Libertarians Separate School, State
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by Luke Setzer

[This guest column was published in Florida Today May 22, 1999]

Today's debates about how best to educate American children require a look at the history of public education. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, best summarized the desire of some earlier Americans who favored government-run, taxpayer-financed (GRTF) education over private schools and home schools. In 1786, Rush wrote, "It is necessary to impose upon [children] the doctrines and disciplines of a particular church…Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property."

This philosophy, blatantly at odds with religious freedom, guided GRTF education for many years. However, the very concept of religious freedom doomed such a totalitarian approach to long-term failure. In this century, "separation of church and state" activists have pushed traditional religions out of GRTF education in favor of amoral education--the notion that knowledge can be imparted between generations outside the context of ethics and values.

Of all education myths, this one remains the most insidious and destructive and, therefore, deserves the most attention. This myth states, in effect, that "character education can be separated from worldview education."

Anyone who has raised a child from birth knows that one of a child's favorite questions is: Why? Why am I learning the multiplication tables? Why am I learning to read? Why am I learning history? The answers to any of these questions require the teacher or parent to refer to a specific worldview. Here are three worldviews and their possible answers to these questions.

  1. Hedonistic materialist: "So that you can get a nice job and earn lots of money."
  2. Christian: "So that you can better serve the Lord Jesus Christ your Savior."
  3. Objectivist: "So that you can learn to fulfill your moral purpose in life: to prosper and to live happily on this earth during your finite time here."

There are many other possible answers, all of them necessarily referring to a particular worldview, whether explicit or implicit. A central theme of the current debate asks, "Who gets to decide which worldview is taught?" This brings us to a final key question: "Who is ultimately responsible for educating a child: the parents or the State?"

The "Separation of School and State Alliance" contends that parents, not the State, bear that responsibility. They argue that parents should remove their children completely from State-run education.

If you want answers about how to deliver your children from the amoral conundrum called "government education", mark your calendar for Thursday, May 27 at 5:30 PM. The Libertarian Party of Brevard County is sponsoring a dinner presentation on "Separating School and State" at The Mediterranean Grill, 862 N Cocoa Blvd in Cocoa. All are welcome. Call 255-2105 for additional details.


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