Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tacking into the Wind: Another argument for choice in education

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:49 AM |  

The Star Tribune is reporting today that Forest Lake Area High School Students abruptly canceled the appearance of the National Heroes Tour, featuring decorated veteran from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Steve Massey, the school principal, said the decision to cancel was prompted by concerns that the event was becoming political rather than educational and therefore was not suitable for a public school.

He said the school had received several phone calls from parents and others, some of whom indicated that they may stage a protest if the event took place.

"The event was structured to be an academic classroom discussion around military service. We thought we'd provide an opportunity for kids to learn about service in the context of our history classes," Massey said. "As the day progressed, it became clear that this was becoming a political event ... which would be inappropriate in a public setting.

I’m sure much of the furor surrounding this bit of news will focus on the fact that it is a patriotic event being canceled. But there is an underlying problem at work here: Contrary to the notion that public schools are a place for bringing together diversity, public schooling often forces people of disparate backgrounds into political combat, as the Forest Lake decision makes plain.

Think about it: Whether one opposes or supports the war in Iraq, don’t we have to ask ourselves how public education reached the point where political controversy is “inappropriate in a public setting?”

Such value-based clashes are inevitable in government-run schooling because all Americans are required to support the public schools, but only those with the most political power control them. Political conflict is an inescapable public schooling reality – to the detriment of actual academic activities. That observation passes the smell test and is well-documented by the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey (“Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict”).

Tacking into the Wind: To end the fighting caused by state-run schooling, we should transform our “public education system” system from one in which government establishes and controls schools, to one in which individual parents are empowered to select schools that share their moral values and educational goals for their children. Instead of an education funding formula that funnels money to district schools, we ought to have an education funding formula where money follows the student to district schools, charter schools, private schools, religious schools, online schools and home schools.

Of course, the problem is those with the political power to control education -- Education Minnesota, legislators and bureaucrats -- are not willing to consider parental empowerment at expense of their own power. But nonetheless, fighting to empower families with maximum educational choice is a battle worth fighting.