Is it time to end government-run schools?

By P. Jason Phibbs

Raleigh, NC – Two recent surveys, one by High Point University and another by the John Locke Foundation, show a significant portion of North Carolinians (43% and 66%, respectively) believe public education is on the wrong track. And while differing opinions on the performance of public education are not new, I believe the accelerated rise of Marxist Critical Theory in the schools, particularly critical race theory, has brought us to a place of irreconcilable differences. 

photo by kyo azuma

Puritans, who fled Europe for the New World to escape religious persecution, laid the foundation for public education in America as early as the 1640s. The Massachusetts General School Law of 1647, dubbed the “Old Deluder Satan Law,” codified a basic public education system to ensure “knowledge of the Scriptures” and preserve the religious freedom they had sacrificed so much to obtain. After the American Revolution, the Founders reinforced this belief in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the governing document of the Northwest territory and pillar of our republic, which stated since “religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” Closer to home, state leaders at the post-Civil War Constitutional Convention of 1868 leveraged that same language from the Northwest Ordinance as our rationale for public education. And it remains in our constitution to this day.

What is clear in these early documents is the tie between morality, education, and good governance. In 1798, John Adams wrote to the Massachusetts Militia that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Therefore, education is vital to sustaining our republic with the rights and freedoms intended. But not just any education, one that is based on a biblical worldview and affirms God-given rights protected through representative government.

There is no such thing as a secular or non-religious school. Whether explicit or not, all curriculum presupposes a worldview and corresponding value system that require some measure of faith. For example, thanks to the progressive movement of the last century-plus, North Carolina public school curriculum promotes an atheistic worldview (e.g., there is no god). This is not an indictment of teachers but rather the curriculum they are held accountable to teach. Therefore, the purpose of education has changed altogether, shifting from one of “religion, morality and knowledge” to humanistic social engineering. Furthermore, the lack of an absolute standard means all views are relative, and almost any crazy belief (such as a man can be a woman) is valid. And it is that relativistic worldview that has allowed all kinds of warped philosophies to infiltrate the schools, like critical theory and its progeny. 

Since critical theory is Marxist and atheistic, it is incompatible and irreconcilable with representative government and biblical Christianity. So for those who insist on maintaining government run schools, you must answer this critical question:

If all education presupposes a value system, upon which value system will the people of North Carolina predominantly agree? 

There was a time when we, the people, agreed on a biblical worldview and representative government, and thus, for example, we had prayer in schools. But over time, the Left has successfully taken over the systems of public education, while most citizens and representatives are not engaged enough to realize something is wrong until it is too late. So whether due to lousy jurisprudence, like the imaginary separation of church and state, the moral decay of society at large, or rigid top-down state control of the system, I contend there is no worldview upon which the preponderance of people in our state will agree (or legal precedent will allow). In addition, even with a Republican legislature, we have seen that the bureaucracy is so large and entrenched that they are neither able to identify nor stop all of the ways these Marxist ideologies are able to enter the schools. And that says nothing of the Marxist training required of future teachers through our state university system. 

Given this irreconcilable difference, it is time we have a public debate about the maintenance of government-run schools. As is, public education is being leveraged by the Left to destroy all that was once great about America and rebuild it in their Marxist dystopian image, low academic performance, and lack of discipline aside. So why not make them truly compete in the marketplace of ideas without their current institutional advantage? It’s one thing for people to choose it, and some will. But it’s an entirely different to make undermining our way of life the default option. 

Therefore, I believe we should direct all per-pupil education spending to follow the child with a sunset date to be determined for all government-run schools. According to the John Locke Foundation survey referenced above, 68% “would support legislative proposals that provide parents greater flexibility in allocating how tax dollars are spent for their child’s education.” In addition, phasing out government-run schools will save the state billions on personnel and infrastructure while transitioning ownership to the private sector. 

I know there is much more to consider, but we must finally acknowledge that what we believe determines what, how, and why we teach. And that determines what kind of society we will be.

No amount of additional funding is going to settle this worldview conflict. So rather than fighting over a bloated and broken system in perpetual decline, why not fund students instead of systems and allow parents to decide, via a free market, which value system is best for their children, and by extension our republic. At least then America’s decline would be our choice.

Jason Phibbs is an analytics professional for an investment firm, co-founder of a K-12 private school, and actively working to protect freedom in N.C.