Despite recent setbacks that had detractors toasting its demise, a grass-roots movements is growing that has the potential to impact American society in an enormously positive way.
The catalyst is a diverse group of organizations working to encourage people to pull their children out of a public school system they see as increasingly hostile to their faith and values, incapable of maintaining a disciplined learning environment, and (perhaps most blatantly) incapable of doing the very thing for which it exists: educating students.
Before continuing, let’s clear up a grotesque misconception. Conservatives — at least the vast majority of them — are not against public schools.
Very much the contrary.
In fact, when one considers the lengthy period in the history of mankind when schooling was restricted to those of so-called "high birth," the wealthy, or the otherwise specially privileged, and denied to the great majority of people — a condition that still persists in some corners of the earth — it’s certainly evident that public education is truly one of the greatest conceptions in human history.
(In fact, it’s perhaps second only to the institution of marriage, which liberalism is also assaulting.)
But conservatives are indeed against the way public education is presently administered. They rightly believe that its main purpose of producing well-informed, academically capable young people who can think critically has been subverted by a feeble, mind-numbing, narrow ideology consisting of bankrupt but fashionable educational theories and social indoctrination.
Diverse groups such as the Exodus Mandate (an apt name in that the education establishment seems even less willing than the Egyptian Pharoah to let its people go), the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, as well as sizeable factions within the Southern Baptist Church and Presbyterian Church in America are all directing their efforts in a civil but potentially devastating campaign.
They are monitoring public schools to identify and publicize offensive programs or curricula promoting such things as gay marriage or rigid adherence to Darwinian evolution, and also — possibly even more threatening to the purveyors of continued American educational mediocrity — seeking to draw more and more children into the already widening practice of home schooling.
While present numbers do not constitute a serious challenge to the hegemony of the pathetically underperforming American public school system, trends are already in place that, if greatly accelerated, could easily turn the present trickle into a flood.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that private school enrollment has been growing at a faster rate than public schools for nearly two decades, a pattern that shows no sign of abating.
In addition, the number of home schoolers — who are not included in the private school enrollment figures — has reportedly doubled in the last several years to around 2 million.
Thus, the state of American education today much resembles the condition of the former Soviet Union in about 1987. At that time, pent-up tensions were on the verge of being released to sweep away a long-standing, abysmally failed, but seemingly unassailable system.
If a protest movement such as this is similarly able to tap into the latent discontent with a great many (though certainly not all) American public schools, it’s not hard to imagine similar results occurring in the not too distant future.
(This might finally get the attention of the monlithic public school system’s leaders and make them realize that they’ll simply have to change — if only in the interest of self-preservation.)
Such a development is long-overdue.
Back in 1983, the federal government released a report titled "A Nation at Risk" that summarized the findings of an exhaustive study of American education.
In words that have probably gone more unheeded than any since Churchill’s admonition that Europe had better stop ignoring Hitler, the report unequivocally stated that “if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
Despite trillions of dollars being spent on education since then — rivaling the amount spent on the (also failed) War on Poverty — two things have still not changed.
The performance of American public school students has remained embarrassingly low, and advocates of the pitiful status quo continue to insist that the problem is a lack of funding.
This assertion is as easy to disprove as the theory that the sun rises in the west, or that the earth is flat. Troves of data confirm that not only is the alleged link between per-pupil spending and academic performance non-existent, the reality is often the exact opposite.
Nonetheless (unlike the sunrise in the west or flat-earth movements, whose proponents have long since slinked away), modern educrats continue to brandish — with no apparent shame — the argument that if they just had more money, everything would be all right, or at least not get any worse.
There are, of course, volumes of socio-babble that have been cited to justify this apparent anomaly that more money has rarely meant better results, of which space limitations render full-scale obliteration impracticable here.
However, suffice it to say that as long as America — which is hands down the education spendthrift of the world — continues to routinely produce students that score in the lower echelons of international standardized math and science tests (as happened again this past year), then the answer must be something other than money.
This is especially evident when such relatively poverty-stricken former Communist countries as Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Hungary have all managed to eclipse us.
(It should be noted that these tests have typically found that even the best American students are not on the same level as their counterparts in most industrialized countries — thus discrediting the favorite dodge that we do poorly because "we educate everyone, while other countries only educate their elite.")
Meanwhile, our class of 2006 just recorded the sharpest drop in SAT scores in 31 years, largely due to the new mandatory writing section. This only illustrates Murphy’s corollary that no matter how bad things seem, they can always get worse.
This may still be the case even now, because statistics show that more and more students are now taking the rival ACT, presumably because it’s now perceived as being easier. Were all students subjected to writing requirements — as they certainly should be — the scores would in all likelihood plunge lower yet.
(Writing aside, ACT test-takers were still found to be woefully short of college-readiness in math and science.)
The result of this sad story is that ever increasing numbers of parents are choosing not to risk consigning their children to a bleak future because they never learned to adequately read, write, figure, or think.
The education establishment’s response can perhaps be best summed up by this pearl of wisdom from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (one can immediately tell that’s a group of “educational facilitators”):
“Teachers spend too much time teaching.”
What an “insight.”
In short, conservatives emphatically support public education — if only it would disavow all of its nitwittery and go back to teaching (yes, teaching) academic skills. If that would truly happen, there would no longer be any need for vouchers.
But until then — may the Exodus begin.