Schools – Government or Public?

[by T. Robert Ingram, originally published 1959, St. Thomas Press, Houston, TX 77035]

“It is he that teacheth man knowledge.”   —Psalm 94.10

When people speak of the public school system in the United States today they mean schools that have two distinctive features:

1. They are paid for by taxation imposed by the police power of the people.

2. Attendance is compelled by that same police power and failure to attend brings a penalty under the law.

Now these two features do not in reality qualify anything to be properly called public. In fact, they disqualify it. Things that are public are things that belong openly to the people as differentiated from belonging to the king or the ruling power or what we call the government. Schools that are paid for out of taxation and where attendance is forced by threat of punishment are properly called government schools, and not public schools.

Public schools, by contrast, should be marked by the same quality that marks all really public institu­tions. The most public of all institutions is the Church of the living God; what makes it public is that support cannot be compelled, nor can failure to attend be punished. Public means “belonging to the people.” If anything belongs to a person, he can do with it, legally, what he will. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” asked the husbandman in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. And if you are really free to do what you will, you are free to take a thing or to leave it alone. If a church really is public, or really belongs to the people, then the people may use it or not. They must be free not to attend, if they are really free to attend. Freedom to contract into any­thing implies freedom to contract out. If, then, the public really owns anything, it is free to give or withhold support and attendance at any time.

Perhaps the second most public institution is that which in England is simply called “the Pub”—the public place. The Pub is that place where men are free to gather (or not to gather) and to engage in some activities which they may discontinue at any moment they so decide. And I am altogether sure that “the Pub” is not kept open by taxation. Thus we have public dance halls in which attendance is not even limited by invitation; anybody can go in or out as he pleases as long as he does not commit an act of violence. Support is conditioned upon use, and not tax revenues. The public utilities are those services which are freely available to the people at large for a contractural price. They cease to be public when they are paid for by taxation and use is compelled by law.

Newspapers, markets, banks and restaurants are other so-called public institutions. They are places and services made available on a contractural basis to the people, and thus belonging to the people. On certain specified conditions set up by the owner or operator, anyone may make use of the place and its services or not as he chooses. The operator must be free to set up his conditions, and the user must be free to accept or reject those conditions.

When the police power of the people is brought into play to compel support and attendance, at that instant the people lose ownership and control, and a thing ceases to be public. When Queen Elizabeth I ruled that people who did not attend church on Sunday morning were subject to punishment she took the church away from the people and it became the government church. The moment the queen de­creed the people had to attend church, she had to declare what she meant by church. The church she specified immediately became the government church.

We all know how doggedly Englishmen fought to wrest control of Christ’s church away from the crown and to make it once more a public institution. One of the many victories of that struggle was the establishment of a new people and a new nation in the new world. These United States were settled and brought forth my men who risked their properties and their lives in an attempt to free their churches from the government and to make them once more public institutions which they controlled by virtue of being able to support and attend or not at will.

I suppose this is so deeply engrained in the American consciousness that the possibility of a government controlled church here is almost unthinkable. At least it is in the way that was tried in Europe both under Rome and under Henry and Elizabeth of England. And yet it is a curious thing that we, a people brought forth upon the foundation of free public institutions of religion and business, should have torn our most powerful religious institution from our free churches and made it a government institution. I am speaking of our schools.

Schools in the United States today, except for a few church schools, are under the complete control of the temporal governments and have long since been seized from the people. I know very well that so-called Federal control is not directly acknowl­edged at the moment. But I also know that it is inevitable because no smaller government institution in the United States can function without the ap­proval of Washington. The Civil War settled that. The police power that operates in our midst is what we mean by temporal government. It is the power to kill. Taxes levied by that power are paid to avoid the penalty the government can exact, which is ultimately death.

Yet our schools a hundred years ago were not only public—that is both supported and used by the free choice of the people at large—but they were commonly recognized as being one of the fore­most activities of the Church, our most public in­stitution, which can never kill. Teaching is a work of God, and a creative work. Any teaching of any kind not only derives from God but has to teach something about God. It is by its nature a religious work, or a work of the Spirit. In the words of the Psalmist, “It is he (God) that teacheth man knowl­edge.”

No person is qualified to teach anything except what he learns from Christ Jesus: he is not fit to teach in his own name. (I might point out that men today do not even presume often to go so far as to teach in their own names. They now teach in the name of the government. That is, they teach nothing but what the government doth allow—and pre­sumably the government tells all that it alloweth.) We Christians are wholly and unreservedly com­mitted to the Lord Jesus. We teach in His Name and His only. For it is he that teacheth man knowledge.

It has been a long, hard won struggle for the forces of evil to wrest control of the schools from the public and the churches and to make them gov­ernment schools. The struggle began in earnest under Horace Mann some 150 years ago. Mann got the idea from Prussia, and he followed the same inevitable steps that the Prussian rulers had fol­lowed. He first removed the financial support from the public by means of a tax. That was fairly easy to do because it appealed to the tendency in every sinner to fall for a confidence game: and it gave financial support to the government.

It was easy to convince the people that it would be a benefit to give up responsibility for supporting the schools either by voluntary contributions or by contractural payment for services or both. In the name of justice it certainly seems fair to spread the load and to compel all the people to pay for what serves to the glory and good of the people as a whole. Certainly schools are good for the whole people. Besides the taxes started out low—almost insignificant. Why, with all those people paying, the cost to each family for limited services seemed ridiculously small.

But Prussia found almost at once that it was one thing to lead a horse to water—another to make him drink. It was one thing to convince the public it need no longer carry the burden of continuously and repeatedly choosing what they would and would not support; but it was something else again to make them send their children. The people, still accus­tomed to having public schools which they controlled by attending or not as they willed, went right on choosing the schools they wanted for no good reason other than that they, the owners, wanted them.

And so Prussia had to take the next step which the people could not now really effectively object to. He passed laws compelling attendance. He justified his action on the grounds that the king knew what was good for the people: but in the same breath he declared that it was obvious the people did not know what was good for themselves. The trouble was not that people were not making the effort to establish and support good schools. Never in history has a people trained more brilliant minds or greater numbers of popular thinkers than Europe then and now. Our own nation prospered on the fruit of the European schools, and our own leaders and our own popular thinking reached dizzy heights because of this heritage. No, the trouble was that the people, who under their own control had developed this amazing popular system, did not like the govern­ment schools. They paid their taxes: but they sent their children to the old public church schools.

So Prussia had to pass some more laws. The people who normally didn’t go to school—those who, because they couldn’t read had to learn to think—were now compelled to attend, or be punished. The Prince of this World once again reached out for power and set up his kingdom. Horace Mann saw the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them, and, unlike his Lord, was im­pressed. He unleashed the spirit of the anti-Christ in a new, undefended area. He took the people of the U. S. by surprise. The forces went to work in earnest. Mann had to defend himself again and again against the people of his day who recognized his cause was basically aimed at Christ. But he approved Bible reading. And he defended himself by attacking his enemies: those who wanted the people to control the schools and not the govern­ment were, he charged, opposed to giving innocent children the right to go to school. Moreover, he labeled schools controlled by a representative gov­ernment as schools which thereby indirectly be­longed to the people. He became an advocate of government schools under the banner of public schools. Like all confidence men, he took away from the people what they already had by promising to give them some things they neither had nor needed. His movement was slow, indeed. It gained little ground except in Massachusetts where, under the leadership of the Unitarians and Harvard Uni­versity, the state replaced the church in all matters anyway, and religion became no longer a public affair but a private one.

After the Civil War the people had to adjust to a new shocker. The government no longer belonged to the people and to the states—the people and the states belonged to the government. It was much easier after that to let the schools slip gradually away from public control into the hands of various government agencies. As with Prussia the steps were the same. First, support by taxation. Control by voluntary contractural support or withholding of support was quietly removed. Now you had to pay, whether you liked the school in question or not. If you didn’t you could be punished by the same man who could hang you if you committed murder, thievery or adultery.

To refuse to like government schools put you in the same class as a murderer. It is a crime against the might and majesty of our supreme military pro­tector. He is now in the school business, and if you don’t like his schools, neither do you like his army and police force. You were told you could exercise some manner of control over the schools by electing an advisory body called a school board. But that was merely an attempt to commit us all the more to support of whatever kind of school this elected official might be able to establish. For better or worse, that was it and the public could not object by withdrawing voluntary financial support.

But clearly this was not more effective than in Prussia for getting people to send to school those who were learning to think in other ways and about other things. So there began to appear the laws that compelled those free Christians whose fathers left England in search of freedom to send their children to schools approved by the government. That it is God who teacheth man knowledge was not openly denied, even though the Congress was expressly for­bidden to pass any law establishing any religion. But temporal government replaced the church as teacher.

Even so it was not until after World War I, when the people of these United States gave up control of their saloons, that they also gave up real control of their schools. In the twenties, when the government took control of whiskey in the name of prohibition, it also took control of the schools in the name of public education. Thirteen of our states adopted their first compulsory attendance laws, and most of the rest of the states tightened up the ones they had. Many of us went through schools at a time when compulsory attendance was still brand new and schooling still thrived under the warm sun­light of public control. But today it is different. You and I have no control. We may be able to elect our school board members and they are doing a heroic job in trying to stave off the debacle. But public control is long gone.

You and I have no choice. We are taxed, not a pittance for a few more classrooms and teachers: we have a mammoth and absurd cost heaped upon us to maintain one of the most elaborate collections of temples to a false goddess that our people have ever known. The hierarchy of this state system is mammoth, and billions of dollars are taken from the people year after year by the power to kill. The schools will be here whether you like them or not: there is no possibility that they could collapse under the usual sequence of public disfavor resulting in the withdrawal of public support.

Moreover, if you don’t think you will go to jail if you refuse to send your children to a school which is controlled by this machine, then consider what happened to some Mennonites in Ohio last year. You and I cannot even decide which school we will send our children to. I know there are some private schools. And I know there is our own school at St. Thomas’. But I also know that by and large these are so insignificant as to be tolerated rather than let the issue burst into flame by stirring it up.

St. Thomas’ is one of very few schools in Texas, and maybe in the nation, that really claims to be under the control of the people under Christ rather than of the ultimate pleasure of the state. And we have horrified many people. We are tampering with the awful majesty and power of the government— although it is not the government that teachest man knowledge, but God. State accreditation is now the thing. Sure, you can have a school which is not paid for out of taxes and which people do not have to attend under penalty of the law. But it has to be a school which does what the state tells it to do. Of course idiocincracies are tolerated. If you are of a mind to try to make a special extra effort in your own behalf, go ahead. It won’t hurt anything. The government will see to that. Because any school that you can use is already stamped with state accredita­tion, or discredited.

And now we wonder why our children, whom we agreed we wouldn’t trouble with knowledge from God, are now without knowledge of any kind. And I do hope nobody will again trouble me by telling me how smart the quiz kids are today on the tele­vision. Thank Mr. Van Doren for laying that ghost. Our kids are not smart. They may some of them have done pretty well in spite of us, but the ignor­ance of our people as a whole is so serious as to be recognized even by the government in Washing­ton as a threat to the national safety.

There is no course of study in religion that can be designed to overcome the religious teaching in­herent in the state controlled school system itself. God teaches that there is no such thing as secular learning. He says there is no field of knowledge which is not subject to the judgment of Jesus Christ and teaching is supremely a religious function through which the sovereignty of God is recognized among the people. Yet, the first lesson we teach every child today is that there is a place where God does not count. That place is in what we call the school room of so-called secular learning. Day after day we tell our children, by sending them to the state schools, that people do not and should not decide for themselves whether a particular school or any school at all is good for us.

We deny the whole principal of public control by deceiving our children with the idea public con­trol means being committed in advance to the de­crees of the government. The religion we are teach­ing them is to glorify Caesar and to magnify his holy name as the universal arbiter of knowledge. Once you teach children that—it doesn’t much matter what else you teach them. As long as you don’t let them get the idea that it is really God and not Caesar that teacheth man knowledge. And as long as you don’t let them know that no man is free who cannot himself as an individual give or with­hold his consent—even to sending his children to school. And as long as you never let him suspect that real public control means complete dependence upon freely given or freely withheld public support and use.

Now somebody will ask me how Christ invades the study of biology. But that one is so obvious, I will raise a more difficult subject.

How does Christ invade the study of arithmetic? Well, I’ll tell you what has happened to arithmetic as taught under the philosophy that Christ is not important. The reason for teaching arithmetic used to be the same as for all things done in the name of Christ: to glorify him by developing the full native powers of every individual to the utmost. Christ came to make men perfect for heaven. All learning then is important in so far as it develops each soul and perfects that soul to the fullest extent of its given nature in Christ. Arithmetic is a discipline which is good insofar as it develops the mental skill of people to think logically. Men who can solve problems, remember long strings of operations and keep an orderly progress of reasoning are the kind of men Christ wants. Men who can think straight usually seek Christ.

But our American educators have long since abandoned the study of arithmetic for the purpose of sharpening little minds. It is now studied as something useful, or practical. If you need to use it to buy groceries, or to be an accountant, or to be an engineer, then arithmetic is good. This is not my own opinion. This is a statement of a fact with which you are all too well acquainted. As a result, our government is clamoring for young men who have been taught how to think—engineers, mathe­maticians, call them what you will. But we don’t have them. Why? The state school theory doesn’t find them important. All we need are men who know how to solve the particular problems we think they may run up against. An adding machine will do. Some schools are even beginning to teach adding machine use in the second grade. Whether you think it has to be that way or not is beside the point. That is what has happened. There is no doubt about it.

It is only in Christ that there is any real reason for teaching children simply for the purpose of developing their own human qualities to the fullest extent we know how. It is only in Christ because it is only Christ who has opened the way for us to come at last, one by one, into his own glorious presence and there to live with him forever.

It is only in Christ that it is important to be learned, not for the contribution you can make, but simply to present to God the best personality you can manage out of the stuff he has given you. If nobody else profits by the mathematical genius, it is worthwhile for that genius to have developed his genius to the full extent of his powers, to the glory of God who made him and Christ who redeemed him.

The very process of learning is geared to the desire of the learner. If a child does not will to learn, not even a firing squad can compel him. In fact, the firing squad will probably make him all the more stubborn. One of the things God teaches all of us is that man is created in the image of God, and to make that image bright is to glorify its maker. It is not up to the state to give a man the will and the desire to do what is best for him. In fact, when the state does, it attacks God himself, by assuming his image is not up to doing what the power of government knows is best.

If a man is a man, he is due the respect of all other men and especially Christian men, of choosing his own destiny. If God gives us that freedom, the freedom to go to hell, then the least we can do is to allow the same freedom about school.

Compulsory school attendance is a daily insult to the natural God-given desire in every man to improve himself and his family and to strive for heaven, and thereby an insult to the God who made him. It teaches that God didn’t really make us the crown of creation and that we don’t really have that desire, or will, to excel.

This is to give God the lie, and is teaching contrary to the Christian faith. It rests on the proposi­tion that some men don’t know and won’t do what is best for them—and the state must compel them. That is the foundation of all socialism or statism.

The whole system would collapse in a whisper if compulsory attendance laws were repealed. If you did not empower the policemen to arrest anyone who does not send his children to a particular school, how long do you think the wretched schools we must put up with would last?

I assure you the public would very soon restore good schools by supporting the good ones freely and withdrawing freely from the bad ones.

That is the nature of public institutions and be­lieve me, the voice of the people is a loud one.

If we are truly a Christian people, we will take again the control of our schools and reassert our conviction that it is God that teacheth man knowl­edge—not Caesar.