Should Public Schools Ban ‘Ruby Bridges’?

A public school in Florida has banned the showing of a Disney movie entitled Ruby Bridges. The movie depicts the horrific ordeal of a 6-year-old Black girl named Ruby Bridges when she integrated public schools in New Orleans in 1960. 

The film has long been shown in Florida public schools as a way to teach children about Black experiences in the South. However, after an outraged parent filed a complaint against the showing of the film, it was banned at a Northshore Elementary School in Pinellas County, Florida. The mother felt that the use of racial slurs in the movie and scenes of white people threatening Ruby “might result in students learning that white people hate Black people.”

Not surprisingly, the matter has turned into a huge controversy, with both sides digging in. One side is saying that the ban is part of a nationwide trend to ban material in public schools that tells the truth about the Black experience. The other side is saying that children shouldn’t be subjected to what they consider are slanted views on race.

How should the controversy be resolved? Actually, there is no way to resolve the controversy in a way that will make everyone happy. That’s because of the system of public schools itself. 

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, public schools are government schools. The state owns and operates them. Children are there by compulsion. That’s what mandatory-attendance laws are all about. Funding is also by coercion. That’s what school taxes are all about.

Given such, which side should win? Regardless of one’s answer to that question, inevitably it will be the politically stronger group that prevails, which usually means the majority. Even if that group loses in the short term, it will run a slate of school-board candidates in the next election and win the battle in the long run. One side or another will be very unhappy with the outcome.

That’s what happens when you have a state educational system. What gets taught inevitably become politicized. The majority view prevails over the minority view. The minority is expected to accept the will of the majority.

The same thing would happen, of course, if the state ran the churches. There would be heated battles, for example, on whether a particular public school should take the Catholic position on communion or the Protestant position on communion. The side that has the most voters would likely be the winner. The losing side would just have to put up with it. 

Fortunately, our ancestors understood the wisdom of separating church and state, which depoliticized religious issues. Today, people who favor the Catholic position on communion (as well as other Catholic principles) attend Catholic church. Those who favor Protestant positions attend Protestant churches. Everyone is happy. While there might be intellectual disputes over the respective positions, even within a church itself, they rarely reach the level of nasty discourse that characterizes the disputes in state schools. That’s because people are free to simply vote with their feet and go to another church.

Therefore, why not do with education what our ancestors did with religion? Why not separate school and state, just as they separated church and state? In other words, let’s throw the state out of school. End compulsory-attendance laws and school taxes. Sell off the school buildings. End state involvement in education entirely, just as our ancestors did with religion.

In that way, people who believe that it is important to expose their children to things like the Black experience in America could choose to send their kids to schools that teach such things. Those who feel differently could send their kids to schools that don’t teach those things. 

A free-market educational system would end up satisfying everyone because everyone would be able to choose the educational vehicle that they want for their own children. Children would also no longer be subject to the regimentation and indoctrination that come with a state educational system. Most important, the free market produces the best of everything. It would produce the best education possible for everyone. 

See The Future of Freedom Foundation’s book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America’s Families by Sheldon Richman. 

Reprinted with permission from The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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