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The Ills of “Patron Saint” Education: Why We Need School Choice

As school choice continues to gain traction in our nation, more parents are getting the opportunity to send their children to schools that best fit their children’s needs. According to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, 19 states (including Colorado’s Douglas County and Washington D.C.) offer school choice programs that give parents hope for their child’s educational future. While all of this news brings us hope, we must not forget that the school choice movement first emerged in response to America’s broken public school system and the poor quality of education resulting from that system.

The downfall of America’s public education system actually began in the early twentieth century with John Dewey, the “patron saint of schools.” As discussed by Henry T. Edmondson in John Dewey and the Decline of the American Education System, “Dewey [was] not most interested in the good of students but rather the successful promotion of a political program.” In fact, Edmondson goes on to say that Dewey thought that the “belief in objective truth and authoritative notions of good and evil [were] harmful to students” and were “obstacles to students’ intellectual and moral growth.”

In his own work Democracy and Education, Dewey reasoned that education is “the process through which the needed [political] transformation may be accomplished” (332). To achieve such a goal, Dewey proclaimed that human nature itself must be changed through his notion of education (331). Further explaining Dewey’s point of view, Edmondson showcases that “Dewey adopts Rousseau’s “child-centered curriculum”—as educational reformers would later call it—and he further promotes Rousseau’s classroom strategy insofar as the curriculum is only apparently centered on the child: the child’s learning environment is in reality a grand manipulation on the part of his tutor or teacher.” Thus, Dewey sought to replace traditional, rigorous academics with the very Left-leaning political agenda that we continue to see implemented in today’s K-12 public schools.

Does it come as a surprise to any of us that teachers are giving extra credit to students who attend political events such as “Occupy Portland”, or that the California Teachers Association donated $1.25 million to oppose Prop 8 in 2008, instead of using that money to fund California’s public schools? Knowing Dewey’s impact on our public education system and its aftermath, we should not be.

On February 19th, 1995, Milton Friedman offered a solution to solving America’s broken public education system in The Washington Post. In his article “Public Schools: Make Them Private,” he proposed that education could transition “from government to private enterprise” by enacting “in each state a voucher system that enables parents to choose freely the schools their children attend.” As we have seen in the current school choice movement, vouchers can only work in certain states due to restrictions set forth by each state’s Blaine Amendments. As a result, multiple school choice options, such as tax-credit scholarship programs, personal tax credits and deductions, homeschooling, charter schools, virtual schools, and online schooling, can help parents send their children to a school that outperforms their local failing public school.

As we move forward in the school choice movement, let us not forget the importance of fixing our current quality of education in our public schools and promoting choices that enable parents to choose schools that put education, not a political agenda, first. With rigorous and fact-based academics, children truly learn the knowledge and skills that they need to succeed in life. With this aim in mind, we must continue to promote school choice options that promote quality education.

Anna Maria Hoffman // University of California at San Diego // @AM_Hoffman

Cross-posted from the National School Choice Week blog.

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