Gary North’s Reality Check
I have just read the best article in National Review that I can remember in the last 40 years. Of course, this is not saying a great deal, because I stopped reading National Review about 40 years ago. I used to write for it occasionally. My introduction to the magazine was in the fall of 1959, when I was a freshman at Pomona College. I read it faithfully for about five years, and intermittently until the early 1970s. After that, my interests shifted.
The article I refer to has a great title: “The Last Radicals.” It was written by Kevin D. Williamson. It begins with this paragraph.
There is exactly one authentically radical social movement of any real significance in the United States, and it is not Occupy, the Tea Party, or the Ron Paul faction. It is homeschoolers, who, by the simple act of instructing their children at home, pose an intellectual, moral, and political challenge to the government-monopoly schools, which are one of our most fundamental institutions and one of our most dysfunctional. Like all radical movements, homeschoolers drive the establishment bats.
I think this assessment is correct. Homeschooling now qualifies as a movement. It is certainly radical, in that it has taken a public stand, with money on the line, against the public schools.
It stands against the only American institution that can legitimately claim for itself this unique position: it is the only established church in the nation. It has a self-accredited, self-screened priesthood, as every church must. It has a theology. Its theology is messianic: salvation through knowledge. But this knowledge must be screened and shaped in order to bring forth its socially healing power.
Massachusetts was the last state to abolish tax funding of churches. That was in 1832. In 1837, the state created the nation’s first state board of education. It was run by one of the crucial figures in American history, the Unitarian lawyer Horace Mann. He believed that the public schools should perform much the same function that the established Congregational churches had performed for two centuries in Massachusetts. The schools would produce what the churches had failed to produce, a new humanity. They would transform sin-bound man by means of education.
This outlook is what R. J. Rushdoony called the messianic character of American education, which is the title of his 1963 book. The book is a detailed study of the two dozen major theorists of American progressive education. In that book, he observed that the public school system is America’s only established church. In the same year, liberal historian Sidney E. Mead made the same observation in his book, The Lively Experiment. Rushdoony opposed this established church, while Mead was its acolyte.
Rushdoony became one of the major spokesmen of the homeschooling movement in the mid-1980s. He testified repeatedly in court cases where the state had brought charges against homeschooling families.
AN OLD TRADITION, FORGOTTEN
In 1987, he testified in the case of Leeper v. Arlington. A group of homeschooling families sued the city of Arlington, Texas. There were over 1,000 districts in Texas. They won. Their attorney said in 2011, “After the victory that God gave us in that case, the prosecutions [of homeschoolers] stopped in all the other forty-nine states.”
Sharpe brought in Rushdoony as an expert witness. “His testimony was way beyond anything I’d hoped for. It was one of the few times in my career that I ever saw a witness destroy the attorney who was trying to examine him.”
Sharpe took a unique approach. He believed that a 1915 Texas law had established parents’ legal right to teach their children at home. The 1915 law was a compulsory schooling law. It exempted private school students. From 1900 to 1920, 60% of Texas families home schooled their children. This had to be the frame of reference for the law’s exemption, not tuition-funded schools.
In his court testimony, Rushdoony made a crucial point: homeschooling was an old tradition long before the formation of the United States.
The basic form of education in much of the colonial period as well as for a long time thereafter was the home school. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony there was an attempt to limit colonization to townships to keep the population concentrated. Some of those did have formal schools in the form of a building where all of the children came. But apart from that, it was private or home schools that prevailed in most of the colonies. There was a limited amount among the wealthy southerners of tutorial schooling, but for the most part it was home schooling. This continued for a good many years thereafter in much of the United States, particularly on the frontier.
There was another major factor. It came out under cross-examination.
You must realize that it was only with the depression that we had in most states compulsory attendance to high school, and it was, I believe, with the depression of the 1930’s that they began to extend compulsory attendance laws through the eighth grade. Prior to that, if you gained reading, writing and arithmetic essentially in the first three or four grades, it was held that you were schooled.
Americans today think that the existing educational system, K-12, has been around for a century. It has, but hardly anyone went through this entire system prior to World War I, and those who did were generally urban residents.
A RADICAL RESTORATION
It is common for every radical movement to appeal back to an earlier era in which its first principles were widely accepted and adhered to. That, surely, was the rhetoric of the American Revolutionaries, 1770-76. They claimed the ancient rights of Englishmen. That did not make them any less revolutionary in the early 1770s.
(For the rest of the article, click the link.)