Whenever there’s a problem, we want to know who’s responsible. Who’s responsible for causing the problem? Who’s responsible for fixing the problem? Few would argue that in the world of education there is no problem. So who’s responsible?
Modern wisdom assumes that the State is responsible to provide an education for its citizens. That’s where we look. Whatever the problem (education, climate change, transportation, health and safety...) the cry goes up: “The government must do something!” And in some instances it must. But we should pause to distinguish between two kinds of state responsibility: the responsibility for causing the problem and the responsibility to fix the problem. For most people, it goes without saying that the state is responsible for education. But perhaps it is a responsibility on the cause, rather than the fix, side of the equation.
Certainly the State has assumed responsibility for education. But while parents imagine this means the responsibility to reach children to read and write, in practice its goals are often quite different. Author John J. Dunphy expressed it this way:
“I am convinced that the battle for humankind's future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers that correctly perceive their role as proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity that recognizes and respects the spark of what theologians call divinity in every human being... The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and new -- the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism, resplendent with the promise of a world in which the never-realized Christian ideal of 'love thy neighbor' will finally be achieved.”
This is not just a recent sentiment. John Dewey (considered by many to be one of the most influential figures in modern U.S. public school education) wrote in 1897, that the teacher is always “the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true Kingdom of God”. And in the kingdom that he referred to, the true god is man.
We must resist the lie that education is a state responsibility. Yes – it takes a village to raise children; but the village is not the state. We cannot expect the state to fix the problem. In its own terms, its educational experiment has been a huge success in accomplishing the goals it set itself as the “proselytizer of a new faith”. But for those of us who were hoping that the State would be responsible to enable our children to read well and grasp algebra, Stan Laurel sums it up: “Another fine mess you’ve got us into!”
Brian Watts is the author of “What do you learn in School?”