Conservatives have many ideological complaints about the current public education system: the way it indoctrinates their children, the way it teaches them history, the way it institutionalizes them. Their most recent issue (which, arguably, many liberal parents have a problem with, too) is over the federal government’s mandate that a transgender boy at a Chicago-area school be given full access to a girls’ locker room.

So, given conservatives’ growing laundry list of complaints, why don’t they just take their kids out of the public education system? Why don’t they simply put them in a private school or homeschool? Such an action would show conservatives are backing up their talk with walk.

I don’t wish to be combative with this post, nor is it necessarily a validation of the conservative complaints. I’m just honestly confused: if the public school system is as harmful to children as conservatives claim it is, why don’t more of them leave it? What’s it going to take for them to reach the tipping point?

For all of the complaints I hear from conservatives, the fact is that about 90% of school-age children in America still attend public schools. I have to believe a good chunk of those kids have parents who identify as conservative.

Against removing their kids, conservatives may argue that the Founding Fathers saw a public education system as necessary to preserving the republic. I say, “Not so.”

The Founding Fathers wanted an educated populace, but they didn’t conceive of anything like the education system that came to be. Today’s education system didn’t come about until about 50 years after the signing of the Constitution. And its structure was largely inspired by models from Prussia and the Netherlands, the former of which was a despotic government.

Conservatives may also argue that leaving the system is tantamount to fleeing rather than fighting. Again, I say, “Not so.”

America’s public schools have always been more progressive than conservative; it’s just that the definition of “progressive” has changed. No matter the magnitude of their bluster, or the amount they pour into legislative efforts, conservatives are most likely not going to succeed in having the education system do an about-face anytime soon.

Plus, as Ivan Illich (himself no conservative) recognized in 1971, the best way to pursue educational change is to defund the education system: “Only by channeling dollars away from the institutions which now treat health, education and welfare can the further impoverishment resulting from their disabling side-effects be stopped.”

Most school districts today are funded on a per-pupil basis. Having students leave the system reduces districts’ funding. A largescale movement of students leaving the system might give conservatives a more prominent seat at the table to discuss systemic change. Or, it might lead the government to enact more unjust laws that attempt to force children to attend public schools. Either way, it’s a catalyst for a revolution.

Along with the fight rather than flight theme, conservatives may think it’s best to expose their children early on to a world in which not everyone is going to agree with them. They may think it’s best for their children to learn to stand up for their own beliefs. What I’ve found, however, is that most children in schools today are not given the intellectual tools to put up a serious, mature defense against the ideas they’re exposed to. With rare exceptions, the peer pressure encourages most students to acquiesce, to do as the Romans do while they’re in Rome.  

Leaving the system isn’t an option for all conservatives, but it’s certainly an option for many of them who complain about it. It would undoubtedly require courage and sacrifice. They might have to opt for the Hyundai instead of the Honda. They may not be able to eat out as much or take as many vacations. One parent may have to make the decision to forgo his or her career, at least temporarily, to stay home and educate the children.

But hey, it’s better than losing their children’s souls, right?