[Undated letter published in the Sheridan Press.]

Poor Moral Instruction
Ought to be Issue


School prayer is not an issue. It is, perhaps, a good symbolic test of the power of factions, but other than as such a test, the emotion surrounding the dispute is ill-placed.

Neither is Religion in School an issue, although it should be. One faction would like to portray the conflict as threatening to be sort of a salesman’s-foot-in-the-door toward abolition of liberalism and erection of theocracy. We have heard this faction crying wolf for a long time. Wolves? — bring on your wolves!

What should be at issue is the poor moral instruction doled out in the typical public school. Aside from illiteracy, what alarms parents (outside of Sheridan) most is that apparently their tax money is being spent to train youth in theft, drug addiction, bullying, prostitution, and suicide. The record could almost convince us of the literal existence of the allegorical figure, Satan.

Of course, good moral instruction has long rated high on the list of intangibles anent our teaching monopoly plans to establish an ad hoc committee for investigation into remediated implementational strategies. That is, they agree it’s a good idea, and they’re doing what they can, and if we forked over the bucks, they’d commit some research and development with an eye to improvement.

But when we cry foul, the monopoly will offer that their power is limited. The influence, they say, of television, devil-music, and unlicensed parenting will offset their mighty strivings. In answer we fire two salvos.

First, we compare a single aspect of their method with a theoretical counterpart in alternative schools. One side plausibly charges that religion — specifically, a discernible body of doctrine mislabeled secular humanism — already dominate the schools, and this is correct. (The charge is irrelevant, legalistic, based as it is on the dubious strategy of approaching the Constitutional question from a new angle, but it provides insight and a handy analogy.) The priests of his “religion” differ from their competition in this respect, that they reach a dogma with all the depth, sophistication and applicability of the Chamber of Commerce Code of Ethics. In addition, they are about as passionately devoted to this doctrine as cats to their “owners,” which is doubleplus ungood if we aim to engage our students in the practice of profound investigation of important matters. A sense of importance cannot be conveyed by committal advocate; nor can moral lessons be taught be adherents to pusillanimous relativism. To close, if the teachers argue that they are not priests of religion, it is because aside from triviality, their faith suffers from shoddiness. It barely passes the minimum competence for a cult-strength worldview, and as a result they neither comprehend it as such nor comprehend it at all.

IN CONTRAST, the child tutored by devotees of one or another historically resilient religion will benefit by exposure to someone who tends to know (and like!) what he is talking about. Whether or not the mature adult will reject some or all of his early training, he has the indisputable advantage that he has at least been put through a System that was articulated from traceable first principles, and his thinking will forever be colored by the ability to work with such animals. He will also have seen the results of such a System in practice, and although he also sees results in public schools, these results are in no way inspiring or exemplary, or even repellent; simply — bland.

I promised two salvos. The second is a single shot, and it consists of comparing the results of public vs. private schools, and it will suffice to dispatch the enemy, While there will be notable exceptions — as in “Ah, those private school girls,” — the clincher is to ask parents which they would choose if they had the option. Checkmate.

School prayer and its bloodless Senate version, the one minute of boredom and fidgeting, are symbols of a struggle that is already won in the abstract plane. In the concrete, a bureaucracy with political power has been the monopoly provider of a desirable service for too long. While I persist on advocating choice and diversity, it is dangerous to throw in my lot with one side or the other lest I risk the taint of partisanship which obscures the choice-and-diversity part. But it can’t blacken my reputation further to say that I have a lot of respect for even third-rate private schools and very little for even the better of the public. Furthermore, it will be fun to say that as far as I can see, if the situation doesn’t change soon, then putting the control of the schools under the direct control of the Pope and the National Guard will be a small price to pay.

Gerry Reith

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