Indoctrination vs. Education: The Legacy of American Public Schools

“The philosophy of the classroom in this generation will be the philosophy of politics, government and life in the next.” – Abraham Lincoln

There is a battle raging today upon which the future of America as a free and self-governing republic hinges.  At its center is the struggle of who is responsible for the education and upbringing of children—parents or government.  The answer to this question goes far beyond education and touches all aspects of life. 

Education involves developing knowledgeable, well-rounded Americans who can think critically, process information, make good decisions, support themselves and serve the needs of society.  In other words, real education produces productive members of society.

What passes as government education in America today is nearly the opposite of real education.  We are spending more money and committing more resources to public education than at any time in our history.  We have more federal bureaucrats, technocrats, instructional foundations, and corporate sponsors focused on improving education than ever before. 

Nonetheless, American public school students are doing worse overall in standard core subjects.  Our children remain ignorant concerning our history, are far less literate as readers, and are becoming more math deficient with every passing year.

However, it’s not the fault of the students. Rather, modern public school education is dominated by a statist, leftist agenda to reshape the core beliefs of American students and impose a form of cultural Marxism that precludes free thought, prohibits individual freedom and places democratic processes at risk. 

This deliberate plan confuses, politicizes, sexualizes, and indoctrinates our children into a worldview that contravenes the founding principles of our republic. 

Driving God out of government schools was necessary to this agenda.  The Declaration of Independence affirms that inalienable rights come from the Creator and government exists to protect those God-given rights. 

The Founders did not view this principle as a religious issue but as a “self-evident” truth.  However, under “the wall of separation between church and state,” this self-evident truth was gradually forced out of public schools, in addition to prayer and the Bible.

From a historical perspective, the move towards government control over education in the mid-19th Century was met with initial opposition.  In 1840, a legislative committee in Massachusetts found: “The right to mold the political, moral, and religious opinions of … children is a right exclusively and jealously reserved by our laws to every parent; and for the government to attempt, directly or indirectly, as to these matters, to stand in the parent’s place, is an undertaking of very questionable policy.”

Later, in the early-20th Century, the scope of government control was litigated through our federal courts.  In 1922, Oregon passed a compulsory public schooling law which made it illegal for students to attend nongovernment-run schools. In Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Oregon law as unconstitutional.

Delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice McReynolds wrote:  “…the Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control … The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only.”

“The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” 

In Pierce, the Supreme Court acknowledged the important role of parents in the upbringing of their children and demonstrated that government does not have unfettered control over education. 

The problem is that real education is far down the list of priorities for our government co-opted public schools.  The leftist agenda has nothing to do with teaching children how to think and everything to do with teaching them what to think, or to think in politically correct terms according to the leftists’ own predetermined standards. 

For parents who do not agree with this leftist agenda, but are concerned about providing a quality education for their children, they should commit to education reform that builds an education system on a new foundation based on proper reading, proper writing and real knowledge, not indoctrination.

One idea to reform education is to eliminate government-controlled public schools altogether.  That is, transition to one of the many school choice options that put parents back in charge of their children’s education. 

As a fundamental matter, putting government in a position to answer the core educational question—what is most worth a child knowing—is a dangerous proposition and a violation of parents’ right to control the education of their children.

Calling for a mass exodus of children from government schools may be considered a radical proposal by some.  However, many parents are making personal and financial sacrifices to homeschool their children and the movement is growing. 

For other parents, homeschooling or private schools are not realistic financial options.  If government is going to provide education, then parents need to embrace alternative forms of public education, including vouchers and charter schools, to empower students with genuine knowledge and the skills they need to succeed in life.

Other ideas for public education reform include teaching the nation’s founding principles and the meaning of such phrases as “certain inalienable rights” and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Further, make the virtues of honesty, respect and fair play a focus of the public school curriculum and recognize students who model these habits of good character.

But the only effective, long-term solution to indoctrination is good teaching.  Good teachers, which includes parents, need to train students in methods of thought, how to properly evaluate an argument, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true or false. 

Sooner or later, indoctrination will breakdown.  By contrast, good teaching will sustain our society by fostering the presence of active thought and repairing the walls that deeply divide our country.

The battle over education is about more than just how children should be educated.  If a majority of students in government-controlled public schools in America are sufficiently indoctrinated by the leftist dogma, there is no future in our country for freedom and self-government.  As a result, education may have just become the single most important political issue we face in America today.