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An Un-American Education

The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” “The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Friday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central time on

An Un-American Education

A Reflection by Ronald Bruce Meyer

Last month, Republican presidential hopeful and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania gave public education the ultimate insult: he called public schools “government-run schools.” He claimed these “government-run schools” are used to “indoctrinate … your children.”

Wow! I guess I’m lucky to have made it out alive! You see, I’m a product of public education and, while I was not a straight-A student by any stretch of the imagination, I did emerge from “government-run” schooling, and a “government-run” university system, with my imagination and my critical thinking skills intact. I also learned a few facts along the way: such as why we have public education in the first place.

You see Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and the ever-present Rick Santorum either don’t know or fail to recognize history. Even their own history: Santorum, the son of government employees, is also a product of “government-run” schooling and a “government-run” university system!

But more than that, the right-wing agenda is clear: in spite of broad public support for the local public school, even if people think public education generally is failing, the key is to mend it, not end it. And if you want to know why public education, the so-called “government-run” schools, is worth defending rather than defunding – through vouchers and tax credits for religious “alternative” schools and home schooling – then you haven’t been paying attention in history class.

The move by Republican, that is, Christian Nationalist Party members, is to destroy public education. Their alternatives are what families were left with in the Dark Ages: after the fall of Rome, with its free schools for the children of working people, by the sixth century in Europe the population was left with home schooling (or nothing) for the poor and unfortunate, and tutoring and mentoring for the more fortunate. In fact, 95% of Europe were agricultural workers called serfs (that is, slaves with fewer rights than under the Empire) and of course illiterate and uneducated. Is it any wonder that from 500 to 1100 there was almost no intellectual or scientific progress in Europe?

This is what Mr. Santorum wants to return to? Does he want the US to become as ignorant as the Muslim world with which he claims we are at war?

Maybe I have misunderstood him. Maybe we just have different ideas of the purpose of general education. It seems clear that Mr. Santorum and his fellow bomb-throwers don’t like government “indoctrination.” What are they are for? We can surmise: since Mr. Santorum is a creationist, he would favor schools that are free of those pesky “government-run” rules that allow only science in science class, and facts rather than David Barton’s Christian distortions in history class. He would keep Muslims out of schools altogether, I suppose, and build a fence to keep out those nasty brown people from south of the border.

Here is the question Mr. Santorum fails to answer because it was never asked: why was government in the education business in the first place? Clearly, the private sector was either uninterested in the job or poorly equipped to handle it. Industry needs workers and educated workers make better employees. Since 19th century business would not pay for general education and 19th century churches could not educate beyond a small scale, local governments took over the role. Taxes were levied and everybody paid because everybody benefits. As American society grew more complex, education had to expand to keep pace. Only government, with the power to tax people and business to raise revenue, was equal to the job. And only government could enforce educational equality – as opposed to the measurably unequal education provided by churches and families.

Why is government still in the education business? Because whatever “indoctrination” goes on inside the classroom, it’s an indoctrination of which Mr. Santorum, if he really believes in America, should whole-heartedly approve: “government-run” education makes good American citizens. Let me say that again because most conservatives and Christian Nationalists forget what makes the United States strong. They forget what binds us as a nation. They forget what it means to have a nation in the first place. Here it is: government-run education makes good American citizens.

Mr. Santorum would have us believe the purpose of education in America is to turn out Christian soldiers who will join a militia when they’re old enough to shoot a gun at a liberal and reliably vote Republican so they’ll perpetuate the party. Mr. Santorum and those like him apparently believe that now that they’ve made it to the top they can pull up the ladder of opportunity after them.

Do I have to point out that this belief would most certainly destroy the nation? And, far from fearing “government-run” public education, as Americans we should embrace it. Why?

Because only through public education can we ensure that every child gets the education they deserve. Because public schools do not turn children away; they educate all children, whatever their learning needs. Because public schools are the key to addressing inequality in our society; they give young people and families the chance to overcome social and economic (and ethnic) disadvantage. Because public schools help build mutual understanding among people of different ethnic, religious, vocational and socioeconomic backgrounds . Because the key to national prosperity is a highly skilled and educated workforce and this can be achieved only through public schools. Because America’s future depends on the decisions of all its educated and informed citizens, the cornerstone of our democracy. Because with strong public schools, we can be confident of the education and development of the next generation.*

Mr. Santorum and his fellows would take us back to the ignorance of the Middle Ages, encouraging us to fear the bogeyman of government indoctrination. Does he think indoctrination in pseudoscience, religious credulity, Christian Nationalist jingoism, and fear of dark-skinned people is better? Can we please call Rick Santorum and the whole Tea Party-Christian Nationalist-Republican-conservative fear machine what it is?

It’s un-American.

Private education is un-American. Public education is the bedrock of the American nation: without public education, there is no United States of America.

*Note: To give credit where credit is due, I have borrowed an argument in favor of public education authored by the public school system of New South Wales. If only American educators could defend themselves so strongly!

Copyright © 2010-11 Ronald Bruce Meyer. To hear an audio version of this Reflection, click on this link: UnAmerican Education

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

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