Public versus Government Schools


In an essay posted at the law and liberty blog I explored how Progressives seek to rear citizens–to create the kind of citizens well suited to the Progressive administrative state.  Part of my argument is that government schools have ceased being public and are prone to serve as a means of changing local communities rather than being a reflection of their values and goals.  Here is a taste of my argument as applied to schools:

“Among the institutions crucial to the Progressive task of rearing citizens, none is as important than the vast government-sponsored educational establishment.  Government schools (by which I mean primary and secondary schools) have largely given up being public institutions and are, instead, instruments of government elites to mold the beliefs and affections of each rising generation.  The distinction between government and public is crucial and revealing in this case.  Let us call public schools those that are responsible exclusively or primarily to the community they serve.  Imagine a small town with one k-12 school that is funded exclusively by local taxes.  School goals and curricular objectives issue from an elected school board.  Through this form of democratic representation, the community establishes the criteria by which to hire and retain faculty according to their needs, standards, values, and particular local culture.  In short, the school is an extension of and a reflection of the community.

By contrast, government schools seek to transform rather than reflect the communities they propose to serve. For schools on this side of the spectrum (and the details still vary dramatically from state to state) funding is funneled through the state in order to create equity among districts, making the schools responsible (obedient) to the state educational establishment rather than to the community in which they are embedded.  Decisions about curricula and textbooks issue from government bureaucracies and the development of credentialing requirements places assessment of qualifications for teaching outside the reach of the community or its representatives.”

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Ted McAllister is a native of Oklahoma, now living in Moorpark, California with his wife, Dena, and his two children, Elisa and Luke. He yearns for his own chunk of land and for those bits of nature that please him, but not for farming or for unnecessary drudgery of the sort that involves physical labor.  He is an aesthetic agrarian, not a practicing one. Educated as an Intellectual and Cultural Historian at Vanderbilt University, he now teaches at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy where he pursues with his students the enduring questions rather than the particular answers.  His book, Revolt Against Modernity:  Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, and the Search for a Post-Liberal Order launched him into the study of political philosophy, though his epistemological orientation is much shaped by his training as a historian.  Working presently on Walter Lippmann as well as a US History textbook, he expects soon to write a multi-volume history of the Baby-boomers.


  1. I wrote an unpublished piece on the commons and on public spaces. The demise of the commons, I stressed, was not only the result of state (Hobbesian sense) action but also the application of radical Lockean notions of private property as statutory laws and state constitutions changed to deny access and to replace it with trespass. Public spaces – the commons of ideas, traditions, customs and habits – have be shrunk if not completely eliminated by the state. Schools, as the author so correctly says, are no longer spaces and instruments of local commonwealth, but are means by which an ideological agenda both national and international are imposed on local communities. No longer are teachers members of local communities, serving in loco parentis, a capacity which they might also have as Sunday school teachers, scout leaders and honorary but meaningful leaders in community associations; they are now mere agents of the state, according to federal court fiat, against whom pupils and students have a “constitutional” protection, a protection quite ironically and insidiously provided by the same state of which the teachers are the agent.

    To function as a pupil, student or teacher in these state/non-public spaces, one must believe that pupils can create knowledge and that the sole purpose of knowledge is, as per Mr. Bacon, the acquisition of power, rejecting both the classical and the Christian understanding of the purpose of knowledge; and one must accept that one is sub-human and exorcise and remove from one’s being that divine thirst for knowing the metaphysical and the Mysterium Tremendum.

    There is little wonder that we live in an anti-culture because it is produced by and inhabited by subhumans who are the products (in the absolutely denotative sense thereof) of the progressive ideological agendas of the elites and bureaucrats which animate the Hobbesian state and the other corporations which it has spawned.

    As an aside, I saw some government poster in a grocery store, a poster of the 1984 variety, reminding all patrons who filed out and who might be considering buying tobacco products or alcohol that they would have to show for the purpose thereof an ID “authorized by the federal government or one of ‘its’ states.” Thus a state, which as men like Jefferson and John Randolf understood, is a unique communion of a particular people with specific traditions, customs and habits – not to be confused with the bodies of governance such as the executive, legislative and judicial which those particular people brought into being through a constitution of their commonwealth to assist in the pursuit of the common good within the parameters of those specific traditions, customs and habits – is now merely and “it” of the federal government, which itself is a mere creature of the states which are now by the magic of power – guns, violence, force and betrayal – simply its its. Dr. Frankenstein’s monster has just about killed all of Dr. Frankenstein’s family.

  2. Good citizenship has been one of the goals of education going all the way back to the ancient Greeks. In and of itself that should not be problematic– do we want bad citizens?
    Though obviously we must be on guard that such efforts remain general and above the partisan fray. We do not want the sort of partisan indoctrination that totalitarian regimes are infamous for.

  3. Well I’m just having trouble with this one. I do not like the way you use the word Progressive – it’s as if it is some thing, some cabal that has intentions and agency. I prefer to think of it as some way of thinking that is more or less shared by a group.
    “Progressives…have much more institutional power than their numbers would otherwise suggest. They not only have great power in higher education, in many parts of the media, in the judiciary and legal class, but they have slowly come to dominate most of the public school systems in America…” which may be, but I’d say that rather than being indicative of some grand strategy, it’s simply means progressive thinking is common among students in graduate programs. And some people in graduate programs are ambitious.
    The reason I prefer this way of thinking is that I believe it changes how one would respond. A cabal or a movement requires some universal muster – that is, focusing on a movement rather than some specific instance means the response is just as likely to overwhelm and subsume any local activity.
    From a different viewpoint – I enjoyed Adam Webb’s post A Sheeshah Pipe for the Porch, but it gave me pause. I wonder if it’ll occur to everyone whether it’s possible to come up with some sort of morphology for localism and local movements, and then to apply that to places and see what might be considered a legitimate movement or a greenwashing effort or so on.
    This could mean, once again, outside experts showing up and running roughshod over the locals and their hard-won local intelligence. I am not saying generalization is harmful, I am saying it can be, especially if we are talking about encouraging local autonomy. Specificity is important.
    I hope that is clear, I am not particularly eloquent. It’s a quibbling complaint, but I do think it’s important.
    Mr. Peters, if you are still checking the thread, I have been very impressed by your posts and comments and so was doubly disappointed when I read this “There is little wonder that we live in an anti-culture because it is produced by and inhabited by subhumans…” Certainly we treat each other inhumanely, but I don’t know that any of us have the skills necessary to get the job of deciding which of us are human. I put it down to either my misreading or a rhetorical flourish on your part.

  4. Mr. Walsh,

    The onus is on the communicator, in this case it is I because I wrote the post to which you responded, to communicate well. On a given day, I can fall short of that responsibility when attempting to communicate in any venue, this one included; however, what I meant by “produced by and inhabited by subhumans” is that modernity has denied our ability to apprehend the mystery of the revealing divine and has denied the validity of any revealed knowledge, whether through the Scriptures, through the traditions of the Church or through the created order itself. To be fully human is to thirst after righteousness, to apprehend in curiosity and awe the metaphysical and to come to acknowledge and appreciate our own ignorance as we encounter the mystery of the divine. To deny this aspect of our humanity is to be less than human, i.e. to be sub-human.

    We Christians know that to be fully human is to be in Christ, in whom the creation of man was completed when he ended the phrase not ended in Genesis as it had been with the other steps of creations (to is good, so be it) but on the cross when the Christ fully in every respect God and fully in every respect man, more than we as fallen creatures can be, said “It is finish.” Not only was the process of salvation and redemptive history completed but man himself, God’s project in the Garden, was completed.

    Historically, one would be hard pressed to find a social order of the past, pagan or otherwise, which did not struggle toward full humanity, ultimately to be fulfilled in Christ and we in turn in Him, although their struggle was often in vain, off the mark and even evil; yet, they understood that there was Something pushing through the created order which demanded from them a response, a response which we, today, call a religious response, spiritual response, a response into the metaphysical, be that response as misguided as casting a virgin into a volcano to placate a god or cutting the heart out of a captive to a god would make the crops grow. We as Christians have far more in common with the East Indian witch doctor and the Aztec priest than we do the autonomous would-be Promethean individuals in their unbelief, their agnosticism, their skepticism and, yea, even their pseudo-Christinity, for they have denied of themselves their triune nature – physical, intellectual and spiritual and, in denying the later they have denied that aspect of epistemology which can inform the soul.

    All of that is what meant by an anti-culture produced by and inhabited by subhumans.

  5. Mr. Peters, that makes perfect sense. I apologize for making you double back.
    Thanks for taking the time to clear this up.
    I won’t deceive you and say I share your deep faith, but that we are not what we ought is plain as day to me. One of my daily chores – being a better person, along with taking care and cleaning up and bending nails. And then whatever my wife thinks up.She’s an active and bright intelligence.

  6. Mr. Walsh,

    It is my assumption that those who have made this unique forum available to us expect to to clarify our words and our positions. “Doubling back” is my duty. Asking for clarifications is your duty and mine when the situation warrants.

    Some days my faith seems deep; on other days, it is full of sandbars and exposed snags. We are held accountable for the light which we have been given and the commensurate faith to venture into the shadows at the edge of that light as we course our way to becoming more like Christ. I, too, have been tempted to compare my faith or lack thereof to the supposed faith of others. I strongly advise against that snare because like my old friend Brer Rabbit I have too often come afoul of it.

    Dutifully doing one’s chores, as a child or as a spouse, is part of becoming more like Christ. I conducted a chapel service at the school in which I am the headmaster. As asked the students how many of them considered themselves to be Christians. Most raised their hands. I asked them how many of them attended on a regularly basis some kind of “church service,” including youth programs. Most, although fewer, raised their hands. I then asked how many of them, when their parents asked them to clean up their rooms, did so immediately, without an attitude and with a glad heart. No one raised his hand. I then said, “You have a very long way to go in your Christian walk.”

    That your wife has an active and bright intelligence is one of God’s blessings to you.

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