right wing rhetoric always begins with “doing what’s best for the students”. However, in my analysis I have determined three broad ideological categories prompting the privatization.

 The first board category, represented by the anti-secularization group is primarily composed of social conservatives. They view public schools as violating the fundamental rights and beliefs of the American values system. As government control has grown, so has the imposition of secularization based on the U.S.  1st Amendment Establishment Clause. Public schools, as a government entity, are prohibited in supporting any system of religious belief. This impacts school curriculum when subjects like creationism verses secular evolution are available to explain certain phenomena. Creationism is a religiously inspired explanation, whereas, evolution doesn’t rely on religion to explain the same phenomena. Another contentious issue is the teaching of sex education. For the most part, the social conservatives don’t feel that school is the proper place to teach such a subject and if it is taught it should promote abstinence only. Many believe that teaching of sex education will promote sexual behavior outside of marriage. The issue of pregnancy termination (abortion) is yet another issue that social conservatives want schools to take a stand on supporting right to life ideologies.  

Social conservatives have also determined a key issue is prayer in school. Many traditional social conservatives see this as a direct assault against G-d, confirming the belief that social liberals are attempting to indoctrinate students into atheistic beliefs and undermine the truth that America was divinely chosen by G-d. Finally, the social conservatives fault the public schools in not supporting “Traditional Family Values”; teaching moral and ethical relativity, resulting in a weakening of moral and ethical behavior.

One of the traditions of the American education system has been non-government interference in private and religious schools. As of the last three or four decades, home schooling has also grown in popularity, which is also independent of direct government oversight. Social conservatives have taken advantage of alternative education forms when they have been available and if they can afford it. The inclusion of voucher schools and home schooling has made private education available to a broader spectrum of social conservative parents. Parochial schools have always been an option and generally were subsidized by the religious institution. Now many parochial schools have become dependent on vouchers for continued survival. The use of religious schools is being used to avoid the public school secular issues as well as to take advantage of voucher programs.

The next broad category of conservatives that support the privatization of schools, are the fiscal conservatives. They believe that privatizing education will introduce competition between learning institutions, thus driving down the costs of education. Utilizing private schools will eliminate the high costs of teachers’ compensation and dry up a source of political funding by the teacher unions to liberal political candidates.  Since private schools don’t require currently require government oversight and teachers are not required to be state certified, then the private school can hire teachers at a much lower expense and provide merit based rewards. It is truly a corporatist model of education.

Another reason for fiscal conservatives to support the privatization of schools is that it provides economic opportunity for establishing entrepreneurial for profit schools. This model is already explosively underway for post secondary institutions. There is no reason to believe that this won’t happen with primary and secondary education institutions. Just as with post secondary institutions that are overly dependent on student grant and loan programs, the education vouchers represent the same kind of opportunity.

In short, the fiscal conservatives see an opportunity to limit government expenditures to education and ultimately reduce taxes, while taking advantage of business opportunities.

The final broad category is that of the political right advocating Libertarianism. Dedicated libertarians want to eliminate all government funding for education and return education responsibility to that of consumers; reminiscent of the “Old pre Civil War South”. Complete control would rest with parents and families to educate their own children and it would no longer be a community responsibility. Education would become flexible and responsive to market forces and innovation; but the main goal of the ideology is to severely limit government.

Whether one is a social conservative, fiscal conservative or libertarian; the goal of ending public education holds the promise of ending liberal influence once and for all. That is the real goal of the privatization movement. But, if they are successful, I don’t think they are prepared for the unintended consequences. Without a doubt, taking American education back 200 hundred years would be devastating.

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.

Steve ® September 14, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Go Pack Go
Lyle Ruble September 14, 2012 at 05:32 PM
@J.B. Schmidt....I have to challenge your statement that schools are amoral. You seem to be confusing secular concepts with concepts of religious morality. Schools teach morality, but it is morality without direct religious foundations. For example; schools teach or reinforce that it is wrong to steal. This is a societal moral principle as well as a select religious moral principle. Schools teach that violence or threats of violence is unacceptable; again a societal moral principle. Morality turns out to be the societal rules. If we followed your meaning, then how would we explain someone who is moral, but raised as an atheist from birth? Interpretation of moral principles is also influenced by cultural values. For example, out of wedlock births in your moral framework is a violation of a moral principle and an error; but, many in the African-American community see a birth, no matter what, as a blessing and not necessarily a moral error. Both are moral positions, but one fails societal expectations, which prefers birth occurring only after wedlock. This is precisely why the term illegitimate birth was dropped, including terminology of classifying someone born out of wedlock as a bastard. In the case of a baby who is born out of wedlock, is he worth less than the child born within wedlock?
Lyle Ruble September 14, 2012 at 05:37 PM
@Chris....You've got it!!
J. B. Schmidt September 14, 2012 at 05:52 PM
@Chris Sorry, I miss understood.
Bob McBride September 14, 2012 at 05:58 PM
From what I'm able to find out about the family, they've spent most of their time (prior to TLC honing in on their money-making potential) on government assistance. If anything, they're an example of why throwing government funds at a problem (in this case, the problem appears to be that they're comfortable with their lifestyle and have no realistic ambitions beyond taking advantage of their circus freak appeal) doesn't work. Education has very little to do with it and, given the survival mechanism they're employing, it probably isn't even on the radar screen. About the only tenuous tie to education this show seems to exhibit is that it, in a way, disproves the words of Dean Wormer when he advised that "fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life". As for the people who watch it, you'll probably find that it has a big following amongst college students.
Greg September 14, 2012 at 06:11 PM
I think this quote by Benjamin Franklin says a lot. "I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer." - Relating to prices and the poor, 1766
Randy1949 September 14, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Actually, Lyle, we prefer births occurring to stable family units, legally married or not. I personally think it's more immoral to marry, have children, divorce, and move on to the next family than to stay together for a lifetime and raise children without benefit of clergy. It's the commitment, not the paper. But I'm one of those amoral agnostics.
Bob McBride September 14, 2012 at 06:15 PM
If you prefer your white trash a little grittier and less sanitized, I recommend "The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia", which I think is available on Netflix. You can find excerpts from it on YouTube, along with related videos concerning the family and some of its more celebrated members. Informative, entertaining and depressing from a number of angles.
J. B. Schmidt September 14, 2012 at 06:17 PM
@Lyle Schools teach civil law and not morality. A person can live a life and never break the law and yet be a vile immoral person. For example, Rape is illegal; however, is joking about, making light of or pretending to cause rape illegal. No. Is it immoral? Most would agree it is, but why? Try explaining to teen, whose sole purpose in life is to buck authority that making a joke is immoral because society frowns on it. That only makes the joke funnier. The schools teach that breaking big laws is immoral (murder and theft); however, leave the grey area up to the kids. Kids who have no understanding what the secular idea of societal morality is. Since we have a couple generations of this, the parents have adopted the same policy to grey areas at home. Hence, kids aren't ever getting the morality required to fill in the grey area. Your point about black culture is a perfect example. Since the the blacks value children as blessing, we can't condemn the action that has destroyed the inner city. Why? Because it falls into that grey area of morality. Therefore, my point is, how can you demand a family maintain the moral obligation to their child's education when in fact parenting is that grey area? Suddenly Liberals what to force parents to accept that morality requires education. Even if the lack of an education can be just as detrimental to your future as having children out of wedlock.
Greg September 14, 2012 at 06:18 PM
TC, please explain the Ayn Rand connection.
Greg September 14, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Has the Lyle Ruble character been hijacked too?
Randy1949 September 14, 2012 at 06:26 PM
@J.B. Schmidt -- You completely misunderstood what Lyle was saying. There is a universal basis for morality that is quite apart from the religious ones. We don't rape because of the pain it causes other human beings, not because it angers Jehovah or Buddha or whoever. Same for stealing, murder, or just plain cruel behavior that may or may not be illegal.
J. B. Schmidt September 14, 2012 at 07:03 PM
@Randy You are trying to tell me that it is wrong for me to impose a morality on others because it is associated with a religion. Yet, you are attempting to define and impose your own morality via the public education system. If you wish to impose some sort of "Golden Rule' morality as the basis for what societal beliefs, why do others have to agree to it? As Lyle points out, blacks have adjusted their morality to find out of wedlock births acceptable. Could you not say the same for the drug dealing culture of our society, that they have adjust their morality to accept survival of the fittest? Or if we as a society find murder to be unacceptable, why do we not sentence a mother to life when she sleeps in her child? Maybe because as I have been saying, your morality is loaded with grey area we allow individuals (and children) to make out by themselves. I am asking how we change the inner city culture without imposing morality, that as I have pointed is taught subjectively and with a fluid core. You want all children to learn and be educated and make it immoral to raise a child without it getting educated. How can you claim it is immoral while you allow other actions, just as devastating to society exist as moral?
Randy1949 September 14, 2012 at 07:12 PM
People say I look quite a bit like Honey Boo Boo
Bob McBride September 14, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Randy Boo Boo?
Bob McBride September 14, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Ayn Randy Boo Boo?
mau September 14, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Our country was built on poverty. My grandparents grew up in poverty, my parents grew up in poverty, I grew up in poverty. How did we end up with educated people after the Depression when almost everybody lived in poverty. Poverty is an excuse. Disintegration of the family and too many families living off the government is the problem. Why pull yourself up from your boot straps when you can just keep sitting there and get catered to. Even during the depression when families needed hand-outs, they still took care of each other.
Randy1949 September 14, 2012 at 07:57 PM
"Randy1949 43 minutes ago People say I look quite a bit like Honey Boo Boo" My clone is back. Note that the profile's home is Wauwatosa rather than Brookfield.
Randy1949 September 14, 2012 at 08:04 PM
@J.B. Schmidt -- Whereas your religiously based morality has no grey areas at all. Is it really immoral to eat meat on Fridays or wear buttons or go out without a head scarf if you're a woman? So you're blaming the 'liberal' public schools for not teaching your particular form of morality.
Randy1949 September 14, 2012 at 08:05 PM
"Randy1949 43 minutes ago People say I look quite a bit like Honey Boo Boo" My clone is back. Note that the profile's home is Shorewood rather than Brookfield
Randy1949 September 14, 2012 at 08:16 PM
@ Fake Randy1949 -- What purpose does imitating people and speaking nonsense have? Do you have anything to add to this discussion or is your mind firmly back in middle-school? Everyone else, please note, my account is based in Brookfield and I have a unique userpic.
Randy1949 September 14, 2012 at 08:18 PM
I give up.
The Anti-Alinsky September 14, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Lyle, while you assessed the actions of Conservatives, you totally missed our intent: You started the article historically wrong. The Puritans created the Plymouth Colony in 1630. the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded by the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1628, settling a little further north around Boston Harbor. While you correctly asserted the views of social conservative, fiscal conservative and libertarians, your background motivations are wrong. Your first two groups believe that education is for the kids. Not the teachers, not the administrators, but for the kids! Second, all three groups correctly believe throwing cash down a money pit WILL NOT solve the problem. As Governor Walker and the Republicans have demonstrated, it is possible to trim ALOT of fat out of school budgets without impacting learning, provided you have a good school system in place. Finally, competition, when done right, will yield better results at a lower cost. Why do so many people choose a Honda over a Chrysler even though they are similarly priced? Because they know the quality of the Honda is better. Rather than fighting a reasonable solution, in this case against voucher schools, why don't you try making the solution work by asking for more accountability from voucher schools? That way parents and students can make an informed decision when it comes to choosing a school!
The Anti-Alinsky September 14, 2012 at 08:33 PM
@FreeThought Troy: "You just proved our point. Stop cutting and start increasing. The GPA will sky rocket - guaranteed." Actually, Governor Walker and the Republicans just proved you can trim ALOT of fat from your budget without hurting student learning, provided you have a good school system in place. Obviously, MPS and RUSD DO Not have good school systems in place. Brian Dey, I think it's time you ran again for a seat on the RUSD Board of Education.
Lyle Ruble September 14, 2012 at 10:32 PM
@The Anti-Alinsky....I never claimed that education was for the teachers. However, teachers are a part of the education institution and the huge bureaucracy. I have noticed that the smaller school districts tend not to have the same kind of issues as the large urban districts. The argument about education is the wrong argument. Education failure is symptomatic of greater social failures. We should be discussing the breakdown of social order that is being manifested in the public schools.
oak creek resident September 16, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Good ole Lyle. Doesn't have a job, as his wife sucks off the public teat. So he sits home all day and reads writings of others, trying to better himself. His feable mind scrambles everything and alters it through his uber-liberal brain, and he spits crap back out. Almost feel sorry for him... almost...
C. Sanders September 17, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Public education without public sector unions will be a step in the right direction to provide better educational outcomes for our children. For those teachers that don't like that environment, find another job.
Edward Willing September 17, 2012 at 04:51 AM
Edward Willing September 17, 2012 at 04:51 AM
Edward Willing September 17, 2012 at 04:52 AM
Honestly exchanged? You made such broad generalizations about the "political right" that it's difficult to know where to start! I eventually tried: http://caledonia.patch.com/blog_posts/why-does-the-political-left-seem-so-intent-on-killing-public-education


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