The questions must be asked. First, are some public schools attempting to replace the family with the school as the basic unit of society? If the answer is yes, by whose authority is this being done? Second, if not attempting to replace the family, what is it that public schools are supposed to be doing?
Public schools have one primary function and several tangential ones. Primarily, they are to pass on to a new generation those academic and personal skills that are required to function in a Constitutional Republic whose economy is created and developed privately. “There is no right to education explicitly or implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution.” Justice Powell, San Antonio Ind. School Dist. v Rodriguez (1973). There is also no requirement that children attend public (government) schools.
To function in our Constitutional Republic whose economy is developed privately, students need to learn: English, reading, writing, literature, philosophy, logic, civics, civic religion, history, and economics. In addition, to function in the private sector of highly competitive minds, the basic academics are: math (including advanced math), science, computer science, information technology, engineering, and artificial intelligence.
To experience a sense of wonder and awe necessary in the development of all people, students need to be exposed to: music, poetry, art of all kinds, theology, geology, geography, architecture, biology, and languages. They need to “meet” great authors, composers, singers, instrumentalists, architects, physicians, scientists, anthropologists, statesmen (including social justice statesmen), men and women of the cloth, inventors, sports figures, and business geniuses.
To develop as human beings in relationship to other human beings, students need to master: the art of listening and debating, techniques in problem-solving, survival skills that include courage, responsibility, cooperation, and what constitutes the integrity around which all other skill sets are wrapped. Integrity in sports is called sportsmanship and is one of the core purposes of sports in public education. School clubs, outings, and camps add particularized learning in practical arts, health care, volunteerism, and environmental science, among other things.
An excellent public school will strive to meet these primary and tangential functions by taking each student intellectually and emotionally as he or she is and building, over time, in each separate person an interest and mastery over as much of it as is possible. An excellent public school delivers to society as many persons as possible who can function as citizen-Sovereigns – persons with critical thinking and intellectual tools, along with the emotional intelligence necessary for civic order.
Some of these educational functions are shared or enhanced within the family unit and excellent public schools work in partnership with parents to reinforce desired learning outcomes or help prepare students for what will be expected of them in a public school setting. For example, SCHOOL RULES might be different from HOME RULES. Total transparency is provided by excellent schools.
The seeds of Constitutional conflict arise with this intertwining of legitimate government purpose (public schools) and fundamental family control. Where is that magic line where the government may not intrude on the family unit for an educational purpose?
First, government (public) schools are to “pass on” to new generations content universally accepted as accurate. Passing on theories or untested information is indoctrination if taught as true. Indoctrination not only injures a child by what the child learns, it also injures the child by what the child does not learn. Indoctrination is outlawed by some state Hatch Acts.
Second, some content in government schools may be part of a school’s legitimate function but included in that material may be content that belongs within the purview of the family unit. Prayer in school has been deemed by the Supreme Court to be such material and personal sexual development may soon join school prayer in this regard, whether taught as health, hygiene, or biology.
Third, the magic line in our Constitutional system favors limiting government intrusion. This is true even if the family itself is not involved or supportive of the government’s legitimate public function. The family unit has fundamental sanctity and is a Liberty interest in the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, even if a particular family is judged, by some, misguided or uncooperative.
Excellent public schools with strict SCHOOL RULES and dedicated teachers are treasures in our nation. No excellent public school would think it in the best interests of children to replace the family as the basic unit of society and there is no authority in our Rule of Law that would allow such a thing. This would be true for private and parochial schools, as well.
What an excellent public school would do is attempt to intertwine with every family where that family is, and build trust and cooperation on behalf of that family’s child or children. An excellent public school would understand that the school represents a government power, and be humble and discreet in the exercise of that power, as is required by the US Constitution.
What an excellent public school would do is the best it can to deliver a healthy citizen-Sovereign into the bloodstream of our nation, even if it must do so under difficult societal pressures.
“The fundamental theory of Liberty upon which all governments of this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” Justice McReynolds, Pierce v Society of Sisters (1925).
Justice McReynolds answers our questions: “No”, schools may not replace the family as the basic unit of our society. And “Yes” a family may choose educational alternatives if the government (public) school is not excellent. After all, the family has the high duty to nurture and direct the child’s destiny within the Rule of Law and within the family’s moral and cultural values.
This is what Liberty looks like in our Constitutional Republic where government schools and family units are connected, but sometimes in conflict.