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George E Sewell

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Our Peculiar Institution
1/21/2006 1:35:08 PM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

Our Peculiar Institution

As one who appreciates history, I am often irked by folks who reference history only in terms of their thinking and context rather than in the thought and context of the past time. In order to be useful, history has to be considered in the context of the thinking and beliefs of the people. For instance, slavery in the early United States.
The practice of enslaving others for labor goes to back, well, as far as we can see. The less science and technology in use, the more human hands, fingers, legs and backs had to be employed for manipulating things. Slavery provided the human element for an economic machine. The practice has been universal, and continues in some areas even today. But on the whole, the institution has been rejected on moral as well as economic and social grounds.
At the time of the founding of our nation the practice was a legal commercial enterprise. It was a major irritant for all – supporters and objectors. Enslavement is at once at odds with the premise of the United States – the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The scale of the discomfort was indicated by the euphemism “Peculiar Institution” when referring to the matter. Perhaps it was possible to discuss/debate a “peculiar institution” but not about “slavery.” It took a war between the states to finally rid the republic of the odious and ancient practice.
I point this out as a background for those who dismiss the founders and others afterwards because of the presence of the ‘peculiar institution.’ They are unwilling, or more likely, unable, to reflect on the past in the context of historical thought and belief. I can help these folks.
There is, in my humble opinion, a reasonable parallel in the 21st century. An entrenched institution exists that is just as divisive among the states and people as was slavery. Similar passions, similar politics, and, sadly, a similar body of human beings denied inalienable rights.

Government schools =/= Public Education

Should a national referendum occur with a single “yes or no” question: “Shall the citizens be taxed to provide an education for all citizens?” the response would likely be on the order of 90% “yes.” As a people and a nation we embrace the value of an educated public, that is, literate in written and spoken English, conversant with math, knowledgeable of civics and the history of the nation, and an introduction to basic science. Education is not synonymous with “indoctrination.”
Should a national referendum occur with a single “yes or no” question: “Shall the government run the schools children are required to attend.” I suspect the passage of this referendum would be in doubt.
Public education in this nation does not mean, and never did mean, government run/controlled schools. The noted failure of government run schools overall, in the past three decades, can not be ignored. Therefore the distinguishing between the desirable “public education” and the not effective “government school.”
Imagine that you enter a large room, crowded with educators, school system bureaucrats, and teacher union members and you shout “School vouchers!” In that instance the passion and investment in the government school plantation is readily evident. One would see a ferocious effort to douse the flame of that concept at all costs. And this, of course, is what we are seeing.
This is the contemporary Peculiar Institution.
There are those who refuse to modify or restructure the government school system as it exists because it would disrupt a powerful economic system, political power, and social structure. There are at the same time, contemporary abolitionist who do not suffer the foolishness of the failed system.
The solution to the old “Peculiar Institution” and the 21st century’s “Peculiar Institution” is the introduction of freedom. It’s really that simple. Simple, of course, is not a synonym of easy. It took a full century following the war between the states for the vestiges of the old system to fall asunder.
The abolitionist consider 1) the laws forcing children to attend school 2) the schools are run by government, and 3) an elite can bypass 1 and 2 for a price. It is #3 that is contrary to the intent of the nation. Those parent(s) who can not afford to send their children to a school of their choice are forced to send their children to the designated government school. Choice emphasized. The freedom of choice is denied, by law, to most citizens. No viable arguments have been presented that I am aware that show the benefit to the nation by denying freedom to citizens.
Thus the kabuki dance around euphemisms rather than place openly on the public forum the matter: How does the denial of school vouchers (maintaining the desired spirit of public education and maintaining freedom of choice for citizens) further the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? (Pursuit of happiness for the citizen/students not the purveyors of the system.)
Remember the historical political debates and angst over admitting new states to the union? What would the Congressional debate consist if a contemporary territory, say Puerto Rico, established a law that provided vouchers from the public treasury to permit freedom of choice for parents in selecting the schools their children attend, and petitioned to become the 51st state? I suspect there would be great similarities in the language and rationale used by proponents then and now of “Peculiar Institutions.”
It is ironic that Freedom is “breaking out” around the world, yet the historical beacon of freedom is mired in bogus debates. I have not seen an accounting of school choice for the strongest supporters of the Peculiar Institution. The lack of such an accounting suggests strongly that most, if not all, children of proponents are safely enrolled in a school of the parent(s) choosing. Why deny that option, that freedom, to other parents?
The answer of course is not worthy, therefore the Peculiar Institution remains. Assaulted by abolitionist. Defended by recipients of its riches. Education, as opposed to indoctrination, must be available by choice to all citizens. The old “Peculiar Institution” was finally dismantled. So should its modern successor.

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