June 27, 2007
Yale computer scientist David Gelernter is, like many parents, tired of public schools declaring war on deeply held moral and religious values, not to mention common sense. So he wants to abolish them. Gelernter is one of the smartest people alive and what he writes deserves to be read. (The essay noted here is drawn from his new book, Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion, which you can get from Doubleday, Amazon or your local bookstore.) On its face, Gelernter's argument parallels that of libertarians who argue that vouchers are the only solution to the country's deeply polarized population, since public schools can't possibly be all things to all people (see here, for example). But his argument is more nuanced and more interesting, because this state of affairs strikes him as historically preventable. Once upon a time, Gelernter explains, a consensus could be found as to what public schools should teach; you could find it in, for example, McGuffey's Readers, whose purpose was, among other things, "to exert a decided and healthful moral influence." But events of the intervening years--especially the radicalization of American universities in general and education schools in particular--undid this consensus. Now, he writes, we have no option but to exit from the institution of public schooling. We share Gelernter's frustrations, but public schools ain't going anywhere anytime soon--though fascinating new forms of them are coming on line. In the meanwhile, concerned parents should get involved in the fight to improve state academic standards. When they've done so (in California and elsewhere), the results have been positive. So David, don't opt out of public schooling; opt in to the battle to regain the McGuffey consensus.
"A World Without Public Schools," by David Gelernter, Weekly Standard, June 4, 2007