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I comment regularly on the impacts of the government controlling 90% of America’s youth. I am a product of Catholic schooling. But this leads me to a puzzle that I really cannot resolve, and I implore my readers for their thoughts. Here goes:

I get apoplectic that the government monopolization of K12 education virtually ensures that the entire population will come to think of the government as a kind and wise uncle, and have government be their default institution for making collective choices. Indeed, I argue that despite the polls suggesting that all of us dislike Congress, we actually all like our “own” congressman, it’s just other folks’ congresspeople that are corrupt. In other words, most people have a really starry eyed and charitable image of “government” in the abstract.

But consider this: I do not see the same thing happen with students who attended Catholic school for their primary and secondary education. If anything, students upon graduating from Catholic schools are less enthusiastic about church doctrine and religiosity and the use of the church and volunteerism to solve the world’s problems. This is startling especially since the students themselves are selected into the Catholic schools by their parents – so presumably they would be predisposed to such a view. Bryan Caplan’s story about nature versus nurture seems to be especially relevant here.

So, why is it that students graduating from government schools seem to come out with a greater admiration and appreciation for government than when they came in than do Catholic school students for the institution that has them captive for 12 years of their lives? Certainly public school graduates are not ¬†appreciably more skeptical of government upon graduating than Catholic school students are of Catholicism when graduating. One possibility is that, contrary to what I believe, that government is actually good and honest and charitable and that 12 years of school enable kids to see this for themselves. Meanwhile Catholics are evil, mean and awful and 12 years of schools enable Catholic kids to see this for themselves. So counting out that story, what else might explain what Dan Klein calls, “the People’s Romance?” I’d note that the “Romance” to which Klein refers is equally shared, in my view, by the Catholic school graduates.

6 Responses to “A Catholic vs. Government Schooling Puzzle”

  1. Busterdog says:

    Simple, Catholic schools train the mind to think. That breeds a certain skepticism. Public schools are directed to the opposite goal, a “good citizen” whatever that is. So it is all by design. The Catholic schools are just too good at what they do for the sake of the institution. Actually the church is better served by a smaller number of well educated Catholics and a good reputation for their schools.
    Public schools are designed for the propagation of teachers unions. They do not really attempt to teach thinking because that would be inhumane as well as inconvenient. Read Richard Mitchell’s “The Graves of Academe.”

  2. Sherlock says:

    12 years as well for me. Well 14 if you count pre-school and kindergarten. I would probably have to the say the “height” of my spiritually was in 2nd grade. You basically believed eveything your parents told you (my mom is a devout Catholic) as well as the religious instructions at school (scary nuns). Came out of those 14 years greatly questioning my Catholic faith. I do believe in God, but certainly not everything relating to Catholicism. I’m pretty good friends with a priest and despise the times when he tells me I have to believe in (insert belief here) due to my Catholic faith. So I’d have to agree. After 14 years, I was definitely less enthused about Church doctirne and religiosity. I’ll see you in Church on Christmas and Easter.

  3. Harry says:

    Where I live if you want to have an unpleasant conversation during a social event, just suggest that the idea of government-run schools ought to perhaps be reexamined. “Do you mean that my father, and his father, assuming that he also went to an American public school, should not have taught to read and figure math? And do you mean that my children should be denied the right to function?”

    I guess some people think I am callous in this regard.

    In my library are algebra books, which belonged to one or more of my uncles. As far as I can tell, the subject matter has not changed. It is my impression that people back then were at least as literate in matters of thought as we are today.

    True, back in the ’30s, our forebears had little ammunition to disprove the idea that government paying men to dig holes and fill them up was not a solution for the Great Depression, but most people could read better and add and subtract.

    Dewey and progressive education took over, and our government-run schools were taken over by Dewey’s apostles, educated by graduates of state teacher’s colleges, who taught the child, not the subject. These were the dim bulbs, not the ones who got put on the Amherst waiting list.

    Thus our children, if they get to the subject, are taught about Marx not by a Hungarian ex-communist, but by a feel-good liberal from Kutztown State, who should be teaching them grammar, which he knows nothing about.

    I never went to a Catholic school, so I cannot say anything smart about that. My speculation is that they taught right and wrong, and did not waste much effort telling their students that any old grunt was as good as the right answer. Dewey would give extra credit for grunts, as long as they were egalitarian grunts.

  4. Harry says:

    This is not to say that I or those in my family, all of whom were educated at some time or another in government-run schools, did not benefit. My daughter had some great teachers, in part because of my wife’s vigilance. I can think of one great one who taught me, but then I can also think of many stars I was lucky to have in local private school, too.

    My two math teachers were gifted and talented, and they were trained as math teachers, although they understood the subject matter thoroughly. I am not sure whether they had teaching certificates, but would be surprised if they had not gotten them.

    A medical doctor friend of mine says you go to school to learn how to learn, and it is important to learn a few facts along the way.

  5. Michael says:

    One thing is that faith requires the work of the Holy Spirit, and since people are sinners, we are prone to reject it. Government on the other hand is quite different. Looking to the Old Testiment, we can see a general trend that people together (not individually) are not fond of freedom and prefer to be ruled if it provides some form of stability/security. Just think, the Israelites longed to be slaves having been freed, the book of Judges and Samuel are packed with stories of the Israelites seeking to make someone their king, although adivsed about the downsides. I guess this is when we can put evidence to that old Ben Franklin quote of trading freedom for security.

  6. Alex says:

    Maybe the answer stems from the the overall atmospheres found in Catholic schools and government schools respectively. I have never been to Catholic school so I can’t say for sure, but I would expect Catholic schools to be somewhat less politically correct and intolerant than government schools, whose fundamental characteristic is supposed to be its inclusiveness. Intolerant communities (of which there are certainly many degrees) have a tendency to either pull their adherents even closer in their direction, or push them away because of their intolerance. For example, when I lived in Israel, I spent considerable time visiting ultra-religious communities which are absolutely intolerant to any belief or practice which deviates from their own. Every community of orthodox Jews has its own nuances, and as such there is intolerance between orthodox communities. As I said, such a policy will inevitably push away many people who want more freedom of thought. While on the other hand, the complete openness and tolerance in government schools breeds radical indifference in many people. Their are no set principles ingrained into its students like at a Catholic school. Therefore, there is no reason why a public school student should hate any institution. Starting in 4th grade we learn about the delightful picnics Columbus had with the American natives, and between John Smith and Pocahontas, etc. I just took it for granted that the government had to be pretty much a good thing. So in the end it’s just statistics. Relatively intolerant communities will capture some and lose others, and the majority probably remaining relatively indifferent one way or another (likewise, the Catholic Church has its radical adherents, its ex-Catholic enemies, but the majority of people are in between.) Public school students shouldn’t be radical in any direction, and so the majority of students will be at least indifferent to the government, though more likely in favor of it, since its curriculum is unquestionably pro-government. Also, public high schools are breeding grounds for social activism. And high school students take it for granted that if you feel strongly about a particular cause, the way to get your voice heard is through your local politicians. Government is then made out to be a force for good. If the hateful policies do not get overturned by your social activism, then you didn’t work hard enough and should keep protesting and writing letters. Again, it is taken for granted that government is on your side and the means for saving the world.

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