An Ideology of School Withdrawal
COMPULSORY school attendance in the United States has been justified from the beginning as essential to democratic polity. Everyone knows Madison’s statement to the effect that popular government without popular education is the prelude to a tragedy, or a farce, or both. We have had both, continuously ever since. I have just finished Theodore White’s The Making of the President, 1960; and I think this book is the strongest indictment of American public education I have ever seen, though Mr. White does not discuss the issue directly. Still, the laws are on the books. Within a century, with the Kalamazoo decision (1874), the legal basis had been laid for what Madison thought so necessary.
And, be it noted, for the reasons he gave. So far as I know, public support of education in this country has never been justified on the grounds that education was beneficial to the individual student, except to the extent that this pertained to equality of opportunity. It is logical to argue that the individuals who share the responsibilities of citizenship must learn what they have to do in order to discharge them. I wouldn’t say the logic was watertight. In Louisiana, where I was raised, we have never regarded either ignorance or lunacy as a bar to high public office; and this liberalism has permitted us to enjoy unusually creative leadership. But, on the whole, the point is well taken. If public education can be justified on the grounds that it is essential to citizenship, it can also claim, for that reason, to be good for the future citizens themselves.
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