President Obama made the following remarks at a town hall meeting to a group of youth in Belfast, Northern Ireland:
Because issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity — symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others — these are not tangential to peace; they’re essential to it. If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation…
…And I know, because America, we, too, have had to work hard over the decades, slowly, gradually, sometimes painfully, in fits and starts, to keep perfecting our union. A hundred and fifty years ago, we were torn open by a terrible conflict. Our Civil War was far shorter than The Troubles, but it killed hundreds of thousands of our people. And, of course, the legacy of slavery endured for generations.
The president might have added in describing the Irish students, “It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Religion — and his apparent antipathy to it — seems to be Obama’s go-to scapegoat when he’s at a loss to explain a complex situation that requires in-depth analysis. He uses it stateside to dismiss political opponents who disagree with his agenda and now we hear it again as Obama appears to blame Northern Ireland’s centuries-old conflict on Catholics and Protestants not attending school together. Well done, Mr. President! Let’s hope you can get Syria untangled that easily!
Obama placed his remarks in the context of the American Civil War, which is odd considering how zealously activists have derided school choice, blaming it for racial and religious divisions in society, and considering the ugly history of anti-school choice bigotry after the Civil War.
The irony is that the rhetoric is not new. It has its roots in the second wave of the Ku Klux Klan at the turn of the century — when Reconstruction gave way to severe, ugly racial resentments and violence, anti-immigrant sentiments, and discrimination.
In 1921, Catholics were the target in Oregon, which boasted one of the Klan’s largest memberships — 10,000 in Portland alone. A 1922 Oregon Compulsory Education Act was an attempt by Klan supporters, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Walter Pierce, to end private Catholic education.
One of their slogans was “One Country, One Flag, One School.” The “Restrictionists” regarded public schools as “one great assimilative agency [designed]… to prevent the immigrant child from…associating with others equally foreign with [sic] himself.”
One Klan leader said,
Many Americans are at the present being led away from the path of safety by sects and group — native to our country — who for group interests oppose education in the public schools…We know those who are opposed to education prescribed and regulated by the state and we know why they are opposed. Most of the hordes from the south of Europe are controlled by the Papal Roman Machine. It [the Papacy] knows that real education spells its doom.
The anti-Catholic Compulsory Education Act was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court in Pierce vs. Society of Sisters, the court thinking it “entirely plain that the [statute] unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.”
Unfortunately, those who oppose freedom of choice in education still make similar claims.
A pure voucher system would only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in our society. America’s success has been built on our ability to unify our diverse populations.
The left-wing blog Firedog Lake claims that,
Another outcome is the greater racial segregation of students in the Charter movement than in public schools, even though public school segregation has also been increasing. Studies attribute this to the “Choice” model. Wherever school choice, is included, there is greater stratification and racial segregation.
At a recent Republican caucus meeting I attended, when asked about her views on school choice, a school board candidate gave a very emotional response citing Jim Crow laws and the segregated South as reasons to be “very concerned about the direction” all this school choice is taking us. She has made the same comments about homeschooling.
And we thought money was the root of all kinds of evil.
The myth about school choice — homeschooling, private schools, charter schools, vouchers — being the cause of economic or racial segregation is nothing more than union propaganda and urban legend that has no basis in fact.
It’s bad enough that we are subjected to it here. But once again Obama has stood on foreign soil and used a tragic event from our history to express regret about our country on the world stage. Not only that, but he went on to lecture the students about his radical ideas on “perfecting our union” — and told Northern Ireland how to perfect theirs. It’s appalling and embarrassing.