What if religious schools replaced public education?
The idea is evoked, danced around and indirectly expressed by many people on the religious right. Speaking unofficially, you will hear some people of faith saying that the church should take back schools and other societal programs, and that the refrain ‘take back schools’ has become much more common in recent months as conservatives feel a question. winner.
In the Wall Street Journal, Columbia law professor Philip Hamburger just said public education is unconstitutional. Betsy DeVos continues to argue that public schools fail and should be supplanted by a private choice system. Yet hardly anyone has expressed the idea as directly as Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel, who tweeted last week
Close public schools and set up schools in churches and synagogues.
It works well with some audiences (the tweet currently has 1,667 likes), but even if we imagine it somehow passes a legal challenge, could such an idea work. And would people like Mandel and his supporters even like the results?
Suppose he means exactly what he says (I contacted the campaign to give them a chance to add nuance to the quote; they haven’t responded yet). Suppose we are going to end public education as we know it, and instead taxpayers will fund a network of religious schools. How would that work?
First of all, we should answer the question “What religions? Mandel himself is quite clear in his campaign literature that he strictly represents the “Judeo-Christian foundation of America.” But if we shut down the public system and only Christian and Jewish schools are open, where will children who are not of these denominations go to school? Do private religious schools really want to deal with an influx of students who are not interested in their faith? Should we require parents to send their children to learn a faith with which they do not agree?
Would there be a responsibility towards the taxpayers? Most of the voucher rules passed last year include a strict ban: the state cannot tell a private school how to run its affairs. The survey has already shown that many of these schools use texts that teach creationism and an ahistorical view of slavery; would that become the norm in Mandel’s dream nation?
We will also need to build a much larger capacity in religious schools to handle an influx of millions of new students. This expansion might solve our first problem (if we allow schools that fit into something other than the Judeo-Christian tradition), but it opens up another problem.
Who will determine that a school is actually associated with a church or synagogue, or that the church or synagogue is legitimate, and not just a correspondence pastor operation. Can the school be run by the Church of Satan or a branch of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? And if not, who is going to say?
A religious school system ultimately involves an invitation, if not a requirement, for the government to regulate religion. A federal department of religious schools would be required to certify whether a church had government approval to operate a school. Doctrinal debates, a feature of the functioning of the church as long as there have been churches, will involve the government. At worst, teachers would face religious review boards to ensure their teaching is approved by state-run religious agencies.
As the old saying goes, when you mix religion and politics, you get politics. Using schools as a mixing bowl just gets kids and their education into it.
In the end, Mandel and those who agree with him would very likely regret having succeeded. The separation of the church within the state is not only to protect the state; it is also to protect the church and religion itself. Believers should consider this before demanding that the wall be destroyed. The idea is currently a failure, but the fact that a candidate for the United States Senate can reject it tells us that it is becoming safer to express the dream of replacing public school with private religious schools.