Why We Fight How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict by Neal McCluskey January 23, 2007 the Cato Institute

This Cato Policy Analysis is from 2007 and covers the 2005-06 school year, but the points made are still very relevant.  While only 16 pages long and, as usual with Cato, very easy to read it is followed by an Appendix of 37 pages of conflict resulting from government-run schools’ inability to give equal weight to all peoples’ rights and values.  We have pasted some of the more important points which really jumped out at us below, but please take time to read the complete analysis (Here) for a full understanding that:

“To end the fighting caused by state-run schooling, we should transform our system from one in which government establishes and controls schools, to one in which individual parents are empowered to select schools that share their moral values and educational goals for their children.  Indeed, rather than bringing people together, public schooling often forces people of disparate backgrounds and beliefs into political combat.”

It is all too often assumed that public education as we typically think of it today—schooling provided and controlled by government—constitutes the “foundation of American democracy.”  Such schooling, it is argued, has taken people of immensely varied ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds and molded them into Americans who are both unified and free. Public schooling, it is assumed, has been the gentle flame beneath the great American melting pot.  Unfortunately, the reality is very different from those idealize assumptions. Indeed, rather than bringing people together, public schooling often forces people of disparate backgrounds and beliefs into political combat.  This paper tracks almost 150 such incidents in the 2005–06 school year alone.

Throughout American history, public schooling has produced political disputes, animosity, and sometimes even bloodshed between diverse people. Such clashes are inevitable in government-run schooling because all Americans are required to support the public schools, but only those with the most political power control them. Political—and sometimes even physical—conflict has thus been an inescapable public schooling reality.  To end the fighting caused by state-run schooling, we should transform our system from one in which government establishes and controls schools, to one in which individual parents are empowered to select schools that share their moral values and educational goals for their children.

This paper reexamines the accepted story about public schooling’s role in creating unity and upholding democracy. First, it documents outbreaks  over  the  past  academic  year  of  the most divisive kinds of public school conflicts—those  pitting  people’s  deeply  held  values against each other—and makes clear that such combat is inevitable when everyone is required to pay for an official school system that only the most politically powerful control. Next, it examines  the  historical  record  of  American education and finds that conflict and division have  long  been  part  of  public  schooling.  Finally,  the  report  identifies  the  true  foundations  of  the  nation’s  unity  and  success, and explains why the only system of education that can effectively support a free society is one that is itself grounded in freedom.

As  noted  earlier,  despite  the  absence  of any system remotely approximating “public education” as it is conceived of  today—or even as it was imagined by men like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush—Americans were remarkably unified and civic-minded in the nation’s first decades. Why? De Tocqueville offers a clue…

He suggests, rather, that people first came to understand the practical need for voluntary cooperation, and that then helping “one’s fellow citizens” grew into an “instinct” over time. This, of course, makes both intuitive and logical sense.  True unity—meaning shared bonds of affinity between people—can only ultimately come through individual volition. People have to want to be unified. In contrast, when an authority simply requires diverse people to get along, the best that can be expected is for citizens to coexist and not do each other overt harm.  Unity, however, can only truly exist when individuals themselves choose to work with, and even befriend, other people.

The importance of freedom to democracy goes beyond social and economic integration, however. Freedom’s importance is, in fact, visible in civic education itself, where we find that students in private schools demonstrate both greater civic knowledge and greater tolerance for others than public school students.

In addition to creating better democratic citizens, private schools tend to be better racially integrated, a fact demonstrated best in school lunchrooms, where students exhibit truly voluntary integration. In a 1998 study of such integration, Jay Greene and Nicole Mellow found that 63.5 percent of students in lunchrooms at randomly selected private schools sat in groups where at least one out of every five students immediately around them was from a different racial group, while in the public schools only 49.7 percent of students were so integrated.

Perhaps the final—and for many parents and students, most important—advantage of private over state-run schooling comes in the form of academic success. When parents can choose schools that share their moral, pedagogical, and other beliefs, education is more effective because schools can quickly and efficiently teach coherent lessons rather than having to struggle to accommodate different children, values, and so forth.

Choice’s salutary effects are not just theoretical. In other nations as well as our own, we have seen educational choice defuse social conflicts. The Netherlands, for instance, was split between Protestants, Catholics, and socialists, for generations, and these divisions caused constant battles over what should be taught in the public schools. Eventually, in a drive to end these conflicts, the Netherlands instituted a voucher system that let families choose their preferred public or private schools.  By the 1960s, the social divisions that had previously torn the country apart had almost disappeared.

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