Arkansas Education: Part I—Education is the foundation of democracy

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”   ~Thomas Jefferson

But what if the ‘education’ informing the whole mass is inconsistent? What if some students learn that God created the earth in seven days while others are taught Earth has been evolving for five billion years? What if some students learn the biology of cellular activity while others students never learn about cells at all?

Consider this:

Earlier this year [2017], Naftuli Moster, executive director of YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education) drew attention to the plight of young Jewish boys attending yeshivas instead of public schools.[1] According to Moster, nearly 50,000 yeshiva students in the New York City area “are not being taught science, history, and geography among other subjects,” even though the NY State Department of Education “requires non-public schools to teach a variety of subjects, including English, math, science, history, geography, art and more.” Misinformation and omission of subject matter are problems not just relegated to New York or to yeshivas.

As Dana Hunter wrote in Scientific American, millions of children are being taught in Christian private schools and through religious homeschooling that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that Noah’s flood is “the event that formed most of the geologic record.” Many of these schools, as well as parents who homeschool their children for religious reasons, use non-accredited science books, such as Science of the Physical Creation in Christian Perspective, that inject religious ideology into ‘lessons’ about science.

And according to Valerie Strauss and Emily Wax of the Washington Post, tens of thousands of American schoolchildren attending Islamic schools face a similar underexposure to important secular subject matter. As an example, Strauss and Wax point to the Islamic Saudi Academy in Virginia, which doesn’t require students to take classes in US history or government. Moreover, their textbooks include religious instruction that fosters conflict. One, for example, states: “The Day of Judgment can’t come until Jesus Christ returns to Earth, breaks the cross and converts everyone to Islam, and until Muslims start attacking Jews.”[2]

These situations must change.

The United States notably does not have an established national curriculum after the idea was explicitly banned in 1965, in Section 604 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (since moved to Section 2302 and codified at 20 U.S.C. § 6692). This act provided federal funding for primary and secondary education (‘Title I funding’) as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. However, most states [including Arkansas] in the United States voluntarily abide by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which provides certain uniform standards.[3]

There are no requirements for accreditation, registration, licensing, or approval from the state for private or religious schools in Arkansas. Teacher do not have to be certified. Curriculum does not have to follow any standards.

…In the 2020-21 homeschool report from the Arkansas Department of Education, there were just over 30,000 homeschooled students reported last year. In that same year, the Arkansas DOE reported that there were 473,000 students enrolled in Arkansas public schools, and approximately 27,000 students enrolled in private schools in the state.

Aside from the obvious negative effects on students who find themselves at odds with the accepted knowledge of American society, the greater harm affects the entire nation. Pockets of ‘believers’ of one particular faith or another become ‘hardwired’ to see nonbelievers (of their particular faith) as ‘wrong’ and therefore a type of enemy. People outraged that Latino immigrants don’t speak ‘English’ are often the same people who demand their right to isolate their families from other ‘wrong’ cultures.

Since the passage of the Massachusetts Act of 1647, Americans have established the right of the state to require communities to create and maintain elementary schools in all towns for every child and secondary schools for youth in larger towns. These schools were expected to provide the knowledge each child would need to lead a productive, responsible life as an American citizen. This law also established the tradition that these schools should be funded through local property tax as land was considered to be a valid measure of wealth.

Even before the United States had a Constitution, its founders were advocating for the creation of public education systems. The United States was an experiment in democracy unlike anything the world had ever seen, turning away from government dominated by elites and hoping that the common man could rule himself. If this experiment had any chance of standing the test of time, the nation needed far more schools to prepare everyday citizens for self-government. As James Madison, the father of our Constitution, remarked: “a popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy.” Thomas Jefferson similarly argued that governments “deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed,” but that it is education that makes that consent possible. President Washington, in his last annual message to Congress, added that expanding education was essential to the perpetuation of nation’s common values and the chance of a “permanent Union.”[4]

Clearly the failure of Arkansas’ current education system is directly responsible for our miserable political situation where only half of eligible voters bother to vote, and of those, many rely on propagandized rhetoric to decide their vote. In the 2022 election, Sanders won her governorship with 36% of the eligible voters.

Other states have figured out how to produce well-educated students. Arkansas should take a lesson. The state must require a specific curriculum for all K-12 education, homeschooled, private, whatever. Currently, the State of Arkansas exerts no supervision or testing of homeschooled students.[5]

The idea that K-12 education should include religion is absurd. Any specific religion is just one more belief system among hundreds of myth-based belief systems. Leave such indoctrination to parents and churches.

Make no mistake–this proposed shift of tax dollars toward private and religious schools in Arkansas is a key element of the evangelical effort to control education. If our children do not all learn the same truths about our history, science, and politics, we have no chance of preserving our republic. No matter what faith one might follow, we must agree on the basic tenants of logic, language, and the scientific method. Without that common ground, the United States of America will dissolve into violent, partisan chaos, just as the Founding Fathers warned.

[1] Yeshivas are Orthodox Jewish schools


[3] Arkansas has adopted Common Core standards as well as the Next Generation Science Standards. Sadly, many states opted out of the Common Core standards which only applied to math and language arts.   Subsequently, Next Generation Science Standards have established standards for science, but social studies and history remain ungoverned. See



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