by Steven Yates by Steven Yates

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Bruce
Shortt, The
Harsh Truth About Public Schools
(Vallecito, Calif:
Chalcedon
Foundation
, 2004). Pp. 458 + index. $22.00.

Bruce
Shortt has written what may be this decade's definitive critique
of the government-sponsored school system in this country. Shortt
is a member of the South Carolina-based Exodus
Mandate
network. Along with T.C. Pinckney (who penned the forward)
he was one of the co-sponsors of the recent resolution put before
the Southern Baptist Convention to remove Christian children from
government schools. The resolution was not adopted, but drew nationwide
attention to the issue of our rapidly deteriorating government schools.
Shortt's book is aimed primarily at Christian parents, but can be
read and appreciated by non-Christians.

Shortt
draws on hundreds of sources ranging from newspaper reports to scientific
studies. His topics include (1) the anti-Christian bias in government
schools; (2) the "mainstreaming" of homosexuality in them;
(3) the longstanding dumbing down of government schools, including
manipulated test scores and statistics as well as the long-term
growth of an anti-academic mindset; (4) the breakdown of discipline
and the rise of violence, as well as the underreporting of violent
crime in government schools; (5) the war against boys, a chief component
of radical feminist incursions; (6) the use of legal mind-altering
drugs such as Ritalin and Prozac; (7) many others. Shortt has a
look at a number of "school reform" efforts, argues that
they are delusions, and concludes by contending that the time has
come to speak out against government schools with our feet. He has
ready responses for Christian parents who would claim (for example)
that they do not have time or the resources to homeschool their
children, and for Christian teachers who would maintain that they
have an obligation to remain in government schools to ensure a Christian
presence in them.

The
history of how we got into this mess has been told many times before,
so I will be as brief as possible. State-sponsored schools were
not part of the original make-up of this country. None of the Founders – all
of whom were educated at home or privately – saw providing compulsory,
state-sponsored education as a proper function of the central government,
which is why education is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.
There were no government schools in any modern sense of that term
until the 1840s, when Horace Mann's Unitarians started them up in
Massachusetts as what were then known as common schools. Mann had
been to Prussia where he learned of a far different view of the
relationship between central government and its citizens than our
own tradition which sees the individual as special both morally
and economically. Prussian schools considered children property
of the state, and educated them accordingly. They were raised to
be obedient to the state, their purpose being to advance the interests
of the state.

Shortt
also cites Robert Owen, one of the Anglo-American world's first
influential socialists, who developed a similar philosophy of education.
Owen believed that children should be separated from their parents
as early as possible and raised by the state. He believed people
were exclusively the products of their social environments, and
that if nurtured properly by the state, could be molded into whatever
was desired. A key to the thinking that went into forming the official
ideology of state-sponsored education was that human beings are
innately good, not sinful, and that human nature could be perfected
by the right kind of educational system. The ideology that eventually
developed would hold that children could be molded into willing
consumers of the products of big business and obedient servants
of government. In short, the aims of state-sponsored schools were
to transform thinking, highly individualistic and very literate
citizens into an unthinking, collectivized mass. The slow but steady
decline in literacy of all kinds was a by-product.

Why
did nineteenth century Christians go along with this scheme? One
of the central reasons was that most were Protestants who hoped
common schools would slow the spread of Catholicism in the new world.
What mattered most about Horace Mann was that he wasn't sympathetic
to Catholicism! It mattered less that he and his Unitarian colleagues
were preaching that man could perfect himself through his own efforts,
and that compulsory education was a means to this end. So Protestant
Christians, including many clergy, supported government schools
thinking they could control them.

Very
slowly, Pandora's Box opened. A creeping secularization began. A
few theologians (R.L. Dabney is an example) warned of the emerging
dangers of state-sponsored education. Dabney, who was no friend
of Catholics, was surprisingly prescient. He warned that the danger
was not Catholicism but secularism, and that if the common school
movement continued unchecked, government schools would end up entirely
secular institutions. Christianity – in whatever form – would eventually
be driven from them. At the heart of the danger was the transference
of responsibility for education from the home to the government,
an inherently secular institution.

The
official philosophy of state-sponsored education gradually became
a materialistic humanism, protected by statism. When the Supreme
Court handed down its decision in Everson v. Board of Education
(1947), it made the federal courts arbiter of what the states could
do regarding religion in government schools. This opened the door
to the eventual court-ordered removal of officially-sponsored prayer
(even, in some cases, prior to athletic events), by virtue of the
Court's new "wall of separation" doctrine. This misreading
of the Constitution holds that Establishment Clause in the First
Amendment means the need to remove Christianity from all public
institutions.

Various
forms of ethical subjectivism, relativism and nihilism become unavoidable.
They took forms such as "values clarification," which
urged children to talk openly about "their values" but
provided no direction. "Everybody has their own morals,"
teenagers learned to say (complete with grammar mistake). While
the dialogue over moral theories may captivate career academics,
the absence of definitive moral guidance in young people's lives
has proven catastrophic. During the past half-century, with materialistic
humanists more and more in control, we saw the rise of teen pregnancies,
sexually transmitted infections, a cavalier and casual attitude
toward sex (and at ever-younger ages), the break-up of families – and
epidemics of cheating and other forms of academic dishonesty. In
the last analysis, what needs to be said about humanist ethics as
that they don't work. Humanism's message, essentially, is: we are
responsible for our own moral lives, and one should never be judgmental
(and never mind the contradiction here). Humanistic approaches to
morality, combined with opposition to "judgmentalism,"
leads to the idea that all "lifestyles" are morally equal.
Shortt adds to the burgeoning literature on the incursions of radical
homosexuals in government schools. Their methods, predictably, have
assumed and attempted to inculcate the moral equivalence of gay
and straight "lifestyles." Inroads have been made into
elementary schools, affecting grade school children who, not long
ago, were considered too young to know what sex was.

The
plummeting levels of literacy have been even more pronounced. Shortt
reiterates how government schools are graduating legions of seniors
who cannot construct grammatical English sentences, do arithmetic
beyond a rudimentary level, and have little or no knowledge of the
history of this country or its Constitutional foundations. These
results are hidden by grade inflation, recalculations of GPAs, and
the dumbing down of standardized tests, often in accordance with
the politically correct need to remove "cultural bias."
This ought to concern everyone worried about the status of our liberties
in what little is left of our Constitutional republic. Shortt is
addressing mainly Evangelicals. But it ought to be clear to anyone
that we are in serious trouble when a sufficient number of students
graduate from schools not knowing anything about our founding documents
or their authors, or what rights the Constitution was written to
encode and protect, or how our government is put together and what
functions it is supposed to serve.

The
situation is even worse. Children are actually in more danger in
government schools than they could ever be from terrorists. Back
in the 1990s government schools were witness to an epidemic of well-publicized
shootings, the most dramatic being the Columbine killings in 1999.
One root of the problem of violence in government schools is the
collapse of discipline, resulting in a "blackboard jungle"
where not just children but teachers must fear being assaulted,
robbed, or even raped. Shortt cites two more Supreme Court decisions,
Tinker v. Des Moines School District and Goss v. Lopez,
as watersheds events leading to the end of discipline in government
schools. The former asserted that children have the same Constitutional
rights as adults even in elementary schools (including the right
to free speech, expression, etc.). The latter asserted that students
have the same right to "due process" as do adults prior
to disciplinary action to be taken for misbehavior. The federal
government had become the final authority on when government schools
could administer discipline. Since everything the federal government
touches it ruins, we immediately saw a meteoric rise in discipline
problems in government schools. Corporal punishment – the administering
of "spankings" – became a thing of the past. Teachers could
no longer touch misbehaving youngsters. As a result, not only did
their misbehavior continue, it worsened until it gave rise to the
epidemic of crime, violence and disorder seen more recently. Students
who stand out because they are different from the mass are particularly
at risk. Shortt describes how a young amputee, a cancer victim,
was tormented by her classmates until her parents feared for her
safety, and how a boy – presumably a "nerd" – was beaten savagely
on a school bus while the bus driver pretended nothing was wrong
(pp. 183–84).

Is
the situation really this bad, or are we just being paranoid, or
relying on skewed statistics based on a few atypical cases? Shortt
describes how defenders of "public schools" have played
down the violence in them, citing the federal government's own Indicators
of School Crime and Safety, compiled periodically by the Bureau
of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics.
Some 87 percent of school police officers, Shortt observes, have
complained that crime is underreported in their school district.
Moreover, evidence of violence among children at ever younger ages
is mounting – having doubled between 1995 and 2001 according to one
report from California. National surveys report increases in aggressive
behavior by very small children (third grade and below) during just
the past five years or so. At least one study suggests a connection
between the epidemic of violent behavior among very young children
and time spent in day-care centers. This reflects negatively on
a society where the percentage of mothers working outside the home
has reached two-thirds. Radical feminism is not the culprit here.
I have met or known of any number of working moms who never heard
the phrase gender feminism. But over the past decade or so
the combination of taxes and cost-of-living expenses has escalated
while the number of good-paying jobs has diminished, forcing both
parents into the workplace and leaving children to flounder in day-care.
This suggests an ominous future for America's children if the trends
responsible cannot be reversed.

Radical
feminists have, however, launched an aggressive attack on boys.
It is common knowledge that boys tend to be more adventurous, more
rambunctious, and have a harder time sitting still for long periods
of time than do girls. In the name of "gender equity,"
boys are sometimes put on mind-altering drugs such as Ritalin or
Prozac to control their behavior, even though these drugs' long-term
effects is not that well known and may be worse than cocaine. One
pretext for prescribing these substances to children include "diseases"
such as Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), "discovered"
just within the past couple of decades. Another effect of radical
feminism in government schools has been the institution of "zero
tolerance" sexual harassment policies even in the elementary
grades. At one school, this ludicrous policy resulted in that infamous
case in which a first-grade boy received a suspension for pecking
a first-grade girl on the cheek.

Is
"school reform" an option? Government schools, argues
Shortt, cannot be reformed. The system is structured to resist what
would be necessary, such as ending federal control and ousting the
bureaucrats, guidance counselors, and change agents. State-sponsored
education has actually been quite effective in producing mindless
consumers and loyal, obedient servants of the state. The feds and
their minions thus don't want any non-cosmetic changes. As Shortt
puts it, "The truth is harsh, but simple. Those who control
government schools want your children and they want your money.
They don't want you sticking your nose into what they consider their
business … " (p. 323). His recommendation: speak out with your
feet. Shortt has an arsenal of reasons why Christians ought to homeschool
their children or place them in private Christians schools. His
arguments ought to be listened to by non-Christians. The dysfunction
that has fallen over government-sponsored education, after all,
affects Christian and non-Christian children alike.

Does
homeschooling work? Shortt cites Dr. Brian Ray's 1997 landmark study
showing that homeschooled children are typically four or so years
ahead of their government-schooled counterparts in every major academic
subject and Richard Rudner's 1999 study of over 20,000 homeschooled
students also demonstrating their superior performance over government-schooled
students (pp. 342–43). Homeschooled teenagers have won national
spelling bees, been accorded national awards for academic performance,
and been admitted to major universities, including Harvard, Yale
and Stanford. Shortt cites literature solidly refuting complaints
that homeschooled students are not properly "socialized."
Now to be sure, homeschooled students aren't "socialized"
in the way the National Education Association types would prefer.
Alongside serious academic subjects they are learning the values
of their parents and their church. They are not becoming little
collectivists, or pawns of mass-consumption popular culture unable
to control their spending habits. They are, however, socialized
in the proper sense of being involved in their communities. They
do volunteer work, get involved in team sports, attend dance classes
or chorus, and so on. They are self-directed, focused, and soon
exhibit more leadership skills than their government-schooled counterparts.
They do not find either government or civic activities too complex
to understand as, according to one study, does approximately a third
of government-schooled graduates (pp. 350–51). And they do
not exhibit the behavioral problems we saw above. As independent
minded potential leaders directly involved in their communities,
however, growing numbers of homeschooled Americans would represent
a potential threat to this country's ongoing centralization and
steady evolution toward socialism. The "socialization"
issue is, in the last analysis, a red herring – a cover for
educrats' and change agents' fears of free and independent minds.

Addressing
Christian parents, Shortt contends that they are out of excuses.
He cites Nehemiah Institute
results on how teenagers raised in Christian homes but graduating
from government schools tend to abandon Christianity within a couple
of years of starting college, many never to return. He has answers
for parents who say they don't have the time or money or other resources
to homeschool, or who believe their children are "the salt
of the earth" and need to remain in a government school. Parents
can homeschool around work schedules. Shortt cites a case of a working
single parent he knows personally from his church who has successfully
homeschooled five children. If she can do it, he says, anyone can.
No one, of course, says that homeschooling is necessarily easy.
It is a major commitment. But there are now countless resources
available for the homeschooler to draw upon. Most states have organizations
to assist homeschooling parents. Finally, many churches are getting
involved. Some are starting up private Christian schools – which makes
perfect sense given that church buildings frequently stand empty
during all five days of the regular workweek!

Christians – especially
evangelical Christians – have taken the lead in working towards a
mass exodus from government schools. Clearly, however, nothing is
stopping non-Christians from doing the same thing (and lest there
be any doubt, there are non-Christians who have looked at what goes
on in government schools and chosen to homeschool their children).
I believe Christians have taken the lead because they recognize
more clearly what the culture war is really all about. It is, at
base, more than a conflict between traditionalism and political
correctness. It is more than a struggle against creeping (Fabian)
socialism and the encroaching New World Order. It is a battle between
two worldviews: the God-centered worldview of Christian theism that
stands as one of the major pillars of Western civilization, and
that of materialism, rooted in the idea that God does not exist
and that, ethically, we are on our own. The former tended to produce
literate, responsible citizens suited for life in a relatively free
society characterized by honest commerce and voluntary community
involvement. The latter has unleashed the obsession with power on
the part of a few, expanded the central state, diminished literacy
levels, and precipitated moral breakdown and behavioral chaos.

The
"harsh truth about public schools" is that they are an
enemy not just of Christianity but of academics, personal and intellectual
independence, and even children's safety. They cannot educate, which
is unsurprising since over the past couple of decades their focus
has been on inculcating political correctness and teaching job skills
(Outcome-Based Education, School-To-Work, Workforce Investment,
and finally No Child Left Behind). Their aim has not been education
but the production of desirable forms of mass behavior. The government-sponsored
educational system is thus the major contributor to the dumbing
down of the country. Its guiding philosophies are materialistic
humanism and moral subjectivism, with the full backing of the U.S.
Supreme Court. Government schools have thus become not just anti-Christian
but anti-academic, anti-male, collectivist, and violent.

The
best thing to do, of course, would be to abolish the entire government
school system, lock, stock and barrel. Given that this is not a
live option at present, Christian parents in particular should remove
their children from government schools and either homeschool them
or place them in private Christian schools. These same arguments
apply to non-Christians who are equally capable of surveying the
facts and recognizing that their children might be victims of violence
or put on potentially damaging but entirely legal mind-altering
drugs such as Ritalin (especially if they are boys). They are equally
in danger, moreover, of having their children simply taken away
from them by the state on trumped up charges of "neglect"
or "child abuse" if they refuse to allow such treatment.

Homeschooling
is now the fastest growing educational movement in the country.
Its documented results are sufficiently promising to hold out hope
that if enough parents homeschool their children, in less than a
generation we could halt the dumbing down of the country, win the
culture war, restore morality, and possibly even reverse the steady
transformation of America into a socialist nation of poorly educated,
chronic dependents and mindless spendthrifts. If you are a parent,
buy this book and read it even if you are not a Christian. You owe
it to your children!

February 12, 2005

Steven
Yates [send him mail]
has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action

(1994) and
the forthcoming Worldviews:
Christian Theism versus Modern Materialism
and In
Defense of Logic.
He directs the Worldviews
Project
and has joined Stratia
Corporation
as a part-time consultant. He lives in Columbia,
South Carolina.

Steven
Yates Archives

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