Neal McCluskey

A new study is blaming the monolithic public school system being used in the United States for the estimated 150 major battles over the course of the last year over religion, evolutionary theory, slogans on T-shirts, the “gay” agenda and other points of contention.

“All across the country, public schools threw Americans’ fundamental values into conflict during the 2005-2006 school year – whether over intelligent design, dress codes, controversial school books, or sundry other divisive topics,” said the study by Neal McCluskey, policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

“This was not an aberration. American history is littered with an endless series of such conflicts, and the problem has only grown worse as public school systems have become more centralized and the nation more diverse,” he said. “These conflicts are not only inescapable under our monolithic system of official schools, they are actually caused by it.

“Different cultural, ethnic, and religious groups have no choice but to enter the political melee if they want to see their values taught and desires met by the public schools,” he said.

The study, titled, “Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict,” also offered a solution:

“So is American education doomed to eternal acrimony? Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be. If public education were driven by free parental choice, it could escape the Balkanizing battles that plague our current system, because individual parents could choose schools that comport with their values, and there would be no need to fight over public schools for which all must pay, but only the most politically powerful can control.”

The study notes that many Americans believe public schools are the “gentle flame beneath the Great American Melting Pot,” and that through them, differing cultures, religions and life choices can meld into a cohesive society.

However, the truth is anything but that, the report said. “Public schooling forces everyone to pay for a single official system that does not – and indeed cannot – reflect the public’s diverse and often conflicting views. The inevitable result of this system … is endless social discord over what is taught,” the study noted.

“Indeed, rather than bringing people together, public school often forces people of disparate backgrounds and beliefs into political combat. This paper tracks almost 150 such incidents in the 2005-2006 school year alone. Whether over the teaching of evolution, the content of library books, religious expression in the schools, or several other common points of contention, conflict was constant in American public education last year,” McCluskey said.

“To end the fighting caused by state-run schooling, we should transform our system from one in which the government establishes and controls schools, to one in which individual parents are empowered to select schools that share their moral values and education goals for children,” he said.

In other words, attach the money that now is being allocated by state and local taxing districts to the students, instead of the schools. Schools then could compete for the students, teaching a reflection of the values those students’ families hold dear, he said during an online forum on the report.

“Public school does not overcome diversity and somehow make people into one,” he said. “It forces diverse people to fight for their values.”

The institute, which rejects descriptions for itself such as “conservative” or “liberal,” says it pursues the “principles of the American Revolution – individual liberty, limited government, the free market, and the rule of law.”

“The Jeffersonian philosophy that animates Cato’s work has increasingly come to be called ‘libertarianism’ or ‘market liberalism.’ It combines an appreciation for entrepreneurship, the market process, and lower taxes with strict respect for civil liberties and skepticism about the benefits of both the welfare state and foreign military adventurism.”

Its study found over the last year only one state – Wyoming – did not have “divisive, values-laden school warfare.” Eighteen states had wrestling matches over “intelligent design.” In Dover, Pa., the dispute over a plan to have students read a statement that evolution is a theory ended up in federal court. It was not uncommon for townspeople to refuse to speak with those on the other side of the dispute, the report noted.

It found that freedom of expression battles raged, especially over the issue of illegal immigration, and a student in California was penalized for having an American flag in her pocket.

Book-banning fights erupted in eight states, and racial issues hit a boiling point when a black state senator in Nebraska tried to create a school district where blacks would be the majority in population and in control.

Thirteen states battled with themselves over sex education, and another eight had issues with teaching homosexuality. In Massachusetts, one parent objected when a school superintendent allowed second-graders to be taught a book about two “gay” princes kissing and marrying. “They’re trying to indoctrinate our children,” said parent Robin Wirthlin.

“Imposing government-run schooling on every American – the opposite of freedom and choice – has been the cause of constant social and political conflict, while enabling people to select schools that reflect their own values, use the curricula they desire, and so on, is essential to defusing social conflict,” the report found.

McCluskey previously taught high school English and worked at the Center for Education Reform, where he studied subjects ranging from cyber charter schools to class size.

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