Libertarians and the Common Core

What’s a libertarian to do?

Will new Common Core State Standards exert a deadly centralizing impulse on all types of school?  Will independent options winnow down as private schools seek to prepare their students for new standardized tests?

That’s the worry articulated recently by JD Tuccille in the pages of libertarian flagship Reason Magazine.

Tuccille pointedly refutes the canard that the new standards are some sort of sinister conspiracy to agglomerate educational power in the hands of distant federal agents.  The problem, he writes, is more banal.  New tests aligned with the standards will likely exert pressure on independent schools to match their curricula to those of the public schools.  As he concludes,

Under the circumstances, “Waldorf,” Montessori,” “traditional academy” and “IB” risk becoming Coke vs. Pepsi brand names peddling similar products—assuming they can even survive the transition costs.

Private and religious schools, while mostly exempt from legal mandates to adopt Common Core, are also under pressure to toe the line. Some that accept tax-funded vouchers are required to adopt the standards to continue in such programs. Others find that non-Common Core-compliant textbooks are becoming difficult to find. And the biggest motivation might be the move by college entrance exams to test for mastery of Common Core standards.

Of course, as Tuccille notes, parents can always exempt themselves and their children from this pressure by opting out of institutional schooling entirely.  But for those folks who value free choices in education, it does seem palpably evident that any success for standardization will represent a narrowing of those choices.



Creationism on the Ropes

Is creationism taking over American education?  Nope.

Not at the Blue Ridge Christian School, anyway.

Readers may remember Blue Ridge for its fifteen minutes of fame last May, when a dinosaur quiz from the school attracted attention.


Image Source: Answers in Genesis

Image Source: Answers in Genesis


According to the Christian Post, the school is closing down.  After all the attention, school founders hoped to raise enough funds to stay afloat.  However, in spite of international attention, the school only raised $15,000 of the $200,000 it needed.

So is creationism taking over?  In this case, at least, it’s not even staying alive.


Public Schools Can’t Serve the Public

To be useful to the public, Christians must reject “public” education.

That’s the argument made recently by Stephen Richard Turley in the pages of The Imaginative Conservative.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, one of the fundamental questions of Christian-school advocates is whether or not to stay in public education.  Dr. Turley makes the case that real Christians must abandon so-called public education.  In doing so, Turley writes, Christians do not turn away from the public sphere, but rather embrace it.

Today’s public education, Turley argues, is by definition anti-public.  Today’s so-called public schools hope to squeeze religious life into the private margins.  By doing so, so-called public schools warp the public sphere, allowing only secular notions to flourish, Turley writes.

The only answer for Christians, Turley believes, is to remain dedicated to true public witness by embracing private schools.

Confused?  Read Turley’s entire essay.

As he concludes,

If Christians are to remain faithful to the biblical gospel, we must once again affirm the public witness of the church, particularly in the field of education. For such an affirmation not only awakens the soul to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, but in embodying the Truth, it exposes the state-financed educational system which denies Truth as what it is: a lie. We cannot teach our students that Truth is relative and expect our politicians to be honest; we can’t claim that the Good has been replaced by situational ethics and expect Wall Street executives to ground their business decisions in anything other than profit, greed, and expediency; and we cannot relegate Beauty to personal preference and then feign shock when we encounter a urinal as part of an art exhibit.

Christians will never expose this lie as long as they support and fund it. Classical Christian education offers nothing less than a parallel public, a revelation of Truth that in its social splendor awakens wonder and awe in teacher and student alike, as together they fellowship in Him who is the divine renewal of all things.




Private Schools Are Only for Bad People

Send your kids to your local public school.  Even if the school sucks.  Even if it won’t teach your child anything but how to get drunk.  Even if you have better options.

That is the provocative manifesto offered recently by Slate editor Allison Benedikt.

If you follow the latest, you’ve probably seen it by now.  Since I can’t keep up, I didn’t hear about it until this morning, and then only from the heated reaction it sparked among conservative commentators such as Ross Douthat, Erick Erickson, and Rod Dreher.

Benedikt’s diatribe was meant to poke the conservative bear.  She opens with the bear-poking line, “You are a bad person if you send your children to private school.”

Her argument, in a nutshell, is this: only if all parents send their kids to their local public schools will those schools improve.  If you send your kid to a private school, you are hurting everyone for the sake of your own perceived benefit.  Ipso facto, you are a bad person.

She proudly proclaims that she went to crappy schools and turned out okay.  She didn’t learn anything about history, literature, science, or math, but she did get drunk behind the bleachers with kids from different social backgrounds.

In fact, she promises that your children will do fine in bad public schools, if you are the sort of person who cares enough to pull your kids out of public schools.

Predictably, conservatives couldn’t resist such low-hanging ideological fruit.

Rod Dreher proclaimed, “This is one of those things that only a left-wing ideologue can possibly believe.”

Ross Douthat tweeted, “Everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

Erick Erickson twisted the knife, declaring that Benedikt only holds this outlandish position because her husband told her to.

But Benedikt’s position, minus the blogosphere-riling rhetoric, is nothing new or strange.  Indeed, for anyone who has studied the history of American education, even at a public school, Benedikt’s call for full enrollment in public education sounds traditional, even boring.

It was Horace Mann, after all, in the years before the Civil War, who midwived our system of public education.  In those years, our notions of “public” and “private” had not yet taken hold.  Parents or sponsors paid out of pocket for most formal education.  Those schools that required no tuition were commonly known as “charity” schools, fit only for the lowest class.

Mann realized that tax-funded education could only work if it received the endorsement, and the children, of the emerging affluent business classes.  This is why he made a powerful two-pronged appeal.  First, Mann argued that tax funds must be used to pay for tuition-free education, an education available to all.  Second, he argued that everyone should send their children to these schools.  These would not be “charity” schools, Mann argued.  They would not be “church” schools, or “dame” schools.  In today’s lingo, he would have insisted that these would not be “government” schools.  Rather, the name Mann promoted was the name Benedikt and other commentators would use for generations, even centuries: Public Schools.

Benedikt’s essay is intentionally provocative.  But its central idea is as old as American public education itself.  Our public schools can only function if they have the full-throated support of the public.  That support, as Mann argued and as Benedikt repeats, will come most easily if everyone sends their children.