Why the System of Public Education Is Irreparable
July-August 1998By Graeme Hunter
Graeme Hunter teaches philosophy at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada.
When asked about the public system of education, many Christians say it is a system of miseducation, and the best thing about it is that it ceases to be compulsory when a student turns 16. Some people who think this way back it up by paying the often crushing fees of private or specifically Christian schools or by making the huge commitment that home-schooling involves. Home-schooling is overwhelmingly a Christian phenomenon. In the largest survey ever conducted on home-schooling, researcher Brian D. Ray has discovered that among American home-schoolers 87 percent identify themselves as Christian (one percent describe themselves as atheist). The growing interest in Christian colleges and universities is another expression of Christians' dissent from the goals, curriculum, and methods of public education.
Although many Christians recognize the illness of public schools and flee it, the diagnosis has tended to come mainly from secular writers. As a Christian educator in the public system, I have therefore found it useful to ask myself once again the three urgent questions: (1) What is the cause of public miseducation? (2) Why can't the public system heal itself? (3) Is it possible to get an education today? My replies will deal mainly with the upper end of the education system, because I know it best, but most of my observations should apply across the board.
What Is the Cause of Miseducation?
First, it must be said that miseducation is not obvious to everyone. There are even many Christians who appear not to notice it. Nor is their blindness in all cases culpable. Several things help to mask the failures of educators. In the first place, there is still plenty of natural talent. We know from our own friends and from our children that the stream of natural aptitude and even genius flows as copiously as ever. Furthermore, we daily interact with people of diverse and impressive skills: Our society rests on a technological foundation of awesome complexity, which could not function without technically competent persons to run it. Finally, we observe that some people still do graduate from our public institutions equipped for life in our complex society, though we may wish it happened more frequently.
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