DISESTABLISHMENT A SECOND TIME: Genuine Pluralism for American Schools by Rockne; James Skillen & William Harper McCarthy

DISESTABLISHMENT A SECOND TIME: Genuine Pluralism for American Schools

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Despite its stodgy, written-by-committee style and its plodding pace, this brief for government aid to private schools carries a considerable intellectual wallop. McCarthy, Skillen, and Harper are historians and political scientists. They argue that American public schools are as sectarian as any system run by Catholics, Baptists, or Jews; that is, the Enlightenment rationalism and secular humanism they more or less formally profess constitute a faith like any other. Jeffersonian civil religion, the authors insist, has several radical flaws. In exalting the ""individualistic principles of majority rule and minority rights' it stifles true pluralism (Jefferson wanted a ""morally homogeneous republic"") and effectively disenfranchises the millions of people too poor to pay for education more reflective of their religious, ethical, cultural, etc. values. Absolute separation of church and state in publicly funded schools, they assert: 1) was never consistently practiced in the US till the late 19th century; 2) is not practiced at all in a number of European democracies (Austria, Holland, Belgium); and, more controversially, 3) is based on the dogmatic and sociologically naive notion of religion as a wholly private affair. Modern defenders of the privileged status of public schools inevitably invoke the First Amendment; but McCarthy et al. make a strong case that current arrangements actually violate the First (by covertly establishing Jeffersonianism) and that decisions handed down by the Supreme Court on the issue of education and religion have been philosophically slipshod. But suppose we all agreed to ""disestablish"" the public schools, what would be the concrete results? Here the authors throw realism out the window, blithely ignoring the obvious bonanza that would fall to racists, reactionaries, and crazy fundamentalists, and praising instead the hundreds of diverse pedagogical flowers whose blossoming they confidently predict. In any event, their book is cogent and carefully presented--and likely to provide religious educators with some potent ammunition. With Arons (above) on the hustings too, public-school proponents had better get their rebuttals ready.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Eerdmans