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education morality

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									                  “THE MYTH OF A VALUE-FREE EDUCATION”
                             by Dr. Ronald Nash

Americans love myths. By "myth," I do not mean the old-fashioned myths that my
generation read in grade school. Many Americans would find reading at that fifth-grade
level too difficult these days. What I mean by "myth" is what older generations used to
call a fiction.

One of the more influential myths presently affecting the American family is the myth of
a value-free education. A value-free education is described as one in which students are
supposed to be free from any coerced exposure to the values of anyone.

One way the defenders of value-free education frame their argument is this: they argue
that because America ceased to be a homogeneous society a long time ago, the
watchword today must be pluralism. In the new setting of today, they insist, we can no
longer stress the values and beliefs of some, while ignoring the values of all. And so, they
say, we’ll avoid all the problems inherent in this situation by simply agreeing to ignore all
values. This specious argument deceives Americans into thinking this is the only way to
achieve fairness in our schools.

College students today are surrounded by an allegedly academic setting in which the
things they find most obvious are confusion, conflicting claims and the absence of any
fixed points of reference. America’s colleges have become centers of intellectual disorder.
As David Gress explains, "Instead of being havens of independent thought, universities
have become channels of indoctrination…confirming the prejudices of those who control
the agenda of public discourse." Ralph Bennett is surely right when he warns that "behind
its ivy-colored camouflage, American higher education is a fraud—untrue to its students,
untrue to itself."

The inadequacies of contemporary education are not exclusively matters of the mind.
Traditional religious and moral values are under assault at every level of public and
higher education. Our educational system is engaged in a systematic undermining of
these values.

Our educational crisis is to some extent a closing of the American mind, as Allan Bloom
examined in his best selling book of that title. But it is also something more profound, a
closing of the American heart. No real progress towards improving American education
can occur until all of us realize that an education that ignores moral and religious beliefs
cannot qualify as a quality education. Recently, no less a person than Mikhail Gorbachev
admitted that the major reason his nation is in such trouble is because his people are
ignorant of moral and spiritual values.

The development of the intellect and of moral character are intimately related. Just as
there is an order in nature (the laws of science), in reason (the laws of logic), and in the
realm of numbers, so too is there a moral order. One thing we need to do is recover the
belief that there is a transcendent, unchanging moral order, and restore it once more to a
central place in the educational process.

Throughout history, important thinkers have contended that there is a higher order of
permanent things (like moral norms), that human happiness is dependent on living our
lives in accordance with this transcendent order, and that peace and order within human
society require respect for this order. The most important task of education is to
continually remind students of the existence and importance of this transcendent order as
well as of its content.

If teachers are doing their job properly, they serve as an essential link in the chain of
civilization. Without this link, the chain cannot hold. Teachers are the conservers of
culture; they are also its transmitters. At least, that’s the role that teachers used to play.

Modern education in America has largely separated virtue and knowledge. The Sophists
of our age have severed the link between reason and virtue, between the mind and the
heart; there is objective truth out there, which it is our duty to pursue and discover. But
there is also an objective moral order out there, as well as in here. An adequate education
dare not ignore either the mind or the heart. Just as we dare not divorce education from
matters of the heart, so too we must not separate education from religion. Like any
important human activity, education has an inescapable religious component.

Religious faith is not just one isolated compartment of a person’s life—a compartment
that we can take or leave as we wish. Religious faith is rather a dimension of life that
colors, affects and influences everything we do and believe. Human beings are incurably
religious, as John Calvin once said. Paul Tillich was right when he defined religion as a
matter of "ultimate concern." Every person has something that concerns him ultimately
and whatever that may be, the ultimate concern will have an enormous influence on
everything else the person does or believes.

Since every human being has something about which he is ultimately concerned, it
follows that every human being has a God. No human being can possibly be neutral when
it comes to religion. When an individual encounters people who claim that education
should be free of any religious content, he should recognize that this is not a religiously
neutral claim. Rather it is an assertion that reflects the religious commitments of the
person making it. There is a sense in which education is an activity that is religious at its
roots. Any effort to remove religion from education is merely the substitution of one set
of ultimate religious commitments for another.

It is absurd then to think that a choice between the sacred and secular in education is
possible. Whatever the state and the courts do regarding education will only establish one
person’s set of ultimate (religious) concerns at the expense of someone else’s.

Nothing will remedy the problems of American education more quickly and more
effectively than the introduction of greater freedom and choice in education. We should
seek a permanent end to the situation that allows the state to determine where children
must attend school, if that child is to receive a free public education. American families
should have complete freedom to send their children to any school they wish, without the
added financial burden of paying private school tuition. One way to realize this objective
is through educational vouchers. Following the institution of a voucher system, public
monies for education would not pass directly to schools. Rather, that money would be
given first to the families of school-age children in the form of vouchers. Parents would
then use those vouchers to pay for their children’s education at a school of their own
choosing.

Perhaps the major reason why public schools are so bad is because they have no
competition; they are immune to market-discipline. Consequently, public schools have no
incentive to offer a better product at a lower cost. A pro-choice movement in education
would give public schools serious competition for the first time in more than a century.
(Notice the implication here: many Americans are unaware of the fact that for
generations, America’s public schools did not enjoy a monopoly with regard to public
financial support.)

It is not enough that we simply increase choice among public schools. The governmental
monopoly over publicly funded education is a large part of our problem. It is imperative
that educational choice be expanded to include the option of attending without financial
penalty, without the burden of double taxation, any school that any family wishes,
including church-operated private schools. The best and quickest way to improve the
quality of education is to allow families to choose their school and let the competition of
the market determine which schools prosper and which schools die. In the process,
families will be able to select schools, not only on the basis of academic quality, but also
with a view to the moral and spiritual values fostered by the school.

								
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