Family Research Council
WT99G1 The Naked Public School: Religion, Education, and Character in the Aftermath of Columbine 09/10/1999 06/07/2004 Dr. Hubert Morken

Aaron Wildavsky, the distinguished political scientist and my mentor in my early years as a professor, wrote that public lectures place a heavy obligation on the speaker. Do not, he wrote, bore the crowd. People attending lectures are something of a captive audience, even if they choose to attend--it is impolite to get up and leave, or to go to sleep. So they deserve, wrote Wildavsky, to be entertained, to be kept awake, and if the first two goals are accomplished, given something useful to chew on and to cogitate over. My problem, as my wife and family can verify, is that I had to be taught to smile as an infant by my mother. Here we are in Washington in the dog days of summer with the heat and the humidity, the policymakers out of town, not much going on, and I can't tell jokes. But we are here today to have fun, one way or another, and to learn something about the positive prospects for education policy change as they relate to religion.[1]

I have another professional mentor, Carey McWilliams at Rutgers University, himself a theorist, who once commented that it is unwise to do political theory until you are at least fifty years old. Younger people don't know enough and have not lived long enough to see ideas tested in experience, he thought. He said this twenty years ago. Now I am over fifty--fifty-five, to be exact--and I am still not doing theory. I prefer studying practical politics, but more and more, theory is starting to creep into my work, although some has always been there.[2]

I have a third mentor, Neal Reimer of Drew University (now retired), who asked me every year, "What are you writing?" He helped to keep my professional pedal to the metal. This past year my co-author Professor Jo Renee Formicola, from Seton Hall University, and I interviewed Neal's son David for a book, The Politics of School Choice, that we just completed. Neal is an opponent of school choice--he remembers how well public schools functioned in New York, helping generations of immigrants to dream the American dream and to climb out of poverty. His son David, however, works for Mayor John Norquist of Milwaukee, a liberal Democrat and a strong supporter of vouchers. Neal is having to rethink his own views on school choice, much like the rest of us, and is delighted that two people he helped to mentor--Jo Formicola, who was his doctoral student, and myself--are working together. I wish Jo were with me today, but she is hard at work on a biography of John Paul II.[3]

I will begin with a bit of theory to set the stage for the practical politics material that is always my bread and butter. Let me suggest to you that the biggest players in radical education reform today, providing new alternatives to parents, include Roman Catholics, evangelical and confessional Protestants, free-market entrepreneurs, and African-Americans, who are rethinking their view of schools. This is a time of profound transition for how we think about schools and how we organize and pay for them.[4]

Catholics once saw schools as a function of the church. Good Catholics went to parochial schools. Today, the Catholic Church teaches that parents, not the church, are responsible to select an education for their children. This is a principle of natural law that applies to all parents. The church, in this view, supplies the parochial school option for parents to consider, including non-Catholic parents, but does not require it of its own parishioners. Catholics are becoming parent-centered in their theory and practice of education, and this is a profound shift.[5]

Protestants once saw schools as a function of the community. In America, the common school was to reflect the consensus understanding of the mostly Protestant local community and the nation. Segregation violated this principle, excluding some in the community. "Separate but equal," the doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, applied to tax-supported, community-based schools. Today, evangelical Protestants who are alienated from public schools in their own neighborhoods are embracing family-based education in a variety of options, including home-schooling, Christian schools, and family-friendly charter schools. Protestant families no longer assume that the local public school is best for them. This may be the death knell for the community school model.[6]

Free-market entrepreneurs are typically individualistic if not libertarian in their perspectives. Yet their thinking on schools must embrace families and make room for religious communities to operate schools. Today, free-market reform advocates are learning to work with pastors in inner cities to devise new funding solutions. Sometimes, as in Michigan, this requires libertarians to modify their principles or to hold them in abeyance, to adopt mechanisms like vouchers that poor families can use, which may violate pure free-market principles. Free-market activists are learning to focus on family needs.[7]

For African-Americans, gaining access to state-owned and government-operated schools was a hard-won victory. These schools were the road to freedom and opportunity. Today, for the poor, if not the middle class, these same schools are more of a trap, and too often the schools are staffed by whites and not by African-Americans. Black families are looking for alternatives. Some flee the inner city, and some are starting private faith-based schools. There is growing disenchantment with the state-based education systems.[8]

We are witnessing a demolition derby. Demolished are church-based, community-based, market-based, and state-based models of education. What is replacing them, theoretically today and in reality tomorrow, are family-based systems. In my view, this is a profound improvement on the past. We are getting back to the common-law doctrine recognized and approved by the Supreme Court when it said in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) that it is the right of parents "to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control." The justices saw this liberty as equal to freedom of religion or the right to marry. Despite all the confusion and controversy in the law about education and religion, the Court has it right on this point, and the rest of society now has to catch up.

But how will this be done? What will be the role of churches, of the community, of markets, and of government in the family-centered schools of the next millennium? It is time to rethink the relationships between families, schools, churches, communities, markets, and governments. The rest of this talk is more a report from the front where these issues are being lived and fought out than it is a theoretical disquisition on jurisdictional boundaries. As important as that subject is, it is one I leave to the theorists. Families exclusively have the authority to determine where a child is to be educated, but then what? There is much to consider besides the fact that education begins with family, from infancy on, and the principle that parents are in charge of schooling.[9]


Turning to practical politics, one assumption and a simple choice control the rest of this presentation. First, note the assumption: Hope is essential for politics; without hope politics dies. Politics is often called the art of the possible, but without hope, politics itself becomes impossible. Getting on the right side of history, anticipating what can and must be done, knowing it can be done, is a key to effective politics and to political mobilization. Here, I deliberately dwell on the positive, on good news, on what makes school reform possible, probable, and certain. We must deal with bad news, but we can do even that in a positive way. There is much to celebrate and much worth doing. Second, note the simple choice made here, i.e., having a future focus. Anticipating the future from the present, not examining the past and how we got here, is the center of gravity for this lecture. The formal title is "The Naked Public School: Religion, Education, and Character in the Aftermath of Columbine." Briefly, we might title this talk "Hope for the Future of Education."

I have good reasons to be optimistic about the future of schools. Three of my children (Lora, David, and Eva) are married, I have ten grandchildren, and we have two more on the way this year. That makes twelve "grands" in 1999. This is a good start and we have prospects for more. (My other son, Daniel, is not even married. He is a naval flight officer in the Persian Gulf.) Why do I start on this personal note in what must be an academic and professional lecture? The Family Research Council hosts this lecture, and if it is about education, it is about families. FRC promotes families and celebrates them. I just celebrated mine. But we need to remember, and this is crucially important, that nothing motivates people to care about schools like having children to educate. My commitment to research and to write in the education policy arena is directly connected to my grandchildren. A personal stake drives policy in politics--we academics call these interests--and that is precisely why I am optimistic about education reform. Parents and grandparents, sooner or later, will see to it, that neighborhood schools work, or they will provide alternatives.[10]

I want all my grandchildren to attend good schools, including if possible home schools, private schools, and public schools. I attended all three. I was schooled at home before the age of six; attended missionary schools in Shanghai, China, and Tokyo, Japan, in grades one through four; went to public schools in California, grades five and six; attended a British government school, King George V School, for five years in Hong Kong; and graduated from Druid Hills, a public high school in Decatur, Georgia, in 1961. My children went to Montessori schools, to public grammar schools and middle schools, and to the Stony Brook School, an evangelical prep school on Long Island, New York. It took all our discretionary spending to send our children to Stony Brook, but it was well worth it in a hundred ways. Our children earned college scholarships, all but one graduated debt-free, and the one who did not, chose to be a mother first, a decision we applauded.

Once again, let's ask, "Why mention these personal details?" We are celebrating family, true, but never forget that in public policy, the subject I teach in graduate school, it is good to expose one's commitments and assumptions at the outset (i.e., avoid stealth politics). I support all forms of education--home, private, and public--if they work. Of course I have preferences and standards, and I think that parents alone are to determine the education of their children.[11]


Politically active, religious conservative parents care a great deal about education. I discovered this on the campaign trail in 1987 when I was writing a book on Pat Robertson's politics. Wherever I went to Iowa, California, South Carolina, or Oklahoma, I found that his activist supporters, whom I was studying to learn why they supported him, were motivated by education problems in public schools and the needs of their junior high children. I was amazed. I had expected to find abortion the trigger for activism and instead found schools to be the reason. It did not matter whether the location was rural, suburban, or urban: Perceived breakdown in public schools led to political activism and support for Robertson. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, I might add, who was also running for president, also had a sense of these issues and their importance, though he was and is closely tied to the public school establishment.[12]

In my subsequent research in the early 1990s, I discovered the intensity of education politics. Again, I was taken by surprise. I had just finished a major coast-to-coast research project on efforts to restrain pornography and domestic partner legislation, and had presented these findings at the American Political Science Association meeting in San Francisco. Our panel made the San Francisco Examiner. I thought these issues were hot, indeed the hottest grassroots issues next to abortion. But a year later, as I was doing research on "stealth politics," I realized I had been wrong. I went to San Diego to study two school board elections held in 1990 and 1992, because the Los Angeles Times said they were examples of conservative evangelicals' stealing elections by using concealment tactics. One candidate whom I interviewed, who lost, described his experience as the worst of his entire life. He suffered character assassination on television and in the national press that were present to cover the event. He was a mature independent contractor, a builder, who thought he was tough enough to handle the pressure, but his political confidence was almost totally destroyed by the firestorm he encountered. Education politics can excite people much like a beehive kicked over or a bear attack. (Myron Lieberman, based here in Washington, has written extensively about this subject.[13])


Despite the volatility of the issue, in my view, the end of the millennium is a great time to consider changes in the very structure of education. In America, well in excess of $350 billion a year is pouring into schools that enroll more than 48 million students. This is the second largest component of the nation's economy, after medical care. Some states mandate spending well in excess of 40 percent of the entire state budget for education. Enrollments are increasing.

At the same time, the Internet and computers make large schools look like dinosaurs from a different age. Why not have smaller campuses? Why not make schools more personal? Why not recover true neighborhood schools with strong parental involvement and close community supervision? Why not ex plore new curricula and raise standards? Why not promote educational alternatives where parents desire them? Why not allow public funds to be spent in new ways to enable parents to have genuine school choice, something not only permitted by law but backed by the community? As parents, entrepreneurs, and private schools of all kinds--religious and secular, profit and nonprofit--press for reforms, and public officials and corporate America learn to listen, change will come, slowly but relentlessly. Huge piles of bricks and mortar called campuses, and an education monopoly in the form of government-run schools, are equally outdated and unproductive.[14]


One scholar who agrees with this assessment is Bruce S. Cooper of Fordham University, who is spending his professional life studying education unions in America and Europe. At a Harvard conference in 1998, Cooper commented that radical school reform, including public funding of truly independent private schools, was inevitable in the United States because of two powerful and distinctive forces. In America, unlike in Europe, he said, religion remains strong among the grassroots; and in America, private capital and entrepreneurs have vitality and are respected. Both the religious and the entrepreneurs, he concluded, have the resources needed to start and run schools. I would add, based on research for my book on school choice politics, that as the Catholics and evangelicals learn to work together with the entrepreneurs--people like David Brennan in Ohio, Don Laskowski in Indianapolis, Ted Forstmann in New York, Richard "Dick" DeVos in Michigan, and many more--this process will only accelerate. Some scholars, like Paul Peterson, estimate that this is a fifty-year process. Others, and I agree with them, predict that it will happen more quickly.[15]

Long ago I wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on United States China policy between 1876 and 1885. What is striking, looking back a hundred years, is that no one at that time predicted the great events of the twentieth century--the world wars, the communist revolutions, the Great Depression, the nuclear age, the globalization of Christianity, the Internet. We cannot see around the corner. Certain processes, like the growth of trade, were predictable, but not the great historic events. So I am not optimistic that we can chart the pace of education reform in the United States either. There is too much politics involved to make it predictable.[16]


Disasters, circumstances, leadership, and court decisions are four factors that will undoubtedly play a critical role in the direction and pace of educational change, as they have in the great events of the twentieth century.

First, disasters make change more likely. They are like cracks in the proverbial wall. Second, circumstances impact parents and politicians. A sudden downturn in the economy or a war, for example, can make or break reform prospects. The point to keep in mind is that events, big and little, create a context for education policy change, speeding it up or slowing it down in ways and on dates not predictable. This is a good reason to prepare for the unexpected, when change can come much more rapidly if reformers are prepared to seize the day. Third, leaders, active in the community, in the education or policy organizations they create and maintain, and in politics, make choices every day influencing the outcome of school reform. Intellectuals like economist Milton Friedman and journalist John Fund at the Wall Street Journal, for example, function as education policy leaders. Fourth, court decisions, both state and federal, set important precedents. State reform in Wisconsin, Ohio, Maine, Vermont, and Florida, to name a few, is in various stages of adjudication. Keep in mind too that disasters, congenial circumstances, decisive leadership, and court decisions, can all be concurrent, accelerating change exponentially rather than incrementally.[17]


Turning first to disasters, my concern in discussing the Columbine High School killings in Littleton, Colorado, is that any comments, no matter how balanced, objective, and insightful, will be too negative. People are tired of moral overload. We are not only astonished and angered by school murders, but we are also fatigued. As well, we are suspicious of those who are trying to turn pools of blood and mayhem into political tools for particular agendas. Truth sets free, we are told, but news like this tends to depress us and to put us on guard against emotional manipulation by policy elites and mass mailings.

We should all be concerned about the relationship of Littleton to the political process. Makers of social policy may truly need disasters to help break the political logjams that bedevil the legislative process. But is our system of representative democracy so sick or dysfunctional that it takes headlines to stimulate politicians to act? At the end of an interview on school choice with John Cardinal O'Connor of New York in the fall of 1997, I asked him, "What will end the inertia that stops any consideration of vouchers, tax credits, or even charter schools in New York?" I also asked him how he prayed about this. He responded that he prayed in the middle of the night when he could not sleep (he had a reputation for insomnia) and that he prayed for a breakthrough. "But what would a breakthrough be?" He paused, and then commented with regret that too often, a breakthrough was really a breakdown that made it to the front page and to the television news. Disasters in the classrooms or corridors of public schools in the Big Apple leveraged change.[18]

It is too terrible to contemplate that pools of blood or empty or demolished classrooms may be needed to bring healing to schools. This is the language of revolution or anarchy, not reform. Whether such views are true or not, and I know O'Connor prays that they are not true, it is wise to remember that while a crisis may help make change possible, it does not by itself tell us what to do. We all know that policymakers must weigh alternatives and make choices when they do decide to act.[19]

Nevertheless, Littleton changed things, legislators tell us. Parents, who today ask, "Are public schools safe anymore?" or "Should we return prayer to schools?" or "Do we need more gun control legislation?" are listened to. The House of Representatives answered that we ought to clothe the public schools in forms of religiosity: We should encourage student religious expression in public schools, schools should be allowed to post the Ten Commandments, and religious memorial services should be permitted on public school grounds. More gun control legislation failed to pass.

But what are the right questions? The Columbine murderers not only killed students but also sought to blow up the campus and killed themselves. Why? What provokes hatred of the very school buildings and one's self? What produces such alienation? The Columbine attack suggests the possibility that schools themselves may have become "the enemy" to some students. Superficial or piecemeal reforms may not solve this problem. If this is so, or even possibly so, we must ask, "If neither religious symbolism nor additional security measures restore peace to public schools, what then is to be done?" These questions are helping to shape the American agenda.[20]


If there is a right question to ask in the aftermath of the Columbine High School tragedy in Littleton, Colorado, it may have been asked by Baptist theologian Carl F. H. Henry in 1957. He asked if crime would increase as religion was marginalized in public schools, and answered with a bold and emphatic yes. This was ten years after the Supreme Court in Everson v. Board of Education called for a high wall of separation between church and state. Henry in vivid terms blamed the Everson doctrine of radical separation of religion from American life--what I call the "naked public school"--for rising crime. Religion in schools had been driven underground, gone "subterranean," he said, and violence would inevitably take its place, not only in schools but also in the streets and homes of the nation. Writing in Christianity Today, he quoted Frederick Eby, a professor from the University of Texas, to make his point:

Never have sex perversions; unscrupulous disregard of the evil effect of liquor, narcotics and tobacco upon children; divorce; rape; murder; political chicanery; debauchery; gambling; corrupt athletics; and contempt for law and order been so rampant and unblushing as they are today. The revolting sexual perversion extending from multiple divorce to criminal assault upon women and little girls, frequently ending with brutal murder of the victim; the increase of sexual relations of high school students; the heartless killings of youth of high IQ out of sheer moral idiocy; all such behavior testifies to the deterioration of public and private morality and sanity. . . . One conclusion is certain: the strong claims of a century ago that a system of public schools would do away with crime now looks absurd. Not only has public education failed to eliminate crime but it is in some measure responsible for the increase of these various evils.[21]

Today, fifty years after Everson and in the aftermath of Columbine, schools are blamed for violence. If this judgment sticks, this is a public credibility disaster of incalculable magnitude. Once public schools are seen not just as the targets of violence, but also as contributing factors, the debate shifts from the criminals to the schools themselves, and to their presumed contributions to crime. Discussion turns from analyzing the motives of two young men in Littleton, to addressing the nature of public education as it has developed in recent years--without the support of religious teaching and practices like prayer.


Ever since the Supreme Court in Engel v. Vitale (1962) ruled that New York's state-sponsored prayer in public schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, evangelicals have been divided on the decision. Some, agreeing with the Court, considered any government-imposed prayer a problem and sought room for voluntary prayer. The Christian Legal Society, for example, invested heavily in equal access for Bible clubs on a voluntary basis and succeeded in getting both the Congress and the Supreme Court to agree to this (although many school administrators continue to resist). But debate on prayer and posting the Ten Commandments continues. What more can and should be done to restore prayer to schools? In this debate, a subtle shift is taking place.[22]

In prior years, after Everson, the burden of proof lay on those trying to justify prayer in public schools. Since evangelicals abhor state-imposed religion, what were they to do? Today, instead of asking, "How do we justify prayer in government-run schools?" some are beginning to ask, "Can we justify supporting schools that exclude prayer?" For evangelicals, this shift means that public schools bear the burden of proof to justify their continued existence. Public education, not religion, is put on the defensive when evangelicals ask, "Should the public be forced to pay for secular schools?" This shift is just beginning to take place, but it will accelerate if disorder increases in schools and violent acts continue to occur. In short, repeated Littleton-type disasters destroy confidence not only in the public schools and in the decisions to exclude religious practices from schools, but also in the viability of secularized schools. Parents who can afford to do so flee schools that they see as harmful to their children, opting for home-schooling, more compatible charter schools, or private schools. The whole system of secularized, state-controlled schools becomes suspect to the group of people who were largely responsible for creating community-based education in the first place.[23]


Circumstances are the second factor influencing the pace of change. How will circumstances impact parents and policymakers? Here we are purely speculating, which is always fun to do. When I asked school choice activists how a severe downturn in the economy might affect their movement, most replied that they had not thought about the question. Some answered, however, that it would hurt them because private scholarship sources would dry up, funding for their organizations would be scarce, and parents could not afford to pay private tuition. In addition, school choice initiatives like voucher experiments are often bought in legislatures with the promise of more funds to existing public schools. This practice would stop. In sum, a deep recession or depression would set them back.

Others saw the idea of an economic crisis differently. Public education is extraordinarily expensive, as state politicians all know. In some cities, the cost per child is more than $10,000 in public schools. By contrast, parochial grammar schools are often operating at one-third of public school costs with better results. The administrative expenses in public school systems are high. What would happen if the tax base that supports public schools were to shrink dramatically overnight? Public schools have been affordable because of an extraordinarily buoyant economy for five decades and because they have had a supportive public willing to pay the price tag. These conditions may not last indefinitely.

If economic circumstances changed dramatically, the price of education would become a big issue and private education providers more attractive. What would happen to education reform if public dollars were scarce? We can only guess. Other circumstances may also bring change. International commerce putting even more pressure on business to be competitive and to have a creative work force is another example of external pressures. How would leadership respond to that kind of pressure?[24]


The leadership dimension of education reform is the most exciting of all today. For example, for decades, school choice went n owhere as long as it was perceived as a Catholic issue. Evangelical Protestants who prevented this reform now join with Catholics to promote it, and these religious groups now ally themselves with free-market advocates and members of the African-American community. Two examples, in Indiana and Pennsylvania, serve to illustrate this larger phenomenon that represents the healing of what Booth Fowler and Alan Hertzke have called "the most enduring cultural divide in U.S. history."

In Indiana, J. Patrick Rooney, a Roman Catholic, and Don Laskowski, an evangelical, are both entrepreneurs who are working closely together to help found "Safe Haven" schools. These schools are owned and operated by African-American churches in poor communities. Rooney and Laskowski have sponsored computer-based curriculum development and provide infrastructure support and scholarships to enable pastors to create their own private schools. They combine an entrepreneurial can-do spirit, racial bridging, a social justice agenda, an ecumenical style, political savvy, and spiritual concern. Their partnership also includes lobbying together for school choice legislation and forming alliances with free-market advocates, local and national.[25]

The Pennsylvania story is similar and involves not just entrepreneurs but also lawyers, churches, policy think tanks, and grassroots organizations. In Pennsylvania, the alliance of Catholics, evangelicals, and free-market organizations goes back to the 1980s and earlier. The late William Bentley Ball, a devout Catholic and distinguished religion and education litigator, not only represented Protestants before the Supreme Court, but also served as in-house counsel for the Association of Christian Schools International, the largest evangelical school organization in the nation. Also, in Harrisburg, the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank, and the Pennsylvania Family Institute, associated with Focus on the Family and Family Research Council, have close ties with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference on education issues. The REACH (the Road to Educational Achievement through Choice) Alliance is a clearinghouse and public face for this coalition. Recently, these supporters of school choice formed ties to black legislators based in Philadelphia, including Dwight Evans. This was big news for the Pennsylvania education reform movement because Evans is a powerful legislator and community leader.[26]

Another exciting and significant development is the emerging leaders who are bringing money and ideas to the school reform movement. Private vouchers pioneered by Rooney in Indianapolis have become the focus of a national movement, headed by people like Ted Forstmann and John Walton. Much, much more can be said on this subject and related subjects. In short, in state after state and nationally, entrepreneurs are altering school reform dramatically in the 1990s, bringing with them new resources and organization-creating skills.[27]


The last of the four determinative factors that can affect the pace of education reform are court decisions. There is a decidedly mixed tapestry of state and national decisions that can enhance or damage reform. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin upheld vouchers for children attending religious schools. In Ohio, however, a court struck down a similar law on state constitutional grounds. No definitive federal ruling on vouchers has been made as yet.

There are also other issues yet to be confronted. Would a religion-based charter school be unconstitutional? There are a host of free-exercise and establishment issues to be resolved.

What is so interesting from a policy perspective is how this plays out on the ground. In Cleveland, for example, if vouchers are not allowed for children to attend church-run schools, then the charter schools will cut into parochial school enrollments. Pastors who are being recruited to back charter schools as part of a larger school-reform effort can lose out if their faith-based schools gain nothing in return. In addition, school reforms are sometimes shaped to pass court tests in a way that compromises the independence of religious schools. Selective admissions and chapel services are both areas of concern for school administrators who want to maintain their autonomy. For example, reformers sometimes demand that in voucher programs, admissions be random or first come first served and students be permitted to opt out of religious services.

The combination of anticipated court challenges and the willingness of more secular-minded reformers to compromise in order to win is a real difficulty for private religious schools. When William Ball discussed the prerequisites of school choice reform, he always included the requirement that laws must be passed to protect the rights and prerogatives of private religious schools.[28]


As the pace of school reform accelerates, the religious have certain strengths and advantages that all but guarantee success in the long run in confronting "the naked public school." Most but not all of these have been mentioned above.[29]

Many Christian families have children and are willing to make great sacrifices to see that they are well educated and prepared for life. This ensures that faith-friendly school reform initiatives will continue. The theological premise that children are a gift from God and that parents are responsible for their education has in its essentials been adopted by the Supreme Court. This wisdom of the ages is the law of the land.

The religious, including Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Lutherans, and the Dutch Reformed, have the capacity and inclination to create and to maintain their own faith-based schools. Though they may lack sufficient resources to pay for these schools, solutions both private and public are within reach. Christians, Jews, and Muslims have distinctive perspectives on culture and morals that mean that they will refuse to be assimilated in a secularized public school system. In short, organizations like Focus on the Family help to preserve standards that enable followers to maintain a critical distance from popular trends, choosing to stay in and influence public schools or to leave them.

The religious know how to organize and to influence public policy when they are motivated to act. They are not without influence when sufficiently aroused or alarmed and can reward political friends and conquer adversaries.


I promised that this analysis would be upbeat and optimistic but not unrealistic. There are problems that make it difficult to cope with the education challenge. To list a few: Materialism has its grip on many of the religious, both Catholic and Protestant, who instead of procreating are avoiding marriage or are having few or even no children. The temptation to avoid having children, for a variety of reasons, noble and ignoble, is real, and reduces concern for education quality.

In addition, it takes great energy to change the educational system of a nation that is so well entrenched and well defended by its supporters. Religious schools are not growing in market share. Large Catholic parochial systems have been shrinking for decades until recently, and the Protestant schools have relatively anemic growth to show for their efforts. Home-schooling is an exception.

Many religious families prefer public schools or are ignorant of the problems their children face. They are the ones who risk assimilation. Some parents simply are unwilling to spend the time to get active in the public schools as concerned participants, to pay the cost of private school tuition, or to make the commitment to home-schooling.

There is no consensus as yet on the best remedy for helping young families to pay the costs of private or home-school education. Catholics generally agree that public vouchers will work best, especially for the poor, but also for the middle class. Evangelicals at the moment seem to prefer charter schools that are sensitive to their concerns, or tax credits. Many fear vouchers because of regulatory issues. Furthermore, no major Catholic, Protestant, or economic organization exists whose sole purpose is to promote educational reform. These religious groups have large organizational resources, but they have equally broad agendas that leave too little time and money for school matters. This is the big agenda/no organization problem, where rhetoric is not matched by deeds.


In politics, as in war, there are winners and losers. As scholars, we try to look at the balance of strength to determine the outcome in advance or to explain it after the fact. We also on occasion function as consultants or policy advisors. If I had that role today, I would make the following recommendation. Consider well the idea put forward by Andrew Coulson in his recent book, Market Education: The Unknown History (1999). Coulson points out from history that the most creative periods of education for children from ancient Athens to the present have not been when the state was in charge of schools. Nor, he argues, have churches done very well with schools either. Instead, Coulson maintains, good schools flourished when parents were truly in charge and helped to form private for-profit schools. As anachronistic as this sounds--letting parents set up schools and allowing room for the market to operate--this might work better than anything we have today. Government schools suffer from excessive regulation and bureaucracy, and parochial schools of all stripes are underfunded. Parents rewarding independent schools that do well by supplying a regular supply of students and ample funds would solve both problems. This is not a brief against public schools and parochial schools, but simply a suggestion that public policy would do well to encourage private for-profit schools by granting tax breaks, regulatory room, and even capital investment where loans, land, and buildings are hard to come by. There should be an affordable fourth option for parents along with the three commonly available today: public, nonprofit religious, and home schools.[30]

A final comment. Empowering parents is a public policy issue for one most obvious reason.[31] Young families are typically poor. I make more money now in my mature professional years with no children at home than I did as a young parent. My wife, who makes considerably more that I do in an Internet business she owns, for fourteen years when the children were young did not work outside the home at all. The money question simply will not go away and lies at the center of parental choice and the availability of excellent, affordable schools. How will the church, the community, the market, and the government help families? That is an issue worth discussing. 

Dr. Morken is professor of government at the Robertson School of Government, Regent University. He is the co-editor of Everson Revisited: Religion, Education, and Law at the Crossroads (Rowman and Littlefield, 1997), and co-author with Jo Renee Formicola, of The Politics of School Choice (Rowman and Littlefield, 1999).

1. Aaron Wildavsky, Craftways: On the Organization of Scholarly Work (New Brunswick:Transaction Books, 1989). Wildavsky, past president of the American Political Science Association, was a strong supporter of the organization's original section on religion and politics, which the author helped to organize.

2. Wilson Carey McWilliams was the master teacher for the National Endowment for the Humanities summer course on religion and politics, starting in 1978 and continuing for a number of years. This was a course designed for young professors. The author was in the first class and benefited immeasurably from McWilliams's instruction and encouragement.

3. Neal Reimer pioneered the study of what he terms prophetic politics. Reimer sees the close connections between the biblical understanding of covenant and modern constitutional systems. The author and Jo Renee Formicola wrote The Politics of School Choice (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999).

4. The research foundation for this review of Catholics, evangelicals, free-market libertarians, and African-Americans is found in The Politics of School Choice.

5. Jo Renee Formicola, "Catholic Jurisprudence on Education," in Everson Revisited:Religion, Education, and Law at the Crossroads by Jo Renee Formicola and Hubert Morken (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997), pp. 83-101; see also chapter "Religious Strategies:Catholics and Evangelicals" in The Politics of School Choice.

6. Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice; see also Morken, "The New Common School: The Evangelical Response to Everson," in Everson Revisited, pp. 59-81.

7. See "Consensus Building: Michigan and Pennsylvania" in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

8. See Formicola and Morken, "African American Strategies."

9. Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534 (1925); see also Meyer v. State of Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923).

10. A recent book on how to leverage change is John B. Kingdon's Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policy (New York: Harper Collins College Publishers, 1995).

11. Theorists, who strongly disagree with the author's position, reject all use of tax money not only for private schools but for public schools as well. See "The New Common School," in Formicola and Morken, Everson Revisited, pp. 72-73, and the section on Marshall Fritz in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

12. Research files of the author, interviews with activists conducted in 1987-88; see also Morken, Pat Robertson: Where He Stands (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1988).

13. Morken, "The San Diego Model:Religious-Identity Concealment as Political Strategy," a paper presented to the American Political Science Association (APSA), 1993. Myron Lieberman has many books on education politics going back for decades.

14. See Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

15. Ibid.; see the chapters "Entrepreneurial Strategies" and "Scholars, Activists, and Advocacy."

16. William Strauss and Neil Howe recently wrote a credible contrary perspective that sees historical cycles and projects ahead or predicts the future at least in broadest outline. See The Fourth Turning (New York: Broadway Books, 1997).

17. For a review of court cases, see Daniel L. Dreisbach, "Everson and the Command of History: The Supreme Court, Lessons in History, and the Church-State Debate in America," in Everson Revisited, pp. 23-57; see also the chapter "The Federal Government, the Courts, and School Choice," in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

18. John Cardinal O'Connor, interview by Jo Renee Formicola and Hubert Morken, New York City, October 10, 1997.

19. For an account of how charter school legislation passed in New York, see "Entrepreneurial Strategies," in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

20. Hanna Rosin, "Winning by the Book: Columbine Helps Christian Activists Pass Long-Sought Amendments," The Washington Post, June 21, 1999.

21. Frederick Eby, The Development of Modern Education (1952), pp. 679-680, quoted by Carl F. H. Henry in "Christian Responsibility in Education," Christianity Today, May 27, 1957, pp. 11-14.

22. For an account of the struggle to implement the Equal Access Act, see Morken, "Public Secondary Education: Equal Access and the Clash over Student Religious Expression," paper presented at APSA, 1989. See also Morken, "The Evangelical Legal Response to the ACLU:Religion, Politics, and the First Amendment," paper presented to the APSA, 1992.

23. See "Religious Strategies: Catholics and Evangelicals" in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

24. Interviews conducted by the author, 1997-99, related in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

25. Robert Booth Fowler and Allen D. Hertzke, Religion and Politics in America (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1995), p. 12; see "Entrepreneurial Strategies" and "Religious Strategies," in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

26. See "Consensus Building: Michigan and Pennsylvania," in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

27. See "Entrepreneurial Strategies," in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

28. See the chapters "The Federal Government, the Courts, and School Choice," "Entrepreneurial Strategies" and "Religious Strategies," in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

29. Ibid.

30. Andrew J. Coulson, Market Education: The Unknown History (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1999); see also "Scholars, Activists and Advocacy," in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.

31. Representative Polly Williams of Milwaukee suggests that we emphasize the empowerment of parents by talking about parental choice rather than school choice. Rep. Annette "Polly" Williams, telephone interview by the author, October 21, 1998. See also the chapter on "African American Strategies," in Formicola and Morken, The Politics of School Choice.