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Who should control education?


Aterrible tension is developing inthis country: Who will control education? The dilemma provokes all manner of scare words--censorship, pornography, Marxism. Antagonists are manning the battlements.

First picture the fatherand mother who deplore the antitraditional values and the vulgarity they believe their 14-year-old daughter is being taught at public school. Then picture the crosstown couple up in arms against challenges like "obscene' or "anti-American' regarding their 14-year-old son's textbooks and assigned reading material.

The first couple want their childtaught about the country's religious heritage, about the Biblical account of Creation as well as about the theory of evolution, about literature that does not depend upon explicit discussion of sex and violence or upon the use of dirty language.

The second couple want their childto be "free' to read anything, to grapple at an early age with the "realities' of life, to make his own judgments about religion, lifestyle, and history.

Complicating this stand-off is therole of professional educators. A majority of them, siding with the second couple (or indeed leading them), prefer to break the "anachronistic shackles' and to make the schools a "marketplace of ideas.' They want the couple with traditional values to let the professionals run the schools.

Professional educators and the secondcouple--those emphasizing the freedom to "do your own thing'-- have held a decided edge in American education for years. I'm not sure if their edge is the result of numbers or of decibels, but I tend to think it's the latter. Although this group has been forceful, hard working, and outspoken, I'm not sure it would carry the day in a public vote about who should be educating children.

I am convinced that parents are,beyond challenge, ultimately responsible for educating children. They hold final authority. In most cases, obviously, parents delegate a good deal of the teaching to others--usually to school systems. And that probably works--but not if they delegate total responsibility and authority as well. That's what we Americans have done, and we're trapped in our terrible dilemma.

Through parental abdication, theprofessionals decide what our children are to read and to learn, and then they undertake the teaching--usually following a model that says there are no absolute values and, even if there were, that classrooms are to be "value neutral.'

In some states, arousedparents are beginning to reassert what they perceive as their God-given right to guide their children's education, especially in textbook and curriculum content.

Naturally, they'rerunning into vocal opposition; we hear talk of "censorship,' "redneck,' "Nazi,' or worse.

I want to make it clear I'm troubledby outright "censorship.' I fully realize that good literature often involves some sex, violence, or foul language. Good writing insists upon conflict and confrontation as its backbone. But it does not insist upon incessant obscenity and bad taste. Although literature must often delve into controversial philosophies and social theories, it should be truthful, honest, just. Therefore, parents need to be thoughtful and discreet in their attempts to influence what's read in the public schools. Similarly, educators need to be judicious and sensitive in recommending reading matter for their classes. The two groups can work together, if only then will stop shouting long enough to hear the voice of goodness and righteousness.

Dr. Richard Baer of Cornell University,a longtime student of ethics in education, takes issue with those who argue that public schools are a genuine marketplace of ideas. "America's government-monopoly school system cannot rightly be described as a "marketplace of ideas,' as is frequently done in public-school censorship disputes,' he says in an illuminating booklet called Censorship and the Public Schools.

"The actual situation in publicschools,' Dr. Baer explains, "is that all textbooks, library books, curricula, films, and other educational materials are preselected by teachers, state agencies, and schools of education. Thus in a real sense they are censored.'

Equally intriguing is his criticism ofopening the floodgate of ideas to all youngsters. "The position that the child should be exposed to a multiplicity of values,' he says, "presupposes that . . . the state has the right to violate the parents' wishes for the child's moral and religious development.'

I believe that, if we want to work atit, we can salvage the educational system. And I do believe that most parties want the best for the children. They need to recognize principles, established early in history, that say to parents in a number of ways: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it' (Proverbs 22:6).
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Title Annotation:public school criteria
Author:Slosser, Bob
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1986
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