Why Are Schools So Terrible?

Conservative intellectuals have long asked the question: What went wrong with America’s schools?

Of course, the question presumes that something HAS gone wrong.

We at ILYBYGTH don’t really care if America’s schools are terrible.  We’re more focused on dissecting conservative approaches to the question. How have different conservatives at different times offered different answers to this perennial question?

Now available free online is an argument I put together a few years back. The article appears in the pages of the storied Teachers College Record.

This article looks at the school-history visions of four very different conservative thinkers: Milton Friedman, Max Rafferty, Sam Blumenthal, and Henry Morris. Each of them agreed that public schools had become ineffective, even dangerous institutions. But the reasons they gave for that lamentable decline differed. Friedman, for example, blamed teachers’ unions and government control, beginning just after the American Civil War. Rafferty blasted the wrong-headed “progressive” takeover of the 1930s. Blumenfeld and Morris both looked further back, to a Unitarian coup at Harvard University variously timed either in 1805 (Blumenfeld) or in 1869 (Morris).

These conservative activists do not only differ in the timelines they gave for America’s educational decline, but also in their diagnoses and prescriptions. Friedman wanted a free-market solution. Rafferty hoped for clear-headed traditionalism. Blumenfeld wanted to scrap public education entirely. Morris hoped to heal schools with creationism.

In every case, these conservatives based their arguments about schooling on a historical vision. They are not alone. Activists of every political stripe use history to prove their points. In this essay, I outlined the ways a few prominent conservatives did so.

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  1. All of these are taught simultaneously as the reasons for why Christian private education is the only answer at Pensacola Christian College.

    • Interesting…I was not surprised to find that the founders and leaders of PCC agreed with the vision of Christian conservative Henry Morris. But I was surprised to find out how much they liked Max Rafferty. In the late 1970s and 1980s, at least, when Christian schools were booming, the leaders of PCC heartily endorsed Max Rafferty as a guide to good education. For the record, the equally conservative Christians at Bob Jones University disagreed. I sussed out the differences in a different article a few years back. I think it’s still behind a paywall, but can be accessed by a library subscription.

  2. Donna

     /  November 13, 2013

    When I click on the link, it says the article costs $7. I guess it was free for a short time?…..

    • Sorry about that. It does say that, but if you click on the full-text link on the right the entire article should appear.

    • Donna,
      I tried it again this morning and got the same result as you did. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps they made it available for a limited time as part of a newsletter. Now it seems to be back behind the subscription paywall. Sorry about that.


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