Dabney on Education and National Character

The competitions of the State and the Church for the educating power have been so engrossing that we have almost forgotten the parent, as the third and the rightful competitor.  And now many look at his claim almost contemptuously.  Because the civic and the ecclesiastical spheres are so much wider and more populous than his, they are prone to regard it as every way inferior.  Have we not seen that the smaller circle is, in fact, the most original and best authorized of the three? …
…It is a maxim in political philosophy, as in mechanics, that when an organism is applied to a function for which it was not designed, it is injured and the function is ill done.  Here is a farmer who has a mill designed and well fitted to grind his meal.  He resolves that it shall also thresh his sheaves.  The consequence is that he has wretched threshing and a crippled mill.  I repeat, God designed the State to be the organ for securing secular justice.  When it turns to teaching or preaching it repeats the farmers’ experience.   The Chinese Government and people are an example in point.  The Government has been for a thousand years educating the people for it’s own ends.  The result is what we see.
Government powerfully affects national character by the mode in which it performs its proper functions, and if the administration is equitable, pure and free, it exalts the people.  But it is by the indirect influence.  This is all it can do well.  As for the other part of the national elevation (an object which every good man must desire), it must come from other agencies; from the dispensation of Almighty Providence; from fruitful ideas and heroic acts with which he inspires the great men whom he sovereignly gives to the nations he designs to bless; chiefly from the energy of divine Truth and the Christian virtues, first in individuals, next in families, and last in visible churches.
Let us suppose, then, that both State and Church recognize the parent as the educating power; that they assume towards him an ancillary instead of a dominating attitude; that the State shall encourage individual and voluntary efforts by holding the impartial shield of legal protection over all property which may be devoted to education; that it shall encourage all private efforts; and that in its eleemosynary [almsgiving] character it shall aid those whose poverty and misfortunes disable them from properly rearing their own children.  Thus the insoluble problems touching religion in State schools would be solved, because the State was not the responsible creator of the schools, but the parents.  Our educational system might present less mechanical symmetry, but it would be more flexible, more practical, and more useful.

Secularized Education, by Robert Lewis Dabney found in Discussions Volume IV

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