An earlier version of this paper appears in educational Horizons Summer 2007.

do public school-religious school differences matter?

Edward G. Rozycki, Ed. D.

edited 9/3/11

            We cannot act on information alone; the information must first be understood, then interpreted for relevance, and finally command belief and commitment. But what if the citizen cannot assess the truth of the available information or its import for action? --- Harry S. Broudy .(1)


Though generally lacking consensus on fundamental, well-defined school goals, public school personnel have long been pressured to produce "excellence" from indiscriminate mixes of students via underfunded and ill-conceived programs. (2) Such "excellence" must not produce differences among subgroups, nor can it upset influential parents seeking access to a wealthier, more celebrated life for their children. Neither inequality nor equality will do.

Those engaged in teacher preparation face their own dragons. Despite increasing recognition of the mythological nature of The Educational Crisis,(3) competing professional groups have undertaken to "improve schools" by "improving" teacher certification programs. Trees die and reports burgeon. But will the long term results of "improvement" be more than superfluous documentation?(4)

Why the pessimism? Because accreditation procedures commonly assume that 1) assessments can be rigorously and validly carried out despite ambiguity and unclarity in the goals pursued; and that 2) factors which control student teacher behavior also control on-the-job behavior.(5)

The supposed advantages of public schools

As deficient as public schools are claimed to be, they have certain advantages, so it is believed, over religious and many private schools. Why? Because -- it is believed -- the Constitution discourages -- if not completely suppresses -- indoctrination in the classroom. Public education should thus be more in a position to liberate students from the idols of the tribe, cave, market and theatre. But is this so?

Recently on the Larry King Show, Oprah Winfrey told of interviewing an airplane crash survivor who had witnessed the bodies of crash victims strewn over the landscape, burning. Despite his claiming not to be a "religious person," he insisted he'd seen an "aura" rise from each body. The auras were of different intensity. This survivor vowed to live his life so that when he died, his aura would be among the brightest. Oprah and audience were deeply moved by his testimonial.(6)

Now, in a religious school, that would be the process-- or so most people would think: listen to the story, be inspired, and go on to talk about how to live a better life. In public school, however, one might pursue inquiry by trying to answer the following questions:

1. How did the observer know he was observing an "aura," supposedly different from the fumes emanating from the burning body? (Maybe the glow was "hell-fire.")

2. Is the observer's claim not to be religious supposed to support his characterization of what he saw as an "aura"?

3. Why should brighter auras indicate something better than dimmer ones?

A public school's restrictions on sectarian indoctrination, it might be believed, permits it a more critical kind of questioning. Actually, why might not these questions be asked in a religious school, or avoided in a public school? Imagine if Oprah Winfrey had put these questions to her guest! We Americans do far more self-censorship in order to avoid giving "offense" to a vaguely defined public, than one might find in a religious community where limits are shared.

Is Anti-Creationism necessarily Pro-Science?

The Creationism vs. Science controversy might be a better example to illustrate public school commitment to scientific fact. Surely, religious institutions indoctrinate certain things as truth which they persist in asserting in the face of counter-evidence. Public schools -- so the common story goes -- teach Scientific knowledge and this changes as new discoveries are made. Scientific knowledge is self-correcting. But the self-correcting aspect of science in the field need affect neither the school curriculum in any timely manner; nor, the life experience of an individual student. The biology I remember from my high-school studies fifty years ago was outdated by the time I entered college four years later.

If diplomas are to be counted on as indicators of reliable information, regular updating ought to be required for maintaining a high school diploma or undergraduate degree, much in the way of CPR certificates. Without such updating, outmoded beliefs may have, willy-nilly, an indoctrinative effect.(7) Let us call this effect, "reactive" as opposed to "direct" indoctrination. It occurs by an act of omission on the part of the would-be indoctrinator; or, it may come about by failing to update information previously given. In either case the indoctrinator can plead, "I never said that!" despite his or her manipulation of the victim's belief.

As any social studies teacher can attest to, there is substantial indoctrination, direct and reactive, in public schools in the name of Patriotism, Law and Social Stability. In my twelve years of public schooling I never once heard of Harriet Tubman, Wounded Knee, Sacco and Venzetti, the Grange movement, Robber Barons, or the AFL-CIO among many, many others. (8)

No less pernicious is the inculcation of prospective teachers with nostrums heavy on hyperbole as though they were incontrovertible fact, e.g., All children can learn, Protect self-esteem, Consider learning style, Education for Democracy, International Competitiveness, etc.(9) Because such indoctrination is not based on religious sectarianism, public schools are not protected from, indeed, have become inundated with, dogmatic ideologies imposed with totalitarian rigor.

Reflective professional or logorrheic hyperbolist?

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education has developed a highly complex procedure for assessing teacher education programs. But is it cost-efficient? In discussions I have had with persons purporting to represent NCATE, their responses to this question have been either a) annoyance; or b) a concession that it may not be cost-efficient; but that it is intellectually respectable and necessary to improve schools.

For those of us who have been around for a while, however, the complexity more resembles a Glass Bead Game for engaging the technically adept while it distracts from broader questions of meaning and consensus that might support a democratic society(10)

The NCATE difference is this: reflection as method. People involved in the NCATE process are invited to develop their students to be "reflective professionals." But being asked to reflect on what is often little more than hyperbole presented as fact does not enhance thinking processes.

For example, students at one university following the NCATE program are graded up as they show reflection, (i.e. speculate?) on "their ability to be a lifelong learner."(11) At another university what is pushed for are student reflections on "empowering all children.(12) Of course, we want our prospective teachers to think about what they are doing; but it is a bit much to expect preservice educators to do anything more than parrot back departmental shibboleths.

A New Myth: Control of Dispositional Development

Knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values are all forms of disposition. That is, they are not behavior in themselves but are psychological constructs (concepts) manifested in behavior under certain conditions. A sleeping person has all sorts of dispositions even though they might not display themselves at the moment.

The training issue is whether the conditions the teacher trainer controls that elicit or suppress dispositions are the same as those conditions in the workplace which elicit or suppress them. NCATE would evaluate teacher training programs on the extent to which trained dispositions manifest themselves in the graduate's work life. But what programmatic evaluations can incorporate future unspecified conditions affecting demonstrations of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values?

Students work to please their professors, in a generally optimistic environment, lacking deep experience with frustration. They might well generate reams of "reflection" on most anything under the sun. Will this help them on the job?

Does teacher training work to prepare students for on the job realities? If so, why are so many dropping out -- approximately 12% yearly, as reported by Richard Ingersoll.(13) But let's keep an open mind on this. If research showed that the graduates of NCATE accredited programs had a lower drop-out rate than those of programs not so accredited, we would have reason to try to identify which particular elements of such program were essential to this effect.

Has NCATE waited for such assessment of its own proposals before importuning state legislatures for the authority to evaluate teacher education programs around the country? It has not.

Education for Citizenship in a Pluralistic Democracy

The existential questions confronted repeatedly by each of us in becoming an adult define a locus of authority for each relevant aspect of our lives. These questions are:

1. What authority should I retain for myself (Over what?);

2. What authority should I concede to others (Over what?); and

3. What authority am I forced to surrender? (Over what?)

Let us called these, respectively: a retained, internal; as opposed to, a conceded external locus of authority.

It is the mission of religious and many secular organizations, e.g. the State, to convince, persuade, seduce, coerce or dupe us to concede authority over certain aspects of our lives to them: these are then called duties and obligations. As children, dependent and ignorant, we willy-nilly concede authority to those who importune us. However, as adults we ought to question -- as Thomas Aquinas reminds us -- whether the faith we concede as a child is appropriate as a free adult.

Despite the obligations we burden ourselves with, we may still have control over aspects of our lives with which to resist an external locus of authority. This locus of control, our power to effect change in the world we exercise as internal, or surrender as external.

To illustrate, passive resistance uses internal locus of control to resist surrendering personal moral principle to an external locus of authority, e.g. the agents of the State enforcing unjust laws.

Locus of CONTROL re: aspect X
Locus of AUTHORITY re: aspect X
Maximum Personal Freedom Self-delusion
Minimum Personal Freedom No freedom

figure 1.

It is in the interplay of locus of control with locus of authority that personal freedom is defined. A person is free to the extent that more and more aspects of life have an internal locus of control coextensive with every locus of authority. Maximum unfreedom is approached as more and more loci of authority become external, while an internal locus of control is restricted.

In a democratic country where custom and law maintain Church-State separation, it is more likely that secular institutions, especially the public schools and those that promote and administer them, will undermine freedom in pursuing the fads and fashions the flesh is heir to.


1. Harry S. Broudy, Truth and Credibility. The citizen's dilemma (New York: Longman, 1981) p. 13.

2. See Gary K. Clabaugh and Edward G. Rozycki, "Politics, Consensus and Educational Reform" at Also, David C. Berliner, (2004). "If the Underlying Premise For No Child Left Behind is False, How Can that Act Solve Our Problems?" The Iowa Academy of Education Occasional Research Paper #6. Des Moines, IA: FINE Foundation

3. See David Berliner & Bruce J. Biddle The Manufactured Crisis: myths, fraud and the attack on America's public schools. 1996. New York: Addison-Wesley. The standard history of overwrought criticism of the schools is Henry Perkinson, The Imperfect Panacea: American faith in education, 1865-1990. 1995. McGraw-Hill. Pertinent also are: Raymond E. Callahan Education and the Cult of Efficiency (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962); Christopher J. Hurn The limits and possibilities of schooling. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1978); Rebecca Barr and Robert Dreeben How Schools Work (U. of Chicago Press, 1983)

4. For a classic analysis on earlier efforts, see Paul Berman and Milbrey Wallin McLaughlin, Federal Programs Supporting Educational Change Vol.VIII: Implementing and Sustaining Innovations. R-1589/8-HEW (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp.: May 1978)

5. On the ambiguities in goals introduced by group processes of "clarification" see Edward G. Rozycki, "What is Worth Knowing? A Philosophical Distraction from a Problem in Leadership" available at

For differences in dispositions acquired in school versus on the job, see Lauren B. Resnick, "Learning in School and Out," Educational Researcher, December 1987. Also, on the nature of values as dispositions see Edward G. Rozycki, "Pluralism and Rationality: the limits of Tolerance" at

6. The Larry King Show, May 13, 2007.

7. See Edward G. Rozycki, "Moral Education: Indoctrination vs. Cognitive Development?" at

8. See Edward G. Rozycki, "Education for Democracy: is this more than rhetoric?" at EduDemocracy.html

9. See Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, & Tamara Wilder. (2006). "'Proficiency for All' Is an Oxymoron (Accountability should begin with realistic goals that recognize human variability)" [Electronic version]. Education Week, Retrieved January 11, 2007, from

See also Edward G. Rozycki, "Public School Reform: mired in metaphor" available at

10. See Nel Noddings, Critical Lessons: What Our Schools Should Teach. (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2006) encouraging discussion of loss of moral identity.

11. See Emerson J. Elliot, Project Director "Assessing Education Candidate Performance. A look at changing practices" (2003, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) Unpaginated pdf. University of Wisconsin Candidates are to reveal "significant reflective thoughts to illustrate an understanding of content of his or her field; learning techniques, strategies and styles and an ability to be a lifelong learner." p.40, approximately of pdf.

12. Document from University of Nebraska, Lincoln: Elementary Teacher Education Program Admission Portfolio Scoring Rubric (1999) appended to Emerson J. Elliot (2003).

13. Richard M. Ingersoll "Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages: An Organizational Analysis." American Educational Research Journal, 37, no. 3 (2001): 499-534. An informal survey of teacher educators suggests that students who absorb the underlying wisdom of NCATE's standards would be more likely to leave the profession once they are exposed to the realities of public school politics and tight funding.