Government Schools or Public Schools?

"Bless me! What do they teach them is school these days!"
“Bless me! What do they teach them is school these days!”

If you want to irritate a public school teacher or administrator, refer to public schools as government schools. Trust me, you will get a reaction.

And I’m not really sure why they have such a sore point about it. After all, they are government schools. They are paid for by the government, and teach to government mandated standards. They are overseen by a federal agency (with its own SWAT team, I might add) which enforces its dictates with great enthusiasm. They answer less and less to the local community and more and more to state or federal bureaucrats.

So why not be honest and call a spade a spade? They are government schools, and they have been for a long time.  In fact, I can point to the exact moment when our school system transformed from public education to government education. It began with a man named Richard Henry Pratt shortly after the end of the Civil War.

Pratt, a US Army man, using Prussian education as a model, developed and implemented the idea that the best way to ‘civilize’ the Native American tribes was to take their children away from them and send them to boarding schools where they were taught to be white. With the full backing of the US government, he built his schools and laws were passed forcing tribes to send their children away. If the tribes resisted, their food was cut off, forcing them to choose between starvation, and giving up their children. Once the children were placed in the schools, they were stripped entirely of every vestige of their culture, and forced to assimilate into American behaviors.

Until his retirement shortly after the turn of the century, Pratt spent the better part of three decades learning how to ‘convert’ Native American children into his view of model Americans. During that time, his programs were expanded to include other minorities, including the children of former slaves. As Pratt argued that education was the surest method for control, going so far as to say that the adult Native Americans would behave better while their children were under the control of the American schools, the nascent American public school system took notice. Far from finding his ideas abhorrent, they seized on them as a way to create a unified cultural identity. Massachusetts was the first state to pass a law making attendance at public schools compulsory, and Mississippi was the last to fall into line in 1917.

Now I know what a lot of you are thinking. You think that I am presenting a lopsided view of education, and that all the people involved couldn’t have been monsters like Pratt. And you are right; they weren’t and they aren’t. However, it is a simple fact that his ideas formed the basis for public schooling in America and you can see that in the way the system operates today.

  • Parents can be sent to jail if their children are truant or fail to perform to standards in the school.
  • Parents have to justify decisions they make for their children to the school, even if those decisions have nothing to do with school.
  • Parents have little input over curricula, and almost zero input on school policies and procedures.
  • Schools have taken on parenting responsibilities, whether or not the parents consent, even to the point of counseling children on sexual matters without notifying the parents.

I’ve put 6 kids through the public school system and I’ve experienced each of these. Except for going to jail for truancy, although I did have to get documentation from the family doctor to avoid a ‘mandatory counseling’ session on missing too many days of school. My son missed two weeks of school with shingles. My word wasn’t good enough for the school. I had to get a note from the doctor. I spent time arguing with a teacher who sent home a version of the Emancipation Proclamation that claimed that Lincoln freed all the slaves. She didn’t believe me that he didn’t until I showed her the actual text of the document. (Incidentally, if you think I’m wrong, and that Lincoln freed the slaves, read the document for yourself.)

More recently, we had this flap over a Common Core textbook which reinterprets the Second Amendment to apply only to members of a state militia.

But those things are just the tip of the iceberg.

I remember reading an article by Robert Heinlein about a trip he and his wife took to the Soviet Union. They toured a school, and as he described it, they saw children doing pretty much the same things they do here. Singing a song, reciting a poem, and reading from primers. Except the songs, poems, and reading lessons were all Soviet propaganda. The government school, following the Prussian model, and operating along the same lines as the Indian schools of  General Pratt, was doing its best to raise good Soviets.

The picture on this article is unattributed. I don’t know where it came from. But look at questions 5 and 6. Wouldn’t they be right at home in the Soviet Union?

Am I overreacting? Even if this is an accurate picture, is it really indoctrination? I didn’t think so at first, but then I remembered this video where a school class is taught to sing a song praising Barack Obama, and this one where a teacher berates a 5th grade girl because she is pulling for John McCain. The part where the teacher tells the little girl that John McCain might keep her father in Iraq for 100 years is one of the most heartless and cruel things I’ve ever seen. Four or five data points do not make a trend, but they do establish a point of interest.

My kids are out of the school system, but two of my grandkids are just getting started, and I fully intend to be involved in their education as much as possible. Of course, I’m sure my kids will be involved as well, and I don’t want to step on their toes; after all, they are parents now and I know I would have resented my parents trying to do my job for me. (Hmmm. That sounds like a topic for another post.) But the point is that we all have to stay involved in the education of our children.

I believe our government has passed the point where it is concerned with serving the citizens and is more concerned with increasing its power. I think many of the folks in Washington are doing so for what they see as benevolent reasons, but the truth is that they are reducing us from citizens to subjects. Our government is beginning to make rules that, in its eyes, are in our best interests, taking onto itself the role of parent. This paternalistic attitude is not compatible with the American ideals of freedom and independence. A child is not independent.

Neither is a subject.

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