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Public schools: No place for free thinkers

Education

Five centuries ago, Martin Luther started a campaign against corruption in the Church, an institution that had been transformed from a fellowship in Christ into a totalitarian structure for the amassing of wealth and power. He rightly believed that the long overdue religious reformation required a return to the fundamentals of Christianity: the written Word of God. To this end it was absolutely necessary that every disciple of Christ had access to basic schooling so he or she could read and meditate on the Holy Scriptures.

If only Luther’s religious fervor had channelled the energy of his followers into two main areas—translating the Bible into every language and exhorting the wealthier Christians to provide locally the resources to help their poor neighbors to learn to read—the world may have seen much less tyranny since those days. Sadly, for hundreds of millions of Western children, the father of the Reformation decided it would be a fabulous idea to put secular powers in charge of the spiritual warfare against the forces of hell through the establishment of a public school system.

Luther wrote a letter to the German princes who supported his efforts to put an end to the abuses of the Medici popes. In it, he pointed out that, just as it was the right of civil authorities to demand military services from the citizens in times of war, the government was also “under obligation to compel the people to send their children to school.” Within a few years those ideas led to the establishment of the first universal compulsory state education system in the West. The experiment of opening public schools in every town and village and enforcing attendance policies through the levying of fines and imprisonment started in Thuringia and Saxony in the 1520s and spread to other German principalities.

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Soon it became painfully clear that the goal of education supplied by the state was not to teach critical thinking skills to equip individuals to read and interpret Scriptures for themselves but instead to enforce religious uniformity. In his war against Satan, Luther could not have sought a less reliable alliance. Indeed, for a theologian who had studied the history of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel as recorded in the Old Testament, he should have known better.

The secular authorities in Europe came to dominate the Church and use public schools for their political aggrandizement. Since the opening of the first modern government-run school in Germany, public education has come a long way. It may have dropped God from the curriculum but it is still a tool of indoctrination. Orthodoxies change—humanism or nationalism, Darwinism or Marxism, fascism or feminism, welfarism or environmentalism, anti-Semitism or “scientific” socialism—whatever agenda the public school is pushing, the common denominator is that students are only free to think within a prescribed box.

Once upon a time Martin Luther instructed the secular authorities to impose his views through mandatory-education laws, “for no secular prince can permit his subjects to be divided by the preaching of opposite doctrines.” Despite the noble intention of restoring authentic Christianity, he picked the wrong tool. Preaching “unconditional obedience” to Caesar and the eradication of all non-Lutheran views, he paved the way for the rise of all sorts of modern totalitarian regimes.

Alex Tokarev
Alex Tokarev

Alex is the chair of the Department of Business at Morthland College in West Frankfort, Ill., and teaches at Northwood University in Midland, Mich. The native of communist Bulgaria fanatically supports the Bulgarian soccer team, Levski.

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