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The Education Liberator, Vol. 1, No. 5, February 1996

Practicalities of separating school & state

Part 1: How to find allies without energizing opponents
- and -
Part 2: Revolution's tough choice: Practical, Prompt, Prudent

by Marshall Fritz

For two years, we at the Separation Alliance have worked to prepare the foundation from which to support grass roots volunteer activity. Now we are ready to launch that activity, and this article begins a series dealing with the practical factors of communicating our ideas of Separation. Future installments will cover the how-to's of solo and team volunteer activity.

SUMMARY: Part 1 describes micro-change, that is, how an individual person changes his/her mind, particularly when a long-held belief is attacked. Author shares a personal experience, then draws conclusion about the importance of a "Tenet Torpedo" and advises on the manner how it should be delivered. Part 2 of this article describes macro-change, that is, the three phases of political change in a society. Describes a revolutionary's choice of two-out-of-three, and makes the case for educational activity now, political activity later.

Part 1: How to Find Allies Without Energizing Opponents

When you propose that schooling should be separated from the state, you'll not be asked, "Why would you want to do that?"

Most people have some gut sense that the government doesn't do a very good job, yet they are so accustomed to public schooling that they blurt out objections, sometimes in the form of questions.

The most common questions are, "What about the poor?" and "What about children of irresponsible parents." These are great opportunities to deliver certain "Tenet Torpedoes" that fracture long-held but invalid cornerstone assumptions about public schooling. If you've delivered your torpedoes accurately and politely, your prospect without ever conceding your victory on principle will shift conversation to the practical with a question such as, "*How* can this ever be done?"

Do they listen with an open mind, or want to punch you in the nose?

To paraphrase Colbert, we must provoke a maximum of thought and a minimum of anger. Anger prevents considering our ideas on their merits. People naturally respond with anger whenever their ideas are attacked. Further, some of our opponents will appeal to anger. We must subdue anger in ourselves and avoid provoking it in our prospects.

Caution: Recognize how deeply you can upset people by proposing Separation

Most Americans "believe in public schools." Although that belief is vague and unfounded, people have held it so long that they do not dislodge it easily. To help them listen with an open mind, Separation pioneers should treat the Public School Belief with the same care and respect that most of us try to treat another person's religion. A recent experience instigated by Jim Lathrop, Arlington, Va., helped me understand this.

Jim cleverly helped me experience the discomfort felt by our prospects. He asked me what it would take to begin to dislodge a specific long-and-deeply-held part of my world view. As I struggled to imagine giving up this belief, I felt disoriented, inadequate, and fearful. Even though it was just a thought exercise with a friend, I began feeling the distress when a foundation cornerstone is challenged. For several seconds, all I could think of was my resentment toward Jim for causing the discomfort.

Finally, my mind began searching for an answer: To sincerely evaluate a challenge to a deeply-held belief, I'd have to encounter a credible case that torpedoes my confidence in the people I had depended upon for information. While I wouldn't need to see intent to deceive, I would need to hear new, significant, and credible evidence that would make the case for their ignorance. Finally, I found the principle behind some of my best successes and worst failures in selling the Separation solution.

Deliver a Tenet Torpedo always with respect

The Tenet Torpedo is crucial. You must make the person doubt a long-held belief. Merely describing "how bad are some public schools," or "how good it's gonna be" will not pry open the prospect's mind. You need to torpedo a cornerstone, and the best way we've found so far is the short history lesson on the Common School Movement of the 1830s-1890s. The history lesson exploits a weakness caused by the public schoolers themselves: They have pushed certain uncomfortable facts into the memory hole.

Three Tenet Torpedoes from American history

The three primary unexamined beliefs and the respective tenet torpedoes we've discovered so far are these:

  1. Fiction: America has had tax-funded, compulsory public schooling from the beginning.

    Fact: From the 1620s to the 1840s, virtually all schooling in America was run privately by churches and individuals. Indeed, Americans birthed this republic 50 years before the coming of government-run schools in the 1830s. (This fact alone is new to over half your prospects.)

  2. Fiction: Without tax-funded schools, poor children would not be able to go to school and would fall further behind.

    Fact: Those private schools were doing an excellent job for everybody, including the poor. In the non-slave states, literacy was higher in the 1830s than it is now. The great political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville observed that American schools were excellent, unlike anything else in the world. He marveled, perhaps with a little hyperbole, that "every farmer can argue philosophy."

  3. Fiction: Without compulsory attendance, many children wouldn't go to school.

    Fact: History shows that without compulsory attendance, virtually all children in the non-slave states attended school prior to the first compulsory attendance laws in Mass. in 1852. Even today, a country without compulsory attendance (Singapore) has the same level of attendance (94%) as other Pacific Rim that do. Parents want their children to learn, and for most, that means school.

In summary, a successful Tenet Torpedo gets a person to reexamine whether those who passed on the Conventional Wisdom of Public Schooling were actually transmitting falsehoods, albeit often unwittingly. To forestall the anger response, you must deliver the Tenet Torpedo with respect for all.

SIDEBAR: Credibility is crucial to your Tenet Torpedo, so you must be able to give substantiating details and cite credible sources. Start with Sheldon Richman's Separating School and State, Charles Leslie Glenn's the Myth of the Common School, Joel Spring's The American Experience, and Samuel Blumenfeld's Is Public Education Necessary. For an audio cassette overview, try my own Fake Rights Can Destroy a Country and George H. Smith's Public Schooling is Successful If You Measure it by its Own Objectives, both available from the Separation Alliance (order by !).

Part 2: Revolutionary's tough choice: Practical, Prompt, Prudent

Your prospect wants to know if Separation is really possible. The best way I've found to help him gain perspective, and hope, is to compare this big change to other big changes, like the separation from Britain in the 18th century, the ending of chattel slavery in the 19th, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 20th. Imagine Sam Adams going from tavern to tavern getting folks upset about the Redcoats, and Frederick Douglass going from town to town speaking for Abolition.

After being reminded of familiar historical examples of major change, the prospect starts to have a sense of possibility. Then it's time to describe the principles of political change so the prospect can apply them to the situation at hand, the Separation movement.

In his article "From Idea to Reality" (The Education Liberator, October, 1995), Chris Cardiff shows how Benjamin Franklin convinced his Philadelphia neighbors of his novel ideas, including the first lending library and fire department in that city. Franklin clearly understood the principle of, as he calls it, "preparing the minds of the people." To grasp the whole process of political change, I like to paraphrase the "Three Phases of Truth" aphorism of 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: All truth passes through three phases. First it's thought absurd and is ridiculed. Next it is considered dangerous to the status quo and is viciously attacked. Finally, it is accepted as wholesome and considered self-evident.

We can mutate Schopenhauer into "Three Phases of Political Change": All political change passes through three phases. First is Education, where five percent--the pioneers--evaluate, adopt, and promote a new idea. Next is Popularizing, where intense debate "fills the news hole" and animates talk shows, comedians, and coffee breaks. This convinces the masses. Last is Politics: lobbying, law suits, and electioneering.

Caution: Invest your energy in phase-appropriate activities.

To be effective, a farmer needs a sense of when to plant, when to cultivate and when to harvest. You, as an effective ideological provocateur who wishes to add to our productive ranks, set the stage at this early point to prevent your prospect from wasting , when he joins us, his own and other contributed resources. Too many indulge their impatience and attempt the political harvest before doing their planting and cultivating.

Caution: When discussing revolutions, Momma always said Haste makes waste

Revolutionaries face a three-way trade off of Practical, Prompt, and Prudent. The sane ones want to be practical, so the choice reduces to "Prompt or Prudent?" Most revolutionaries get so excited about the urgency of their worthy cause that they make the losers' choice, Promptness. This imprudent decision results in immense human damage as the "collateral expense" of social change. The War Between the States comes to mind.

Next month:

  • The four ways the Proclamation helps spread the Separation idea;
  • How we plan to recruit, train, and motivate local volunteers;
  • Neighborhood chapters oriented to schools and school districts
  • "Committee of Correspondence" oriented to special religious, pedagogic, or occupational interests.
  • 15 practical ideas as stepping stones to separation.

Marshall Fritz is the founder of the Separation Alliance and publisher of The Education Liberator.

This article is copyrighted by the 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.