What Makes Education Public?
Government is responsible for ensuring that every child and youth receives an education, whether in a school or by homeschooling. This means that government can appropriately set standards for health and safety. Government should also intervene when it is clear that a child’s education is being neglected.
Government also has a duty to provide funding that makes it possible for some adults to devote their careers to educating children and youth. Just as it promotes the health of the public through a variety of hospitals and other institutions, government should make sure that funding for education is available to everyone.
This does not mean that government should have a monopoly on providing public education. For example, government does not have a monopoly on the provision of public health services. “Public” does not mean government-operated. If it did, the only hospitals that would advance public health purposes would be hospitals run by the government. It is impossible to argue that hospitals run by organizations other than government do not advance public health! So this same idea, of many types of providers who advance public purposes, also applies to education.
A healthy public education system provides for a rich array of diverse options. These options reflect the convictions of parents and of the educators they trust about what is in the best interest of children. It does not insist upon one way to accomplish this.
Instead, it responds to the diversity of society while making sure that education is universally available. This is the model followed by almost all Western democracies in funding a diversity of schools for families, including independent schools with a religious character. These nations do so as a matter of simple justice and of respect for freedom of conscience. Unfortunately, the United States is the leading exception to this international norm of educational diversity.
Questions for Reflection & Discussion:
- What had you previously thought about the role government should play in education? What informed this belief?
- What are the implications of government’s role being to provide a rich array of diverse education options that reflect the convictions of the families and of the educators they trust?