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Public Education: Is it what the Founders intended?
By: Adelpha Pallas
posted April 28, 2010
GUEST COLUMN – Some of the most
controversial issues in educational debate today lie with appropriation
of taxpayer funding for education. Some people may say that
typical parents are not as involved in education as they should be;
however, these volatile financial issues surrounding parent choice,
school vouchers, charter school funding, and the social debate
surrounding public vs. private schools would indicate this assumption
The root of the discussion surrounds protecting public education
funding from being drained away by other school options. Parents
who view public schools as inefficient or intrusively presenting moral
issues, i.e. same sex marriage, sexual education in elementary grades,
and anti-Christian views have applied pressure on political entities to
offer parental choices and provide taxpayer funding for those
choices. These vocal parents would like to return to Jefferson
and Mann's original vision for public education, though with equality
for the sexes and races.
When the earliest American proponents of public education (Jefferson,
1778; Mann, 1848) presented their reasons for it, they wanted to see
all male, free Americans educated for common reasons of equalizing
social classes, teaching good citizenship, ethical and moral conduct,
and promoting democratic unity among the working classes and landed
gentry (Gutek, 2005). Jefferson surely did not envision the
entire population receiving public education as he described his 100
schoolhouses as "a house of brick or stone, for the said grammer
school, with necessary offices, built on the said lands, which grammer
school-house shall contain a room the school, a hall to dine in, four
rooms for a master and usher, and ten or twelve lodging rooms for the
scholars" (Jefferson, 1778, SECT. XI). His building and
land was paid for by the public treasury; however, the school expenses
were to be divided among the scholars or their families (see SECT.
XV). Furthermore, Jefferson stipulated the removal of scholars
who were deemed "less promising" and undeserving of the "public
foundation" (see SECT. IVIII).
Horace Mann (1848) would have cringed at the relative nature of
morality espoused by the 2010 federal government. He would have
staggered to see spiritual training entirely removed from public
education today, as he strongly advocated for public schooling as a
primary method of establishing citizenship and sound moral values among
the nation's population. Mann strongly opposed involving schools
in political agendas and stated "that if the tempest of political
strife were to be let loose upon our Common Schools, they would be
overwhelmed with sudden ruin" (see p. 12).
Mann was a noble character who also believed that on election days, men
should "approach them, not only with preparation and solicitude, but
with the sobriety and solemnity, with which discreet and
religious-minded men meet the great crises of life" (see p. 11).
Somehow, if Mann knew that today's political activists were picking up
derelicts off the streets and hauling them to the polling booths, he
would be apoplectic!
While both Jefferson and Mann had a high vision for public education,
neither gentleman would have begun their initiatives if they could have
seen exorbitant taxpayer expense for it, as well as the deterioration
of moral and ethical training involved in public education today.
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