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Abolish Private Schools?

Just over a week ago, Britain’s Labour Party passed a motion to abolish private schools at its party conference. Should Labour gain a majority in the election that looks to be happening in the coming months, a sea change in the British education system is looming.

For some context, around 2,500 independent schools educate around 7% of Britain’s students, more than 600,000 in total. Under Labour’s proposal, these schools’ charitable status would be revoked and their land and assets would be seized and “redistributed.” These schools and the pupils that attend them would be “integrated” into the state system.

This is, obviously, a terrible idea. As far as I can tell, Labour has no plans to cope with this influx of students or to pay for their continuing education after whatever windfall from the confiscation of the schools’ property runs dry.

But pointing out the practical problems of this crusade is a bit like pointing out a continuity error in Battlefield Earth, there are bigger issues at hand.Today In: Leadership

This is an illiberal power grab aimed at hurting people that Labour’s far-left faction despises. Even though, as it should be pointed out, prominent Labour leaders have had no issue sending their own children to independent schools in the past or attended such schools themselves, they think that too many people in power graduated from or send their children to independent schools. Thus they must be destroyed.

It is crazy to have to say this in 2019, but forcibly confiscating the private property of institutions that have fallen out of political favor is wrong. It should send chills down all our spines. If folks are so concerned with the pernicious influence of independent schools on politics, don’t vote for people who went to them. That is how a liberal society responds to an institution it dislikes. It doesn’t expropriate its assets.

Maybe we shouldn’t care about this. Maybe it is just a quirky policy from a party desperate to rise from the polling doldrums. If they can’t gain ground on the party that has made Brexit a multi-year rolling shamble, should we really be too worried about their views? Maybe not.

But there are broader, equally illiberal forces across the world that are looking to oppose private schooling. As I covered in my interview with OIDEL’s Ignasi Grau earlier this summer, the UN has set private schools in its sights. Rather than celebrating more diverse and pluralistic education systems, some want to snuff them out.

To those petty tyrants, I’d like to point to the arguments contained in a nearly 100-year-old court case decided by the United States Supreme Court.

In 1925’s Pierce v. Society of Sisters the court ruled unanimously against an Oregon law that looked to do the same thing that Labour and their fellow travelers are hoping to do today. The law had been championed by organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and (in an ironic twist for those who follow the politics of Brexit and Northern Ireland) the Orange Order. Catholics, rather than the wealthy, were the target. But the policy prescription was the same.

In striking down that law, Justice James C. McReynolds argued:

The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

Parents have the right to raise their children the way they best see fit. Their religion doesn’t negate that, nor does their wealth. Yes, this means that parents will often make decisions with which we might disagree. That is part of living in a liberal society. Pluralism, not authoritarianism, is the way forward.

An illiberal tide is rising around the world. The right-wing variety is ascendant, but the left-wing variety is lurking in the shadows. Those of us committed to the fundamental liberal proposition of individual rights should fight against both with full hearts.

This piece first ran in a slightly different form here at Forbes.com.

What Do You Think?
Michael McShane
Mike McShane is the Director of National Research at EdChoice.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m trying to understand this extreme trend of “target and destroy” in terms of cause and effect. The trend smacks of forceful uprising, such as as what happened in the onset of leftist revolutions in past history. It also reflects, I think, on smaller scale actions currently being taken by professors and some students on university campuses…to forcefully deny free speech to anyone who attempts to express views contrary to leftist ideology. In all urgent candor, I fear the longer term consequence (effect) to unrelenting target and destroy tactic might be civil violence on a scale that, well, is going to leave alot of people suffering or dead.

    How can people change to a radical mindset that would ultimately invoke such destruction, chaos and misery? In my field of view I see many people who are angry. Struggling people are understandably “very angry” following the George Bush economic depression (no it was not a recession) and middle east wars that cost billions of dollars, lives and blood. The terrible toll of those events coupled with 30 years of gradual loss of economic stability for hard working people continue to unfold, creating a predisposition for dangerous instability. In my opinion, that predisposition is the most significant “cause” for the malevolence carried in current political/social movement. The cause is driving an effect of creating a foothold for leftist radicalism that inevitably persuades emotionally unstable people to be combative, irrational, agreeable to be used as cannon fodder to target and destroy any and all sources of thought that is not fully compliant with leftist ideology (or should we say idolatry). In my humble opinion, that is the cause and effect scenario playing out.

    So then, what can be done to hold on to our freedoms and civil order for the sake of everyone? I don’t know about Britain, but in this country I’m hoping president Trump will not give up trying to persuade big corporate employers to bring jobs back to the USA….which clearly is a high order moral and patriotic imperative. I’m hoping Sec. of Ed. Devos and other high level people will continue strong advocacy for education choice, so that kids (regardless of race or economic hardship) will at least have a fighting chance to carve out a dignified life…to rise above public school mediocrity that seems to be designed to lead kids into into a (forced) demeaning life dictated by leftist authoritarians. As for me, I will continue to hold on to and advocate the values of God Family and Country, because I know those values are most constructive for our families, our nation and for that matter – the world. I will look for opportunities to publicly express my thoughts such as here in the reader comment section of Project Forever Free (no matter if no one else cares to join in discussion). And that is where I will end this comment – thank you Michael for a well written article that conveys some very pertinent information, as well as your helpful thoughts.

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