Mission: Inform Ohioans of effective steps to secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State.


Defining Thorough and Efficient Public Schooling
A Briefing Paper
Prepared for Ohio's Educational Congress
October 28, 1998


Educating the Common People ... Is the Business of the State

A well-educated citizenry is essential for the survival of our republic. The state's responsibility for education does not a result from a belief that education is less important than the duties of the federal government to provide for the common defense or protect the general welfare. In delegating the responsibilities of public schooling to the states, founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson affirmed the sufficiency of state governments to provide a necessary ingredient for the survival of a free republic.

In the last decade of his life, Jefferson repeatedly stressed the need for thorough education:

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion. [September 28, 1820]
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. [January 6, 1816]

Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day. [April 24, 1816]

Jefferson's admonitions took root in the American psyche. Alexis de Tocqueville, visiting from France in 1835, noted the value which Americans placed on knowledge, which he recorded in Democracy in America:
They [the Americans] have all a lively faith in the perfectibility of man, they judge that the diffusion of knowledge must necessarily be advantageous, and the consequences of ignorance fatal; they all consider society as a body in a state of improvement, humanity as a changing scene, in which nothing is, or ought to be, permanent; and they admit that what appears to them today to be good, may be superseded by something better tomorrow.
In contrast to de Tocqueville's portrayal of America, Jefferson's assessment of the European governments was candid if not brutal:
Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.
For Jefferson, education in the true meaning of American values and the exercise of informed discretion was the only safeguard against man "devouring his own kind."


Virtue, Intelligence and Patriotism

Both Jefferson and de Tocqueville realized that by removing the shackles of European aristocracy, and establishing equal justice under law, Americans created a new value system. Jefferson agreed with his fellow patriot John Adams "that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents."

In America, a meritocracy of virtue and talent--which served as the foundation of the republic--replaced the privileges of wealth and birth which easily gave way to tyranny. The legendary leadership of the nation's first patriots inspired an ethic of service. Americans understood that service to the republic required both competence and character.


Patriotism: Service to the Republic

Patriotism exists wherever the welfare of our fellowmen is well served. Teaching, healing, farming, inventing and defending are all patriotic occupations.

One of the great national tragedies of the 1960's is the lingering disillusionment which today surrounds the notion of patriotism. What is properly a high and noble calling--the purpose of the American aristocracy--is too often seen as the "last refuge of scoundrels." Whatever the origin of this national malaise and chronic cynicism, our schools are nonetheless chartered to promulgate the fundamental values of our nation.

Sadly, the lives of America's patriots are dishonored when the value of patriotism is dismissed. As a nation, we have been remiss in preparing young Americans for service to their nation. Moreover, unlike other nations, we have neglected the connection between character, competence, and national service; the connection between excellence, education, and the unrepayable debt owed to the war dead of the nation. The British film, Chariots of Fire speaks eloquently to this debt. The freshmen arriving at Cambridge in 1919 are exhorted to "Examine yourselves. Let each of you discover where your true chance of greatness lies. For their sakes [the war dead], for the sakes of your college and your country, seize this chance, rejoice in it, and let no power or persuasion deter you in your task."

Restoring the American ethic of service must be a priority for our nation and its schools. As Jefferson observed, "the wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes" gave birth to this new American value system, and its promulgation was entrusted to "civil instruction:"

Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none. Freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civil instruction, the touchstone by which we try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety. [March 4, 1801]

Jefferson's words bear repeating: appropriate civil instruction should lead our nation on the only road to peace, liberty, and safety. Furthermore, appropriate instruction should return us to that road when we error.

In light of the wars of the twentieth century, Jefferson's words seem prophetic. What Jefferson did not anticipate was the role the United States would play as leader of the free world. In this role, the nation's combined knowledge and wisdom created the technologies, economic strength, and global alliances which reduced the need for spilling of patriot's blood.

Intelligence: The Competence to Serve

Peacekeeping in the information age requires great and varied intelligence, in the forms of both knowledge of scientific and engineering discipline as well as wisdom about the ways of the world.

Every person in this nation is indebted to the patriots who stood ready in our nation's "hour of maximum danger." Not only are we free from the specter of nuclear annihilation, but many technologies developed to defend the nation (for example, semiconductors, computers and the internet) are in widespread commercial use, fueling an economic superpower. Moreover, many of our state's civilian employers trace not only their core technologies to the military, but their corporate origins as well.

Nonetheless, it was our nation's technological superiority which made nuclear war a poor alternative for an adversary with a disintegrating economy. It is appropriate to honor the many people whose ingenuity, foresight, and motivating ability spared this nation a "technological surprise."

The role of the nation's schools in preparing students for an increasingly technological world can not be understated. Not only are technologists required for the defense needs of the nation, but also to advance the nation's economic progress. Moreover, all citizens need a preparation adequate for participation in great national debates regarding the proper role of technology in modern life. Not only are math and science key, but a thorough grounding in history and literature provide critical perspectives.

It is society's capacity for reasoned discourse that enables the freedoms we hold dear. As Jefferson noted, "We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it" [December 27, 1820].

Curricula designed primarily to prepare students for anonymous labor in industries or offices are a disservice to the nation as well as the student. Never in history have single individuals been better able to contribute to reasoned discourse on local and global issues. To deprive students of the education necessary for reasoned discourse is to hold them hostage to a despotic commerce between master and slave.

Likewise, never before have our businesses and industries depended on the intellectual-training of their employees, and never before have our businesses and industries been as vulnerable to "technological surprise."


There is no better response to the dismantling of Ohio's industrial base than to ensure the state's schools produce technologically and socially savvy students, students more able than their parents to prevent "technological surprises" from harming Ohio's economy.


Virtue: The Character to Serve

Virtue is the exemplary character which inspires others to follow in the path of service for the common good. It provides the self-discipline to subject one's own beliefs to the test of reasoned discourse. Virtue justifies courageous acts in defiance of tyranny. And virtue is a prerequisite to the appropriate use of technology. Indeed, the twentieth century has produced ghastly images of the effects of technology used to advance a nation's goals without the proper restraint of virtue.

The late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, formerly of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati spoke on the results of technology and bureaucracy unchecked by virtue in enabling the Shoah (Holocaust):

The combination of greatly enhanced technological capacity, a new level of bureaucratic organization, and the erosion of traditional moral standards paved the way for the mass extermination of human life in a seemingly guiltless fashion. ...

My friends, I truly believe that the religious traditions of the world, including Judaism and Catholicism, are at a crossroads in terms of the world's future. Either we will begin to work constructively for what Professor Fackenheim has called "the restoration of God's image" in history after the Shoah, or we will more and more find ourselves surrounded by a new secular absolutism. Rabbi Irving Greenberg has spoken to this in the light of the Holocaust. "Secular authority unchecked," he says, "becomes absolute. Relative values thus become the seedbed of absolute claims, and this is idolatry. This vacuum was a major factor in the Nazi ability to concentrate power and carry out the destruction without protest or resistance."

Just as Hitler realized that the schools were the critical to the dissemination of the values of his regime, so must we. But our goals must be just and our means must be proper. The traits of critical thought, reasoned discourse, and empathy for the less fortunate can not be drummed into our schoolchildren through a "character education" program that emphasizes compliance with school rules. After all, it was compliance with rules and national duty that Hitler sought in his schoolchildren. In contrast, the role of schools in forming character of students in American democracy is to create an appreciation for the values which animated the original American patriots. These are best learned by examples of virtuous role models, justice, respect for human dignity, and commitment to the common good.


It is in "providing enough for those who have too little" that our schools face their most difficult challenge. The lack of statewide measures based on nationally normed, standardized tests means we don't know who which students in Ohio's schools are being underserved.

We do know that Ohio's courts have found that current school funding does not meet the equal protection rights of all Ohio's schoolchildren.

One hundred years ago, Ohio was prominent among the Old Northwest Territories in forging the nation's future. Optimism and idealism were pervasive. Historian Henry Howe expressed the attitude of Ohioans in 1889 as follows:

One effect of my work will be to increase the fraternal sentiment that is so marked a characteristic of Ohio men wherever their lot is cast, and that leads them to social sympathy and mutual help. And if we look at the sources of this State love we will find it arises from the fact that, Ohio being the oldest and strongest of the new States of the Northwest, by its organic law and its history has so thoroughly illustrated the beneficence and power of that great idea embodied in the single word AMERICANISM.
The century of progress which followed resulted from concern for others, flagship educational institutions, idealism, and tenacity in the face of adversity. We must commit to no less for the twenty-first century, for the future of the world will continue to be shaped by "numberless diverse acts of courage and belief." We must prepare our children for their destiny.




STEPS
Mission:
Inform Ohioans of effective steps to secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State.


Images and text copyright 1998 Eric Price, Beavercreek Ohio