Sandra Day O’Connor called a conference on the state of the judiciary in 2006. She commented about it recently in the New York Times, where she drew exactly the wrong conclusion from exactly the right premises.
The overwhelming consensus coming out of that conference was that public education is the only long-term solution to preserving an independent judiciary and, more importantly, to preserving a robust constitutional democracy,” she said. “The better educated our citizens are, the better equipped they will be to preserve the system of government we have. And we have to start with the education of our nation’s young people. Knowledge about our government is not handed down through the gene pool. Every generation has to learn it, and we have some work to do.
Look for the middle term; it’s vital. Here is her argument:
- The better educated our citizens are, the better equipped they will be to preserve the system of government we have
- Knowledge about our government is not handed down through the gene pool. Every generation has to learn it, and we have some work to do
- Ergo: public education is the only long-term solution to preserving an independent judiciary and, more importantly, to preserving a robust constitutional democracy
Of course, each premise is more than a premise, but that’s fine. She’s not engaging in a logic class but making a point. And it would be very hard to disagree with her first point, or at least I concede it. Our system of government is very elaborate, one of the wonders of the world. But if we are going to preserve it, we need citizens who understand it.
That understanding does not arise from conception. It has to be taught. That’s quite a signficant point for a judge who seems to be, from what I understand, sympathetic to the progressive view of life. She is arguing that we need, as a nation, students who have knowledge, not merely experiences.
But that last point eats its own tail. Her contention seems to be (from later in the article) that we need public schools because their purpose has always been to develop good citizens. Well, that’s fine. But if the purpose of a baseball bat is to hit a home run, you don’t keep using it if it breaks on contact with a baseball. In other words, private schools, locally controlled schools, and home schools have historically and in actual fact (not in solemnly stated intention) produced good citizens – people who vote, who serve in office, who honor our country, and who abide by the law.
Public schools have no history of having produced good citizens.
Scary language like “preserving an independent judiciary” and our “robust constitutional democracy” tell us what she is worried about. I suppose we all are. As the state-run bureaucractically-driven school systems that worship numbers and strive to manipulate public opinion have spread, our independent judiciary and the quality of thought in our constitutional republic have both declined. We use them to “castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful” and are surprised to find traitors in our midst.
So I share Sandra Day O’Connor’s concerns and I honor her thoughtfulness. But I believe she is offering the cause of our disease as its cure. I call that “The Law of the Catastrophic Continuum.”
In fact, she even blames the state run schools for the problem:
One unintended effect of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is intended to help fund teaching of science and math to young people, is that it has effectively squeezed out civics education because there is no testing for that anymore and no funding for that,” she said. “And at least half of the states no longer make the teaching of civics and government a requirement for high school graduation. This leaves a huge gap, and we can’t forget that the primary purpose of public schools in America has always been to help produce citizens who have the knowledge and the skills and the values to sustain our republic as a nation, our democratic form of government.
In other words, we have this problem because the government made some bad decisions about education. Now we need to expand government’s reach to fix the problem. What people constantly forget is that if you put a system in place under your own watch, later on somebody who doesn’t believe the same things as you will use that same system.
Counter claim and appeal
Education Cannot Be Done Well By The Federal Government. In fact, I don’t even think state governments can do it well. The decisions that are best for the children can only be made by people closest to the children. The dilemmas that arise from that non-negotiable reality are not solved by putting the decisions in the hands of people who don’t know or care about the children personally. Abstractions don’t educate.
Only local communities, and especially families, are capable of holding educators accountable. It’s the nature of the case.
Therefore, give us educational liberty or your educational bondage will give you civil death.