Sunday, July 12, 2009

Education for Freedom

I traveled to Steamboat Springs, CO this weekend to attend my Dad's wedding and stayed a couple of nights at the house of his new bride, DonEla. DonEla is a wonderful lady - kind, funny, devoted to the LDS church and possessed of a fantastic gospel library with many titles that are no longer in print. While browsing the shelves, to my delight I found a title that I had heard much about but had never actually held: "An Enemy Hath Done This" by Ezra Taft Benson (Parliament Publishers, Inc. 1969). The table of contents promised that the book would be a veritable time capsule, with titles such as "Victory Over Communism", "Disarmament - Blueprint for Surrender", "Vietnam - Why Not Victory", and "Civil Rights - Tool of Communist Deception". Other chapters tantalized me with titles like, "Deficit Spending and Inflation", "Gold and the Balance of Payments", "Taxation - A Power to Destroy", "Social Security - Fact and Fiction", and "Education for Freedom".

Nearly every chapter in this book is worthy of a post, but I would like to focus today on the stance taken by Elder Benson in the chapter titled "Education for Freedom", where he states his fear on page 229 that,

"should the educational system ever fall into the hands of the in-power political faction or into the hands of an obscure but tightly-knit group of professional social reformers, it could be used, not to educate, but to indoctrinate."

The indoctrination he fears is that of creeping socialism, which he backs up by sharing a quote from Khrushchev:

"Like every other form of state-directed activity in the Soviet Union, education is conceived as a weapon serving the interests of the Communist Party and dedicated to a single objective - the victory of the Soviet system."

Benson concludes by giving his opinion that,

"Obviously, the best way to prevent a political faction or any small group of people from capturing control of the nation's educational system is to keep it decentralized into small local units... Secondly, and by no means of little importance, there is absolutely nothing in the Constitution which authorized the federal government to enter into the field of education."

Not surprisingly, this opinion of Elder Benson - then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles - mirrored the stance taken by then church president David O McKay in 1964 when he stated in the November 2 edition of the Deseret News, p. 378,

"As a matter of general policy, the BYU Board of Trustees has long adhered to a position opposed to general federal aid to education. We have always objected to the Church or any of its branches or agencies receiving any subsidy or 'gift' from the government... We have steadfastly refused to participate in any federal educational program which is based upon the subsidy principle."

Almost exactly one year after that article was published, in November of 1965, congress passed and the President signed the Higher Education Act, which established grants, scholarships and federally subsidized student loans to colleges and universities nationwide which met federally established school policy and curriculum guidelines. I'm not sure how long BYU continued to steadfastly oppose federal subsidy, but my guess is that it was not for very long (BYU students click here to check the status of your Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

The reasons for the church's decision to accept federal aid seem obvious to me. If the LDS church rejected federal subsidy, the cost to maintain educational standards at BYU would skyrocket as changing market conditions (due to the influx of federal funds) allowed other institutions to offer higher faculty salaries and a lower real cost to students. This increased cost would fall upon the members of the church, who while voluntarily supporting church education would be forced through involuntary taxation to support private universities that chose to accept federal subsidy. Though I understand the reasons for the change in policy, I have to wonder: Does creeping socialism no longer pose a threat to the American way of life? Does reliance upon federal subsidy no longer challenge the integrity of the church-sponsored educational system? I believe that the answers to these questions are still worthy of sincere consideration.