“Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.”
— Macbeth, Shakespeare
Our national fuddle over the role of government (public?) schools during the pandemic is yet another throwback to the days of their inception in the 1840s. Their founders saw these conscriptive institutions as a mechanism for control and enlightenment of the children of low-income families, mostly immigrants, whose social and religions caste needed redesign.
What history confirms is that, while the specific ideology of the system was to change with the cultural winds, the public school has managed always to maintain its control over the minds and bodies of the poor, both parent and child. These remain the instrument of whoever controls the state’s “free schools” and enjoy their per-pupil tax support.
From Protestant patriots to John Dewey Nationalists, the Supreme Court and, today, the teacher union bosses, our public schools for the poor have ever functioned as a paternalistic intellectual dominion. As always, they serve the comfort and purpose of a controlling elite, even though these cadres have failed either to raise test scores or to achieve the civic enthusiasm of its drafters.
The advent of a Democratic White House has brought little hope of deliverance from the teacher union for lower-income parents, whatever has been their vision of the intellectual and social future of their child. To the contrary, the president for whom I voted has specifically endorsed the enduring vision of the unions with new money to maintain the conscription of their lower-class subjects.
Some today suppose that our epic indifference to the civic hobbling of child and parent shows signs of public remorse and possible repair. Indeed, states like Ohio and West Virginia have, over union resistance, taken surprising legislative steps to empower parents at the expense of the monopoly.
Moreover, there is a growing awareness that criticism of, and resistance to, our proprietary unions of government employees is something wholly different from the classic and healthy competition and compromise between employer and union in the profit-seeking part of our private economy. Incompetence or sloth of the worker in private business is hurtful to both employer and fellow employees; each has a stake in the survival and success of their joint enterprise.
As yet, there is no guarantee of a general reform that empowers families which are unable to afford private tuition and have come up loser in the charter lotteries. The charters themselves are under constant threat from the union. The Supreme Court, though it will annihilate the “Blaine” amendments, is not about to order vouchers or other specific remedy in the offending states.
And it is from there, our 50 “sovereign” jurisdictions, that fundamental reform must come. As always, the solutions will come out of practical politics and the awakening and broad engagement of those with most at stake – the not-so-rich family and its political heroes.
It is paradox, but fact, that the final rescue of parent and child could come, in large part, as a liberal enterprise.
Milton, enjoy the irony.