School Choice

The School Religious Holidays Problem is Really a Public Schooling Problem

It is almost impossible to treat all people equally with a single system of public schools. To foster peace and real unity, educational freedom is key.

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There's a lot of anger in Montgomery County, Maryland, after the school board voted to officially remove all religious holidays from the district calendar. The goal was to placate Muslim families tired of their kids having to go to school on Muslim holidays while children of other religions got their holidays off. The end result has been widespread indignation from people of all religious stripes. But religion is not the root problem. Public schooling is. 

The people of Montgomery County are diverse, and a single system of schools for which they all must pay simply cannot treat them equally. Just look at the "solution" the board came up with: ending official recognition of Christian and Jewish holidays, but holidays like Christmas and Yom Kippur remaining days off because attendance would be too low to operate. Muslims, meanwhile, are too small a minority to greatly affect attendance, so the schools will still be open on their holidays. Semantic, but nonetheless painful, change, while real inequality remains.

Alas, this is not the first time Montgomery County has been riven over the handling of fundamental values in its public schools. For much of the 2000s the district was embroiled in a conflict over a proposed sex education curriculum, with everything from the treatment of homosexuality to condom use in dispute. Ultimately, the acrimony spilled out of school board meetings into court rooms and state officials' offices. It didn't end until those who said the curriculum violated their "sincere religious beliefs" lost both appeals to the state board of education and a state circuit court ruling.

If there can be any comfort for the people of Montgomery County, it is that they are not alone in finding themselves forced into battle by public schools. Values-based conflagrations are constantly flaring up across the country, whether the flashpoint is school holidays, student prayer at graduations, reading Huckleberry Finn, the content of history curricula, or myriad other matters. Indeed, the Cato Institute maintains a national map and database of such conflicts that have been fought since roughly 2005. It has over 1000 entries, and is no doubt missing numerous battles that have gone unreported in the major media.

Thankfully, there is a solution to all this cohesion-ripping conflict: school choice. Attach funding to students and let parents choose schools that share their values, religion, views on math curricula—you name it. Then people who want Christmas, Yom Kippur, Eid al-Adha, or any other holidays off could choose schools that shared their desires, and even the smallest of minorities, who are all supposed to receive equal treatment under the law, could get what they wanted in both principle and practice.

But wouldn't basing education in individual choice see people break into balkanized groups? It's not an irrational fear, but the evidence suggests choice would likely be a net gain to social cohesion. In addition to avoiding inherently divisive conflict like we've seen repeatedly in Montgomery County and around the nation, there is good reason to believe that choice would be more effective at overcoming group divisions than  putting all people under one, monolithic school system.

A major rationale behind magnet schools, for instance, is that meaningful racial integration can be better achieved by offering families something of mutual interest—an arts-based curriculum, science concentration, etc.—than pushing people of different races into one building. And some empirical research has shown more meaningful connections between students of different races in private than public schools, perhaps because choosing a school based on shared values or interests provides a bonding agent more powerful than the things that divide groups. Finally, research has suggested that chosen schools are better than public schools at instilling basic American civic values like voting and tolerance of others.

Of course, it is also in everyone's interest to embrace widely shared norms and values because doing is the key to living a comfortable, fruitful, life. But no one should be forced to sacrifice their most cherished personal values, or equality under the law, for the veneer of unity.

Montgomery County's school calendar fight shows that it is almost impossible to treat all people equally with a single system of public schools. To foster peace and real unity, educational freedom is key.

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  1. Simple solution. Get your kids out of the Goddamned government school. Or, at the very least, give the school the finger on whatever holiday you want and stay home.

    1. Get thee to a madrassa.

      1. First day of rifle season for antlered deer should be an official school holiday in PA. It’s always on a Monday.

    2. Yep
      Don’t even get me started on the Socialist government school system and its disadvantages. Unfortunately, we are stuck with it for the time being, because nobody currently in power is willing to do anything about it. Closest we are getting is eliminating the absolutely moronic Common Core. Best we could hope for at this point is that the state and local governments get more local control away from the train wreck that is the Federal Dept of Education.

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  2. But wouldn’t basing education in individual choice see people break into balkanized groups?

    You mean like humans have done since the dawn of time?

    1. You mean, free speech and free association might lead to more free speech and free association?

      I might also point out that large masses of humanity acting in concert don’t necessarily have such a red-hot record, either.

      1. “Stop resisting! You’re being divisive!”

        1. or terroristic. Love that term – terroristic threats almost as asinine as “hate crimes”.

  3. The attitude of the government schools is basically, “we get to be as divisive as we want, but we also get to concern-troll about how you, the peons, might act divisively if you get out from under our control. We can foist unsought and unpopular curricula on you (Common Core, for instance), we can fit diverse students into a Procrustean bed of forced conformity, we can protect mediocre teachers and denounce you if you protest, we can dick around with your holidays, but *you’re* the ones who might cause division and quarrels in our peaceful community!”

    1. divisive = “not doing what *we* tell you.”

  4. I think if you check the names of the various war memorials, you’ll find a lot of private-school graduates.

    And the ranks of professionals and business people who thrive by getting customers and clients from all ranks of life, including public-school graduates.

    So what were you saying about civic cohesion, again?

  5. Yeah, the flip side of no taxation without representation means that if my taxes are going to pay for your school, then my views should be represented in your school policy. If you don’t want me to inflict my views on your schools, then by all means, stop taxing me to pay for them.

    The same can be said for atheists who attend public schools, Muslims who attend public schools, fundamentalist Christians who attend public schools…

    If you don’t want fundamentalist Christians to try to inflict their religion on your children, then stop taxing Christians to pay for your schools. If you don’t want atheists to try to inflict their beliefs about religion on your Christian children, then stop taxing atheists to pay for your schools.

    Incidentally, is the school going to stop serving meals during Ramadan? Using the same logic, shouldn’t they stop serving meals during the holy month of Ramadan? Why should Christian children get to eat when Muslim children are being encouraged to fast because of their religious beliefs?

    1. “If you don’t want me to inflict my views on your schools, then by all means, stop taxing me to pay for them.”

      OK, how about the idea adopted in some places (Arizona?) by which if you make a charitable donation to a private school you get an enormous tax writeoff – thus sparing you from being taxed to support the govt. schools? That still addresses the issue of helping poor families get a private education.

      1. Yes, you’re still forced to support education, but you decide *which* kind of education.

      2. I like the idea of means testing for free public education better.

        Everyone who can afford it should pay tuition.

        The perverse incentives of tuition free education are huge.

        A lot of people (especially those with strong opinions about religion) would be sending their kids to different schools if they had to pay tuition. And you shouldn’t have to pay property taxes towards public schooling for other people’s children either–not in addition to tuition for a private school for your own children, too.
        I know there are children out there with parents who legitimately can’t afford tuition, and I think we should make sure they can get an education, too. …whether those kids need to be educated in a public school is another question entirely.

        Many of them might actually prefer tuition vouchers for a private school anyway–and if the public school is charging tuition anyway? then what’s the difference if you don’t have any special needs?

        1. “And you shouldn’t have to pay property taxes towards public schooling for other people’s children either–not in addition to tuition for a private school for your own children, too.”

          All right, but I say, make the childless people choose between a tax for supporting govt schools or a donation to a designated private or home school.

          1. And tax relief would address some of the problems of “my vouchers subsidize the madrassas and fundamentalist Christians, yada yada.”

            1. Charging tuition at public schools would do a lot to alleviate the problem of people who send their kids to private schools getting taxed, people who don’t have children getting taxed…

              If the school is funding itself through tuition, then it doesn’t need as much revenue from taxation.

              In poorer neighborhoods, where hardly anyone can afford to pay tuition, the public school is still going to be almost entirely government funded. But if everybody above the poverty rate is paying tuition, we’re still talking about minimizing the impact on the taxpayer.

              It should be noted, too, that poor people who pay rent apartments are paying property taxes, too–it’s just that they’re reimbursing their landlord for paying their property taxes for them. If schools were funded by tuition instead of property taxes, we should expect rent to go down for the working poor (over time) in proportion to property taxes going down.

              1. I like it…

                1. What would we call such a government program that mandates tuition payments and offers subsidies based on income ?

                  Obamaschool ?

                  1. How ’bout…”privatized”?

                    That’s the way we privatize public schools.

                    ObamaCare wasn’t a way to privatize the healthcare system, that’s for sure. ObamaCare was a step towards nationalization.

        2. Everyone who can afford it should pay tuition.

          how is this different from today? Those “who can afford it” pay property taxes. Certainly the homeowners do and ad valorem is bundled into rent, too. Those who theoretically cannot afford it don’t just skate on the cost, the rest of us are forced to feed them, too.

          This is a losing issue. I get the principle but public education is never going to end. More choices, charters, vouchers, and other means of giving parents greater input ARE possible.

          1. “How is this different from today?”

            Because it entails: giving parents more choices (especially those with strong opinions about religion), minimizing the burden on the taxpayer, and minimizing the scope of public schools generally.

            Free public schools should only be for the indigent and kids with disabilities.

            If we can do a whole hell of a lot better for 90% of the rest, alleviate the burden on the taxpayer, and minimize the influence of education bureaucracies and teachers’ unions, then why shouldn’t we do that?

    2. Well said Ken Shultz.

      1. There is a reason that Asian restaurants are open on Thanks Giving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and all of New Years. Honestly I cannot understand why Muslim culture cannot thrive like the Asians do in this country.

  6. Why can’t the school just piggy-back on the legal holidays, and mebbe expand them For the Children?

    http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/md…..idayl.html

    Was the school doing any holidays that aren’t on this list? The only one that’s missing is Spring Break, which has been thoroughly divorced from its origin as Easter holiday.

    1. Now he shows up!

      Where the hell were you yesterday when we needed you?

      Francisco D’Anconia needed a lawyer to explain to him that just because Congress underfunds something, that doesn’t mean they forgo all pretenses to their enumerated powers and surrender them to the President.

      https://reason.com/blog/2014/11…..nt_4918386

  7. Fuck, kids get enough days off from school. I swear my kids never put together more than 2 5-day weeks in a row before they get a day off for a holiday or some teacher union “in school service”.

    Let them learn how to play hooky like I did.

    1. And then Congress passed a tariff…it was a famous tariff…can anyone tell me what it was? Anyone?

      Pope Jimbo…
      Pope Jimbo…
      Pope Jimbo…

      1. I once had a teacher (during my senior year) wake me up during class and say “When you do deign to show up, the least you could do is to stay awake”.

        I think that might have been my academic highlight.

  8. Why not give kids individual permission to take off on religious holidays? Not sure where this school choice crap comes into it. I guess when you’re an antigovernment zealot, everything looks like a government problem.

    1. All schools are already required to do that for “religious freedom” reasons. But the Muslims want to make everybody celebrate their holidays. “Submission” and all that.

      1. Like how Christians already do?

        1. What’s your point?

          1. It’s on the top of his head.

        2. Tony I’m sure a guy like you orders out Chinese food on New years Eve, or Christmas Day. Tell us how a Homosexual, White guy like yourself is oppressing Asian’s.

    2. Public schools are a problem as they currently work. You can either keep pouring unlimited $ into the problem (which has been proven to not work) or you can look for other solutions. Every story I read about problems in the schools comes down to the fact that schools try to be a one size fits all which actually means fits few. Poor urban kids are condemned to a life like their parents because the schools suck. Religious freedom is infringed upon and too many other issues to list. Throwing money at the problem hasn’t worked, so unless you are a pro-government zealot there is no reason to not consider alternatives.

      1. Can you show that the “alternatives” work?

        1. The whole idea of a market is that some ideas work and some don’t. When there is a market the bad ideas fail. Public schools fail on so many levels now. Are you so afraid of change that you won’t even allow for some parents to begin making their own choices? We need to end the assumption that if we as a society choose to make a basic education a right that it has to be done through a union run public school. Obviously not going to happen overnight, but the current model has failed over and over. Time to allow market forces to work.

    3. Funding is linked to attendance, hence the crack-downs on truancy.

    4. Funny , your government solution to the problem is to let individuals choose, instead of the government.

      Hmmm. I wonder where else thst could come in handy…

    5. so wanting to educate your child in a manner according to your own personal and religious beliefs without the interference of the state makes you a anti-government zealot. Guess that a person’s children are now “government property” and the government can be trusted to make better decisions about y childrens future than their own parents.

      you know who also believes these things besides you Tony? North Korea, Communist China, Communist Cuba.
      Perhaps its time you moved to place like these and leave the free USA to those of us that appreciate it and understand it.

  9. The people of Montgomery County are diverse, and a single system of schools for which they all must pay simply cannot treat them equally. Just look at the “solution” the board came up with: ending official recognition of Christian and Jewish holidays, but holidays like Christmas and Yom Kippur remaining days off because attendance would be too low to operate.

    Right, because I’m sure Montgomery is like 1/4 Jewish.

    The problem I have with “school choice” is that it’s often like liberal “choice” i.e. “my choice, someone else’s money.” I don’t want to fund a Muslim religious school. Period.

    1. its not perfect but its better than NO CHOICE. Got to live in the world as it is no in the “perfect World” which will never exist

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  11. My family and I have an even bigger problem yet? We worship ALGEBRA, and the way that they teach Sacred Algebra in schools is an ABUMINATION to us! It a-bums us ALL out! HOW can the schools be teaching Algebra when it is a religion to us, isn’t there supposed to be separation of church and state? If you say we are “whack jobs”, just being ONE lousy family in the whole nation who (you say sneeringly) “worships Algebra”, then us being just one family, we don’t count? Then fer Chrissakes, just count HOW MANY MILLIONS worship Government Almighty, yet STILL, DESPITE all that “separation of church and state”, the worship of Government Almighty is STILL going on in public schools? As the bad guy (space alien booger monster) said in “Galaxy Quest” said? “Explain? As you would, to a child!”

  12. When I was in elementary and junior high, the classes were something like 2/3 Jew. It was empty on Jewish holidays. I don’t remember people demanding that the school close. It was great for us- we were off for Christian crap and stayed home for Jewish crap.

    1. Ah I’m reminded of back when I was in the military, how a friend and I spent most of a watch trying to figure out which combination of religions was necessary to get every day of the year off.

      1. Easy-Peasy… Just invent 6 new religions! Sunday is already covered… Mondayism, Tuesdayology, Wednesdayism, Thorsdayism, Fridayology, and Saturnalia Worship, and you are HOME FREE!!!

      2. When I enlisted, the recruiter asked me what my religion was. I told him none and he then asked if I had ever been baptized. I told him I had been in the Catholic church.

        He wrote down Catholic as my religion (I didn’t realize it at the time) and it turned out to be great because I was in boot camp over the Easter holiday and there were many times they told the Catholics to fall out for mass for some obscure saint. It was awesome. Everyone was back in the barracks cleaning and I was sitting in a pew warm and comfy.

        The hardest part for me was figuring out how mass worked in english. My gramma was hard core Catholic and when she dragged me along to mass it was always in Latin.

      3. What do you call a Pagan, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist ???

        =D

    2. OMWC, the private college I went to was like that. No one gave a shit.

  13. getting rid of public education will never happen until we get rid of the teachers union and the Dept of Education and Secretary Of Education.

    Lots of things have got to happen to get to that point. Small victories

  14. So all the education facilities from basic k-12 ed to collegiate shit seems to be bursting with an iciness to flexibility.

    Have humans officially entered the new millennium determined to reverse evolve?

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  18. school choice = government funding of religious nut jobs. no thanks.

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  20. Muslim children not only need halal meat or Eid Holidays but they need state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers as role models during their development period also. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. Legally, the state has an obligation to respect the rights of parents to ensure that ‘education and teaching(of their children) is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.’ The schools must satisfy the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural needs of Muslim pupils. State schools with non-Muslim monolingual teachers are not in a position to satisfy their needs. A good school is not just a knowledge factory or a conveyor belt for churning out exam passes – it is a community, a family. A community is held together by common values and principles
    IA
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

  21. Indiscipline, incivility, binge drinking, drug addiction, gun and knife crimes, teenage pregnancies and abortion are part and parcel of British schooling. These are the reasons why majority of Muslim parents would like to send their children to Muslim schools with Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. Only less than 5% attend Muslim schools and more than 95% keep on attending state and church schools to be mis-educated and de-educated by non-Muslim monolingual teachers.

    The demand for Muslim schools comes from parents who want their children a safe environment with an Islamic ethos. Parents see Muslim schools where children can develop their Islamic Identity where they won’t feel stigmatised for being Muslims and they can feel confident about their faith. Muslim schools are working to try to create a bridge between communities. There is a belief among ethnic minority parents that the British schooling does not adequately address their cultural needs. Failing to meet this need could result in feeling resentment among a group who already feel excluded. Setting up Muslim school is a defensive response. State schools with monolingual teachers are not capable to teach English to bilingual Muslim children. Bilingual teachers are needed to teach English to such children along with their mother tongue. According to a number of studies, a child will not learn a second language if his first language is ignored.

    1. Here’s a suggestion, Mo, why dontcha head back home. Both of our problems solved. You don’t have to expose your snowflake to ideas you don’t appear to like and I don’t get to subsidize some whackadoodle Iman telling your kid it’s peachy keen to saw people’s heads off on video. Deal….

      1. It is easy to say” Go back to where you came from”, but do not forget that British Muslims are actually born and educated here. They are in the unenviable position of trying to combine two different worlds. That is no easy. We do not want to change you lot but we would like to see our children getting balanced Islamic education along with National Curriculum. We would like our children to learn and be well versed in standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. At the same time we would like our children to learn and be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry. A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brit. Bilingualism is an asset but British schooling regards it as a problem.

        We live in a shrunken world and millions of people are on the move; one of our biggest challenges is how we learn to live in proximity to difference ? different skin colours, different beliefs and different way of life. According to a study by COMPASS, Muslims born and educated were given the impression of outsiders. The perception among Muslims is that they are unwelcome in Britain is undermining efforts to help them integrate into wider society.

  22. Muslim children not only need halal meat or Eid Holidays but they need state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers as role models during their development period also. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. Legally, the state has an obligation to respect the rights of parents to ensure that ‘education and teaching(of their children) is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.’ The schools must satisfy the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural needs of Muslim pupils. State schools with non-Muslim monolingual teachers are not in a position to satisfy their needs. A good school is not just a knowledge factory or a conveyor belt for churning out exam passes – it is a community, a family. A community is held together by common values and principles.

    None of 7/7 bombers and British Muslim youths who are in Syria and Iraq are the product of Muslim schools. They are the product of British schooling which is the home of institutional racism with chicken racist native teachers. It is absurd to believe that Muslim schools, Imams and Masajid teach Muslim children anti-Semitic, homophobic and anti-western views.
    IA
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

  23. I totally agree with the opinion that parents can choose other school for their children if they don’t like something about its rules. At the same time there many parents who have chosen this education establishment because they care about the soul of their kids more than about their grades. If I worry about my son’s writing skills, I usually use the holiday break to improve them applying to essay writers online and fulfilling some assignments together. So, if you have a desire, you will never have problems with academic success.

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