Introduction and Thesis
There are a number of issues that haunt the education system in the United States, not least of all the role of the state. “Is it a self-evident axiom, that the State should require and compel the education up to a certain standard of every human being who is born its citizen?” (Mill, n.d). The First Amendment gives people the right to freedom, and this cannot be compromised at any cost. Mill, in this article discusses the role of the government in the field of education. The government, he says, can take an active role in education provided it can ensure that every child born in the country gets an education. There is a firm belief that one of the most sacred duties of parents or the father in particular; is to provide education befitting him or her, and which could be either toward him or others. This is a complex situation considering that the above statement mandates that parents or the father must educate their child somehow. This doesn’t mean that the government can enforce their power over them and ask them to pay a penalty. The government needs to play a constructive role in the education of children in the country, but that cannot be at the expense of influencing opinion. If a student fails an exam, which the government can use to enforce a law, the parent of the child will be subjected to a moderate fine. This is against the freedom of right under the First Amendment. The objections which are urged with reason against State education, do not apply to the enforcement of education by the State, but to the State’s taking upon itself to direct that education; which is a totally different thing. The state has no right to dictate or enforce a condition on education of its citizens. It can enforce education in the state, but it cannot take the decision to direct education, which is undemocratic. “The objection against State education is not the enforcement of education by the State, but to the State’s taking upon itself to direct that education; which is a totally different thing” (Mill, n.d).
What should the role of the state be, if it shouldn’t direct education? What the government can do is leave the choice of education to parents and help the poor by paying their fees. However, if in general a state is in such poor state that it can’t afford its own institutions, then yes, the government can take upon itself the business of running schools and universities as a monopoly. In general, a country is sure to have a sufficient number of qualified persons who can provide education under government auspices, and these people will be willing to provide good education voluntarily for an assured remuneration. Here again, there has to be a law rendering education compulsory, combined with State aiding those unable to defray the expense (Mill).
The role of the government in the education sector should be selective; it shouldn’t seek to influence people and their opinion. It must ensure that education is accessible to all and it supports the education of those who can’t pay for their education. Even if the government wanted to play a constructive role in the education sector, it should confine itself to moral support, and do so in an unbiased manner. If it is government controlled, the institute should only exist as one among the many competing experiments carried out for the purpose of example and stimulus. It must ensure that in doing so, it maintains a certain standard of excellence. Where would there be liberty, should the government run the education sector and impose its conditions on people? As Mill says, the government can influence the opinion of the people, and so, examinations conducted under the guise of ascertaining a student’s learning ability, must be confined to facts and science. Examinations on religious, political, or other subjects that can become controversial should be held only in the context that such and such an opinion is held, on the grounds of views expressed by authors, scholars, schools, and so on. There should not be anything that hinders progressive learning, and any attempt by the state to bias conclusions or opinions must be curbed.
Does the state have the right to enforce itself on its citizens in the guise of education? There is no doubt that parents care for their children and will do everything they can to give them a secure and comfortable future. However, it is not their birthright to have their parents give them everything they need to make them secure and comfortable. In case a father or mother falls sick and can’t feed the child; would the government come to the child’s rescue? If that is the case, the government has nothing to do with enforcing parents to educate them. The notion that parents, guilty of bringing children into this world, will have to educate their children or face a penalty from the government is illogical. When a government doesn’t care for a child born as a destitute, how can it dictate something it has no moral obligation to?
The best it can do is leave it to the parents to obtain the education for their children where and how they please, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer class of children.
One important function of the government in the education sector is the administration of the public school system by the Department of Education. The states have the responsibility for the maintenance and operation of these public schools. The Federal Government also has an interest in education. The National Institute of Education was created to improve education in the United States. Each state has to provide a school system whereby children can receive an education, and every effort is made to ensure that every child no matter where he or she lives receives an adequate education. “The government’s Equal Education Opportunities Act of 1974 states that no state will deny an equal educational opportunity to anyone on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin” (Law.cornell.edu, 2014).
The Strongest Objection
There was a controversy surrounding the role of the government in supporting sick classrooms, and the Republicans sought to shut the Department of Education saying that the funding and responsibility of schools were with local authorities (Wingert & Kantrowitz, 2001). However, President Bush proposed some reforms that would target the poor children and expand the government’s role in education. Bush’s proposal is a moral threat to use vouchers as a warning to failing schools to turn themselves around in three years. This is precisely what Mill is talking about; the role of the state taking upon itself to direct that education. Having the government support certain policies is fine, but having them dictate what schools have to do is robbing liberty. The threat; schools that don’t meet that deadline would lose federal dollars, and the money would be given to parents for tutoring, private schools or whatever else they think would help (Wingert & Kantrowitz, 2001).
In Federal Control of Public Schools and the Decline of Community, Robert A. Nisbet, a great social theorist of the twentieth century and a profound analyst of the nature and sources of social order, was of the view that the destruction of a community could occur by the extension of the power of the central state. The centralized state power has, from Nisbet’s perspective, weakened traditional and immediate institutions, such as the family, and atomized individuals in place of true communities, destroying their ability to work together to achieve common goals (Bankston, III, 2010). The growth of federal control of American public schools showed just that. Although the federal government didn’t play any part in the affairs of the public schools, these schools had highly nationalistic and socially reformist character, and thus became highly politicized in learning. The centralized trend encouraged the use of schools as instruments of national unification (Bankston, III, 2010).
Vicki Frost, the mother of three students in the Hawkins County Public Schools was alarmed one day when she her daughter’s sixth-grade reader contained themes and images of something she believed contrary to her Christian beliefs. A distraught mother, along with other like-minded parents approached the principal and asked her daughter to be exempted from attending the reading class, which was acceded. Vicki Frost’s action prompted a couple of other schools parents to obtain permission. When this came to the notice of the Hawkins County Board of Education, the board stated that should students wish to remain in the public schools, they had to participate in the Holt series reading program (Vojak, 2003). A few families filed a suit against the board stating the program conflicted with their religious beliefs and violated their right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment (Vojak, 2003). This incident clearly reflects the influence the government would have if t entered the education sector, and influenced people’s opinion.
Bankston, III, C. (2010). Federal Control of Public Schools and the Decline of Community. Modern Age, 52(3), 184-197.
Law.cornell.edu. (2014). Education. Retrieved 8 November 2014, from http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/education
Vojak, C. (2003). Mozert v. Hawkins: A Look at Self-Knowledge and the Best Interests of the Child, Educational Theory, 53(4), 401-419. doi:10.1111/j.1741- 5446.2003.00401.x
Wingert, P., & Kantrowitz, B. (2001). Putting Poor Kids First. Newsweek, 137(6).