Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Attack on Public Schools

"An imperfect system is much better than no system at all."

The truth of the above statement should be obvious to all.  So, what is really going on?

What is really going on is a long term plan by the religious to implement a tried and true tactic to control the marketplace of ideas and thus our society.

These days, one hears quite a lot about how bad our public schools are both from religious fanatics and from people who should have the sense to know better. Atheists should definitely know better, but a surprising number don't. When you hear these criticisms, remember that, like most things you hear from the religious, there is a hidden agenda. Here are some points everyone should know, both for purposes of determining whether an atheist really belongs on this bandwagon--or is just being a "useful idiot"--and for purposes of fighting off the theocrats and their agenda.

Some of the criticisms of our schools have some validity. It is true that the public school system can be said to have been designed "to train good little workers".  (Considering that the vast majority of students are destined to be workers, this is not entirely a bad thing.) It is true that the schools usually follow the Medieval instructional model, which can be criticized on various grounds (but which can't be replaced without substantially increasing costs).

Many atheists who have hopped on this bandwagon were once bright students unhappily trapped in public schools.  Instead of being angry at the prejudice that judged them based on the economic circumstances of their parents or at the lack of willingness amongst the adults in their lives to fund a better system, they became so angry at the schools themselves that they want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

What people tend to forget, however, is the abysmal state of affairs that preceded the advent of public schools and prompted their establishment. Prior to the establishment of public schools many children simply received no education at all. Many others received extremely inadequate educations.

In an agrarian society, this might not have seemed such a bad thing. Well, the days when the U.S. or any Western country was agrarian have long since passed. Furthermore, in any society where every citizen has a right to vote it is clearly a problem, regardless of the basis of that society's economic system.  These days, complete ignorance amongst citizens would threaten both our democratic institutions and our economy.

All the arguments for getting rid of public schools boil down to criticisms of their performance. Not one of the critics ever responds with a decent argument (or any argument, usually) addressing the point that an imperfect system is much better than no system at all.  If you engage anyone on this issue, ask them to defend what will happen if public schools are eradicated.

The obvious implication of the failure to address this point is that it is true, and the inference to be drawn from that is that the criticisms are just a ruse to distract from a hidden agenda. The hidden agenda is not hard to discern. The religious want control of our schools as well as of our Government. First and foremost, they want vouchers so that public tax dollars could be used to finance religious education. Later, they can have anything they want because control of our society will be in the hands of the students they train.

Not only is the current system better than no system, most of the criticisms could be easily remedied, but those changes require money. Simply put, hiring more and better teachers ALWAYS improves the performance of students. Furthermore, if we hired enough of them we could even have separate classes, or other instruction, for children who don't fit the "authoritarian sponge" model that public schools have to follow.

Instead of making our children the priority, the first thing to have its funding cut in a budget crunch is the public schools. This is about as sensible as a farmer eating the seed he was going to plant next year because he traded his food grain for a new ATV.

The most important thing any society does is raise its children. This is simply and obviously the primary reason humans have societies at all. We have societies for the same reason monkeys live in troops--to protect each other, especially the young and the weak. People ARE their society, and those children will be voting, adult citizens in a very short time. Thirteen years is usually the longest time lag, even for the youngest.

If you really can't muster any concern or compassion for other people or other people's children, then consider this: When you become, once again, one of the weak members of society, when you reach old age and are dependent on a pension and your society's health care system, those children, whose education you thought was not worth a few dollars of yours, will be the ones caring for you and deciding whether and how this society should care for you.

Given that this "get rid of public schools" movement is really driven by the religious fanatics who want to make sure all education is religious education, that thought should terrify any atheist with a brain. The people making decisions about you in your later years could be a combination of the un-educated and religious fanatics--mostly the religious fanatics, because the un-educated will simply be there to empty your bedpan or hold you down while the others euthanize you after finding out you are just a dirty atheist. (And, the un-educated will probably be voting the way the media tells them. The media will, of course, be controlled by the only educated people left--religious fanatics.)

What sets humans apart, what makes us successful, is our brains. The potential for discovery and wealth production locked up in our brains is limitless. One has to wonder how many Einsteins were lost during the dark ages because they had the misfortune to be born in some small village with no school at all, or were indiscreet and made fun of the silliness or evil of religion and lost a chance to get an education (or perhaps even to live). Likewise, one has to wonder how many such contributors to humanity's overall wealth have been lost even today because they were born in a third-world backwater or in one of the U.S.'s "red states" where ignorance is seen as a virtue.

A small fraction of the money funneled (shoveled?) into the maw of the military-industrial complex each year could dramatically improve our schools, and the end-result would almost certainly be a dramatic increase in our wealth as a society.  Rather than climb on board the "public schools are bad" bandwagon, we should be working to make them better.  When you hear anyone attacking the public school system, especially if that person is a non-believer, please make the points I mention above.

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