The conservative movement opposed history, shouting Stop – it’s time it did in education too.
IF universal school choice legislation adopted tomorrow and parents finally had the freedom to choose schools for their children, with public funds to access them, would utopia follow? We doubt it.
Ninety percent of students in the United States currently attend public schools. If choice-based systems were extended, the same teachers, administrators, and union officials who run our schools today would train them, bringing the same politicized agendas and ideological practices of our schools today. Schools of education would continue to pump up teachers imbued with the same progressive pedagogy based on questionable “research” that advocates practices such as dividing students into racialized affinity groups.
This would be like allowing a chef to add a new item to the menu but only providing the ingredients for the lasagna. He could offer variations, but it will still taste like lasagna. If we were to add choice to the public school system tomorrow, we would still operate with the ingredients we had yesterday, with no substantive change.
Mass home schooling is probably not feasible, nor is the widespread use of micro-schools, in which a few families combine resources to teach each other’s children (although parents across the country have trained âPandemic podsâ when schools went virtual). Even with vouchers, it is doubtful that most dual income households can afford to sacrifice the second income to pursue these options. Since waiting lists for charter schools already have thousands of students, where might children be transferred to when private and charter options are full and home schooling is not possible? ?
We are both strong supporters of school choice. We have defended it here and elsewhere, time and time again. However, the sad reality is that choice of school is necessary but not sufficient when progressive ideology dominates the institutions around which choice would operate.
With school choice bills on the table in more than 30 states, greater educational freedom may soon be within reach. But that wouldn’t be the end of the story. The choice of school would certainly undermine the current progressive monopoly on public education, but the state still controls the supply of teachers and administrators, and the problem remains that there is simply not enough private and parochial options to meet the new demand.
As Burke wrote, âGive freedom. . . you just need to let go of the reins. But to form a free government. . . requires a lot of thinking, deep thinking, a shrewd, powerful and combining mind. It is not simple freedom that makes a functioning society, but the presence of solid institutions in a free framework.
The left has spent decades on a long march through our institutions, and it has gained considerable ground, perhaps nowhere more than in our schools. Those on the right must start making plans to create a new education system from scratch if they are to be taken seriously in education reform.
Rich Lowry proposed two strategies to start this movement. First, despite the national attention it receives, education remains a local matter, hence the need to focus on local school board elections. Second, as a counterweight to the teachers’ unions, he proposed a federalist society for teachers that could accomplish much of the professional development that districts currently avoid in favor of enforcing ideological conformity. It could also foster the power of collective action. A school district would work just fine if it lost a handful of families to private education because parents opposed propaganda classes, but it would have a hard time managing a building if even ten teachers resigned for reasons. similar.
We propose other steps: we need publications that make arguments not only on trends in debates on financing, choice and unionization, but on more difficult debates on program content, teaching practices, licensing reform and behavioral policies. There are countless left-wing publications devoted to educating teachers on these issues. Right’s educational publications focus largely on educational policy. We have yet to see an education post that paints a conservative or libertarian picture of what education looks like as a post-school choice.
Bringing education back from the far left edge would also require a substantive intellectual movement that pays attention to the specific demands of education. To the classic conservative reading list of Burke, Hayek and Friedman, we must add educational theorists such as ED Hirsch. Education is not just about funding a system and defining what one is or is not allowed to teach. We have a responsibility to promote the small number of colleges that offer major training with a conservative basis.
Beyond schools, we desperately need representatives and senators who see education as a primary issue, not a situational club. Conservative politicians mention school choice once in a speech, and we are prepared to consider the matter closed. If we are serious about education reform, then our leaders need to address the issue as urgently as they are posting it on immigration or taxes.
Finally, and more fundamentally, we need to plan the schools, systems and programs that will ultimately be the alternatives to traditional public schools. Who will start them? Who will endow them? Who will fund them until they have enough money to maintain their operations? It is high time the Conservatives started talking about school choice as inevitable. What happens next? What will the lives of our parents, children and teachers be like with the Conservatives shaping education?
Fortunately, various organizations are moving in this direction, as disconnected as they are at the moment. Organizations such as the Classic Learning Test hope to upset our current poor testing structures and provide an incentive to continue teaching classical literature. Our country already has many charter school systems that outperform schools even in wealthier neighborhoods, although they primarily serve poor neighborhoods. School board meetings grabbed the headlines as the movement against progressive ideology in schools gathered momentum and more parents spoke out. Finally, the Department of Education at the University of Arkansas maintains a group of academics keen to study the positive effects of conservative and libertarian educational policies.
Reclaiming public schools will require a sustained movement similar to the modern pro-life movement or the effort to supplant living constitutionalism with originalism. The conservative education movement must befriend a variety of actors and come from many arenas: mainstream educators, social conservatives, libertarians, school choice advocates, charter school leaders, social justice advocates. unhappy with the system and center-left liberals. fed up with the excesses of progressivism. This effort is not confined to the Conservatives per se, although the Conservatives should make it their top priority to woo these education-castaways into a freedom-oriented conservatism. Libertarians and non-partisan centrists who simply shun the ideology of effective schooling are ready to join a movement that is building a better future for education.
Our schools simply cannot continue as they are. We are both teachers who see what the intellectual roots of conservatism – tradition, freedom, localism – have to offer American schools. The conservative movement opposed the story, shouting Stop; it is time that it did so in the field of education as well.
Anthony Kinnett is a developer and program coordinator at Indianapolis. He is co-founder and owner of Examining the painting and wrote for The Federalist, The Daily Caller, and the Washington Examiner. @TheTonus
Daniel Buck is a lecturer and senior visiting scholar at the Fordham Institute. His writings can be found on National review online, City newspaper, and Quillette. @MrDanielBuck