Every year, private schools across the nation commence for graduation ceremonies. Yet, if many of today’s progressive educators are to be believed, the ceremony they participate in ought to be abolished or sent underground. They wish for public schools to be the primary—and in some activists’ view, exclusive—vehicle for educating our youth. Indeed, whenever the idea of vouchers for private schools comes up, progressives stridently insist that private education harms our society rather than helping it.
Now, the American people are not, generally speaking, given to talking back to educators. We have been taught better. These educators have great gobs of education and thus we are expected to cherish their ideas. Still, some undisciplined folks like us are inclined to tell the activists to go take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. We simply don’t agree that private education—especially private Christian education—is a net negative for American society. In fact, we believe that private schools make profoundly good contributions to our society.
Why do activists say such poorly reasoned and uncharitable things about the men and women who send their children to private schools? The answer is that they are social engineers who wish to fashion society and culture in their mold. They wish to build a new social order, shorn of the Western tradition and its Judeo-Christian ethical trappings.
Indeed, there is not enough room for both this New Social Order and the strong forms of religion that many private schools endorse. The desire for a new order is philosophically tied to a belief that religion yields no reliable knowledge and that the state alone is our savior and the dispenser of everything good. In defense of private education, and describing this progressive desire for an educational revolution, William F. Buckley, Jr. once wrote,
It clearly won’t do, then [in the eyes of progressive detractors], to foster within some schools a respect for an absolute, intractable, unbribable God, a divine Intelligence who is utterly unconcerned with other people’s versions of truth and humorously inattentive to majority opinion. It won’t do to tolerate a competitor for the allegiance of man. The State prefers a secure monopoly for itself. It is intolerably divisive to have God and the State scrapping for disciples
For proponents of a public school monopoly, the state is the unchallengeable and irreproachable steward of every human being. Public schools alone, as the argument goes, are capable of producing students who will be exemplars of our New Social Order.
How do they try to convince us to demote or eradicate religion?
They teach us that religion is an unserious source of knowledge and a poor guide for the emotions. They try to prove that religion is better taught in public—rather than private—schools but then only in a relativistic manner and with a social scientific approach. In other words, they wish to unite “church and state,” with the state at the helm. This is how the New Social Order larrups along.
But there remains a challenger to this new progressive order. An unyielding Trojan horse that threatens America’s march toward a new secular progressive: the private school. Private schools are still largely independent of government funding. Many of them unify their curriculum around belief in a transcendent God. So long as these schools survive, the secular progressive project in social engineering is threatened.
Progressives want to abolish the challenger—private schools—and authorize the state to monopolize education. They demand that our nation use public monies to support public but not private institutions. And they use legislation, judicial activism, and social media flash mobbing to frame religious institutions as discriminatory.
In response to the secular progressive agenda, we as citizens must support private schools in any way we can. We must encourage legislators to reform the law so that “vouchers” are available by which citizens can draw upon tax dollars to send their children to private schools.
Tax vouchers would ensure that sufficient competition among private and public schools persists, that all boats will rise with the tide. Further, vouchers signal that our nation is genuinely a plural society in which diverse families and communities can choose from reasonably priced educational institutions. Finally, vouchers empower financially disadvantaged families to send their children to whichever school they deem best.
The United States is in sore need of courageous leaders in this movement against the forces that would subvert classical and religious education. If we hold that our current social order, built largely on a Judeo-Christian worldview, is worth preserving and refining, rather than burning it to the ground, then a classical education taught from within a Christian worldview is exactly the thing our young people need. They will be better educated and better equipped morally to be the citizens our nation needs, rather than become the rabid revolutionaries seeking to destabilize every corner of our society.
It’s not so hard to understand why the left’s hard-core education bureaucracy is so opposed to private education. It is a serious threat to the progressive hegemony that has served them – if not students – so well.
Good-thinking Americans on the left and right should reject the narrative that private schools perpetuate inequality and religious bigotry, and support elected officials who seek reform and wish to shake up these aspects of our nations’ educational ecosystem.
Bruce Riley Ashford is senior fellow at the Kirby Laing Centre and author of Letters to an American Christian.
This article first appeared in the October / November print edition of Carolina Journal.