Nation needs strong public schools

Published 10:27 am Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In a speech on Statehood Day in Chillicothe, Congressman Brad Wenstrup stressed the role of religion in the founding and development of our nation, from the Mayflower Compact to the Iraq war in which he served.

It was a speech well received, since most people agree, in general, that “Divine Providence” had a hand in shaping our nation and in guiding us along the way. Some folks might point out that a number of the founders were not all that religious, and used the idea of God to represent forces beyond our control or knowledge, rather than as a reference to a specific religion.

The Constitution itself is silent as to God, but does prohibit establishing a state church and any religious test for office.

Email newsletter signup

Clearly, many of the founders were religious, and so were many presidents. Does that mean we should therefore impose a religion on the rest of society? We have put references to God on our money and in our national “Pledge of Allegiance,” which we encourage school children and everyone else to say at public events.

But we see court fights over erecting statues and plaques in and around public buildings, or prayers at athletic or graduation events in public schools. We say we are “one nation, under God,” but the fact is, Americans are not united about religion, and we often divide ourselves over it.

It has been the role of public schools in Ohio, and the nation, to help build “one nation” out of all the divergence we have as people, in ethnicity, gender, political views, economic classes, and religion. Some Americans have chosen to have their own schools based on religion, but they also chose to pay for those separate schools.

But in recent years, our Ohio and federal governments have started diverting many millions of our tax dollars away from our public schools to the private schools — sometimes called “charter schools” — in the form of vouchers given to the families.

We are draining precious resources from the taxes of Ohioans to the pockets of for-profit operators — and to schools that exist to promote a certain religious point of view in the kids who attend. How did all this happen?

Our public schools, we were told by the Reagan administration, were failing — making us “A Nation at Risk,” as the report said in its 1983 title. To “fix” our failing schools, the idea of “choice” was put forth, allowing parents to send their kids to private schools if they wanted, using public money. The competition would force our schools to get better.

We’d run our schools like businesses — making lots of money along the way for the businesses who sold the standardized tests or ran the privatized schools.

Now, it has come to light, we’re even giving our tax dollars to Islamic, Gulen schools, with the profits and salaries going mostly to Turkish nationals who do not live in Ohio.

Like other private schools, their governing meetings are closed to the public. And like other private schools, their students’ test scores are not generally better than public schools — even though they can refuse to serve students who have some handicap that might make them less desirable to the owners or staff, or make them harder to teach.

Our great Ohio public school system was first envisioned by Thomas Jefferson when he drafted the Northwest Ordinance. Ohio public schools, like other public schools around the nation, took all the children who came and taught them as much as they could.

It was no accident that this diverse nation and state became world leaders. Public schools, staffed by well educated, dedicated teachers helped build the U.S.A. that has led the world economically, politically, and often culturally.

E pluribus Unum — “out of many, one,” was our motto, and we built the strongest nation the world has ever seen. Our schools have not failed. They have helped make us one nation, and we have to hope we don’t now sacrifice them on the altar of profit or religious sectarianism.

Our society today is more diverse than ever. Our partisan media divides us. All the more reason to have one, strong public school system for all our kids.


Jack Burgess, is a southern Ohio writer and retired teacher of American history.