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Ideology, Totalitarianism, and the Public Schools

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 03, 2008

An order by the 2nd Appellate Court in Los Angeles that Philip Long and his wife must cease home-schooling their children has raised serious concerns among California home-schooling families. The Court did not find that the parents were negligent in providing for the education of their children. Instead the ruling confirmed the view of a lower court that:

keeping the children at home deprived them of situations where (1) they could interact with people outside the family, (2) there are people who could provide help if something is amiss in the children’s lives, and (3) they could develop emotionally in a broader world than the parents’ “cloistered” setting.

The report I read on this ruling is flawed by the assumption that the Longs' only choice is to send their children to a public school. This is incorrect, as a legally-qualified private school would also be an option. Nonetheless, the ruling ought to be appealed because it attacks home-schooling itself, which not only should be permitted but actually is permitted under California law. According to legal experts, Californians have the right to establish private schools in their homes and enroll their children in them. They can do so by filing a private school affidavit for their own home school, or by enrolling their children in a private school’s satellite or independent study program. The Longs, in fact, were affiliated with the Sunland Christian School.

Even apart from its failure to consider California law as it relates to home schools, the ruling is surprising. The Court seems to have forgotten that California permits students to be instructed by properly-credentialed tutors (which could in theory be family members). It is not clear how having a single tutor provides the kind of interaction outside the family or the broader world envisioned by the court, even if a tutor would be in a position to detect “something amiss in the children’s lives.” At stake in this decision, therefore, is the Court’s assertion that the significant purposes of compulsory education include the provision of wider social interaction, superior emotional development, and a means of checking on how parents raise their kids.

Mr. and Mrs. Long wisely wish to avoid placing their children in the public schools, especially since Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has pushed through legislation to require the hiring of qualified homosexual, bisexual and transsexual teachers, and otherwise to effectively promote homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality. As Philip Long put it, “I don’t want to put my children in a public school system that teaches ideologies I don’t believe in.”

Public education is always a flashpoint for those who do not share the worldview of the public authority. In mandating universal education (for better or worse), the United States has acted generously in providing that education free of charge to all who could not afford private education. While never a perfect solution, the public schools have served mainstream Americans reasonably well during periods when most people have shared the same fundamental moral values. For those who wanted something different or better, a strong system of private education provided alternatives, albeit at considerably higher cost, which the State has been less generous in addressing. But, in any case, things are different now.

Contemporary Americans are sharply divided with respect not only to fundamental moral issues but to the entire worldview legally mandated in public education. This division can no longer be plausibly attributed only to unusual sects or other tiny and little-understood minorities. Moreover, the entanglement of private schools with public money, when coupled with a rising tide of secularism, has led to a gradual whittling away of the ideological independence of many private schools. At the same time, the financial burdens on private school parents have increased substantially with the rising costs of modern education. The solution to both problems has been home schooling. But home schooling also strikes at the root of one of the fundamental ways in which modern states have learned to control their citizens: compulsory education. As the State becomes more and more ideological, it seeks to take children out of the hands of parents precisely in order to ensure that they are taught, throughout their formative years, exactly what the State wants them to think.

There are a great many arguments a Catholic commentator can advance on the issue of compulsory education, but the first argument is simply that we all need to recognize what Philip Long already sees: Education has become an ideological battleground. One of the characteristic marks of a totalitarian society is compulsory State-controlled education for ideological purposes. We are not quite there yet, but we do well to reflect on who controls education, and for what ends. If a court in California or anywhere else seeks to push the totalitarian envelope, we ought to have sense enough to understand what this means, and to push back.

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