Thursday, September 10, 2009

Comparing State Schools--R. L. Dabney

It is an interesting historical fact that as much as Robert Lewis Dabney was against "universal State-schools" he thought it tolerably better to have Georgia's system than his beloved Virginia's system. It is interesting--and instructive--because some people seem to think anything that smacks of state involvement is so necessarily evil that it must be avoided at all costs. This excerpt, from his "Free Schools" article, compares the evils of the Virginia system (1870s) with another state he thought had a better approach:

"Now, if we must have the Yankee system, why cannot our Legislature imitate the wisdom and moderation of Georgia? Let all property-taxes, State and local, for school purposes, be abolished. Let the poll-tax be dedicated to that use, with the proviso, that the parent must at least pay the poll-tax, in order to enter his children. And, if this would not make a sum sufficiently splendid for our enthusiasts, let us imitate Georgia again, and devote the liquor-tax to the schools. The Auditor estimated that the Moffet law, properly applied, would yield $600,000. Is not that, added to the poll-tax and the income of the literary fund, enough to glut the rapacious maw of the School Board? Give them this; and we shall at least have the consolation of knowing, that we are not plundered to support a mischievous system, unless we choose to commit the folly of tippling...

"One other excellent feature of the Georgia law is secured by the very Constitution of the State Art. viii, Sec. 5. "Nothing contained in Sec. 2 of this Art. shall be construed to deprive schools in this State, not common schools, from participation in the educational funds of the State, as to all pupils therein, taught in the elementary branches of an English education.

"The meaning of this provision is, that all schools created and regulated by parents themselves, shall have the same title to a share in the school fund to pay for instruction in the English rudiments with those created by the State, provided the teachers of the former come under a few simple regulations ensuring the useful performance of their duties. The vital advantage of this is, that the State of Georgia restricts and limits that intrusion into and usurpation of parental rights and responsibilities within the narrowest limits permitted by her conquerors, which our system studies to push to the most sweeping and enormous extent. The State of Georgia recognizes the right of parents to say where a school is needed, how it shall be regulated, who shall be its teacher, what shall be its text-books, what its moral or religious regimen. The State of Virginia does all that can be done to wrest these inalienable rights and duties from the parents to whom God and nature have given them, and vest them in three "school trustees." The State of Georgia says to parents: "Exercise your rights of choice, and the Commonwealth will acquiesce and pay the portion of the fund equitably due your families, to the teacher of your choice." The State of Virginia virtually says: "I claim, like pagan Sparta, to be parent of all children, and to usurp the rights of natural parents in dictating by my officials, where, how, and by whom your children shall be educated; and if any parent insist on his rights of doing his own natural duties to his own offspring, he shall be punished therefore, by having his property taken from him to educate other people's children in ways he did not elect." There is the difference.

"The experience of every practical man will teach him how conducive this feature of the Georgia law is to flexibility, convenience and economy. The parents of a neighborhood create a school; they are the best judges where it should be situated, and who had best teach it; for they are actuated by disinterested love for the children, and sound common sense. They furnish the house and appliances. Hence, every dollar the State contributes is applied to the cost of actual instruction. The plan has the flexibility needed for a sparse population; the wishes of parents, desiring higher tuition for their children, co-operate with the wishes of the State desiring primary tuition for all; and public and private interests work together for the mutual benefit of the property-class and the poor."

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