Many debates have raged across our country concerning what is being taught in schools run by the government. Most recently, these debates have been characterized in terms like teachers versus parents, or academic freedom versus parental rights. However recent these arguments may seem, their philosophic and historical roots run deep.
Flashback to a century ago, when a wave of energy was unleashed to make “public” or government-run schools mandatory for children across the United States. A well-documented motivation behind this movement was to address the booming Catholic culture that millions of immigrants had brought with them to American shores – a culture from an Old World that so much of American history has focused on leaving behind. Groups ranging from nativist supremacists to the progressive National Education Association pushed for federalized education and a suppression of private schools. This movement found success until the Supreme Court invalidated an Oregon law mandating public education in 1922.
At that time, the movement for public education was a homogenizing factor that was primarily white and Protestant. Today, many from that same Protestant culture are now vociferously protesting at school board meetings and elections to take back their schools from more socially progressive elements. This irony belies a deeper truth often forgotten by the modern mind: schools and education are not neutral.
While the public school system was historically recognized to be founded upon at least a vague Christian basis, public education currently tends to be seen as neutral: namely, a form of education that takes no particular stance concerning what the human person is or the meaning of human life. But how could one teach English, history, science, or ethics from a neutral perspective, when there is no agreement on what a human person is, male or female, aesthetic principles, even basic elements of historical research? Even the decision to take no stance is a strong stance itself: the notion that one can arrange for a meaningful human life without a vision of human life or reference to God may not be explicit atheism, but it is a form of practical atheism.
The uniquely American project of government education now reflects a ruptured polity in its own brokenness.
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Across the Pacific, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has warned that due to low birthrates across the country, “Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society.” Kishida announced his intention to launch a new government agency to support child- and family-based initiatives.
Pope Francis recently responded to questions about the controversial “Synodal Way” in the German Church in direct terms: “The German experience does not help.”
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Finally, a priest reflects on a great spiritual obstacle in the Christian life: spiritual dementia, the forgetting of who God is and who we are. Read his insightful reflection here to start your weekend rightly.