Approaching Education in a Pluralistic Society

Two main questions should be addressed today.

(Other things are going on at my house, so I grab a few minutes here and there to jot down ideas for this post. Then I will finish this and post it after our grandsons return home.)

This is a continuation of the previous post. In that post I presented five points of questioning to explore based upon two questions by a reader about the meaning of a quotation I presented and its application for today’s society (1).  The quotation from Dr. A.A. Hodge, first published in 1887, was about the role of public education in a pluralistic society here in the United States (2).  In answer, first I explored the meaning of pluralism and a pluralistic society, and now we explore these two questions:

  • According to the U.S. Constitution, what is the role of government in education?
  • What/who is responsible for education?

I think you know the answer to the first question. I think you know that the answer to the second is a current issue of controversy. Actually, the what/who is responsible has long been controversial, not only in our country but in many countries, throughout history.

Therefore, the answer to the first question becomes pivotal.

What does the U.S. constitution say about education and government’s role in it?

I’ve collected many old textbooks. This one, written for grades 7-9, was published in 1925.  Very interesting!

Hmm. Where is that reference to education in our constitution?

Ah, yes. None exists.

“Education is not mentioned in the Constitution of the United States, and for good reason. The Founders wanted most aspects of life managed by those who were closest to them, either by state or local government or by families, businesses, and other elements of civil society. Certainly, they saw no role for the federal government in education,”  states David Boaz in a Cato Institute blog article.

Arguing why he believed that education should not be a responsibility of the federal government, Boaz explains that his reasoning

“is not based simply on a commitment to the original Constitution, as important as that is. It also reflects an understanding of why the Founders were right to reserve most subjects to state, local, or private endeavor. The Founders feared the concentration of power. They believed that the best way to protect individual freedom and civil society was to limit and divide power. Thus it was much better to have decisions made independently by 13–or 50–states, each able to innovate and to observe and copy successful innovations in other states, than to have one decision made for the entire country. As the country gets bigger and more complex, and especially as government amasses more power, the advantages of decentralization and divided power become even greater” (3).

I concur with David Boaz.

Public education has become government education (with authority on both the state and federal levels). While we have local school boards which make important decisions, the curriculum of local schools is managed by state and federal agencies lobbied by educational publishers and social agencies that have their own agendas. It is very hard to be a “local school.”

I worked in curriculum development for years — for two Christian schools and also for home educators. I attended state sponsored curriculum development meetings and seminars in Ohio. Private schools (not under state authority) had the privilege of picking and choosing what they wanted to use from state and federal standards, but public schools within the state had to follow state standards and guidelines. My challenge was to help to keep our school’s curriculum anchored to our biblical foundation and aims, while extracting from state standards the material that we viewed lined up with our goals and did not compromise our Christian educational purposes.

In a recent editorial in World magazine, Joel Belz crisply summarizes his purpose which he maintained during his 20 years of involvement in Christian school education. “My goal… was that [the students] would always and naturally think of their Creator God as the center of their existence” (4).  Belz calls this his “philosophy of Biblically directed education.” Belz’s good goal collides with the aims of public education.

Providing some thought-hooks on which to hang some ideas.

Back to our two basic questions:

According to the U.S. Constitution, what is the role of government in education? What/who is responsible for education?

The federal government does not have constitutional authority to direct or manage the education of American children. Yet, over the years it has accumulated power over education. To learn more about the history of American public schools (K – grade 12), you may want to read Samuel Blumenfeld’s book, N.E.A: Trojan Horse in American Education. The title is misleading. It’s about much more than the N.E.A, although I did learn that the N.E.A. was founded way back in 1857.

I bought my copy back in 1985. It is quite relevant for today.

The book contains these five sections: 1) Delving Into the Past to Understand the Present; 2) Creating an Educational Establishment; 3) The War Against the Independent Mind; 4) Teachers Become a Political Force; 5) The Push for Total Power. This book was published in 1984, but is most relevant for today. It provides historical context for 20th century public schools, and for people in the 21st century, we can examine and critique Blumenfeld’s claims to see how accurate his projections were. I could write numerous articles just reviewing this book’s contents.

What/who is responsible for education??

We see that our Founding Fathers expected education to be in the hands of families, communities, and each state, not the federal government. The Supreme Court ruled more specifically on related issues.

  • “Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923). The Court held that a statute forbidding the teaching of the German language impermissibly encroached on the liberty parents possess. The Court explained that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects this liberty, incorporating ‘the right to marry, establish a home, and bring up children.’ “
  • “Pierce v. Soc’y of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925). Relying on Meyer, the Court struck down an Oregon statute requiring children to attend public schools. This statute interfered with the right of parents to select private or parochial schools for their children and that it lacked a reasonable relation to any purpose within the competency of the state.”
  • “Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972). The Court held that Wisconsin’s compulsory education law violated an Amish father’s rights to take his 15-year-old children out of school to complete their education in Amish ways at home.” (5)

I remember that Pierce v. the Society of Sisters was often discussed when I was working on my Master’s in Christian School Administration. However, funding for private schools has always been harder, especially since people pay their school taxes which go to the public schools, and then find it challenging to pay for private tuition.

Recent Supreme Court cases are changing the landscape of school opportunities:

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue: (6-30-2020). This ruled that state-based scholarship programs can provide funds to religious schools based upon the “Free Exercise” clause of the first amendment (6).

  • Carson v. Makin: (6-21-22). This is a new ruling regarding funding of schools in the state of Maine. Note links below (7). Under this ruling, Maine may not discriminate against religious, private schools by withholding funds from them that it offers to nonsectarian, private schools.

From a legal perspective, the primary responsibility for education belongs to parents. From a biblical perspective, the primary responsibility belongs to parents: Duet. 6:6-7 and context; Psalm 127:3; Ephesians 6: 1-4 — for example.

In speaking to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts on October 11, 1798, John Adams stated, “We have no government armed in power capable of contending in human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

Adams lived in a different “world” than we do. I wish we could compare and contrast the developing culture of colonial America in the 1600s through 1700s with the developing culture of the 1800s and 1900s. This is needed in order to understand the shift in the kind of pluralistic society that our founders experienced and envisioned and the kind we have in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Dr. A. A. Hodge’s concerns regarding public education as he saw developing in the 1800s were that it would become “a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion,” in which finding common denominators would reduce education to a very low common denominator in which he who believes most must continually succumb to he who believes least, leading to a totally secular and atheistic system.

What we’ve witnessed in the public system is a secular drive and prejudice, funded by tax-payers. But it is more. There is a religious current behind the secularization that has been there all along.

Because of the length of this post, I’ll have to continue this in the next post. Let me close with this thought.

An educator is a leader; the Latin, educare, means to lead. Education is the passing on of a heritage, the instructing of a mind, the enlightening of the soul, the inspiring of human capacity, the forming of manners and character, and building of bodily strength, and the awakening of the human spirit. And more.

As I see it as a Christian parent and educator, the heritage I want to pass on is a heritage that nurtures in parents, teachers, and students a heart-orientation that, as Joel Belz articulates, “naturally thinks of their Creator God as the center of their existence.”

A thoroughly secular education opposes such a goal. Therefore, under the American system of government, a thoroughly pluralistic educational system is needed in order to protect my freedom and in order to protect the freedom of those who oppose my views.

What? To be continued….


  1. What is pluralism and what is a pluralistic society? 2. According to the U.S. Constitution, what is the role of government in education? What/who is responsible for education? 3. In our Constitutional Republic, how are individuals nurtured, and how is our culture nurtured? 4. What are the roles of the Bible and a “Judeo-Christian” heritage in our current “pluralistic society”?
  2. Note previous post.
  4. World Magazine (June 25, 2022)
  7. Three sites:;;

Passing on one’s heritage happens in countless ways. Papa and grandson, lost in a game of chess. We had our two grandsons at our house all last week. They are back home now. We rest, and we simmer in memories.


Categories: Christian Reader, Dr. A.A. Hodge, Education, Government | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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