May 19, 2004
What is the Philosophy of Government Schools?
Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.\"\;
This Opinion Journal article by Diana West is interesting as an essay on why one parent chose to homeschool her children:
As anti-Christian and officially godless as Baptists would find the excellently rated, wealthy and very white public elementary school in Montgomery County, Md., that my daughters attended last year, it eventually inspired in me a deep and abiding faith: I came to believe there was no way on, er, God's green earth that I could possibly teach my girls less than they learned in that school.
But what inspired me to write about it is a comment left by reader David Land:
Diana West almost identified the schools' problem: They are teaching religion, and the religion they are teaching is paganism. Paganism involves nature worship and the devaluation of human life and institutions (sound familiar?).
It is time to explode the myth that the schools are in any way "neutral," and to demand that public institutions quit preaching "paganism" while denying a voice to all other religions under the guise that every other view violates "separation of church and state."
Well, there are so many things to attack in this one short bit that I almost don't know where to start. For one thing, I can certainly understand how Mr. Land equates Paganism with generally Leftist thinking. Most Pagans I know tend towards watermelonism: green on the outside and red to the core. This is because, I think, that most people who become Pagan become "fluffy bunny" Pagans, because they're really searching for a Hippy movement that doesn't exist any more as such; it's a similar cultural backlash, and will likely have similarly short-lived effect. Such people don't choose Paganism as a religion as much as a political statement. However, one can no more equate all Pagans with this viewpoint than can one associate all Christians with the Inquisition or with Republicans.
Further, Paganism at its heart is a grab-bag of religions that are not major. That is to say, Zoroastrianism (monotheistic, transcendant diety and no hint of animism I can see) is a pagan religion just as are Wicca (dual-theistic, animist, imminent diety) and Olympian Revivalism (pantheistic, animist, imminent diety). These are very different religions; more like Mormonism <-> Judaism than Baptism <-> Catholicism. But they are all pagan. In any event, the philosophy that Mr. Land is searching for is not a pagan religion, but "secular humanism", a profoundly liberal (in the classic sense) and uplifting ideology of individual liberty and responsibility, agnostic to religion but generally leaning towards rational atheism.
And he's wrong even there: secular humanism is most emphatically not taught in government schools. In order to teach secular humanism, one has to teach logic, reason, scientific method (not Scientism as a faith), personal responsibility and individual liberty. What the government schools tend to teach, to the extent that they teach any unified viewpoint, is actually an odd stew of leftover classical liberal elements completely without context, anti-establishmentarianism, authoritarianism/obedience, political correctness, watered-down Marxism and a cult of Self.
It's a toxic mix, certainly, but it's not Pagan in any sense. Or laudable. Or socially useful. Or particularly American.