Public Education Controversies Aren’t Controversial Enough

Mar 4, 2022 by David Fowler

Public Education Controversies Aren’t Controversial Enough
From parents divided along lines of regulating COVID, textbooks, “porn” in libraries, “don’t say gay,” to sex education, some or all of which is driving charter school and student voucher legislation, public education has become a political war zone. What kind of fruit will come from the legislative efforts of political conservatives directed at these issues?
To be honest, only God can answer that question. But if conservatives miss the bigger picture, if what they are doing begins and ends with the legislation I’ve seen so far, then “victory”—enacting the legislation they want—will make as much difference long-term as the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor did for that nation’s imperialistic dreams.
There is always value, whether one is liberal or conservative, in impeding or stalling the legal and policy advances of the other, but at the root of every issue in public education—whether one is liberal or conservative—and how we resolve it is the answer this question, “What does it mean to be human?”  Every single one. 
There are only two answers: either we are our own creator, or we are creatures from beginning to end. These two views are irreconcilable and incompatible
Public education (as with all education) deals with, relates to, and directs human persons and, therefore, it must pick sides on the answer to this question. Education will proceed from one foundation or the other. It can’t proceed from both and succeed any more than saltwater can succeed in quenching one’s thirst. Accommodation can only happen during that time in which one side is taking complete control from the other.
All the current legislative proposals and counterproposals regarding the specific issues I named rest upon a fundamental belief about what it means to be human. Sadly, this fundamental question is like the elephant in the room; we don’t want to talk about that fundamental belief publicly. For Joe Citizen it can result in being “unfriended” in one way or another by those unwilling to think below the surface.  Politicians don’t want to talk about it because whatever they say will be used against them in a campaign. 

Application of the Foregoing to Every Issue

Every bill in the legislature addressing matters of sexuality—from porn or “age-inappropriate” materials on the internet or in the school library to whether and how to speak about expressions of human sexuality —flows from one’s understanding of what it means to be human.
If we are creatures, there is a truth about our nature related to sex then that means some things are contrary to our nature and damaging to our flourishing.  

But, if we create ourselves, then we are free to define ourselves strictly in terms of sexual/sensual expression. Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court’s same-sex “marriage” decision, is the sacred monument to that worldview.
Ethnic issues, currently raised in the context of Critical Race Theory, also depend on what it means to be human. Do levels of melanin define what it means to be human? Do our life circumstances, past or present, define what it means to be human?
And what about history, also integral to CRT? Again, if we are creatures, then there is a creator. How we understand this creator-creature distinction will determine how we see history—what brings about events in time and space and for what purpose. If we are creatures, distinct from our creator, then there is another actor on the world stage of history.
If we are not creatures, then it is every person for himself or herself and Thomas Hobbes got it right; life is “nasty, short, and brutish,” and all that is left is power. Black power and black empowerment make perfect sense.
Issues arising out of COVID (along with the preceding ones) also hinge on what it means to be human, more specifically, the nature of the relations between humans. 
In the education context, the question is whether there is any organic, ontological truth regarding the nature of the biological relationship between a mother and father and their child and, if so, how does that reality intersect with human-constructed institutions?
If there is something true about biological kinship ties beyond mere biology, then there are negative consequences when that truth is undermined or we substitute “public educators know best” for parents, particularly on matters that form the child’s understanding of what it means to be human.
Alternatively, is the parent-child relationship similar to how the United States Supreme Court views marriage—only a matter of convention given existence, substance, and recognition by civil government? In that case, then government presumably does know best; children may not be “mere creatures of the state", as the United States Supreme Court said in 1925, but that must mean they are in some sense creatures of the state.


I pray that today’s educational skirmishes will lead to a deeper, more substantial discussion of what lies at the root of the problems that have arisen to the surface in public education. 
I also pray that discussion will lead more people to give more thought to how more parents can direct their child’s education to his or her highest and most glorious end—to know the God who made them and live that knowledge out to the full.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

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