Archives for category: Religion

The author of this article, Joe Shapiro, is a Democratic member of the state legislature in New Hampshire.

Conservative Republican Governor Chris Sununu appointed home-schooling parent Frank Edelblut as state Commissioner of Education. Edelblut has used his office to promote privatization, not only charters and vouchers, but for-profit schools, online schools, home schools, religious schools, and anything that anyone calls “education.”

Shapiro describes Edelblut’s latest salvos against public schools:

New post on Network for Public Education.

Joe Schapiro: Edelblut is waging war on education

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut has been the face of a remarkable and alarming attack on public education in New Hampshire. This op-ed from Joe Schapiro outlines some of the actions of this pro-privatization official.

The commissioner gave his full-throated support to a school voucher program which, since being inserted into the budget and signed by the governor, is widely viewed as the most extreme in the country. Estimated to attract a handful of students at a minimal cost in its first year it is now 5,000 percent over budget, at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $8 million dollars for this year alone.

This fall the commissioner was the featured speaker at a meeting of the Government Integrity Project, an extreme right-wing organization that promotes unfounded reports of election fraud, organizes protests against the use of masks in schools, and disrupts school board meetings around the state.

Also this fall, the commissioner spoke to the Cheshire County Republican Committee. It is no coincidence that soon afterward, a small group of people attended the Chesterfield School Board meeting demanding all curriculum information and reading material used in classes in order to cleanse the school of teaching “divisive concepts.”

Now Commissioner Edelblut has added to the Department of Education website, a page that invites and encourages parents and students, to make complaints about their teachers under the thinly veiled guise of discrimination based on being made to feel guilty on account of being white. This is a naked act of incitement and a call to vigilantism against the very people whom we entrust to teach and care for our children.

Whether it’s defunding our schools, disrupting efforts to keep our students safe, censoring essential discussion about race, or supporting unfounded accusations against educators, Frank Edelblut supports them all.

Read the full op-ed here.

You can view the post at this link : https://networkforpubliceducation.org/blog-content/joe-schapiro-edelblut-is-waging-war-on-education/

Since this post was written in Texas by a Texan, you may have a clue about what these diverse phenomena have in common: They are sources of fear, anxiety, propaganda, and scare tactics used cynically to stir up the passions of voters. The article was written by Dr. Charles Luke of Pastors for Texas Children, a stalwart supporter of public schools.

Dr. Luke writes:

What do masks, library books, critical race theory (CRT), and transgender rights have in common? While this may sound like the beginning of a really bad joke, these are all issues that local school boards across the nation hear about frequently from their constituents. The concerns about these issues aren’t always expressed in the nicest ways, either. In fact, angry expressions over these issues have led to death threats and harassment, leading some school board members to request police protection or to resign their positions. Commonly dubbed “culture war issues” because they are highly politicized, school board disruption has gotten so bad that Saturday Night Live did a skit about it.

In Texas, it’s not just concerned citizens that are complaining. Politicians are cashing in on the fears of their right-wing base by issuing edicts, holding town halls, and leading charges against school districts. State Rep. Matt Krause, Chair of the House Committee on General Investigating, notified the Texas Education Agency that he is “initiating an inquiry into Texas school district content,” according to an article and an Oct. 25 letter obtained by The Texas Tribune. Krause included a list of 850 titles that he believes some people may find objectionable. Krause was then running for Texas Attorney General in a crowded field of candidates but has since dropped out.

Not to be outdone, Gov. Greg Abbott issued his own edict about library books – but to the wrong people. In a November 1, 2021 letter to the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), he reminded the organization that their members have a collective responsibility to determine if obscene materials exist in school libraries and to remove any such content. When TASB Executive Director Dan Troxell informed Governor Abbott that TASB is merely a school trustee membership organization and has no regulatory authority over schools, Abbott responded by accusing the organization of abdicating their responsibility in the matter and directed the Texas Education Agency, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and the State Board of Education to address the issue by developing standards to “prevent the presence of pornography and obscene content in Texas public schools, including in school libraries.”

A rightwing think-tank (the Texans for Public Policy Priorities) has already sent out a fundraising appeal, hoping to raise $1.2 million dollars to institute what they call “massive education freedom reforms” by mobilizing 10,000 citizens in each of 60 legislative swing districts in order to “break the indoctrination of our children from Critical Race Theory, ‘gender fluidity’, and socialism.” TPPF claims to already have one donor that has provided $600,000 (rumored to be Tim Dunn of Empower Texans fame.

Read on to learn about the latest zany tactics of Texas Republicans, who are expert at campaigning on lies and fear.

The right-wingers have a goal: power. The power to destroy public schools and replace them with private alternatives.

These efforts in Texas follow a national push by extremist politics to take over school boards based on allegations that districts are teaching critical race theory. The Center for Renewing America, run by former Trump administration official Russ Vought, distributes a toolkit that encourages conservatives to “reclaim” their schools by taking over local school boards through campaigns focused on opposition to critical race theory. The Leadership Institute offers training on how far-right candidates can take over their school board and runs a program called Campus Reform which encourages students to “expose the leftist abuses on your campus” including the teaching of CRT.

Funded by wealthy donors and far-right-wing foundations, they seem to be having some success in Texas. In places like Cypress-Fairbanks ISD – the third-largest school district in the state – long-term and well-established trustees are being replaced over culture-war wedge issues like CRT. After a controversial “Resolution Condemning Racism” was approved by the board of trustees in September of 2020, Rev. John Ogletree – an African American – was defeated amidst allegations that the district was promoting CRT. Ogletree is the founder and pastor at the First Metropolitan Church in Houston, Texas, and the president of the board of Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) – a statewide public school advocacy group. Ogletree had been a member of the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Board of Trustees since 2003.

Not everyone is silent about the far-right efforts. Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Executive Director of PTC responded to the defeat of Ogletree by saying, “For Godly Christian servants like Rev. John Ogletree to be slandered with lies about his character is beyond outrageous. It is morally despicable. Rev. Ogletree is a faithful pastor who discharged his responsibility before God to call out racism. He did so with obedience and courage. It may come as a news flash to the morally confused folks at TPPF, but it is not racism to call racism for the sin it is: racism.”

According to staff writers for Reform Austin, “This appears to be a nationwide strategy by conservatives to take over school boards and cultivate a farm team of candidates for higher office.” If that’s the case, there could be plenty of opportunities for far-right candidates in 2022 to get elected. With several Texas Senators and over two-dozen House members deciding not to run again due to redistricting maps, the field could be wide open for ultra-conservative candidates launching campaigns on the back of these attacks on public schools.

What the right-wingers really want is to gin up enough anger towards public schools so that people will be willing to seek vouchers and abandon public schools. This might save money, but it would certainly be a nightmare for students and parents who want a quality education. The people stirring this pot against public schools harp on phony issues to advance privatization.

Take Governor Abbott (please). He has been Governor of Texas since 2015. Before that, he was State Attorney General from 2002 to 2015. Before that, he was on the Texas Supreme Court from 1996 to 2001. Is it credible that after 25 years in high public office, he just realized that school libraries are harboring pornography? Why didn’t he know that when he was the State Attorney General, or a member of the Supreme Court, or at some point earlier in his six years as Governor? Why, on the eve of the next gubernatorial election, did he just discover that school libraries are dangerous to young minds? Young minds are undoubtedly safer in the school library than they are at home on the Internet, where there is most certainly hardcore pornography. Will Governor Abbott tell parents to disconnect from the Internet? Of course not.

This whole propaganda campaign is a charade. It is not about making education better. It’s not about protecting youth from corrupting influences.

It is about creating a rationale to distribute public money to religious schools and private vendors.

Texans who want better education must stand up to the charlatans and drive them out of office. School boards elections are scheduled for December 13. Get out and vote for people who believe in education, reason, and thoughtfulness. Vote out the charlatans who want to destroy your schools.

Adam Laats is a historian of education at the State University of New York in Binghamton. He has written extensively on religion and education, including Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education and his latest book, Creationism USA: Bridging the Impasse on Teaching Evolution. He also has written about culture war battles in The Washington Post, Slate, and The Atlantic.

His latest article appeared in The Atlantic, and it tells the story of the conservative effort to ban the teaching of evolution. Conservative preachers and politicians raised a furor about “subversion” in the schools, claiming that teaching evolution subverted religious faith, which was intolerable. They added evolution to a long list of grievances, including criticism of the superiority of America. Teaching children that man was descended from other animals frightened conservative clerics and gave them an issue with which to alarm the rubes. One evangelist said that those who taught evolution “were not real men; they were “sissy”; they had given up their “Christian manhood.” They were not even real Americans; they were betraying “the spirit of those who came over in the Mayflower.” The preacher lamented, “Where is the spirit of 1776?”

The attack on teachers, schools, and school boards was ferocious. As Laats writes, the movement to ban evolution from public schools seemed, for a few years, to be an unstoppable political juggernaut. School-board elections became furious affairs, pitting neighbors against one another with accusations of treason and atheism. 

The article draws a parallel to the furor over “critical race theory” and book banning today. Just as conservative legislatures today are passing bills to try to ban the ideas they don’t like, so did conservative legislatures a century ago.

From 1922 to 1929, legislators proposed at least 53 bills or resolutions in 21 states, plus two bills in Congress. Five of them succeeded. Oklahoma’s 1923 law provided free textbooks for the state’s public-school students, as long as none of those textbooks taught “the Darwin theory of creation.” Florida’s legislature passed a nonbinding resolution in 1923 declaring that teaching evolution was “improper and subversive.” Tennessee was the first to actually ban the teaching of evolution. “It shall be unlawful,” the 1925 law said, “to teach any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible.” Mississippi followed suit, banning in 1926 “the teaching that man descended, or ascended, from a lower order of animals.” Finally, in 1928, anti-evolutionists in Arkansas managed to pass a similar law by forcing a popular vote.

Laats argues that the storm and furor eventually subsided and implies that the current demand for laws to control teaching will also subside.

Back in the 1920s, the effort to ban evolution was not really about the science of evolution. It was instead an attempt to bolster political careers with sweeping but ultimately meaningless gestures. The confusion and vagaries of the 1920s bills were not accidental. Voters might not have known what scientists meant by terms like natural selection, but they knew what politicians meant when they took a stance against “nefarious matter” and against radical teachers who supposedly taught children that “ours is an inferior government.”

But the bans failed to change many textbooks, failed to change many classrooms, and failed even to change the course of many political careers. Politicians willing to stand in the schoolhouse door to keep out troubling ideas will not be willing to stand there forever. Sooner or later, the cameras will leave, and parents will demand that schools give their children the best available education.

I wish I shared Laats’ optimism about the ultimate triumph of reason over unreason and about the public’s or parents’ insistence on giving their children “the best available education.” One can read that claim in two different ways. One is that parents want the best available education for their own children, so they move to the suburbs to better-funded schools or they choose a school that is selective or they take some other action that benefits their own child. Or you can read the claim that parents want “the best available education” for more students, not just their own children, so they lose interest in crackpot theories that lower the quality of education. I am not sure I agree, as I watch the proliferation of low-quality voucher schools and charters run by grifters and also observe the reluctance of state legislatures to provide equitable and adequate funding for the state’s public schools. If parents really cared about high-quality education, wouldn’t they demand higher teacher salaries, reduced class sizes, and better physical care of schools? There are many reasons to question the public’s concern for the quality of education, which explains (in part) why the claims of quacks, profit-seekers, and grifters gain attention. Why won’t the public stay focused on the important issues that raise the quality of education? Why are we/they so easily distracted by propagandists?

A reader, Nancy Papat, read Pastor Chartes Foster Johnson’s article about Governor Gregg Abbott’s campaign against pornography in the schools and school libraries. She concluded that the Bible is a dangerous book because it contains sexual innuendoes, violence, and even anti-capitalist propaganda (like driving the money-changers from the Temple).

She posted this comment:

By this standard, schools will have to remove the Holy Bible from school libraries.

* There is much too much sex – that story of David and Bathsheba is for mature audiences only

*There are stories of slavery and abuse which might make some children feel bad because that could be interpreted as Critical Race Theory.

*Then there is the story about Mary and Joseph fleeing Bethlehem for Egypt to protect baby Jesus after the King ordered the killing of male babies. Doesn’t that glorify and even deify refugees?

*Jesus threw moneychangers out of the Temple which could raise questions about wealthy pastors of mega-churches in Texas. Is that anti-religion for a state like Texas? [It is also critical of capitalism.]

*Years later, Jesus himself suffered the gory, torturous death of crucifixion. Clearly the Bible has too much sex, violence, and dangerous political statements for the state of Texas and its students.

Then there is the question of whether Mary and Joseph were married when she got pregnant. If God was the father of Jesus, not Joseph, this raises more questions.

Have you read any licentious or subversive text in the Bible? Please add to her list.

Surely this dangerous book should not be read by children!

Naftuli Moster is the Founder and Executive Director of YAFFED, a nonprofit organization focused on improving secular education in ultra-Orthodox yeshivas. He is a graduate of a New York yeshiva, and he became convinced after he finished that he had been denied a full education. He blames officials in New York City and New York State for ignoring the needs of Yeshiva students to avoid offending politically powerful orthodox Jewish communities.

Moster writes:

Students in many ultra-Orthodox yeshivas face educational neglect. NYSED must stop the delays.

It may sound shocking in this day and age, but many ultra-Orthodox schools in New York are actively violating state law by providing little to no secular instruction in topics like English, math, science, and history—and New York officials have stalled and stymied action to address this educational neglect at every turn.

What started as an allegation by a small group of grassroots activists has since been confirmed by the New York City Department of Education, which found that 26 of the 28 yeshivas they investigated did not meet the minimum standards. Hasidic boys in elementary and middle school receive a maximum of 90 minutes of secular education a day, and in high school they receive none whatsoever. (Girls in these same communities tend to receive more secular education because they are barred from studying Talmud and because they are groomed to be the breadwinner, so their husbands can continue studying Torah.)

After years of considering a proposal to increase oversight of New York’s nonpublic schools—the first real chance at reform since this issue came to the fore in 2015 —the New York State Education Department (NYSED) balked. In May 2021, after intense pressure from private school entities, NYSED quietly disclosed to the Board of Regents that they would be scrapping proposed regulations, which had been under consideration since 2019 and would have increased oversight of the state’s nonpublic schools, ensuring that they provide students with a basic education. New regulations are supposed to be developed this fall, but since they were not discussed in the October Board of Regents monthly meeting, the timeline seems to be delayed once again.

This development is unacceptable. Since the alarm was first sounded about the lack of secular studies in Hasidic yeshivas, leaders of these same schools have taken every opportunity they can to smear advocates and spread misinformation about what really goes on in their institutions. Their tactics have contributed to the years of stalling of any meaningful reforms, leaving students to suffer the consequences of no real secular education, and limited college and career prospects.

And, this student population is on the rise. Our report shows how the Hasidic population only continues to grow, and with that, so does the impact of this issue. Hasidic students already make up 20.5 percent of the nonpublic school students in New York, with over 90,000 students enrolled in Hasidic schools in 2018-2019. In Brooklyn, it is projected that by 2030, 23 to 37 percent of all school-age children will be Hasidic.

This means that each passing year, more students will miss out on a basic education. Many finish their schooling with about the equivalent of a third or fourth-grade education and never learn even basic sciences or history. Where is the equity in that?

Of course, NYSED should follow through and develop meaningful regulations that would enforce subject matter requirements and time allotment standards. But NYSED cannot act as if, in the absence of new regulations, they are powerless to enforce any kind of educational standards. There are long-standing regulations about how to deal with complaints against nonpublic schools in New York. NYSED must use its existing authority to ensure that children attending ultra-Orthodox yeshivas are getting the education to which they are entitled under the New York State Constitution. A new school year is already underway, and there is no time to waste.

It is shameful that NYSED is failing to live up to its self-proclaimed vision to “provide leadership for a system that yields the best educated people in the world” out of fear they might upset private school leadership. The students themselves—the very people that NYSED is supposed to support—are bearing the brunt of this crisis. NYSED must step up to do the job they are entrusted to do, and that taxpayers pay them to do.

Betty Rosa, Commissioner of NYSED, has an opportunity to be a real leader here and ensure strong regulations are adopted. And, while policies are being crafted and revised, she must use NYSED’s existing authority to take any corrective actions necessary against schools that are failing their students. She can leave an indelible mark on New York State education policy, finally putting an end to the injustice ultra-Orthodox students have faced for generations.

Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire are co-authors of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School. It is a book that everyone should read. They recently wrote an article that was posted in Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” blog at the Washington Post.

They write:

In their search for issues that will deliver Congress in 2022, conservatives have begun to circle around the cause of “parents’ rights.” In Indiana, Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita recently introduced a Parents Bill of Rights, which asserts that “education policy and curriculum should accurately reflect the values of Indiana families.” In Florida, the legislature passed an even more comprehensive bill, assuring that the state and its public schools cannot infringe on the “fundamental rights” of parents. A growing number of states are allowing parents to sue districts that teach banned concepts. And in Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin has made parents’ rights a centerpiece of his campaign for governor, staging “parents matter” rallies and declaring, “I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.”

Given this frenzy, one might reasonably conclude that radicals are out to curtail the established rights that Americans have over the educational sphere. Yet what’s actually radical here is the assertion of parental powers that have never previously existed. This is not to say that parents should have no influence over how their children are taught. But common law and case law in the United States have long supported the idea that education should prepare young people to think for themselves, even if that runs counter to the wishes of parents. In the words of legal scholar Jeff Shulman, “This effort may well divide child from parent, not because socialist educators want to indoctrinate children, but because learning to think for oneself is what children do.”

When do the interests of parents and children diverge? Generally, it occurs when a parent’s desire to inculcate a particular worldview denies the child exposure to other ideas and values that an independent young person might wish to embrace or at least entertain. To turn over all decisions to parents, then, would risk inhibiting the ability of young people to think independently. As the political scientist Rob Reich has argued, “Minimal autonomy requires, especially for its civic importance, that a child be able to examine his or her own political values and beliefs, and those of others, with a critical eye.” If we value that end, “the structure of schooling cannot simply replicate in every particularity the values and beliefs of a child’s home.”

The law has long reflected this. Consider home schooling. Although it is legal across the country, states still regulate its practice. Such regulations often aren’t enforced, but they are certainly on the books. Home-schooling parents can be required to establish minimal academic qualifications, to submit examples of student work to school district administrators or even to adopt a state-approved curriculum. As the Supreme Court noted in Wisconsin v. Yoder, a case that granted Amish parents the widest possible exemption from state control, “There is no doubt as to the power of a State, having a high responsibility for education of its citizens, to impose reasonable regulations for the control and duration of basic education.” And, as the court made clear in an earlier case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the state concerns itself not just with the well-being of the child but also with what the justices broadly called “the public welfare.”

The sudden push for parental rights, then, isn’t a response to substantive changes in education or the law. It’s a political tactic.

Writing in the 1960s, historian Richard Hofstadter observed that conservatives felt that the country had been “taken away from them and their kind” and that timeworn American virtues had been “eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals.” In response, they took up what he called the “paranoid style” — an approach to politics characterized by “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.” Published more than half a century ago, his essay could have been penned yesterday.

The “paranoid style” of politics is particularly useful as a mechanism for organizing opposition. And the Republicans employing it right now have two particular targets in mind. The first is the public education system, which hard-liners have long sought to undermine. At an annual cost of nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars, tuition-free, open-enrollment education represents one of the nation’s most substantial commitments to the public good. But well before Ronald Reagan’s failed effort to introduce vouchers in the 1980s, conservatives were making the case for a privatized system — one in which families, not taxpayers, would bear the cost of education, and governance would happen through the free market rather than democratic politics. In recent years, this vision has come roaring back. Conservative legislatures across the United States have introduced bills creating education savings accounts, private-school tuition tax credits and other forms of neo-vouchers that package old ideological wine in new bottles.

But this play is much bigger than education. For years, the Republican Party has understood that the demographic tide is against it. Knowing that every vote matters, the GOP has increasingly relied on a strategy of voter suppression. Simultaneously, Republicans have worked to ensure that their base turns out in force by stoking White racial grievance. The recent firestorm over critical race theory is a perfect case in point. Never mind that this concept from legal scholarship isn’t actually taught in K-12 schools or that it isn’t what most protesters believe it to be. Republicans gain an electoral advantage by convincing their base that White children are being taught to hate themselves, their families and their country. Whether this supposed attack on the American way of life is being coordinated by Black Lives Matter activists, Marxist educators or antifa operatives, the point, as Hofstadter observed, is to generate an enemy “thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable.”

Courts have found that parents have great authority when it comes to deciding how to raise and educate their children. This right, however, does not mean that public schools must cater to parents’ individual ideas about education. Parents can opt out of the public system if they wish, and pay to send their children to private or religious schools. But even there, parental rights remain subject to state regulation and override.

In framing our public schools as extremist organizations that undermine the prerogatives of families, conservatives are bringing napalm to the fight. That may rally the base and tilt a few elections in their favor. But as with any scorched-earth campaign, the costs of this conflict will be borne long after the fighting stops. Parents may end up with a new set of “rights” only to discover that they have lost something even more fundamental in the process. Turned against their schools and their democracy, they may wake from their conspiratorial fantasies to find a pile of rubble and a heap of ashes.

The WSJ article by law professor Philip Hamburger asserting that public schools are unconstitutional relies on dubious assertions about the history of public schools. As a historian of education who has written about these issues, I disagree with his analysis.

Hamburger’s central critique of the public schools is that they were created by nativists out of fear of Catholicism and their central purpose was to homogenize all children and mold them into Protestants. He repeatedly asserts that the very idea of the public school was shaped by hostility to Catholics.

The earliest public schools, called “common schools,” were organized in the early 19th-century in small towns and villages by families who wanted their children to gain literacy and numeracy. The parents and communities who established common schools were not thinking about stamping out Catholicism. Families wanted their children to be able to read the Bible, and many wanted their sons to have the skills needed to work as clerks or in other non-agricultural work.

He paints an idyllic portrait of 18th century schools, which is a fantasy of his own creation. He writes:

“The shared civic culture of 18th-century America was highly civilized, and it developed entirely in private schools. The schools, like the parents who supported them, were diverse in curriculum and their religious outlook, including every shade of Protestantism, plus Judaism, Catholicism, deism and religious indifference.”

The truth is that very few children of any faith attended school in the 18th-century. Schooling was available to the wealthy, who hired private tutors, and to those who could afford to send their children to a “dame school,” where a woman instructed young children in her home. There were a few religious schools, for those who could pay for them. The children of the poor had no schooling until the turn of the 19th-century, when philanthropic societies began to organize rudimentary “charity schools” for the poor.

As I showed in my history of the New York City public schools (The Great School Wars), the city’s Catholic Bishop John Hughes (later Archbishop) adamantly objected to the schools of the Public School Society, a private group founded by Quakers. Like all schools at the time, the schools of the PSS used the Protestant Bible in their classrooms and had daily prayers. Bishop Hughes insisted that Catholic children should be taught only in Catholic schools, where they would read the Catholic Bible, learn Catholic prayers, and sing Catholic hymns. The founders of the PSS tried to reach a compromise, but Bishop Hughes insisted on creating a separate system of Catholic schools. He asked the Legislature to fund the Catholic “public schools,” as it was funding the Protestant “public schools,” but the legislature refused.

Were there anti-Catholics who supported public schools? Yes. Were there nativists who hated Catholics and who feared that the Pope wanted to seize control of their city or state? Yes.

Was the primary purpose of the public school movement to stamp out the influence of Catholics? No. The overwhelming majority of Americans supported the growth of public schools because they believed that a democratic society needed educated citizens who were prepared for self-government.

The Catholic school system grew and thrived. Catholic leaders thought their schools were unfairly denied public funding, but the idea of prohibiting the public funding of religious schools was broadly popular and appears in almost every state constitution. The public endorsed the proposition that society as a whole, through taxation, is responsible for maintaining a public school system that offers a free education for all who enroll.

Alongside the generalized belief that a democratic society must educate its citizens so that they will vote wisely and be prepared to serve on a jury, there was a concurrent belief that education had a social purpose. In the 19th-century, educators would speak glowingly about the value of children from different economic backgrounds learning together, the banker’s son next to the baker’s son. In the 20th century, the definition of which children learned side-by-side expanded in fits and starts, often with conflict. Education, it was believed, would overcome economic, social, religious, and racial divides, as children learned together.

Few, if any, would contend that the public schools have overcome differences of race, religion, class, and ethnicity. Yet, without them, who can doubt that those differences would be sharpened? For some, the public schools have been a ladder that enabled social mobility, as well as interracial and interreligious friendships. Would we really want to be a society where each sect, each racial and ethnic group has its separate schools? I don’t think so.

While Hamburger pounds his thesis that public schools are and have always been a nativist strategy to crush Catholics, he fails to consider the fact that in mid-20th century America, a significant number of public school teachers and administrators in urban districts were Catholic.

In my view, he misinterprets the seminal Pierce decision of 1925. The state of Oregon passed a law in 1922 that would have required all children to attend public schools, thus banning all private and religious schools. The Society of Sisters sued to prevent the closing of their religious school. The U.S. Supreme Court declared that the law was unconstitutional. The state could not compel children to attend only public school. Children do not belong to the state but to their parents. The decision was not grounded in free speech rights, as the author here contends. The Court declared the right of parents to choose a private school, but did not suggest that public money should be used to pay for their private schooling. The decision confirmed the right of parents to choose either a free public school or a private school at their own expense.

If Professor Hamburger fears that children will be indoctrinated by their teachers, he should stand strongly against the remedies he proposes. The likeliest place where children might be indoctrinated is in a school that reinforces their parents’ views, a school where teachers all agree, a school where dissenting voices are never heard. The best schools, whether public or private, teach young people to make their own decisions, teach them to think for themselves, teach them about the courage of those who dared to stand alone.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a screed against the very existence of public schools, written by a libertarian lawyer. Imagine teaching in a school where children are allowed to learn only what their parents already believe, no matter how bizarre or hateful it may be. Imagine the difficulty of having a coherent society where there are no compromises, no bonds of mutuality among people of different faiths and ethnicities. The illustration accompanying the article shows the government turning diverse children into identical cookie cutter people. No one today could reasonably argue that the people of the United States, 90% of whom were educated in public schools, have identical views, values, and beliefs. It is Libertarians who would have all of our children molded into clones of their parents and grandparents, with everyone attending schools that narrowly confined them to their own religious, racial, and ethnic enclave. In reality, private sectarian schools are far more likely to “indoctrinate” children than are public schools that include teachers and children from different backgrounds.

Is the Public School System Constitutional?

Education consists mostly in speech, and parents have a right under the First Amendment to exercise authority over what their children hear.

By Philip Hamburger Oct. 22, 2021

ILLUSTRATION: PHIL FOSTER

The public school system weighs on parents. It burdens them not simply with poor teaching and discipline, but with political bias, hostility toward religion, and now even sexual and racial indoctrination. Schools often seek openly to shape the very identity of children. What can parents do about it?

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia, said in a Sept. 28 debate. The National School Boards Association seems to agree: In a Sept. 29 letter to President Biden, its leaders asked for federal intervention to stop “domestic terrorism and hate crimes” against public school officials. Attorney General Merrick Garland obliged, issuing an Oct. 4 memo directing law-enforcement agents and prosecutors to develop “strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”

Mr. Garland’s memo did acknowledge that “spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution.” That is true but doesn’t go nearly far enough. Education is mostly speech, and parents have a constitutional right to choose the speech with which their children will be educated. They therefore cannot constitutionally be compelled, or even pressured, to make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination.

Public education in America has always attempted to homogenize and mold the identity of children. Since its largely nativist beginnings around 1840, public education has been valued for corralling most of the poor and middle class into institutions where their religious and ethnic differences could be ironed out in pursuit of common “American” values.

The goal was not merely a shared civic culture. Well into the 20th century, much of the political support for public schooling was driven by a fear of Catholicism and an ambition to Protestantize Catholic children. Many Catholics and other minorities escaped the indoctrination of their children by sending them to private schools.

Nativists found that intolerable. Beginning around 1920, they organized to force Catholic children into public education. The success of such a measure in Oregon (with Democratic votes and Ku Klux Klan leadership) prompted the Supreme Court to hold compulsory public education unconstitutional.

The case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), was brought by a religious school, not a parent. The justices therefore framed their ruling around the threat to the school’s economic rights. But Pierce says that parents can educate their children outside state schools in accord with the parents’ moral and religious views.

Although the exact nature of this parental freedom is much disputed, it is grounded in the First Amendment. When religious parents claim the freedom, religious liberty seems an especially strong foundation. But the freedom of parents in educating their children belongs to all parents, not only the faithful. Freedom of speech more completely explains this educational liberty.

Education consists mostly in speech to and with children. Parents enjoy freedom of speech in educating their children, whether at home or through private schooling. That is the principle underlying Pierce, and it illuminates our current conundrum.

The public school system, by design, pressures parents to substitute government educational speech for their own. Public education is a benefit tied to an unconstitutional condition. Parents get subsidized education on the condition that they accept government educational speech in lieu of home or private schooling.

There is nothing unconstitutional about taxation in support of government speech. Thus taxpayers have no generic right against public-school messages they find objectionable.

But parents are in a different situation. They aren’t merely subsidizing speech they find objectionable. They are being pushed into accepting government speech for their children in place of their own. Government requires parents to educate their children and offers education free of charge. For most parents, the economic pressure to accept this educational speech in place of their own is nearly irresistible.

To be sure, Pierce doesn’t guarantee private education. It merely acknowledges the right of parents to provide it with their own resources. And one may protest that economic pressure is not force. But the Supreme Court has often ruled otherwise.

Merely denying a government benefit will often suffice to violate a right—as when government refuses a benefit without a hearing (Goldberg v. Kelly, 1970), denies a grant on account of the recipient’s religious beliefs (Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, 2017), or subsidizes a media organization on the condition that it refrain from editorializing (FCC v. League of Women Voters, 1984). Financial pressures clearly count.

When government makes education compulsory and offers it free of charge, it crowds out parental freedom in educational speech. The poorer the parents, the more profound the pressure—and that is by design. Nativists intended to pressure poor and middle-class parents into substituting government educational speech for their own, and their unconstitutional project largely succeeded.

Most parents can’t afford to turn down public schooling. They therefore can’t adopt speech expressive of their own views in educating their children, whether by paying for a private school or dropping out of work to home-school. So they are constrained to adopt government educational speech in place of their own, in violation of the First Amendment.

A long line of Establishment Clause decisions recognize the risk of coercion in public-school messages. In Grand Rapids School District v. Ball (1985), the high court condemned private religious teaching in rooms leased from public schools. “Such indoctrination, if permitted to occur, would have devastating effects on the right of each individual voluntarily to determine what to believe (and what not to believe) free of any coercive pressures from the State,” Justice William Brennan wrote for the majority.

Coercion seemed central in such cases because of the vulnerability of children to indoctrination. Summarizing the court’s jurisprudence, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, concurring in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), observed that “when government-sponsored religious exercises are directed at impressionable children who are required to attend school, . . . government endorsement is much more likely to result in coerced religious beliefs.”

These precedents concern only religion in public schools and the coercive effect on children under the Establishment Clause. But the danger of coerced belief is not confined to official religious speech. Subjecting children to official political, racial, sexual and antireligious speech can be equally coercive. And if public-school messages are so coercive against children, it is especially worrisome that parents are being pressured to adopt public educational speech in place of their own.

Rights are “exceptions” to power, James Madison observed. That is, rights defeat power. But contemporary judicial doctrine allows power to defeat rights—at least when government asserts what is called a compelling interest. One might think that a state’s compelling interest in public education overpowers any parental speech right. Yet because such analysis allows power to subdue rights, it is important to evaluate whether the claimed government interest is really compelling.

The U.S. was founded in an era when almost all schooling was private and religious, and that already suggests that any government interest in public education is neither necessary nor compelling. Further, the idea that public education is a central government interest was popularized by anti-Catholic nativists. Beginning in the mid-19th century, they elevated the public school as a key American institution in their campaign against Catholicism.

In their vision, public schools were essential for inculcating American principles so that children could become independent-minded citizens and thinking voters. The education reformer and politician Horace Mann said that without public schools, American politics would bend toward “those whom ignorance and imbecility have prepared to become slaves.”

That sounds wholesome in the abstract. In practice, it meant that Catholics were mentally enslaved to their priests, and public education was necessary to get to the next generation, imbuing them with Protestant-style ideas so that when they reached adulthood, they would vote more like Protestants.

This goal of shaping future voters gave urgency to the government’s interest in public education. As today, the hope was to liberate children from their parents’ supposedly benighted views and thereby create a different sort of polity. Now as then, this sort of project reeks of prejudice and indoctrination. There is no lawful government interest in displacing the educational speech of parents who don’t hold government-approved views, let alone in altering their children’s identity or creating a government-approved electorate.

The inevitably homogenizing, even indoctrinating, effect of public schools confirms the danger of finding a compelling government interest in them. A 1904 nativist tract grimly declared that the public school is “a great paper mill, into which are cast rags of all kinds and colors, but which lose their special identity and come out white paper, having a common identity. So we want the children of the state, of whatever nationality, color or religion, to pass through this great moral, intellectual and patriotic mill, or transforming process.”

The idea of a common civic culture among children is appealing when it develops voluntarily, but not when state-approved identities and messages are “stamped upon their minds,” as the 1904 tract put it. Far from being a compelling government interest, the project of pressing children into a majority or government mold is a path toward tyranny.

The shared civic culture of 18th-century America was highly civilized, and it developed entirely in private schools. The schools, like the parents who supported them, were diverse in curriculum and their religious outlook, including every shade of Protestantism, plus Judaism, Catholicism, deism and religious indifference.

In their freedom, the 18th-century schools established a common culture. In contrast, public-school coercion has always stimulated division. It was long used to grind down the papalism of Catholic children into something more like Protestantism. Since then, there has been a shift in the beliefs that public schools seek to eradicate. But the schools remain a means by which some Americans force their beliefs on others. That’s why they are still a source of discord. The temptation to indoctrinate the children of others—to impose a common culture by coercion—is an obstacle to working out a genuine common culture.

There is no excuse for maintaining the nativist fiction that public schools are the glue that hold the nation together. They have become the focal point for all that is tearing the nation apart. However good some public schools may be, the system as a whole, being coercive, is a threat to our ability to find common ground. That is the opposite of a compelling government interest.

The public school system therefore is unconstitutional, at least as applied to parents who are pressured to abandon their own educational speech choices and instead adopt the government’s.

Parents should begin by asking judges to recognize—at least in declaratory judgments—that the current system is profoundly unconstitutional. Once that is clear, states will be obliged to figure out solutions. Some may choose to offer tax exemptions for dissenting parents; others may provide vouchers. Either way, states cannot deprive parents of their right to educational speech by pushing children into government schools.

Judges will be reluctant to vindicate the uncomfortable truth that education is mostly speech. Many have assimilated the nativist ideal that public education is a central and compelling government interest. As in 1925, however, the threat to parental speech has become unbearable.

Mr. Hamburger teaches at Columbia Law School and is president of the New Civil Liberties Alliance.

Peter Greene notes that 2021 has been a year of attacks on public education, and he introduces us to an organization that is a little-known but influential player behind the scenes. It has actively sought to destroy teachers unions and to bring Christian beliefs into the classroom. That is, their version of Christian beliefs.

He writes:

The Christian Educators Association is not a new player (you may have heard the name before–we’ll get to that shortly). They were founded as the National Educators Fellowship in 1953 by Dr. Clyde Narramore, an author of over 100 books, most focusing on psychology. He even had a syndicated radio show with his wife Ruth. His shtick was psychology steeped in Christian belief, and he eventually launched and led the Rosemead School of Psychology which has since been folded into Biola University, a private evangelical Christian university in La Mirada, California (we’ll meet them again). Biola was founded as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles by the president of the Union Oil Company of California, based on the model of the Moody Bible Institute, later broadening their programs (including an education department)…

In 1984 they changed the name to Christian Educators Association International, and in 1991, then-leader Forrest Turpen continued restructuring the group to be “an alternative to teachers’ unions, at a time when unions were embracing values more and more hostile to the Biblical worldview.” I was teaching then; I’m not sure what exactly they were upset about (Outcome based education?) Turpen led the group from 1983 till 2003, expanded membership, and went after the secular unions. As always, the mission was unequivocally evangelical; when he died, friends noted his “dogged determination to see the gospel proclaimed to the children of this nation.” After his death, CEAI set up the Forrest Turpen Legacy Grant, asking teachers “Do you dream of impacting your school for Christ?” Grants were awarded for Bibles, tracts, t-shirts, and transportation costs to visit the Ark Encounter, all for various school clubs.

Of one thing you can be certain, the CEAI wanted the schools to be religious. But they also had a political goal: to weaken the teachers’ unions, which they considered godless. CEAI was behind a lawsuit intended to free teachers from any obligation to pay dues. Their plaintiff was Rebecca Friedrichs. She represented teachers who wanted to collect the benefits negotiated by the unions without paying dues. As Greene explains, her case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, but was deadlocked when Justice Scalia died. The next anti-union case, Janus, completed the mission.

The return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan is very bad news for girls and women. For twenty years, they were able to go to school and university and to pursue a career. All that personal freedom comes to an end under Taliban rule. The New York Times wrote about their fate here.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The director of a girls’ school in Kabul desperately wants to learn details of the Taliban’s plan for girls’ education. But she can’t attend the weekly Taliban committee meetings on education. They are for men only.

“They say, ‘You should send a male representative,’” the director, Aqila, said inside the Sayed Ul-Shuhada High School, which was shattered in May by a terrorist bombing that killed scores of girls.

But Aqila and other Afghan educators don’t need to attend meetings to comprehend the harsh new reality of education under Taliban rule. The emerging government has made clear that it intends to severely restrict the educational freedoms enjoyed by many women and girls the past 20 years.

The only question is just how draconian the new system will be, and what type of Islamic-based education will be imposed on both boys and girls. Just as they did when they ruled most of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the Taliban seem intent on ruling not strictly by decree, but by inference and intimidation.

When schools reopened Saturday for grades seven through 12, only male students were told to report for their studies. The Taliban said nothing about girls in those grades, so they stayed home, their families anxious and uncertain about their future. Both boys and girls in grades one through six have been attending schools, with students segregated by gender in the higher three grades.

When the Taliban were in charge from 1996 to 2001, they barred women and girls from school. After the U.S.-led invasion toppled Taliban rule in late 2001, female students began attending schools and universities as opportunities blossomed. Women were able to study for careers in business and government, and in professions such as medicine and law.

By 2018, the female literacy rate in Afghanistan reached 30 percent, according to a new UNESCO report.

But the Taliban swept back into Kabul and seized power on Aug. 15, and since then they have said they will impose their severe interpretation of Shariah law.

The new government has said that some form of education for girls and women will be permitted, but those parameters have not been clearly defined by Taliban officials.

The Taliban also have indicated that men will no longer be permitted to teach girls or women, exacerbating an already severe teacher shortage. This, combined with constraints in paying teachers’ salaries and the cutoff of international aid, could have “immediate and serious” outcomes for education in Afghanistan, the UNESCO report warned.

Female students will be required to wear an “Islamic hijab,” but with the definition left open to interpretation. At a pro-Taliban women’s gathering last week, many women wore niqabs, a garment that covers a woman’s hair, nose and mouth, leaving only the eyes exposed.

“We are working on a mechanism to provide transportation and other facilities that are required for a safer and better educational environment,” Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman and the acting deputy minister of information and culture, said Monday, adding that classes for girls in grades seven and above would resume soon.

“There are countries in the region that have committed to help us in our education sector,” he said. “This will help us in providing better education to everyone.”

While many girls and women in Kabul have embraced Western standards of women’s rights and opportunities, Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative society. In the countryside, even if all women do not necessarily welcome Taliban rule, many are accustomed to customs that kept them at home to cook, clean and raise children even before the Taliban took power in the 1990s.

The acting minister of higher education last week said that women could continue to study in universities and graduate programs, as long they were in gender-segregated classrooms, but on Friday, the new government sent an ominous signal of its intentions. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs compound was converted into offices for the religious morality police, who brutally enforced the militants’ interpretation of Shariah law two decades ago. The building now houses the Ministry of Invitation, Guidance and Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Female teachers, administrators and students have been bracing for austere new restrictions. Many say they have begun wearing niqabs and preparing classrooms to accommodate classes strictly segregated by gender. (Many schools also taught boys-only and girls-only classes under the U.S.-backed government.)…

For female students, the sudden end to their academic freedoms has been both traumatizing and paralyzing. Many say the joy and anticipation they once felt when entering classrooms has been lost, replaced by fear and a surpassing sense of futility.

Zayba, 17, survived a devastating bombing at her school in May, for which no group took responsibility, though similar attacks have been attributed to the Islamic State-affiliated group operating in Afghanistan.

Zayba stopped attending school after the Taliban takeover, which she said had robbed her of all motivation. “I like to study at home,” she said. “I am trying to, but I cannot, because I don’t see any future for myself with this regime….”