Paul Jacob

Hey, Horace, looks like you might have been wrong. Dead wrong.

That is, making good, respectful citizens isn’t best left to government schools.

Way back before the Civil War, Horace Mann promoted the “common school” not merely to increase literacy and certainly not to prepare a majority of students for college. The movement that gave birth to the modern public school system in America was designed to inculcate good citizenship. The idea? Put all kids through a “shared experience.”

The idea was to promote “American” ideas of democracy and republicanism into the minds of children who, Mann feared, were too readily sucked into anti-American notions.

He most feared immigrants, especially Catholics. He sought to regiment children from all walks of life via truancy laws and taxpayer support of schools.

And he wanted to get a crack at indoctrinating generation after generation.

Americans sported a quite high literacy rate before Mann’s reforms, and, today, not all that impressive a rate after more than a century of “public education.” But who really cares about that? “Socialization” is what counts. (OK, that was later. John Dewey and his crowd, I believe. But it’s not that dissimilar a notion, really.)

A few years ago, Mann’s notion was re-iterated by a college professor in an essay called “The Perils of Homeschooling.” Public schooling, he wrote,

is one of the few remaining social institutions — or civic intermediaries — in which people from all walks of life have a common interest and in which children might come to learn such common values as decency, civility, and respect.

OK. Take a deep breath. Are we really supposed to believe that public schools instill decency, civility, and respect?

In “Does Homeschooling or Private Schooling Promote Political Intolerance? Evidence from a Christian University,” Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform, 8(1), Albert Cheng went considerably further. He studied college kids at a place that would give a liberal-progressive apoplexy: a Christian college. He set as his research focus students’ tolerance and concern for the rights of minorities (conceived in various ways, contexts). And he asked the students questions. (This is how most studies are done, by the way. Both psychology and sociology tend to be heavily weighted with studies of college students. Why? They’re the nearest at hand to researchers. What’s interesting here is the look at college students at an institution that some folks might fear contains more “bigotry” than on secular school campuses.)

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.