If you are the parent of a homeschool or private school child, you’re a racist theocrat and an enemy of democracy. You may not know it, but you are, according to the paper of record, The New York Times.
In a breathtakingly shallow op-ed written by Katherine Stewart, the author accuses those who use the term “government school” and parents who abstain from public schooling as engaging in subversively anti-democratic behavior. Why? Because the author cannot conceive of education—that is, an education that supports her own values—apart from government control.
Let me save you the time from reading the actual column. In essence, Stewart asserts that opposition to “government schools” is based on Confederate-era beliefs about a godless, encroaching, racist state. That’s right, modern school choice is a bastion of Confederate ethics, according to this columnist.
As a friend of mine tweeted, the entirety of the op-ed is based on bad argument:
Stewart’s argument is lazy. It’s generalized, misinformed, and reads much like a carnival barker shouting down the looming threat of theocracy, theocracy, theocracy. It’s such absurd, zero-sum thinking that one feels bad for the nursed resentment this author has cultivated over time toward millions of citizens who disagree with her code of educational ethics.
Stewart Thinks Public Schools Are For Indoctrination
The modern liberal impulse is one that sees government schooling as the apex of citizenship, but also, more fundamentally, as a form of secular discipleship. Education is designed to be comprehensive in nature. It forms, habituates, teaches. Abraham Lincoln himself is quoted as saying that “the philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” Liberals see public schools as the fertile ground for Resistance training 2.0 and any failure to hew the democratic liberal line is a secularized form of apostasy.
Not all public school advocates demonstrate such zealous attachment to public schools (don’t call them “government schools” or else you’re a hater, we’re told). Most public school parents I know see public schools as as place for their child’s learning, to know one’s neighbor, and to celebrate milestones whether through football games or proms.
In a parallel universe where pluralism and diversity are actual liberal values, this author would prize and herald the virtues of school choice as part and parcel of ordered liberty. But not if you see public schooling primarily as a vehicle for social change. The whole op-ed is a shocking revelation of the moral imagination of modern-day progressives — bring your child before the state to receive the requisite social values or else the whole system is being undermined.
Confession: My child attends a classical Christian school. More confession: We chose this for our child because we believe that what public schools value as true, good, and beautiful do not align with what we believe is true, good, and beautiful. It’s a conflict of visions, and in America, we’re blessed to have options.
We teach our child about diversity and seek to live it out. We also want our child to have an education foundation that prioritizes our Christian faith, while also seeing its relevance to modern society’s deepest, metaphysical questions. That’s our personal conviction arrived at by prayer, study, and conscience. Others are free to disagree.
But this is a conclusion that people like Stewart cannot handle, because she cannot cast alternative models of education in any affirmative vision. She can’t conceive of a Christian education model, for example, that is pro-culture, deliberately non-fundamentalist, and one that seeks to nurture and incubate the pillars that propped up a free society — among them human dignity.
School Choice Better Promotes Pluralism and Coexistence
But could we possibly agree that America is better when parents are in control of their children’s education? Some liberals even see this for themselves, as non-traditional forms of education are on the rise even in progressive pockets. Why? Because education is about the transmission of values, about allowing local associations, not government institutions, to form the bonds of society.
What makes America so genius is that parents — whether liberal, conservative, Christian, atheist, or Muslim — ought to be free to align their child’s education with their own values. That’s how true pluralism is taught — by allowing difference to flourish and not assigning bad motive to different beliefs. But no, where liberty obstructs the progressive worldview, Stewart castigates freedom in the worst imaginable light.
All of this brings me back to something I have thought about for a long time. You will have as your highest devotion either God or the state. But for secularized progressives, the state ends up being a sort of god — but one ineffectual, impotent, and easily angered. This god is jealous, for it demands that children be catechized beneath its benevolent wings. This god demands worship, because failure to recognize its glory is akin to blasphemy. This god demands authority, because failure to sustain its code of ethics and its institutions allows the foundation to crumble.
We should expect articles like this from The New York Times, but we should at least expect something a little better than the old trope of theocratic, racist conspiracy.