Interview with Marshall Fritz
The Alliance Story:
Marshall Fritz, the Alliance's founder, is a man of big ideas, boundless enthusiasm and a hearty sense of humor, but he's deadly serious about getting the government out of the education business.
Marshall Fritz: A number of years ago I started a school called Pioneer Christian Academy. I started Pioneer to initiate a paradigm shift in K-12 education, a breakthrough I knew was impossible for government schools because they are rooted in socialism, and it's almost impossible for educators, for other reasons, to attempt a breakthrough. I wanted the Pioneer concept as it replicated into hundreds then thousands of schools, to become the fulcrum by which we could effect the separation of school and state.
Tammy Drennan: What made you come to believe that the state should not be involved in education?
MF: In 1983, I listened to a tape by George H. Smith called "Public Schools Are a Success If You Measure Them By Their Objectives." I saw that what was going on in the government's schools was the plan, that the schools intended to interfere with parents' ability to pass their own world view on to their children. As I did more research, this view was further confirmed. While studying the school wars over Outcome Based Education, I came to understand that there are two basic world views that simply cannot be reconciled to one another.
The metaphor I sometimes use is that those world views are like tectonic plates scraping against each other deep beneath the ocean's surface. The school wars are like the tidal waves we see, the tsunamis that result from those scrapings — those earthquakes of the tectonic plates. You cannot build a structure across those things just as you cannot build a structure half on granite and half on a glacier. The glacier moves and it destroys the structure.
If I had to have names for those two world views, I would call one of them a traditionalist, absolutist view, of which the majority are monotheists, and then the glacier, the moving piece, is relativism, modernism, post-modernism and other variations in antagonism toward absolute truth.
Government schooling represents the latter view. The only peaceful resolution is to not try to co-educate the children of people from different world views. So I decided that my energies would be best spent working to explain this to people, helping people see that the schools are doing what they were intended to do, and that is to promote a certain world view, and that the answer is to take education out of the hands of the government and put it into the hands of parents and the free market.
TD: So you believe there is no possibility that public schools can be reformed.
MF: Public schools are based on four false premises: 1. Welfare works, 2. Socialism works, 3. Parents have insufficient wisdom, and 4. We can teach character without mentioning God. We need to replace those false premises with truisms, and the truisms I suggest are: 1. Responsibility works, 2. Freedom works, 3. Parents have more wisdom than politicians, and 4. To teach character, we must integrate three factors: the reason for morality, examples of morality, and instruction in morality.
Today's schools are trying to teach kids to be good, but if Johnny says, "Why should I be good, Mrs. McLumphy?" she cannot give him a real, significant answer. Everything she says is shallow, because to give a significant answer is to undermine some segment of that classroom. So we are pretending we can teach children how without teaching them why. Those four fundamental false premises are the very foundation of public schooling and require the replacement of government schools, not their reform.
TD: What about charter schools, or vouchers that would allow parents to use public school funds to send their children where they wish?
MF: While tax-funded vouchers and charter schools introduce much needed competition into education, they spread the dependency attitude to families currently paying for their children's education, to families who have already broken the habit of dependency, and the hole is only dug deeper. There are 46 million children in government schools and six and a half million in private or home schools. Vouchers would extend dependence from those 46 million children and their families to probably five million of the six and a half million independent families.
TD: One argument against turning education over to the free market is that it will open the door to exploitation of children by business.
MF: My humorous response to that would be — go buy a case of New Coke and see how long it takes you, or clear Pepsi. Without the help of government, these businesses cannot force anything on us.
TD: Another argument is that many children from poor families will end up going without education altogether or will have to settle for an inferior product.
MF: I want every child in America, especially the children of the poor, to be able to go to a better school than they do today. And I think separation is the way to do it. Let me read from our brochure: Competition, innovation and unity of purpose between parent and teacher can bring the cost of schooling down by 50% to 75% of today's government schools. Separation will allow a 300 billion dollar tax cut. This means two-thirds of the population can afford tuition and will have 200 billion dollars left over. We can prudently predict an increase of 20 to 25 billion dollars in charitable giving to assist the one-third of the parents who will need help to cover part or most of the tuition.
TD: Do you think it is realistic to believe the government would turn all that tax money back over to the people?
MF: When Americans discovered in 1946 that they were no longer fighting World War II, they demanded and got the largest tax cut in history. When we discover the government isn't running the schools anymore, we can demand and get the next largest tax cut in history. We've done it before — we can do it again. We need to understand that the America that is separating school and state is an America that is repudiating the whole concept of the welfare state, because we're not going to end the first of the welfare notions — tax-funded, government schooling — without ending the rest of the welfare notions.
TD: Some people are concerned that poor families who will have to depend on charity for their kids' education will end up not having true freedom of religious association, because most of the charitable giving will come from churches and religious organizations.
MF: Then I would suggest that the atheists and agnostics become more generous. If they're really concerned about this, if they have a good idea, they should finance it themselves and not use the power of the state to force people who don't believe in their ideas to finance their schools for them.
TD: What about parents who don't care, who, given a choice, will neglect their kids' education?
MF: Are we talking about rich parents who don't care and just outsource the raising of their children? Are we talking about the yuppies and double-income-with-kids professional parents, people whose professional careers are so important to them that they outsource the raising of their children? Or are we talking about the inner-city mom, the proverbial welfare-, doesn't-care-about-her-kids mom? Which of these are you talking about?
TD: Let's say we're talking about parents on welfare, because most people are going to believe that the yuppie parents and the rich parents will shell out some money to get their kids out of their hair or keep them out of trouble, even if they don't care. I think most people are concerned about the "irresponsible poor."
MF: I agree that it is the concern of most people. I'll give you my hard-core answer first. Parents who don't care are going to draw some wisdom from Yogi Berra and his comment, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." It sounds stupid, but our welfare-dependent, irresponsible parent never comes to a fork in the road. She is given just enough money and support by the government to continue her irresponsibility. And when the government is no longer going to occupy her children's time in something called school, nor give her an existing wage in terms of welfare benefits, when we return to charity, which comes from the Latin word caritas, which means love, then she's going to be faced with the various charitable organizations' demands on her to change her lifestyle, to shape up. She is going to find herself at a terrible fork in the road. She shapes up and keeps her children with the help of these charitable organizations, or she turns to her children and says, "I'm sorry, I can't keep you. I am putting you up for adoption." And we may see thousands of poor children being given up for adoption, because their parents choose their own desires over the needs of their children. And I believe America's Christians would rise to meet the need for adoptive parents.
TD: Do you think it's likely that just the opposite could happen — that these people will feel a sense of relief that they are now responsible for their own lives and children and will rise to the occasion?
MF: I would say that the vast majority will have exactly that response and that we will see a blossoming in our inner-cities that will be similar to the way they looked in 1898 — alive and vibrant, with people on their way up and out of the inner-city, toward the suburbs. Oh, yeah. I think the vast majority will revive themselves, in cities and elsewhere. I think it will be a minority that will say, "I would rather continue my immoral ways of profound slothfulness and drug addiction." I think that's a small minority.
TD: Would you be supportive of the government withdrawing all participation in education but enforcing a mandatory attendance law?
MF: Absolutely not. It is not the state's position to have compulsory Monday School any more than to have compulsory Sunday School.
TD: Do you think that conflicts with the idea that the state has a compelling interest in the education of its citizens?
MF: I don't determine any organization's rights and authorities based on its interests. The Coca Cola Company has a compelling interest in people being able to add and subtract, because it wants that in its employees, but that "compelling interest" does not give the Coca Cola Company the right to tell any parent in America when or whether his child should learn arithmetic facts. We birthed this republic a lifetime before there was any compulsory attendance in America, and since the beginning of the compulsory attendance legislation in 1852, I think we've seen much of the essence of this republic slip between our fingers. In a free country, the state does not compel the parents to send their children to school. We are not the chattels of the state.
TD: What do you think would be the long-term impact of separation on the economy of the United States?
MF: I think our people would return to inquisitive minds rather than acquisitive addictions, that the real health of our society, as indicated by wholesome, respectful relations within families and within the community would skyrocket. I think the false measurements of society's health, the so-called economic indicators, would grow more slowly. I look forward to hearing John Taylor Gatto's presentation at our conference this year: A Short, Angry History of Modern Schooling and How It Stimulates Mindless Consumerism.
TD: What impact do you think separation will have on "the church"?
MF: This, I believe, is the most important question you could have asked. I believe that in the separation of school and state are the seeds of a Great Awakening. My logic is this: We will move from 110,000 schools to over 500,000 schools. It is easy to prudently predict this, because schools are far too large, and most schools, when they are fully private, will have from 50 to 200 students. That means that for the typical American, there will be three schools within walking distance and another five or ten within easy commute. That means the typical 30/35 year old parents of young children are going to need to decide which of these competing schools they are going to send their children to. The schools will be advertising how much they support a particular type of parent or world view or religion or morality or character building. Brittany will say to Shawn, "We want to send the children to a school that supports our beliefs — what do we really believe in?" And Shawn will respond, "Huh! What do we really believe in?" That question, asked by tens of millions of parents, will be the seedbed of the next Great Awakening.
TD: What about at the clergy level?
MF: I haven't given that much thought. I would need to do some thinking before I had an answer.
TD: The Alliance concentrates on educating people about the concept of separation and the need for it, but it does not work legislatively to achieve separation. Why not?
MF: We're going to need hundreds of organizations eventually to complete this job of separation, and there needs to be room for people to start their own organizations. So I'm creating a vacuum, if you will, by limiting us to the educational aspect. I'm creating a vacuum on the political side that we are not trying to fill, so others can step up and fill that — so we'll bring in more leaders of their organizations, not vice-presidents of mine.
TD: Do you think separation is a real possibility?
MF: Very much so. Wilberforce thought it was a real possibility to end the slave trade and then to end slavery itself in the British Empire. Frederick Douglass thought it was possible to end slavery in the United States. Sam Adams thought it was possible to separate America from England. Pope John Paul II thought it was possible to end Marxism in the East.
TD: How do you think it will occur?
MF: It occurs one family at a time, and it keeps occurring to more and more families until the people that are in the public system recognize that their system is fundamentally flawed. Then there's a moment — I like to call it "Whoosh" — there's a moment of Whoosh when everyone else comes on board. There are already six and a half million children whose parents are estranged from the government system, who use private or home schooling. And there are probably a million or so families who are thinking seriously about leaving. Add to that another million or so who are probably at the margin, and we have the beginning of an independence movement that will have people sitting up and taking notice and will be encouraging others to take the step, too.
TD: The Alliance has a proclamation that people can sign to show their support of separation. Your goal is 25 million signatures. What will you do with the signatures?
MF: Back to your earlier question about politics. A politician is in large measure a person who looks for a parade, runs out in front and says "Follow me." Our job is to create the parade. If we create the parade, the politicians will come. So they need to see the size of the parade. My guess is that when it crosses the half-million mark, we'll start to see politicians coming our way.
TD: In a nutshell, why should people support the separation of school and state?
MF: Our society is falling like a streamlined brick into a cesspool of violence, into a sort of hedonism on steroids, into a shortsightedness that will truly become a culture of death. We look with disgust at Andersonville, Aushwitz and the gulag: if we do not reverse this culture, we are looking at our future. State schools are the reproductive organs of statism. The separation of school and state is part of the reversal of the idolatry of government.
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