Restoring America: One County at a Time
Chapter 1: Education
1.1 Education in a Free America
As I said in the introduction to this project, the first and foremost area we can and must restore now is education. This is one area in which you can still have essentially complete control, and you could in many cases make the change immediately. If you want to restore America, you have to start by restoring freedom in education first. So let’s talk about the idea of education in a free society.
First, Education in a free society means entirely and only private education. We are never free as long as we are subjected to education based on threats of government penalties or fines to any degree or at any level. This is, of course, not to deny the prime importance of education—the necessity of education—but in education as in all areas of life, the primary issue will always be Sovereignty: who has legitimate control, legitimate command? To the extent that civil government has control, it will force us to comply with its standards and dictates, and to that extent we are not free individuals. We’re not free as long as someone else tells us what to do, how to do it, and forces us to do it, and forces us to pay for it. Apart from God alone, no person or agency has that level of authority—and who or whatever does, assumes the role of God in that area of life. This applies to our individual liberties, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, etc., we all recognize; but it applies also to education as much as any other personal decision.
Now in regard to the issue of Sovereignty in education, let me address two important issues (there are others, of course, but these stand out here and now). First, the myth of neutrality, and second, the consideration of purpose. Briefly, the myth of neutrality is simply that: in education and in all areas of life, there is no neutrality. In view of our responsibility for our own education as well as for that of our children, we must ask: to whom are we ultimately responsible? To God, or to man? Who is sovereign? Who has the right to tell you who, what, when, where, how, etc., to educate? Who has that right? What man has the right to compel you to attend any given school, and what man has the right to compel you to pay for someone else’s attendance at school? I would submit to you that no man or group of men has that absolute right, and yet that is the accepted norm for society today. In a free society this would not be the case.
The myth of neutrality means there is no middle ground on this issue. There is no place in between faithfulness to God and submission to a man-dictated, man-driven, man-enforced system that denies God, excludes God, replaces God. Either our society in this area is faithful to God, or it is not. And we could talk about that at length perhaps in supplementary discussion. But given that there is no middle ground between faithfulness to God and subjection to man, then there also is none between freedom and coercion in education. Either we are free, responsible individuals and families before God, or we are coerced and cajoled by other forces.
Secondly, the issue of sovereignty immediately raises the issue of purpose as well. What is education? Why and for what reasons do we educate, must we educate? And who decides what those reasons are? And who gets to impose their reasons for education, ideas of education, and meanings of education on society, if anyone should impose them by force at all?
What is education? The bare minimal meaning of the word “education” comes from its Latin derivation: e+ducatus from e+ducere—e meaning “out of,” ducere meaning “to lead.” Thus education in is most basic idea means “to lead out”—but “out” of what? And who, exactly, is the leader? And leading “to” where? Ostensibly this means “to lead one out of ignorance,” but who defines what is ignorance, and on the converse what is the wisdom or knowledge or truth into which the student is to be lead? Who determines? I submit to you that whoever is in control of education determines these purposes, these definitions, even if they do not pronounce them publically for everyone to see.
This pertains not only to the basic existence and structure of education in society—whether we will have purely private institutions versus compulsory civil-government institutions and penalties—but the impossibility of neutrality and necessity of overarching purpose then flow right down the line to every other issue of education. Whoever has control decides what is taught, when it is taught, how it is taught, what is left out and not taught, what you can or cannot criticize, with whom you will (or will not) associate, how discipline is administered, and a thousand other very important issues. Whoever controls education has determination over all of these issues for you and your child, and therefore, for your entire legacy. And in a free society, all of these decisions would be left to the individual and the family, and never made an issue of coercion from the state. No one but you standing before God should be allowed to make that decision.
Let me briefly, then, describe what a truly free society under God means for education: Freedom in education means:
1. Exercising personal responsibility for your own children
2. Federal, state, or local governments having no jurisdiction in this area, and no ability (legal or otherwise) to coerce free individuals and families in any way
3. Not be forced to fund anyone else’s children’s education in any way (directly or indirectly)
4. Funding your own child’s education
5. Not demanding that anyone else fund your child’s education (indeed, not even allowing or accepting funding derived from coercive means, taxation or otherwise).
The issues of sovereignty, non-neutrality, and purpose all mean that you have to make the choice for liberty, it will not happen for you. If you leave the decision for someone else, then you have abdicated your individual responsibility. If you accept that civil government can coerce you or others to pay for other people, then you have abdicated the principle of liberty. So, the question of control and command of education forces us before God to choose who shall lead and how.
Leadership in Education
We have to stop thinking of this thing called “education” as primarily a system or an institution in itself. And we must stop thinking of this thing called “education” as something that by definition is a part of civil government. There is no reason (certainly no biblical reason) why civil government should have education as one of its functions, or even have regulatory oversight over education. In a free society, the primary focus of leadership in education should always and only be the family, and the church—and anyone whom the family freely decides to hire. This is the ideal of freedom both in the Bible and in the Christian founding of this land, through the founding years of American history up until the 1830s and really even beyond. Let’s look at these two realities—biblical and historical.
The biblical Christian case is simple and brief. In both the Old and New Testaments, education was the responsibility primarily of the family, and secondarily of the church. This is seen in the Old Testament most easily in Deuteronomy 6:4–7:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
It’s clear that education was to be carried out in the home, was to be engaged in constantly, using every opportunity, every resource, and was to reflect the content of God’s teachings. In the New Testament, the educational principle appears in Paul’s reiteration of the fifth commandment:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:1–4).
So whatever else we may derive from Scripture, the two most basic places that address education apply it directly to the family, and in such a way that God’s word and godliness compose the central, sacred purpose. In no place in Scripture is it even intimated that civil government should have a hand in this process.
Now since the American colonies were founded and settled almost completely by Bible-believing Christians, who established towns and communities on Christian principles and were averse to any government-established churches or institutions (generally speaking), it should not surprise us that American culture in general, at least until the 1830s, reflects these biblical ideals of freedom and individual responsibility for education.
This is attested by perhaps the most widely accepted source on the history of American education, Lawrence Cremin’s multi-volume study, American Education. Now Cremin was a liberal and a progressive, so he had no particular fondness for America’s Christian history, and yet in his definitive four-volume history, he was faced with the clear facts:
1. The Bible was “the single most important cultural influence in the lives of Anglo-Americans” (Cremin, 1:40). It thus formed the core of American education, in learning to read, write, as well as morality, ethics, and the meaning of life.
2. The household or family was “the principal unit of social organization,” and “the most important agency of popular education.” “The family undertook the training of children ‘in some honest calling, labor or employment.’”
3. In cases where the family was unable further to advance education in a calling or trade, Businesses or Apprenticeship would provide a “direct example . . . immediate participation” in a trade in which a young person could advance, find employment, and contribute to society. (Entrance into such programs was free and easy: unlike in Europe or the Britain at the time, there was high demand for skilled laborers, an absence of guilds that monopolized and controlled labor, there were no informers, no legal obstacles, no Statute of Artificers, no fees and no property restrictions)1
4. In addition to these, there were also private night-schools for working adults to improve their English and vocational skills.
Another great scholar of American history, Samuel Eliot Morison, notes the sole exception to private education in the American colonies: Boston. But even its couple of public schools really only admitted children who could already read. Question: where did they learn to read? Morison says,
Boston offers a curious problem. The grammar (Boston Latin) school was the only public school down to 1684, when a writing school was established; and it is probable that only children who already read were admitted to that . . . . they must have learned to read somehow, since there is no evidence of unusual illiteracy in the town.
(One of the famous graduates of that Boston Latin School, by the way, was Benjamin Franklin, who had little good to say about it later in life.) Morison finds a statistic that is rather illuminating:
And a Boston bookseller’s stock in 1700 includes no less than eleven dozen spellers and sixty-one dozen primers.2
In other words, with no need for compulsory attendance laws or any other government regulation of education, people were educating themselves and their children just fine. They took the task so seriously that they had already created a huge demand for textbooks which the free market had already met with a huge supply—just one example in one store had a stock of 132 spelling books and 732 primers.
It’s clear that during the founding of America from the Pilgrims all the way up until the middle of the 19th Century, education was a private affair. In fact, as late as 1860, throughout all the States there were only about 300 public schools compared to over 6,000 private institutions, not including the vast majority of homeschooling families.
Yet in view of education being a thoroughly private affair at the time, masses of children did *not* fall through the cracks. In fact, literacy was extremely high even in rural western areas, comparable to educated Britain at the time and close even, one could argue, to the US today.
For example, rural Britain experienced roughly 48% literacy at the time, compared to roughly 70% in rural America. Urban Britain saw 74%, urban America nearly 100% (based on signatures on deeds, wills, militia rolls, voting registers).
Far western, rural Connecticut, for example the town of Kent, saw nearly 100% literacy; they took private education so seriously, the locals chartered a school even before the church, and the ministers of the soon-to-be church taught at the school—and it was private.
In rural South Carolina, like in most places, education was carried out mainly by local pastors: and literacy there was 80% in general, and even 90% among the German population.
The scholar Cremin concludes: “[T]hese rates are extraordinary, and stand as eloquent testimony to the power the tradition of learning had acquired in the minds of provincial Americans”; and he notes that this was driven purely by churches and households (Cremin, 1:543). And remember this guy has no allegiance to these things, he was only reporting them as fact along the way.
From just these facts and figures, it is safe to say that family and church-led education is the American way—and it works.
As for the issue of sovereignty and leadership in education, this free family-driven American way provides many benefits, also seen in the history of the time:
1. A free market in education creates a vast array of choices in teachers. For example, from 1740 to 1776 Philadelphia newspapers included ads for no fewer than 125 separate private schoolmasters advertising their services (they were like lawyers in the phonebook today!). Don’t like that antagonistic teacher your child is having problems with? Find another. No problem. (After two or three different tutors, you may learn the problem’s not the teacher after all!) This, of course, also means teachers have to compete, and thus the quality of teaching improves as teachers try to become better teachers in order to attract enough students to make a living.
2. At the time, different churches offered private schools as centers of their own denominational missions (choose for yourself). You want a Scottish Presbyterian education, no problem. German Reformed? Weslyan Methodist? No problem. No one forces you go anywhere that denies your faith or even the distinctives of your denomination. (The shell of this tradition is still visible today largely in some Lutheran circles, and Roman Catholic private schools—although in both cases the education is little more than secular education with a weekly prayer service.)
3. Freedom in education means freedom in curriculum. This in turn will begin to favor the needs of the real world, individual faith, and real practical options in the economy. Available jobs spur specialized education for personal advancement; Political news being in print helps drive a demand for literacy for anyone wishing to know or participate; and religious education, as I noted, helps drive this as well for those who wish to follow their religious confession or history. All of these phenomena were observable in the early and freer period of American history.
4. It affects how we view funding of education. Freedom means we can no longer force others to pay for ours, and no longer be forced to pay for others, as we already noted. There is no government money involved, and thus there is no government regulation or control based on those financial strings attached (you haven’t taken the “free” benefit). But this means we must also have personal initiative, planning, and individual sacrifice in regard to our education and that of our children (and we’ll discuss these practical issues more in the third segment of this talk). But when private money is on the line, then you have private interest in who teaches, what is taught, when, where, how, how much, etc., is taught—*and* you have the fundamental inalienable right 100 percent to demand, direct, change, or alter all of those things. It takes time and money, but haven’t we all said it once or twice, “freedom ain’t free”?
5. It gives education a more long-term, generational outlook. Now you are passing a legacy of not only reading, writing, and arithmetic to your children (infused with a bunch of secular humanist, liberal psycho-babble), but also your own chosen worldview. Now your children, and hopefully their children, will reflect a family heritage, religion, perhaps a family business or trade, and a commitment, hopefully, to local politics and culture. In short, a free society will tend to reproduce itself in terms of the children being images of the very hard-working, self-sacrificing parents who modeled the society to begin with.
So we can see from this much that 1) a free society, in order truly to be called free, must involve only private education with no coercion or taxation from civil governments; and 2) such a society in regard to education was in fact the American way for a very long portion of our history. It is the only view that we can properly call “free,” it once was the norm, and it worked just fine.
So the question is, “Why did it change?” What brought about the colossal transformation of American education so much so as to turn the tables completely: where homeschools and private schools are the tiny minority and looked down upon with suspect and in some cases ridicule; while tax-funded government schools are the norm, and the vast majority of people not only accept the fact that government should force some people to pay for other people’s education, but actively fight to keep it that way, call it right and proper and “American” and even “Christian” (imagine that—Christians actively arguing and fighting to maintain a system of coercive taxation that imposes anything, let alone a secular humanist, pluralist, anti-Christian system of education)? There are some who say that changes in society required changes in education. Is this true? How was basic freedom lost? I’ll discuss this in the next segment.