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School, State, and Choice

Jeff Jacoby – the great voice of reason at the Boston Globecalls for separating school and state.

Jacoby rightly understands that for the government to be formally in the business of providing something, that particular ‘something’ is not necessarily – or, perhaps, even likely – to be provided well. This insight holds even when, as in the case of elementary and secondary education, government makes the purchase and consumption of that ‘something’ mandatory.

He understands also that removing government from the business of providing ‘something’ emphatically does not mean preventing that ‘something’ from being provided.

Here’s part of Jacoby’s truly excellent column:

Imagine how diverse and lively American education would be if it were liberated from government control. There would be schools of every description — just as there are restaurants, websites, and clothing styles of every description. Parents who wanted their children to be taught Darwinian evolution unsullied by leaps of faith about an Intelligent Designer would be able to choose schools in which religious notions would play no role. Those who wanted their children to see God’s hand in the miraculous tapestry of life all around them would send them to schools in which faith played a prominent role.

Who can argue with this?

Ah, just as my fingers typed the previous sentence I recalled Stacy Schiff sneering in the New York Times at all the choices that today’s Americans suffer – I recalled the letters-to-the-editor, in yesterday’s edition of the Gray Lady, from readers figuratively shaking their heads in vigorous agreement that Americans are cursed with too damn much choice – and I recalled Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz’s recent, attention-getting essays and books that warn of the dire consequences of having oh-so-many options to choose among.

Well now. Government education certainly is doing its part to protect Americans from choice-overload.  There’s hardly any choice at all in the K-12 arena! In fact, except for families who can afford to pay twice for schooling – once for government schooling that they don’t use and again for private schooling (or home-schooling) that they do use – there’s virtually no choice at all.

So if Prof. Schwartz, et al., are correct about the perniciousness of choice, then all those parents out there complaining of lousy government schools should step back for a moment, take a deep breath, and realize that, sure, the schools that house their children daily don’t teach very much or very well, and what they do teach offends nearly everyone – but these parents are saved from the agony of having to choose!! What a bargain, really.


The indomitable Marshall Fritz, President of the Alliance for Separation of School & State, praises Jacoby’s column with this letter published in the Globe.