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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There is another ingredient in this problem that exists in (I think) the "omniversity" and in (I know) community colleges. That is, they are trying to style themselves as businesses--but the tax subsidies still have to increase every year.

I taught at a community college for 15 years. For 10 of those years,I also tutored in the writing center;for another one of those years, I worked as an academic advisor; and for the last two, I was the associate registrar. All of this time I was still teaching Comp I and II and Wortld Lit. So I had a pretty good handle on what was going on at this community college.

A few years ago the BIG GUYS decided that we were to become a business. And, to top it all off, were to think of our students as "customers." And that's what they were called in much of the promotional literature. Within a short time students' attitudes had changed dramatically--because, as we all know, the customer is always right. Another teacher related this story: a student, who had made a poor grade on her paper, stormed into that teacher's office, slapped her paper down on the teahcer's desk, and nearly shouted, "I paid my money. I want an 'A.'" There you go.

I don't teach there anymore.
Posted by: mlhearing
May 15, 2009 10:36 AM EDT
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