(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Heterdox Academy carries part one of a two-part debate between me and Robert Pondiscio on whether school choice would contribute to better handling of viewpoint diversity in K-12 classrooms. I argue yes:
From top to bottom, our school system is built on the idea that every child in a given location ought to attend the same school and be educated according to a uniform, standardized curriculum and pedagogy. But if one size must fit all, it seems impossible to avoid endless, educationally destructive culture wars about which way is the “One Best Way.” Certainly the long track record of political firestorms about the content of education over the past century does not justify much hope for a standardized, uniform education that isn’t a subject of constant culture war….
Educators, wanting to avoid getting entangled in political conflicts over their classrooms, are highly incentivized to reduce this politically radioactive element of the curriculum to a minimum. K-12 public school teachers in Wisconsin, and in any of the growing number of states where these conflicts are emerging, risk becoming a legal test case or a social media scapegoat if they prioritize open and free exchanges of opinion in the classroom. The only safe thing to do if you’re a teacher in this environment is to cover the touchy subjects as quickly and as superficially as possible, with minimal opportunity for potentially dangerous critical thinking or open discussion, and move on….
School choice would get political culture wars out of the classroom. When people are convinced that all children — and especially their own children — are being indoctrinated into the other side’s propaganda, no force on earth will stop them from fighting tooth and nail to seize political control of education in order to prevent this indoctrination. But if different schools could take different approaches, with parents able to decide which schools their children attend and thus the approach under which they are educated, schools would be free to educate independently of culture-war pressures.
This betrays a view that the only stakeholder in a child’s education is the child and their family. It elides almost entirely the fact that the cost of educating the nation’s children is socialized. You pay school taxes, directly or indirectly, whether you have one child enrolled, 10, or none at all. This is a feature, not a flaw, of our system. It reflects the belief that a free country depends on a well-educated citizenry capable of self-government. We are literally invested in the outcome of all children, not just our own.
That shared stake in the education offered to all students is also an argument for at least some shared curriculum across even schools of choice, again something Forster demonstrates no patience for. Instead, he indulges perhaps the greatest misapprehension about American education: the assumption that children move in lockstep through a state- or district-mandated curriculum. Forster creates a strawman of it, contrasting choice with “One Best Way” schooling, even capitalizing it to ensure the derision is lost upon no one….
Not incidentally, the strongest argument for common curriculum has nothing whatsoever to do with political indoctrination or a desire to tamp down viewpoint diversity. For more than 40 years, E.D. Hirsch Jr. has demonstrated convincingly that language proficiency in a diverse society rests on a shared body of knowledge, cultural allusions, and idioms. Perhaps for this reason, the common curriculum Forster disdains is a standard feature of pluralist systems.
Part two, in which I reply to his reply, and then Robert replies to my reply to his reply, is coming your way on Friday.
Meanwhile, you can reply to all these replies right now. Create some viewpoint diversity and let us know what you think!