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A State Monopoly on Education

Years ago, at the University of Minnesota, the teacher rhetorically asked my class: “Why does the government break-up monopolies?” He answered, “Because monopolies invariably result in high prices and low quality for the consumer, due to lack of competition.” But isn’t taxpayer-funded public education a state monopoly with the same shortcomings? How did this come to pass, and what can we do about it?


It all began in the early 1800’s, and Robert Owen, a wealthy businessman from Wales, was one early proponent. In 1825, he founded a utopian community, called “New Harmony,” in Indiana. They adopted a constitution titled, “The New Harmony Community of Equality.” It was a proto-socialist/communist village: a “community of common property,” where the industrious received the same reward as the slothful. There was no religion, except for “natural religion,” which meant “the laws of the universe,” as opposed to religion “founded by human testimony.”


By 1828, the community had failed. One resident, Josiah Warren, said, “We had enacted the French Revolution all over again, with despairing hearts instead of corpses as a result.” Owen blamed the failure on set-in-their-ways adults, who still clung to their religion and individualism. He believed that children needed to be indoctrinated for his “community of equality” to work, and became an advocate of state controlled, taxpayer funded, non-religious education. Owen wrote, “If this country is to be redeemed, National Education (aka public education), extended through the states, must be her redeemer.” Orestes Brownson (1803-1876) who had initially supported Owen, later wrote, “The great object was to get rid of Christianity… to establish a system of state schools… from which all religion was to be excluded… and to which all parents were compelled to send their children.”


By 1840, residents of Massachusetts tried to abolish their public (then called “normal”) schools. They objected that the schools appeared devised “more for the purpose of modifying the sentiments and opinions of rising generations… than as a means of diffusing elementary knowledge.” They claimed that the “right to mould the political, moral and religious opinions” of the children belonged to parents. One of the fad subjects taught at some of the “normal” schools was phrenology --- the discredited “science” that skull shape was indicative of intelligence, character, and even criminal tendencies.


Another fierce advocate for taxpayer financed public schools, and believer in phrenology, was Horace Mann. In 1841, he wrote: “The common school (public school) is the greatest discovery ever made by man… let it be worked with the efficiency of which it is capable, and nine-tenths of the crimes in the penal code will become obsolete… men would walk more safely by day… every pillow would be more inviolable by night…”


In 1848, Karl Marx, in The Demands of the Communist Party in Germany, wrote: “The education of all children, from the moment they can get along without a mother’s care, shall be in state institutions at state expense.”


Needless to say, our country is looking more like New Harmony than “redeemed” by public education, as Robert Owen hoped. Public schools have failed to create the peaceful society that Horace Mann predicted. They have, however, continued to “mould the political, moral and religious opinions” of students, regardless of parental objections. One example is “sex-education.” In 1950, 2.3% of births in Minnesota were out of wedlock. Now, 32.6% of births are out of wedlock! Do the educators admit that their sex education programs have been a colossal failure? No! Now they are teaching that “identifying” as one of the opposite sex, is “normal.”


The Catholic faith teaches that “God made us to know Him, love Him, and serve Him on Earth, and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven.” Social order rests upon this right appreciation of our human destiny. As Fr. Tilmann Pesch writes in The Catholic’s Manual, “Man attains both his immediate and his ultimate end, i.e., his own happiness and the divine glory, by freely conforming his will to the will of his Maker.” (p. 66) The state should not handicap parents who want this kind of education for their children. In the meantime, we should encourage home education, support Catholic schools, and work to see that tax policy allows us to support the education we support. That competition will lower the cost and improve the quality of education for all.


We hope the programs we air on St. Michael Broadcasting will educate each of us in “the Truth that makes us free.” (John 8:32) Please support your station by telling others, offering to volunteer, by praying for its success, and through a financial contribution if possible.


Ad majorem Dei gloriam


Note: The book Is Public Education Necessary? by Samuel Blumenfeld, was a key source for this article.

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