School Choice in a Divided America

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my latest, on how school choice is a way forward for a divided America – at each others’ throats over everything from mask mandates to CRT – that reflects our national commitment to diversity and equality under the law:

These intense emotions surrounding education have always presented an unsolvable problem for the government school monopoly. We shove all kids into a single monopoly school system based on the notion that dispassionate educational experts will discover and implement the One Best Way to run schools, but it has never actually worked out that way. Government schools have always served the powerful, delivering at least decent service to comfortable suburban whites, while relegating the poor and the marginalized into schools that are little better than warehouses.

Today that unsolvable problem has become a crisis. Increasing polarization has raised the stakes of cultural conflict so high that even the government school monopoly is no longer able to cope. As Jonathan Haidt explained in his landmark book The Righteous Mind, even questions that seem like they ought to be resolvable through dispassionate discourse, like medical policy, are in practice subject to powerful group-membership associations that transform them into questions of fundamental decency and righteousness.

I have some specific things to say to those on the right who think they can beat the blob at its own game by “banning CRT” in schools:

Leave aside for a moment the fact that CRT has no stable and generally accepted definition, and that the government school monopoly, to the extent that it wants to rely on CRT, will have no difficulty working around or subverting whatever laws you pass. Is America about using political power to force people to conform to the in-group, leading to an endless cycle of conflict over who gets to speak for the in-group? Or is America about protecting everyone’s right to live in the way that seems best to them, as long as they respect everyone else’s right to do the same?…

Beyond prohibiting the most extreme abuses, the way to get education that really raises kids to believe in equality of rights under the rule of law is school choice. Most parents of color agree with that vision of America—equality of rights is what they spent centuries fighting for, after all. What they want from schools is not indoctrination in extreme ideologies, but the Three Rs and sound character virtues. Put them in charge, and that’s what they’ll choose.

Of course, like all other parents, they’ll also expect schools to affirm their human dignity and the contributions of their cultural identity—which white parents, to be blunt, have always taken for granted. “Kiss Me I’m Irish” doesn’t mean “Punch Greg in the Face, He’s Italian.”

A strong, confident America would want to keep the promise of freedom under the rule of law, even for those few families who really do want radical education. It wouldn’t hold those families’ children hostage and try to use the power of the state to turn them against their parents. That doesn’t strengthen the American experiment, it undermines it.

Let me know what you think!

4 Responses to School Choice in a Divided America

  1. matthewladner says:

    BOOOOOOOOOOM!

  2. superdestroyer says:

    All school choice does is move the college application process down to the kindergarten level. 100% school choice also makes moving harder. Image a military family moving to Northern Virginia where the only openings in schools are the Marin Barry Institute or the MAGA Bible School.

    • Greg Forster says:

      It is actually the current system, the government monopoly, that moves the college application process down to the kindergarten level, because it privileges the wealthy and powerful who are able to purchase their way into the “good” school districts. School choice disrupts this unjust and oppressive system by extending to all families the power to purchase a good education.

      Your picture of what kind of schools would emerge in a universal choice environment is, of course, fanciful. For one thing, you apparently envision that there would be no government school system any longer, which would only be the case if, once they were given a choice, all families fled the government system. The fact that you expect all families would flee the government system the moment they were given a choice is worth pondering upon.

      And there is no reason to expect the private schools that would emerge would be extreme in their ideological content; on the contrary, with the influx of new students fleeing the government system, we should expect them to become more moderate than they are now. Right now, only the 10% of parents who are most highly motivated send their kids to private schools. Of course, no one can say with certainty how it would all shake out – but if we aren’t willing to trust the American people with freedom of conscience, we might as well pack up the American experiment and go home. What’s the point of America if it’s not going to trust its own people with the most basic of all freedoms?

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