Disestablishment a Second Time

Over 50 million American youth suffer from atrocious academically failing, ideologically slanted, and openly woke public schools. This has been savagely damaging to long-term livelihoods, and it costs taxpayers over $15,000 per pupil each year. 

There is a way to end it. 

Way back in 1982, a very well-researched book made the bold claim that we can change this situation by rethinking our policy choices about the way we educate. 

That book had an odd title, Disestablishment a Second Time, and it was all about ensuring pluralism in America. It is a shame that other than a few intelligent people like Senator Daniel Moynihan (D.-N.Y.), America didn’t listen to that advice. For we would be in a very different place today if people had listened. 

Instead, we are stuck in the same old rut when it comes to our schools. 

The thesis then was that America’s monopolistic public education system was the result of Jefferson’s idea of an agreed upon common morality (some combination of self-evident natural law and the shared tenets of major forces). That belief later resulted in the Horace Mann (1796-1859)—one size fits all public “normal” school, rooted in his philosophy of progressivism. The problem is every decade it has gotten more and more progressive. 

This public conscience became a secular ideology that forces the citizenry to capitulate under the umbrella of liberal ideology, but the authors pointed out that this secular ideology, in fact, is closer to what could be called a civil religion. Indeed, the Constitution is vague about what even qualifies as religion—an ambiguity that is further clouded by various SCOTUS decisions. 

This, coupled with an overly strict interpretation of the Establishment Clause, creates a dynamic where liberal secular values and culture are favored over religious values and culture—putting an even greater burden on those who wish to live in accordance with their faith. This is even more apparent when it comes to educating young people.

The authors then recommended replacing the centralized and increasingly left-wing education-indoctrination system (one that has gotten much worse in the ensuing years and now mandates things like critical race theory) with a more pluralistic one that would allow for diverse cultures to reinforce their values through choice in education. 

Rather than having the government bureaucracy run all schools, political leaders should develop a system where schools could compete against one another for students and where parents and communities have a greater influence in the intellectual and emotional development of their own children.  

This would disestablish the schools, freeing them from the monopolist stranglehold teachers’ unions and the Democratic Party (which works in tandem with the unions) have on the schools. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the two teachers’ unions in the United States, give 99.4 percent of their political contributions to Democrats. Who is indebted to whom? 

Like the first act of disestablishment in America—that of Church from State—this separation would lead to a plurality of choices and a system run by parents and communities, including those of various religious orientations, instead of a unitary dictate from on high and controlled by so-called “expert” liberal bureaucrats from Washington, D.C..

If this is sounding a lot like charter schools, you’re on the right track. The authors were not prescriptive, but something like that also including religious institutions was the direction in which they were firmly headed. They showed a clear pathway, explained options, studied alternative systems like that of consociality in the Netherlands, and came down squarely for experimentation with vouchers. 

It’s a great idea that was never really fully implemented. The institutional forces aligned against K-12 educational reform were and remain overwhelming and any effort to reduce their power is a steep uphill climb. 

At times it seems nearly impossible and not unlike the Myth of Sisyphus. Albert Camus used the Greek legend of Sisyphus, who was condemned by the gods for eternity to repeatedly roll a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again once he got it to the top, as a metaphor for the individual’s persistent struggle against the essential absurdity of life. At times the fight for school choice has felt absurd in a similar way. The Left is adamantly opposed to any such reform and not nearly enough Republicans, except certain true conservatives and libertarians, are willing to stick their necks out. It has not been a “priority.” 

Now 40 years on, America’s schools are failing more than ever by any measure you want to use: test scores, accreditation, international standards, and job placements. Even college admissions these days mostly require remediation just to begin to perform at an acceptable entry university level. In the well-known PISA educational assessments, the United States ranked near the bottom overall and was 38 out of 71 in math and science. 

School choice would allow public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs—whether to a public school, private school, religious school, charter school, vocational school, home school or any other learning environment parents choose for their children. 

Choice Is the Operative Dictum 

To date there are almost 30 voucher programs in some 18 states—Arkansas, Florida (2), Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana (2), Maine, Maryland, Mississippi (2), New Hampshire, North Carolina (2), Ohio (5), Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin (4)— Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. But the experiment is piecemeal, often an afterthought, and underfunded. What is needed is the dismantling of the current system and a complete transformational change to school choice—money and all. Nothing else will suffice. 

Freedom of schooling to date has not succeeded because the Democrats oppose it; teachers unions oppose it; regulators try to thwart it; and the public has been sold a bunch of lies about the merit of voucher systems. 

Let’s look at the real record and trends. Last year just over 51 million U.S. students attended public schools, pre-K through high school. About six million students are in private schools, four million in parochial or religious schools of all denominations. That is one in 12 students. Charter schools grew in popularity but still account for only three million attendees, with some 2700 such schools across the country today. Vocational schools have 1.6 million enrollees. Online schools list six million students in their programs, half of which are in full time distance education courses. The number has rapidly increased during the pandemic and past decade. By my calculations this means just 8.5 percent of American students benefit from school choice—and at a high price. Their parents have to pay twice for their education: once through taxes and another by fees as tuition.

It is time to save our kids from the leftism and racist misinformation they are receiving in poorly performing public schools. 

It is time for parents to take back control. There is only one way to achieve that goal: school choice. 

The way to save one child at a time, regardless of age, gender, color, class or neighborhood, is to defund public schools and make that money available—dollar for dollar—in the various options parents choose that work best for them and their children. Portable money on a per pupil basis would change everything and lead to real competition. Yes, public schools would lose—but it is what they deserve. 

That means disestablishment a second time. Then, in a decade or two, we will see the radical results in terms of freedom, test scores, and an increase in the sheer joy in learning. 

The case for school choice is overwhelming, particularly in a climate where so many schools are closed or slow to reopen due to the pandemic and when critical race theory and silly knee jerk Marxism have come to dominate more and more public schools’ curriculum. 

The basic arguments for school choice can be summed up this way: 

  • School vouchers empower parents to make choices for their children, based on their children’s unique needs, interests, and learning styles.
  • School vouchers eliminate the need for parents to pay twice for their children’s education: once in tax dollars and again in tuition costs.
  • School vouchers meet children’s needs more effectively by allowing them to go to the school that is the best fit for them, rather than the one that is simply in the neighborhood.
  • The government-run education system currently is not working; schools are failing, and students are falling through the cracks.
  • A voucher system promotes competition between schools, which raises the bar on the standard of education throughout all schools, including public schools.
  • Vouchers offer students in low-income areas with poorly performing schools a chance at a better education and the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty.

America needs to disestablish its current educational system and mandate school choice, once and for all. It can begin when we refuse to send kids back to public schools this year!



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About Theodore Roosevelt Malloch

Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, scholar-diplomat-strategist, is CEO of the thought leadership firm The Roosevelt Group. He is the author of 18 books, including The Plot to Destroy Trump and, with Felipe J. Cuello, Trump's World: GEO DEUS. He appears regularly in the media, as a keynote speaker, and on television around the world. 

Photo: Michael Noble, Jr. for The Washington Post/Getty Images