Viewpoint: An Education in Wimpdom


If your request is related to religion, please provide evidence of your religious conviction, such as a letter from a church official, and a written explanation of the conflict between your reglious beliefs and public education.

It takes no special wisdom to see that wherever there is competition, there are peddlers of similar products. Breweries compete with each other, not with IBM. And when the products are in no important way to be distinguished from each other, the competition assumes not only a special ferocity, but also a special flavor. It becomes affective, seeking not the informed consent of the customer, but rather the approbation of his sentiments. The conflict between public education and religious, or even "reglious," education is thus clarified.

Those agencies are different only in detail; in principle, not at all. For each, "education" is a certain road to a certain city, rather than a way of journeying and of founding a city. Each has its graven tablet of indisputable notions; each claims special knowledge and powers not available to the infidel; and each deems itself worthy of consideration and respect as a High Calling.

As you can see from the citation above, however, they do not compete on an equal footing. One of them is required by law to justify itself before the other, and the other is permitted by law to justify itself only in its own courts.

That passage comes from a form that you would have to fill in if you lived in Columbus, Ohio, and wanted to "educate" your children at home.

Maybe there is, somewhere in our land, an obsequious wimp who will comply with that outrageous requirement, who will humbly solicit and submit the testimony of a "church official" as to the existence of his religious convictions. Let's hope there aren't two. There is only one proper response that an American can make when an agency of government asks about his inner life. It is, in its only polite version: None of your damned business, buster.

There are, however and alas, more than two obsequious wimps.

This is the most calamitous consequence of what we have been trained to call "public education." Its very existence, maintained by laws beyond counting, has brought us gradually into an almost universal, obsequious wimpdom.

We actually believe that an agency of government should be empowered both to enquire into and to modify the inner life of the individual mind. We not only wear that chain, but we wear it proudly, supposing it the special virtue of "a free country" that its children are required by law to submit their minds to the scrutiny of state workers whose job it is to do something to those minds. As in Albania. It is lucky for most of us, especially those who use his name to justify such a system, that Jefferson is dead.

The makers of our Constitution were not a congregation of religious enthusiasts. If they protected religion from the intrusive propensities of all government and its functionaries, it was not because they loved churches and doctrines. It was because they loved freedom, and hated tyranny, especially tyranny over the mind. They knew that religion cannot exist except in a mind. The First Amendment protects not churches, but individuals, minds. It affirms that the inner life of individuals is none of government's damned business.

Consider these words of Madison. He is speaking, in 1789, in the first Congress, against a grant of subsidy to certain farmers and fishermen, an act that would, he said, "subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America." He warns of consequences of the worst kind:

If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every state, county, and parish, and pay them out of the public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union.

His chosen examples are remarkably interesting. How can we not find in his argument, which did prevail, an acknowledged abhorrence of the very idea of education by government? If school and state were not constitutionally separated by those who made the Republic, it must have been because they thought better of us than we have deserved.

So now we have what we deserve—legions of insolent twerps who can require of us an accounting of "reglious" beliefs, accompanied by written corroboration from an "official."

And of those twerps, we can require no accounting. They are official. They don't have to understand the meaning of what they do, which is, in any case, never the result of a mind's understanding, but only an implementation of policy.

In our land there are many cults, many belief systems, many congregations united by a collective faith in the undemonstrable. Only one has a charter from the state, a license to take into custody all our children and do to their minds whatever its latest belief requires.

That, too, we deserve. Is there some way for us to stop deserving it?

Richard Mitchell is the author of Less Than Words Can Say and the publisher of the Underground Grammarian, from which this essay is adapted.