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Professor Kilpatrick’s Page, Proposed Public Support for Non-Public Schools: A Serious Threat

by William H. Kilpatrick - 1938

THE report of the President's Advisory Committee on Education raises in new degree the question of public support for private and parochial schools. Never before in our history has so prominent and seemingly disinterested a body gone on record as favoring such support. While the wording is somewhat veiled, the meaning of the report seems clear.

THE report of the President's Advisory Committee on Education raises in new degree the question of public support for private and parochial schools. Never before in our history has so prominent and seemingly disinterested a body gone on record as favoring such support.

While the wording is somewhat veiled, the meaning of the report seems clear. Understanding that Federal action is permissive only, each state deciding for itself, the report says: "Textbooks and reading materials, transportation of pupils, scholarships for pupils 16-19 years of age . . . health and welfare services—the Committee would make available to children in non-public schools." The term scholarship is an indirect way of saying tuition fees. The plan as thus far unfolded would mean, if those interested can compass their ends, that Federal and State funds would be made available to support, for example, a system of parochial high schools, public funds paying teachers' salaries and supplying textbooks while the church would supply building, pupils, curriculum, and control. Once this had been affected for high schools, the elementary school would of course soon follow. A highway is thus opened by Committee invitation to a division of public funds among private and parochial schools. A fundamental-revolution is proposed in American public education.


Such a division of school funds has of course long been desired by parochial school systems, chiefly by the Roman Catholics, to a lesser degree by Lutherans and others. European practice has often favored a division of funds among certain well-recognized groups, and our Canadian neighbors follow this custom. Our country, however, after some early vacillations made up its mind shortly following the development of public free schools to restrict public school money to public school systems. Under Ku Klux and other like influence a scattered and obsolescent practice of Protestant Bible reading and prayers has been somewhat revived and extended; but on the whole the American school tradition has rather consistently followed that strongest American tradition, the complete separation of church and state.

Why has our country taken this stand? Why should it refuse what other countries have long done? Is it mere prejudice against faiths not so indigenous as the Protestant tradition? Or are there more fundamental and impelling reasons? Is there something in democracy itself that calls for one dominant if not exclusive public school system?


The answer seems to the along the line of the last question. The proper working of the democratic social process is hurt in the degree that we have divisive cleavages among the people of such character as to hinder free communication and free cooperation. A dominant public school system not committed in advance either to class or to doctrine seems necessary to the building of open-minded citizens. As matters stand, however, many parts of our country have three rival school systems: private schools, parochial schools, and public schools. In the degree that private and parochial schools are strong, in like degree are the public schools hindered from serving democracy, as they should.

That strong rival systems to the public school tend to build hurtful cleavages seems both probable in advance and supported in fact. Consider the private schools. They represent largely the better-to-do old stock Americans. It is exceedingly probable that either by default of adequate discussion or by more active insinuation, these schools on the whole indoctrinate the young of the well-to-do in social and economic ideas once dominant but now obsolescent. The large majority vote for Landon in colleges catering to this group tells but part of the story. The Yale • boy who said that President Roosevelt was "a renegade to his class" went a step further. This points the road to making "economic royalists." Even so good a Democrat as the President himself, committed as he is to the welfare of the many, simply cannot, it seems, get up any enthusiasm for public schools as such. CCC camps, yes; American youth, yes; but I public schools, no. This superior attitude, we may believe, still survives. Groton and Harvard mold: too effectively.


That parochial schools similarly build attitudes hurtful to the democratic process seems more than probable. The free play of intelligence is the very life-breath of democracy. To segregate the young of any group, intellectually and socially, from the rest, especially to segregate with the principal purpose of indoctrinating in views peculiar to the group—these to segregate must inevitably result in the building of attitudes which hinder the free communication ideas. Our democracy suffers much from its internal enemies in the shape of powerful pressure groups highly resistant to public opinion. The Ku Kluv was one such in its day. The American Legion another such, as witness its power to over-ride vetoes by four successive presidents. The Catholic Church is still another, at least in the making, as witness its persistent influence over legislative action in such states as Ohio, New York, and Massachusetts. Now the parochial school, if it were made universal and permanent in accordance with the Committee's recommendation, would, we may well believe, exactly make permanent this powerful pressure group highly resistant to interaction with other opinion and capable therefore of being directed almost at will by its foreign appointed leaders. Foreign appointed too easily means foreign-minded. Such an outcome, like that of the private school discussed above, separates part of the people hurtfully from the rest and, potentially at any rate, pits this part against the whole. Shall American democracy thus divide and dismember itself? Shall it deliberately take measures to defeat its own processes? The answer is no. The Committee recommendation must be rejected; the American public school must be kept true to its purpose. Public money must be reserved for public institutions only. Democracy must not defeat itself.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 1 Number 1, 1938, p. 210-211
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 13696, Date Accessed: 10/17/2021 8:16:45 AM

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