The danger in any kind of reform is that change is not an end in itself; it must actually lead somewhere. Therefore, before Oklahomans embark on serious reform of how we educate our children, we need to have an idea of what we want the end product to look like. In order to do that, we should remember the words of the great Benjamin Disraeli and enact reform that is “in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of (our) people.”
Change is not an end in itself; it must lead somewhere.
First, by and large, Oklahomans are a religious people. Unfortunately, our federal government (largely via the judiciary) has engaged in an aggressive secularization of our society with a special focus on the educational system. It is a simple matter of religious freedom that parents should not be forced to send their children to schools that have the purpose and effect of severing those children from their roots of faith.
To address this, two reforms make sense: One, allow parents to send their children (whether via vouchers, tax credits, etc.) to a religious school if they so choose; two, we must insist upon the re-localization of public education so that the aggressive secularism of Washington can be resisted here. If it takes fighting to the Supreme Court, well, then that is why we have we have a state attorney general.
Next, Oklahomans on the whole are a conservative people. Notice I said “conservative,” not “libertarian.” Therefore, we should not take seriously the siren song of extreme libertarianism that would demolish the public school system. Nor should we succumb to the soft libertarianism that would only provide tax breaks so that the rich and middle class can send their children to the schools of their choice. In fact, that is what we have now. Even staunch liberals have not tried in this state to take away the school choice that already exists for the relatively well-off. Rather, they just make those parents pay double.
We should see education as a common good, like infrastructure and ever seek to provide a quality education to all Oklahomans — rich, poor, black, white, everyone. We cannot guarantee that education, as parenting plays a vital role, but governance is not about perfection, it is about the possible.
These principles ought to guide us as we address our education system in this great state. I realize that they are not comprehensive; partially, that is the point. We can fight all day and night about phonics versus whole language and classical versus progressive educational approaches, but wouldn’t it be more practical, more Oklahoman, to encourage the growth of a variety of schools? This would keep them relatively smaller and inject more competition.
Why should we, even the childless, care? Because, to quote Disraeli again, “Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends.”
Reese, a recent Republican candidate for labor commissioner, is an attorney in downtown Oklahoma City.