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Brief Reintroduction

For some time we have been studying this subject of “parochiaid” and offering a critical analysis of the issues involved. Meanwhile this matter has been up before various state legislatures which were called upon either by some government official or by various pressure groups to enact legislation granting a measure of state subsidy to non-public schools. In the State of Michigan (and, if my memory serves me correctly, also in Illinois) parochiaid has been laid to rest for the time being. The issue is by no means dead, however. Not only are the advocates of government subsidy continuing to insist that in the near future the state(s) must provide such subsidy or face the prospect of many parochial schools closing and unloading their pupils on an already overloaded public school system; but the wheels of government itself seem to be turning slowly in the direction of state subsidy. In Michigan there is a commission to study and propose educational reform, for example; and one of the items to be studied is that of parochiaid. Generally speaking, the chief factor which prevented enactment of parochiaid legislation thus far has been a reluctance to raise state budgets and taxes in the face of already tight budgets and rising taxes. There does not seem to have been a great deal of principle involved in the failure to provide a measure of financial help to non-public schools from state coffers. The lack of favorable action has been pragmatically motivated. 

What the outcome will be cannot be predicted with certainty. One thing is certain: the issue will be before the legislatures again. And while certain strong forces in the ranks of public schools have been given time, through this delay, to work against parochiaid and to rally their forces, nevertheless many are predicting that eventually some form of government subsidy is going to become law in more than one state. 

A discussion of this subject, therefore, has not become outdated. On the contrary, this same legislative delay enables us to continue and complete our study and to become prepared in case parochiaid becomes a reality and in case we are faced by a choice of accepting or refusing such subsidy as might be proffered. 

In the June issue we began a study of a popular argument in favor of parochiaid, an argument based on the claim that we live in a pluralistic society with a pluralistic educational system. We quoted at length from the writings of three proponents of this argument, and promised an analysis of this position, concluding with the suggestion that the reader ask the question: where are the lines of light versus darkness drawn in these statements? This phase of our discussion we now continue. 

Not Pluralistic 

First of all, it should be noted that even from a formal and legal point of view we do not have what may properly be called a pluralistic system of education in our country. The idea of pluralism is that there is a plurality of groups within our society, each having its own religious principles, each maintaining its own ideas and views of how its children should be educated in harmony with said religious principles, each entitled to establish and maintain schools which embody its ideas of education, and each having an equal right to government funds for its schools. But this is not the system in our country. As far as the official status of education in this country is concerned, we have a monolithic system, that is, one kind of education, that of the public, or state-controlled educational system. And because of the prohibition against the establishment of religion by the government, this state-controlled educational system is supposed to be non-religious, or religiously neutral (something which is, of course, impossible, as we shall have occasion to note later). This one, state-controlled system of education is the going system in our country. It is set up by law and according to constitution in the various states. There is only one loophole with respect to this system,—a loophole which makes the system somewhat dualistic, but by no means pluralistic. That loophole is this, that citizens in our country may educate their children inprivate schools, whether they be church schools or society-controlled schools. Education is compulsory. And public education is compulsory for all who do not voluntarily choose to educate their children in private schools. 

This is the extent of freedom of education in our country. Dr. Vanden Berg may complain that this is not liberty because it is liberty at a price. Mr. Oosterman may try to say that it is a question whether our society wishes to have a monolithic system of education, akin to the established church of bygone centuries. The fact of the matter is that this is the system that is established by law. It is constitutional. It is not a question whether we have a monolithic system; we have one, with the single exception that private education is also permitted. Nor does the government require anyone to “forfeit his rights to the educational tax dollar.” Everyone has the right to send his children to the public school, as far as the government is concerned; if he nevertheless chooses not to do so, it is his obligation to provide private education. This was the situation when our forefathers came to this country and began to establish Christian schools; recognizing this situation, and for principle’s sake being unwilling to let the state educate their children, they chose the alternative which was by law open to them, namely, private education in schools in harmony with their principles. And they did so at great financial sacrifice, too! For them it was a matter of principle, not of dollars and cents. 

This, in fact, has been the system in our country especially since about 1835. In “Course of Study for Christian Schools,” pp. 375, ff., Mark Fakkema describes the development of this system as follows:

There are two events that have profoundly influenced our country. The first concerns a radical change in the government that overruled our several States; the second concerns a radical change within the government of each State. The first momentous event consists of the establishment of a new, centralized government over all states. This implied the rejection of England’s rule over us. This event occurred in 1776 when our country declared its independence. The second momentous event was the establishment of centralized educational control as a “distinct branch of (State) government.” This implied the rejection of the principle of local educational control. The movement toward State control in education had its beginnings in the convention that framed the Michigan State Constitution in 1835. 

The first event (1776) is celebrated each year as a national holiday. The second event (1835)—which I believe has wrought the greater radical change in our country—is practically unknown and is never as much as mentioned in the ordinary school histories. Whereas before 1835 education in the main enjoyed the freedom which it had inherited from the common law of England, after this date American education increasingly conformed its educational policy to a State controlled educational system imported from Prussia.

Fakkema then describes the consequences of this change in the following language:

As soon as the State took over the educational reins, the State (public) schools, in transmitting the heritage of the past to the rising generation, gave free passage to that which was secular and regarded that which was religious contraband. The inevitable result was that the life for which these schools prepared increasingly became secular, that is Bible-less, Godless, Christ-less, Atheistic, immoral, lawless, corrupt. How significant the deflection of educational control from private to political hands! 

We of course realize that many and varied immediate factors have contributed to bring about our present moral corruption, social chaos, and economic bewilderment; but whatever the immediate contributing causes may be, the ultimate cause is departure from. God and His Word. When God and the teaching of His Word are intentionally and systematically ruled out of preparation for life, then such life’s preparation may well assume the lion’s share of the Godlessness and Bible ignorance of ensuing generations. To secularize instruction and to deny responsibility for the secular character of the instructed is education disowning itself.

Next the question concerning the reason for this “secularization” of schools under State control of education is faced; and Mr. Fakkema answers as follows:

What makes secularization inevitable in our State-controlled system is the fundamental law of the land which deprives religion from State-controlled institutions. It is important to note that in transplanting the Prussian educational system (which was religious) from Germany to America, education lost its religious character. How was this brought about? (1) Whereas in Prussia the federal or central government had charge of .education, in the United States educational control—for constitutional reasons—passed by our Federal government and lodged itself in the governments of the several states. (2) When our several State legislatures took over the task of educating the youth they—also for constitutional reasons—had to divest education of its religious ingredient.

While I may not agree with every formulation in the above quotations, nevertheless I think Fakkema furnishes a rather accurate description of the historical development and character of the American educational system. Officially we have a monolithic educational system; and that established governmental system of education is saddled with the constitutional prohibition against establishment of religion. The only loophole is that those who do not like the state schools are free to establish their own schools with their own funds. Accepting the proponents of parochiaid, for the moment, on their own basis, what is the conclusion? If we grant for the moment that we live in a pluralistic society, what follows as far as education is concerned? In the first place, the proponents of pluralism should not try to get government funds in spite of the fact that this country has a monolithic school system. Nor should they try to take a back-handed slap at the monolithic system along financial avenues. No, even on their own basis they should try to change the system itself. This would, of course, be extremely difficult; and any success in such an attempt would be highly improbable. But even on the basis of the pluralistic view of society and of government’s relation to it, this would at least be honest and straight-forward. 

In the second place, it would appear to follow on the basis of a pluralistic view, and on the basis that the government has any business whatsoever in education, that the proponents of pluralism should not merely insist that all the different segments of society receive money on an equal basis with the public schools, but that the government itself should be charged with the responsibility of operating a totally pluralistic system. Not only should they insist on strict equality as far as money is concerned. Money, or subsidy, is after all only one factor in so-called equality of education. Granting that pluralism is right, and granting that it is the business of government to educate, the logical consequence is that the government should be called upon tooperate a pluralistic system. If, for example, there are a thousand different religious segments in our society, each with its own ideas of education, then the government should set up a thousand different schools for each of these segments. This is absurd, you say? Impossible? I agree. But putting this aside, surely the very least that the proponents of pluralism can advocate is 100% equality as far as the financing of education is concerned. They must not ask for partial support, for some help, or for so-called “greater equity.” They should insist—again, taking them on their own basis, with which I do not at all agree—on total payment for private schools by the government, on an equal footing with the public schools. To my knowledge, no advocate of parochiaid has to date publicly endorsed such an idea. It is too preposterous. Practically it would .mean the certain defeat of parochiaid. But it is a logical consequence of the pluralistic position. And some public school opponents of parochiaid have already seemed to sense this, have feared it, and have (from their point of view) rightly sensed that here is a dire threat to the public school system. 

In the third place, the alternative to the above (again, on the basis of pluralism) would be that the government pull out of education completely. Then all education would be private. Then no taxes would be collected for educational purposes, nor any money handed out by the government for education. Perhaps the only function of government would be to insist that all children receive an education. But it would then be up to each segment of society to establish and maintain its own kind of school. Obviously this is also an impossibility; the clock cannot be turned back, and to attempt to do so would lead to chaos. But again, this would be the logical consequence of pluralism. 

All of this, however, does not get at the root of the problem. 

Negatively speaking, that root of the problem is that our society is not basically pluralistic. When anyone characterizes our society as pluralistic, he is looking at what is only an accidental characteristic of society, not at an essential characteristic. The question is not whether our society is made up of Buddhist, Moslem, Jewish, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, Baptist, Presbyterian, Atheist, and hundreds of other “segments.” This might be a question as far as “Americanism” and democracy are concerned. It might be a question for a government which is supposed to be devoted to the principle of the non-establishment of religion. This might be a question when we think in terms of and glorify so-called freedom of religion and freedom of worship (which, by the way, is not true freedom at all, but a certain toleration of all religions, both true and false). I do not write these things because I do not appreciate the fact that in this country we have the opportunity to worship God and to educate our children according to the true religion, that is, according to the Word of God (not according to our “conscience”). I certainly do appreciate this. But I write thus because I am afraid that gradually we become accustomed to a certain wrong way of thinking about these matters. We begin to equate Christianity and democracy. We begin to glorify so-called religious freedom or tolerance as something highly Christian. We begin to think of a country and a government which claims to be religiously neutral or only generally religious as somewhat of a Christian country and government. We begin to think of “equality in educational opportunity” for “all races, religions, and social classes” as some kind of Christian principle. We begin to think of every kind of education as being at least somewhat good. After a while even Christian school opponents of parochiaid, who supposedly stand for the antithesis, can wish the public schools God’s blessing. And before we realize it, we think of all different kinds of education (our own covenantal schools included) as somehow standing on an equal footing, all somehow fighting for the same goal of education, and all striving to get and entitled to a “fair share” out of the governmental “pork barrel.” 

What has happened when we begin to think this way? We have somehow lost our bearings in a very fundamental sense. And we are in danger of losing, sooner or later, all that we have ever stood for as far as education is concerned. 

Until next time, think it over. What is wrong with so-called pluralism?