Columbia Law Prof explains why public schools keep us apart


To denigrate parents who are fed up with their children’s school as “domestic terrorists” seems like a savage and inflammatory accusation with little basis in reality. Yet it is on this basis that the United States Attorney General assembled an FBI task force to monitor and intimidate parents who object to what their children are taught and how they are taught. are treated with taxpayers’ money. The organization that colluded with the Justice Department to create the pretext to cool voters’ rhetoric has backed off, but the FBI threat remains.

School closures have clarified and accelerated the deep and irreconcilable differences between parents and American citizens in how to educate children. Americans want completely different things from their children’s school, often contrary things. It is simply impossible to teach both that there is a hierarchy of races and that all humans are created equal, let alone teach the “two sides” of other educational hotspots, such as teaching. social justice or math in math class. Schools must choose.

K-12 schools largely choose the political establishment over the wishes of the people who elect them and provide their children with the pretext for public funding of schools. The political establishment that enjoys the monopoly of public schools to teach future voters what to think is increasingly blunt about this arrangement.

In 1996, Hillary Clinton tell the Americans “It takes a village to raise a child. It was the soft sell. Today we are getting the hard sell: ‘I don’t think parents should tell schools what they should be teaching,’ he said. Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe during a debate in September.

As Democrats force millions of American children to stay home for a new school year while their international peers safely learn in person, a Harvard University conference has suggested banning home schooling . One of its organizers, a Harvard law professor complained that home schooling is “an area of ​​almost absolute parental power. . . . incompatible with a good understanding of children’s human rights.

Governor of California, and next federal coercion, also communicate contempt for parental authority by substituting theirs by making COVID vaccines mandatory even though Data from the Centers for Disease Control shows these injections pose more health risks to children than COVID. Requests to substitute non-parental authority for parents provoke even stranger protests, like this teacher’s one on TikTok.

Contempt for the kind of self-government that begins with families is also evident in the thousands of teachers openly challenging – with legal backing from major Democratic Party donors – laws enacted at the behest of parents seeking to ban the teaching of things like critical race theory.

Regardless of how it turns out, all of these incidents point to what is at the center of today’s heated debate over public schools: Should parents or bureaucrats control what children learn. It has been at the heart of all public education debates since the days when the benefactors of the progressive era began the road of American schools to nationalization.

Using schools to co-opt the children of others

Columbia law professor Philip Hamburger reflects on this story by a Friday Wall Street Journal essay explaining why public schools will remain a fierce battleground of cultural warfare until lawmakers force them to loosen their grip on American children. “[T]Schools remain a means by which some Americans impose their beliefs on others, ”writes Hamburger. “That is why they are always a source of contention.”

He notes that the constant transfer of American K-12 education from private schools, mostly run by the church, to government agencies was intended to control what the next generation of voters believed. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, this manifested itself in the effort of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment to convert Catholics by placing their children in Protestant public schools. It ultimately turned into an effort by the laity to convert Christians of all kinds by banning Christianity from public schools. Both have succeeded.

“[T]The idea that public education is a central government interest was popularized by anti-Catholic nativists. Beginning in the mid-19th century, they elevated public schools to a key American institution in their campaign against Catholicism, ”notes Hamburger.

… As today, the hope was to free the children from the supposedly blind views of their parents and thus create a different kind of regime. Today as yesterday, this kind of project stinks of prejudice and indoctrination. There is no legitimate government interest in shifting the educational discourse of parents who do not have government endorsed views, let alone changing the identity of their children or creating a government endorsed electorate.

Indoctrination is unconstitutional in two ways

Today, public schools don’t just move children from one denomination to another, but instead replace Christianity squarely with the most visible secular religion as an identity politics, as the former prosecutor explained. United States General Bill Barr in June. That’s why Barr warned Americans that public schools are “the greatest threat to religious freedom in America today.”

This is supported by many studies. A Scholarly Journal of Research 2020 on this topic concludes that “in particular the increasingly secularized government control of education … can explain virtually all the increase in secularization in the developed world”.

“The brutal application of secular progressive orthodoxy in government-run schools is totally incompatible with mainstream Christianity and other major religious traditions in our country. In light of this development, we must face the reality that it may no longer be fair, practical or even constitutional to provide publicly funded education solely through schools run by the State, ”Barr said.

Hamburger complements and expands Barr’s argument that public schools in their current form constitute an unconstitutional establishment of religion by also suggesting that they constitute an unconstitutional restriction on Americans’ free speech.

“The public school system, by design, pushes parents to substitute the government’s educational discourse for their own,” Hamburger writes. “Public education is a benefit linked to an unconstitutional condition. Parents receive subsidized education on the condition that they accept the educational discourse of the government instead of home or private schooling.

He notes that this particularly disadvantages poorer parents, but it affects everyone by allowing the government to decide what future voters think about its limits and powers. Using public resources to convert children to the government’s preferred political and religious ideologies is not only unconstitutional, Hamburger observes, but it also inflames social division.

The temptation to indoctrinate the children of others, to impose a common culture by force, is an obstacle to the development of a true common culture. There is no excuse to uphold the nativist fiction that public schools are the glue that holds the nation together. They have become the focal point of everything tearing the nation apart. As good as some public schools are, the system as a whole, being coercive, is a threat to our ability to find common ground. It is the opposite of a compelling government interest.

The public school system is therefore unconstitutional, at least with regard to parents who are pressured to abandon their own educational discourse choices and instead adopt those of the government.

What parents need is direct control over school money

Real political power is measured, not in viral social media videos, but by winning elections and subsequently making real changes to institutions and money flows. What would really put pressure on schools is to fund them and replace their leaders, either by voting for better leaders or by moving children to a better school.

Voting for better leaders is risky, time consuming, and can be overturned in the next election cycle. The education of our children should not be so precarious. Instead, legislatures should give parents a way not to devote their children’s entire school careers to battles to the death (or the next election), to name just one example, if it is to be masked. and quarantine all children.

It’s not ultimately about masks, or critical race theory, or letting boys into girls’ toilets: it’s that our education system forces people to fight over which faction controls them. people who hate what they believe. This dynamic makes these fights bitter and existential. They don’t have to be.

If schools don’t give up their power, they should be forced to. It is not fair for schools to take children hostage. Parents shouldn’t have to force everyone on board to get what they want.

Hamburger offers a new avenue for truly ending these zero-sum culture war battles: “asking judges to recognize – at least in declaratory judgments – that the current system is deeply unconstitutional.” Once this is clear, states will be forced to find solutions. Some may choose to offer tax exemptions to dissenting parents; others may provide vouchers. Either way, states cannot deprive parents of their right to educational discourse by pushing children into public schools. “

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