What Utah’s History Teaches Us…

On September 30, 2007, the Deseret Morning News and Salt Lake Tribune published the fifth of a six-part series written by the Sutherland Institute. The series examines the major forces from Utah’s historical records and cites their relevancy for today’s school vouchers debate.  Part Five considers the merits behind the historical push for secularization in Utah education.

The State’s argument in favor of public schools is intellectually compelling.  Utahns have accepted several of the major premises in support of the progressive education model.  To a very large degree, the State interest in education is our current identity.

While both “family” and “public education” are nowhere to be found in the literal text of our U.S. Constitution, the Court has found the existence of a very fundamental right of parents to control the upbringing and education of their children.  The same fundamental right has not been found regarding a public school education.

As the voucher debate proceeds, the public will be bombarded with platitudes about the importance of an educated citizenry, the need for a common social identity, and the right to an education.  Each claim has significant merit.  Each claim is compelling and persuasive.  Each claim has motivated generations of Utahns to support public schools.

For many Utahns, the prices paid to uphold these pillars of public education were all well-worth it, and the continued price of opposing all systemic changes to a system with such rich political, social, and cultural history remains well worth it.  Then again, other Utahns, especially Latter-day Saints who bore the brunt and insult of “progress,” might wonder if it was and still is all worth it. The words, “Forced to be Free,” may yet be the epithet on the gravestone of public education.  All would agree that would be a tragedy.

The sixth and final part of the series will run this Sunday, October 7, 2007, and will conclude with an attempt to describe the necessary elements for a lasting consensus, a diminishment of political contention, and a livable view of Utah’s “education identity.”