January 24 2012
School Choice: An End to the Culture Wars?
Recently, a friend told me her child had been shown a documentary at school called "I Am," from Tom Shadyac, the director of "Bruce Almighty" and "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective." I checked out the documentary, which features "luminaries" such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Thom Hartmann, as they discuss major questions like, "What's wrong with the world?" and how to fix it.
Obviously, I'd be upset if my child watched this documentary at school. The film paints free-market capitalism as inherently evil. It emphasizes that aggressive competition and wealth accumulation are the reason the world is currently in a mess. While we can all appreciate the message that "you can't buy happiness," this film goes out of its way to demonize money.
Even more bothersome to me is that this film, shown in at least one school, takes a stance on questions that are philosophical - or perhaps even religious - in nature. It describes humans as naturally good and compassionate (a la Rousseau). But as a Christian, I believe humans are naturally sinful and selfish. So this conflict of ideas would present a challenge to me as a parent, if I had a child come home from school after seeing this film.
This isn't the only example of social conflict in school curriculum, is it? In fact, there are some conflicts that are nearly commonplace in public schools across the country. What should we teach kids about the theories of evolution? Global-warming? Do we - or when or how do we - offer a class on sexual education? Require it?
These conflicts arise when a group of people - namely parents - in a school district don't agree about what information (or propaganda) they want their children exposed to. Naturally! Collective decision-making is hard. (And that is one reason limited government is better than big government.)
Neil McCluskey at the Cato Institute wrote about this same problem in an article he wrote for USA Today's magazine in 2007:
All public school conflicts have the potential to inflict social pain, but the most wrenching are those that pit people's fundamental values— values that cannot be proven right or wrong, and that deserve equal respect by government— against each other. Whereas most conflicts have unique immediate causes, there are several common refrains that arise time and again.
So how do we solve the problem?
Well, this week is School Choice Week. Imagine if Americans had educational opportunites that were as diverse as our value systems. Imagine if we could choose to send our kids to schools that aligned more closely to our preferences, while our neighbors sent their kids to another school that they prefer. Imagine if we could stop spending so much time and energy arguing over whether it is better to teach contraception or abstinence, "global-warming" or "climate change," evolution or creation... And focus on doing what is best for our kids. That's a solution offered by school choice.
While this probably wouldn't end the culture wars completely, it would definitely help take them out of schools.