Set our students free

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Let’s start with a couple of thought experiments. What do you think is the predominant world view of the average American public high school graduate? That is, how would he or she answer such fundamental life questions as, “What is a human person really?” “What is a noble and worthy life?” “How should I spend my life?”

Related questions crying out for answers are:

“What is the effect on young Americans who spend the better part of their days in our public school system, a system that either ignores such fundamental questions or deals with them only within the framework of science?”

“What develops in the minds and value systems of students during these formative years where spiritual and religious realities are either ignored or treated as historical curiosities, hung over from our pre-scientific past?”

“What, then, is the outcome of such an education?”

We sadly don’t have empirically based answers on the impact of our nation’s state-controlled schools. Therefore, we cannot now say that we scientifically know that the effects of 12 years of public school education on the nation’s youth are X, Y and Z.

So how can we determine the impact of our schools on our students?

Well, we can use our common sense and make inferences based on other correlational data.

The pure scientist will quickly remind us that “correlation is not causation” and then retire back to his lab. That said, there is a huge amount of data on American youth to fill in a picture of the “products” of our state school system.

Social science studies tell us that American high school graduates:

— are unprepared for today’s world of work;

— overwhelming they underperform in math, science and reading compared with students in our European and Asian trading partners;

— are cut off from and ignorant of their past, whether the Ten Commandments or the U.S. Constitution;

— know little or nothing of their own religion or of what any religion has to say about how they should live their lives;

— on average consume nine hours of media (TV, Internet, and pop music).

We also know that:

— the majority of high school boys regularly visit pornographic websites;

— sexting (trading pictures of nude school mates and their bodily parts) is a major activity and preoccupation of high school students;

— sexual intercourse is a common and accepted activity among high school students and increasingly among junior high students;

— bullying, once an isolated problem in schools, is now an epidemic, increasingly carried out through social media.

Schools came into existence in our nation because our Founding Fathers, with wide support of the people, believed that to sustain a democratic republic required both an educated and moral citizenry. Thomas Jefferson argued for public education, believing that widespread education was needed to raise men up to the high moral responsibility required of a democracy.

Historically, then, the aim of education has been to make children both smart and good. This is the mission of the public schools. This is, also, the reason American taxpayers devoted $12,000-plus a year for the education of each public school student.

Our “progressive” and secularized schools has reduced teaching about “good” to performing “random acts of kindness,” and promoting enlightened self-interest (i.e., “be good and you’ll get into the right college/the right job).”
Without the moral anchor of a strong reason to “be good,” our students are not only not learning how and why to be good, but they have rejected the self-discipline required to be good students. Thus, our public schools are failing on both counts.

We are not arguing here for religion courses in public schools, but rather for the wholesale replacement of our current secular, state control monopoly with a parent-driven system of choice. It may be too late, if we have any hope of saving our children and saving the Republic, we have to take back the education of our children. We must demand that state influence on schooling be restricted to returning tax monies back to parents, thus enable them to choose the education, religious or non-religious, that they believe their children need.

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan are writers, former teachers, and the editors of  Why I’m Still A Catholic. They write primarily on cultural, educational and religious topics. Read their past columns here.