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A Practical Plan:
Originally published in The Education Liberator, Vol. 3, No. 2, February/March 1997
Practical plan in a nutshell
We need to win the hearts and minds of four groups: families, educators, clergy, and the philanthropist in us all:
Momentary political victory in a period of crisis would be useless without victory in the hearts and minds of people. The Separation Alliance focuses on the necessary first step in accomplishing our mission--the building of a broad--based constituency for "Separation." We leave to other groups any ballot initiatives, lobbying, and electioneering that might be necessary.
Once a person sees the need for separating educational activity from state involvement, the immediate question becomes "HOW?" At first, the job looks impossible, too utopian for practical people to consider:
These are definitely the two big obstacles, and both are better addressed by the Family Responsibility Strategy rather than a political strategy. Let me explain.
The schooling attitude spectrum
Americans cover a wide spectrum in their attitude about tax-financed schools:
Defensive-Some Americans claim the schools are doing a wonderful job in most instances, but could be even better with more money for smaller class size, advanced teacher training, longer school day, longer school year, and other reforms.
Concerned-Many Americans believe their own school district is doing a very good job, but in general, public schooling is slipping badly. They want many of the aforementioned reforms, and are mixed about whether more money or more efficiency is necessary.
Alarmed-While these Americans see some exceptions in magnet schools and some rural and suburban schools, they believe public schooling is in serious trouble and the system needs a major shakeup. They want structural reforms such as charter schools, contracting out (sometimes called "privatization"), and tax-funded school vouchers.
Estranged -These Americans will not allow the local school district to school their children. For religious, safety, or academic reasons, they home- or private-school their children. Many have not given up a belief in government schooling, believing that if they and others like them were in charge it could work fine.
Freed-These Americans believe education is outside the proper jurisdiction of local, state, and federal government and believe reforming the present system is futile. According to a Wirthlin poll in September, 1994, they comprise about 13 percent of the population.
The Family Responsibility Strategy (FRS)
The Family Responsibility Strategy focuses on getting the parents who are frustrated with their tax-financed schools to remove their children from those schools and reclaim family responsibility for their children's education. Also, it recruits non-parents who are fed up with government schools to help finance scholarships for low-income families.
The strategy is essentially educational, personal, and decentralized.
The FRS is educational in that it teaches certain lessons about history, education, and family responsibility. It is personal in that it moves individual people to an "ah-ha!" realization. The FRS is decentralized in that individuals in their local circles of influence can be effective without depending upon a political organization.
The FRS calls for "moral improvement" of individuals. In classical terms, it calls on parents to avoid covetousness, the desire to compel others to pay for their children's education, and slothfulness, the inclination to do the easy thing rather than the right thing.
Prohibition v. 12-step as example
An example of the difference between a political strategy and a personal strategy is the early and late fight against alcoholism. The Temperance Movement was political. It focused on getting 51% of legal jurisdictions to make alcohol use a crime, reaching it's high point with the 14-year period we call Prohibition.
The political strategy failed to stem the use of alcohol. Within a year of the demise of Prohibition, an individual responsibility strategy was born: Alcoholics Anonymous. Most observers believe this decentralized, personal strategy has made progress against alcoholism.
How will the Family Responsibility Strategy actually work?
By persuading millions of parents to remove their children from government-run schools, the number of "freed" and "estranged" will reach a "critical mass," and popular support for the government-run schools will collapse.
Before you scoff, look at the fall of the Berlin Wall. In October, 1989, none of us thought the fall was close. Then the Hungarians allowed the East Germans to leave by car. We all remember the TV images of desperate Germans flooding over the border. Did everybody leave? Did it require even a million? I don't know the exact number, but I suspect it took fewer than 17,000. What happened?
Eastern Europe had reached a super saturated solution of discontent, and the TV image of the failure of communism was so concentrated that it acted as the precipitant.
The TV image served as the little boy who pointed out the Emperor was buck naked. In a matter of days, many of the millions still in East Germany were energized to profess their disgust for Marxism in mass rallies to the point where it became embarrassing to work for Stasi, the East German secret police. It reached the point where no workers showed up at Stasi headquarters, and citizens just milled about, rifling through files.
We have no way to predict what will be the "little boy" that galvanizes Americans into action to end our Berlin Wall, government schools. We cannot predict when it will happen in years or even in number of children removed from the system.
The system has withstood the loss of seven million children to private and home education. It is my guess that it can withstand losing another five million, but the next five million removals will be too much. Popular support for "public schools" will collapse. The leadership in government-run tax-financed schools will recognize that the gig is up, and they will then assist in the transfer of the remaining 35 million children to private schools. Many will become the teachers and administrators in several hundred thousand new independent schools, many renting space in the former "public schools" facilities.
After two years, they will be so pleased that they'll wonder why they hung on to state coercion so long.
Alliance for the Separation of School & State. Permission is granted to freely distribute this article as long as this copyright notice is included in its entirety.
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