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The Education Liberator, Vol. 3, No. 3, April 1997

How School-to-Work thwarts the educational purpose of "Theophiles". . .
...and will result in some leading school superintendents losing their jobs

Presented by Marshall Fritz At a School-to-Work panel hosted by Ron Brandt at A.S.C.D. Annual Conference (Baltimore), March 24, 1997

Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and namesake of Rush University, wrote about the purpose of education: "Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property. He must be taught to amass wealth, but it must be only to increase his power of contributing to the demands of the state." Recently, Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., author of the Catholic Catechism and spiritual advisor to Mother Teresa for 25 years, spoke at the second annual conference of the organization that I represent, the Fresno-based Separation of School and State Alliance. He, too, spoke about the purpose of education. "The true purpose of education is to teach people to know and love the God from which we came, so that we might return to the God from which we came."

Do you begin to suspect a conflict between the purpose of God-loving Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Protestant, and Catholic monotheists versus the purpose of School-to-Work?

Do you suspect there is a conflict between the education purpose of "theophiles" and the purpose of School-to-Work? Let's recognize that when educators accept as their higher purpose the purpose of the politically powerful, they put themselves into conflict with the higher purpose of the parents. Such an educator is destined to frustration and fighting. Those who persist in fighting their consumers, as you have seen in some of your friends, are doomed to professional failure, even ostracism.

Many educators have a "higher purpose" than merely getting a paycheck to support their family. Educators are more like those in the healing and ministering arts than those in factory work. Consider what would happen if a factory worker received a $500,000 per year lifetime inheritance. He would surely never tighten another lug-nut again. But many people in the healing arts, the ministering arts, the fine arts, and the art of education would continue in their chosen profession. They have a "higher purpose" than mere lucre.

However, when educators are forced to choose between two masters, those politicians who give them their paycheck versus those parents who give them, in loco parentis, their children's minds, they can fall into the center of Bosnian crossfire.

When educators side with the politicians, they win in the short run. Sisyphus found it easy to roll his rock at the beginning of the slope. But when educators set themselves against the purpose of the parents, again, like Sisyphus, the hill gets steeper and steeper and steeper until the rock wins. Who has a national TV show now, my friend Peg Luksik, a "mere mom" five years ago, or my friend Bill Spady, a "heroic education innovator" just five years ago?

This is not a new problem. Do not look to Dewey, Mann, or Fichte for the source. You can trace it back at least as far as Sparta, what today we would call a fascist state that commandeered its children at age seven, and as Toynbee says, put them into age-graded human packs to break their allegiance to their parents and remold it to the nationalist purposes of the state.

Nineteenth-century pioneer of American sociology Frank Lester Ward praised the School-to-Work programs of yesteryear: "The secret of the superiority of state over private education lies in the fact that in the former the teacher is responsible to society. The result desired by the state is a wholly different one than that desired from the parents, guardians, and pupils."

Your fellow educator, turn-of-the-century Elwood Cubberley, wrote in praise of proto-School-to-Work, "Our schools are, in a sense, like factories, in which the raw products, children, are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life. The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of twentieth-century civilization."

Do you see the intractable conflict with the theophile whose purpose in life is to love God and teach his children the same? That age-old purpose of God-lovers is hardly a "demand of 20th-century civilization." --------not just theophiles Lest you think this is a simple one-way battle you have with serious Christians, observant Jews, and devout Muslims, et cetera, let's look at a split in the theophobes. Some are with you, but many civil libertarians are your bitter and effective, adversaries. (You've just heard a critique of School-to-Work from Prof. Jesse Goodman, and I suspect he is not coming from a "right-wing Christian" worldview.) School-to-Work advocates can draw succor from Edward Ross, early sociologist and a ten-year chairman of the ACLU. He wrote,

The role of the schoolmaster is to collect little plastic lumps of human dough from private households and shape them on the social kneading board according to the specifications laid down.

But compare Ross' nationalistic, chauvinist sentiments to the civil libertarian passion of H.L. Mencken, hardly a darling of the "right-wing Christians."

The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.

When educators choose a "higher purpose" that conflicts with that of parents, even a tiny minority of alert parents can defeat them. When theophobes use nationalism as their highest purpose, People of the Book will see this as disobedience to the First Commandment (I am the Lord thy God; have no false gods before me). Such parents can not lend you their support; they must defeat you, or at least think they are. They will fight so energetically that they will cause the education elite to again re-invent their ideas with new names. Many of the superintendents who pioneer School-to-Work will lose their jobs and self-esteem in the fracas.


I had to cut the following two paragraphs from the speech to fit it in the no-nonsense 6 minute time-limit. But I kept them handy in case either was appropriate during the Q&A period. I was able to use the first part of the second one below.

  1. Can you name your five favorite innovations in cars and airplanes in the last 50 years? In medicine and health care? In computers in the last five years? Now please shout out your five favorite innovations in K-12 schooling in the last 50 years? New math? Values Clarification? Open classroom? Team teaching? Ritalin? MACOS? Whole Language? Mastery Learning? Outcome Based Education? Why are you so quiet? Perhaps the only innovation educators can agree on is the five-fold increase in educator remuneration, after adjustment for price inflation?

  2. Peg Luksik's litany of sticky practical problems that have not been answered by your edu-leaders prompts me to think of one, too: How many poets, iconoclasts, and hermits will be required in the 21st century to fulfill the demands of multi-national corporations to compete in the global economy? What third grade test will you use to find the next Joan of Arc, Thomas Edison, or Winston Churchill? Will you have a track for the "obstinacy-gifted" and "conformity-challenged?" Or do you want them at all? Do you prefer the bee-hive where Marva Collins, Jaime Escalante, and John Taylor Gatto are expelled from state education because they make the mediocre look bad?

About the rest of the panel...

Marshall Fritz was invited by the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) to participate on a panel at their annual Conference on the issue of School-to-Work. Some of the leadership of ASCD has become aware of the serious critique of STW by edu-dissidents and wanted to offer their membership and "Issues Committee" several sides of the STW issue.

The advertising flier ASCD used to promote the panel has the headline "Is School-to-Work the Next OBE?" and the deckhead "It already is in some states, and soon may be in yours." Ron Brandt, an ASCD executive, organized the forum and moderated the panel. The speakers in favor of STW were JD Hoye, Director, National School-to-Work Office; Peter Joyce, VP, National Alliance of Business, and Kathy Oliver, Assistant State Superintendent at the Maryland State Department of Education. Speaking against STW were Indiana Univ. Prof. of Education Jesse Goodman, Chairman and Founder of Mom's House Peg Luksik, and Separation of School & State Alliance director Marshall Fritz.

Prof. Goodman questioned STW from a civil libertarian position, Peg Luksik brought practical problems (e.g., are you going to fingerprint all employees in a work setting and run them through the FBI just like you do teachers? and "Are you going to apply the more strict school building codes to the workplace?"); Fritz attacked STW from a principled standpoint, and tried to show how impractical it is for edu-leaders to think they can snooker enough American parents into such nationalist, central-planning fascisim-lite as School-to-Work really is. Fritz reports that his presentation was well received by two educators in the audience of 185. A total of ten accepted his offer of a transcription of his remarks. The others were polite but seemed utterly unmoved.

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