This past Wednesday was a special anniversary.
In 1635, 379 years ago, a handful of students met for the first time in what would become the Boston Latin School, the first public school in the United States.
Still open, and serving around 2,400 students it counts among its alumni John Hancock, Leonard Bernstein, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.. Charles Bulfinch. George Santayana, Cotton Mather, John F. Fitzgerald, Samuel Adams, Charles Sumner; among its drop-outs, Benjamin Franklin; and among its substitute teachers, me.
Dedham had the first tax-supported public school established on January 1, 1643, by a unanimous vote of the town members.
In 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony made "proper" education compulsory.
Many of the first schools were the familiar one room, multi-grade school houses, but in larger towns by the mid 18th Century, grammar schools, the forerunner of modern high schools, appeared.
Compulsory public education began 15 years after the Pilgrims arrived on these shores, and 5 years after the Puritans, and by the mid-19th century, public schools had taken many of the educational tasks traditionally handled by parents.
It is not a new thing. Public education predates the Declaration of Independence and is older than the United States.
For those who would prefer to keep things rosy, this might be a good place to stop reading.
Those of us who have seen those sidewalk interviews where people are asked civics and history question, have probably experienced quite a bit of cringing when the answers are so obviously wrong even about the most basic things: dates, events, chronology of history, presidents, and for the sake of those who I know will jump to it, the number of states.
We generally shake our heads and wonder why students these days do not know the facts about their own country, and look for the most convenient, and often most political, causes, and seem to overlook the number of older people who do not represent themselves so well.
I could editorialize and suggest we let the history and civics teachers teach history and civics and stop all the testing for the sake of testing, or politicizing what should be taught in the classroom without tying the hands of the teachers, but I will avoid even mentioning that.
But what if the person who lacks the basic information is someone who should know more, and may even be a politician who is either already in office, wants to get into office, or wants to get elected to a higher position?
Ray Moore, a retired Army Reserves chaplain and president of Frontline Ministries, is a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in South Carolina who wants to replace public schools with church schools not only in his own state, but eventually country-wide.
His plan is to encourage Christian families in his state, and eventually all states, to take their children out of public schools and educate them either at home or in religious schools, and he believes the tipping point would occur at about 25% to 35% of the K-12 population.
“Then the states would then negotiate, perhaps taking out of their constitution platform, or the provision, that says the state had to provide education, and it would gradually be handed over to churches, families, and private associations. That’s the way it was for the first 200 years of American history. We’ve got to go back to the original biblical model, which is Christian education and home education, and go back to the original American model. I think we do that, it would follow my theme of my campaign, which is: What once was, can be again”.
But he also believes, “The scriptures teach this model, this is a biblical model, we don’t see anything in the Bible about state education, and it’s done as an outreach of the Christian community”.
“We’d have a lot of those who don’t want to be in religious schools, but when you’ve got 70 percent of the population in South Carolina still in a Christian denomination – we’re the majority, and we are being abused, coerced, and imposed upon by these pagan atheistic public schools, and it’s just got to stop".
As far as diversity he believes that non-Christians could attend “private-free market schools".
To support his beliefs, he rewrites history to the point that he ignores that the 200 years of American history that he cites actually is nested in the 379 years of public education he ignores.
He is not alone.
Many Republicans are against government funded education. A quick scan of the states doing the poorest in education while their politicians play around with their public schools shows them to be the red and heavily religious ones.
Among them is Texas Republican Dan Patrick who believes that public schools in his state indoctrinate children with anti-American, left-wing, and environmental propaganda. He prefers that the private market should take over education.
If public money can be diverted to private schools, then those who run them will be able to select who attends and what they will learn.
In the 1980’s a movement began for vouchers which would allow parents to take their students out of public schools and the money with them, and put both into private schools. It was a way for free-market conservatives, corporate strategists, and opportunistic politicians to make money off education, and to do this the public school system had to be presented as failing almost overnight.
In spite of evidence to the contrary, Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education issued its 1983 “A Nation At Risk” that declared,
“the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war":
And that began the fiction that schools were suddenly failing, and opened the door for companies, foundations, and religious groups to promote this fiction so that they could open schools and support them with public money, or keep their already existing schools open by finding a new source of income.
And to do this, some, like candidate Moore, will rewrite history to scare people into believing the fiction, or find political excuses to scare parents into enrolling their kids in their schools and bringing the public’ money with them.