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A Solution to the Problem of Failed Public Schools


It may be true, as the late, great Andrew Breitbart famously said, that “politics is downstream of culture.” But both are downstream of education. Nothing is more important to our families or to the future of our country than the moral, social, psychological, and intellectual development of our children. 

In that regard, the pandemic lockdowns created quite a conundrum for traditionally conservative and “red-pilled” parents. They were on the front lines of the school reopening movement, demanding that children—who were at virtually no risk from covid—be allowed to attend school in person (and without masks). Yet once the public schools did reopen, those same parents found that their children were being exposed to a level of sexual and political indoctrination never before seen. 

The backlash, predictably, was swift and harsh, with parents across the country crowding into school board meetings to demand an end to the nonsense. Sadly, that strategy has not been especially effective, at least not on a broad scale. Notwithstanding viral videos of brave moms and dads giving red-faced board members what-for, many of those board members have just dug in their heels on issues like Critical Race Theory, “transgenderism,” and their own “authority” to issue mask mandates whenever they please. By and large, the government education establishment remains indifferent to parents’ concerns. They’re certain they know better, and that’s that.  

This has led commentators like Matt Walsh and Dennis Prager—and more recently, Brownstone’s own Charles Krblich—to argue that the public schools are irreparably broken and the best thing parents can do is remove their children as soon as possible. I came to that conclusion myself a few years ago, after decades of defending public schools as our primary instrument for producing thoughtful, informed citizens. That is a role the schools appear to have abandoned, at least since the covid shutdowns if not much earlier. Parents are thus justified in abandoning them. 

Unfortunately, for large numbers of parents, it’s not that easy. Many remain invested in their local schools, which in some cases their families have attended for generations, and they’re loath to just up and leave. And even for those who agree it’s time to go, where exactly will they go?

Homeschooling is growing in popularity, especially after many parents discovered during the closures (ironically enough) that they could educate their children just fine on their own. But for other parents, particularly in two-career families, homeschooling simply isn’t practical. Many also have legitimate concerns about their children missing out on important social opportunities and extracurricular activities. Variations on the concept, such as homeschool academies or co-ops, can help alleviate some of those problems, but again—not for everyone. 

Traditional private schools, long the refuge of disgruntled, affluent parents, present their own set of problems. First, they tend to be prohibitively expensive, far beyond the ability of most families to pay, especially if they have multiple school-age children.

 Besides that, many private schools these days seem beset by exactly the same problems dogging their public counterparts. In many cases, they, too, have become “woke” indoctrination centers and bastions of “safetyism.” So what do families gain for their money? 

Charter schools can be a viable alternative, where they exist. But they are difficult to get off the ground, often facing stiff opposition from within. And because they are publicly funded, they must follow many of the same policies as other public institutions. Fundamentally, charter schools are still government schools.

And then there are “classical academies,” essentially combining private education with homeschooling—bringing kids on campus two or three days a week and having them study at home the other days. Unfortunately, they also combine the necessity of paying tuition with the requirement that at least one parent be home some of the time. Once again, not every family can do that.

I don’t mean to disparage any of these models. All have their advantages, and one of them might be the best fit for you and your family. But clearly, even taken together, they are insufficient to address the problem, because millions of parents who would like to get their kids out of the government schools still feel trapped there.

For those desperate parents, I would like to offer another alternative: that communities, churches, and other charitable organizations band together to create their own private (which is to say, non-government) schools that would offer high-quality education and be open to all, regardless of beliefs or ability to pay. I propose that these schools be built upon three main pillars: excellence, affordability, and accessibility. 

To foster “excellence,” the schools would borrow heavily from the classical model, emphasizing academic skills such as reading, writing, and mathematics along with accurate history, foreign languages, and the arts. 

“Affordability” means that the cost of attending would be subsidized as needed, financed by donations, fundraisers, and community-based capital campaigns. Tuition should be as low as possible to begin with, so that vouchers (in states where they exist) will cover most of the cost for students who qualify. For students who can’t afford to pay the balance or who don’t qualify for vouchers, the schools will make up the difference through need-based scholarships. No child will be turned away because his or her family lacks the ability to pay.

Nor would any child be turned away because of his or her beliefs, which is what I mean by “accessibility.” Note that I include churches in this proposal not because I’m advocating for explicitly religious education—far from it—but because churches have one thing that is absolutely essential to the plan’s success: facilities. Yes, many churches already sponsor private schools, though those can be nearly as expensive as their nonreligious counterparts. But many other churches boast large, well-appointed buildings that remain mostly unused throughout the week.

What I’m suggesting is that some of those churches allow the local community to use their facilities—either free or at very low cost—to create schools that are not only inexpensive but also accessible to all, regardless of beliefs. No “statement of faith” will be required, of either students or faculty (although there could certainly be some kind of behavioral contract or “honor code.”)

I realize this is a potential sticking point. For many churches, evangelizing is part of their mission. But consider this: When a church invites a child into its building, whether the child ever joins that church or embraces its doctrines, the congregation has performed a vital service not only for the child but for the entire community. Everyone benefits because the child attended that school, regardless of whether he or she is Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Latter-day Saint, Jewish, Muslim, or atheist. 

As the former Archbishop of Washington, John Cardinal Hickey, put it, “We don’t teach children because THEY are Catholics; we teach them because WE are.” Speaking to my own tribe for a moment, can Christians think of a better, more impactful way of fulfilling Christ’s admonition to love our neighbors?

And yes, I do recognize that what I’m proposing in many ways resembles the system of Catholic schools that performed so much good in this country for so many years. Unfortunately, that system did not reach every part of the country and appears to be dying out in others. My proposal builds on that model in a way that I believe is feasible for any community.

All it will take is a group of dedicated, determined parents working hand-in-hand with local pastors, community leaders, and other experts in areas like education, law, finance, and marketing. Some of those experts would no doubt be the parents themselves, bringing to the table whatever knowledge and experience they have acquired. If they put their minds to it, I am confident such a group could procure a facility, raise the necessary money to get started, hire a handful of teachers (and/or recruit qualified parent volunteers), and launch a school.  

If you find this idea appealing and would like to act on it, I suggest you start by seeking out and organizing a group of like-minded parents and professionals in your community. Then you can task one sub-group with identifying a suitable facility, another with planning fundraising activities, a third with researching state or local requirements for chartering a private school, and a fourth with reaching out to potential students and their families. 

Alternatively, perhaps a large and affluent church would like to take on this project itself as a service to the community, using its own facilities, human capital, and donations from its members. Either way, with a little hard work, a relatively small group of committed individuals could probably have a school up and running by next fall.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have additional suggestions or would like to talk more about how to put this idea into action. My email address is in my author bio here at Brownstone Institute. 

The public schools in many (most?) parts of this country are indeed broken, and there’s no point in trying to “work within the system” to fix them. They’re too far gone. Meanwhile, our children are suffering. All children are suffering. Our only option is to bypass the “system” altogether, take matters into our own hands, and create our own schools, focused on excellence and open to everyone. Then maybe whatever is “downstream” of our children’s education will be something we can all live with.

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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  • Rob Jenkins

    Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Georgia State University – Perimeter College and a Higher Education Fellow at Campus Reform. He is the author or co-author of six books, including Think Better, Write Better, Welcome to My Classroom, and The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders. In addition to Brownstone and Campus Reform, he has written for Townhall, The Daily Wire, American Thinker, PJ Media, The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. The opinions expressed here are his own.

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