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The Separation of School and State Alliance

An Interview with Marshall Fritz

June 3, 1999

This discussion was conducted live in an on-line chat program hosted by Mary Leggewie. Marshall Fritz is director of the Separation of School and State Alliance, a national organization he founded in 1994. By mid-1999, over 7,000 educators, parents, scholars, and clergy have joined the call to reunite schools and families by dissolving the bonds between schools and government.

Marshall claims "If we are going to integrate God and education, we must separate school and state." He explains how unity of purpose between school and family can help reverse the century-long decline of parental responsibility, and begin turning around the anger and aimlessness of so many youth that has been the result.

Prior to founding the Alliance, Marshall was president of the unaccredited Pioneer Christian Academy in Fresno. His ideas for quality education were so advanced that his school received endorsements notable educators, including author David Augsburger, Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, and New York State Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto.

Marshall has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Educational Leadership, The Freeman, Crisis, and he is the publisher of The Education Liberator. He is the lead author of the "Proclamation for the Separation of School and State."

"The Alliance" has sponsored four national conferences on the "Separation/ Responsibility" issue. These included talks ranging from "The Coming Exodus: Why Protestants Will Abandon Government Schools" by Joel Belz and R.C. Sproul, Jr. to "Because All Education is Religious, Government Must Get Out" by Howard Phillips; and from "Mere Creatures of the State" by William Bentley Ball to "Drugging Children for Peace and Quiet: ADD and Ritalin Reconsidered" by Peter Breggin.

The idea of getting government completely out of schooling is now moving into the mainstream and has been written about in the Los Angeles Daily News, Detroit News, Dallas Morning News, the Financial Times of London, Human Events, Orlando Sentinel, Conservative Chronicles, and has received editorial endorsement from the Orange County Register and World Magazine.

Prior to his involvement with elementary and secondary education, Marshall was president of the Advocates for Self-Government, an educational organization that teaches Americans who ardently love liberty how to express their views positively. Marshall began his career with IBM in computer sales, education, and design.

He has been active in Christian Businessmen's Committee, the Serra Club [Not to be confused with Sierra Club-editor's note], Toastmasters, and Overeaters Anonymous. He has also refereed youth soccer and worked as a volunteer in a homeless shelter.

Marshall was born in California in 1943 and earned a B.A. from California State University Fullerton in 1964. He lives in Fresno with wife of 35 years, Joan. They have four grown children and five grandchildren.

Just what do you mean by Separation of School and State?

Marshall Fritz: Separation means ending state, federal, and local government involvement in attendance, content, teacher and school approval, and financing. It's not the business of federal, state, and local government to be involved in Monday-school any more than in Sunday-school.

When did compulsory school begin?

Marshall Fritz: Massachusetts passed the first compulsory attendance law in 1852, a full lifetime after Americans had birthed this Republic. I fear we have lost much of the Republic in the two lifetimes we have had compulsory schooling.

What sort of schools were there before school became government business?

Marshall Fritz: For about 200 years, Americans educated their children using a variety of church schools, home schooling, charity schools, and dame schools. I am hoping to see a resurgence of dame schools led by homeschool moms who find they really love teaching in their home.

Did any of the parents object to compulsory schooling then, or were they in favor of government schooling?

Marshall Fritz: It went both ways. The militia (or was it the police?) were called on in Barnstable, Massachusetts because of parent refusal to obey. You have to remember, this was a period of extreme religious bigotry, and that fueled some people's desire to force other people's children into the schools where they would be taught the "truth."

What about vouchers and those charter schools and public homeschool programs we see popping up all over?

Marshall Fritz: While tax-funded vouchers and charter schools introduce sorely-needed competition into education, they spread the dependency attitude to families currently paying for their children's education. There are better interim steps that don't bring new people into dependency (for instance, increase private vouchers and repeal compulsory attendance).

Do I understand correctly that private vouchers mean private scholarships?

Marshall Fritz: Let's be clear: We need to say voluntarily financed private vouchers. If the financing is coerced via a tax-credit scheme like in Arizona, it is just a crypto-voucher. The money is being laundered by "private" scholarship foundation. You need to look at the moment the person is writing a check: Is it a coercive wealth transfer.

Aren't private schools just a repeat of public ones because of the School-to-work program coming down the pike?

Marshall Fritz: They will be able to pretty much resist, I believe, and even grow because of the absurdity of School-to-Work. However, if vouchers win, market forces will bring them into the system. They will not be able to compete with "free" private schools."

What about the poor?

Marshall Fritz: I want every poor child in America to have the chance to go to a better school than they have today. Separation can help make this happen. Here is how: Competition, innovation, and unity of purpose between parent and teacher can reduce the cost of good schooling by 50-75% less than government schools. With a $300 billion tax cut, about 2/3 of the population will be able to afford tuition. The remaining 1/3 will need charity to cover part or most of the tuition. This will take an additional $20-25 billion each year in donations. I think we can prudently predict that the generosity will be there. Last year Americans gave $174 billion to all charities, and this is before a massive tax-cut.

What about parents who don't care what happens to their kids? How will their kids be educated if they don't bother themselves?

Marshall Fritz: I want all children raised by responsible parents, but I don't believe such a utopia is possible. Our choice is to continue to use paid professionals and government mandates or to return to requiring parents to raise their children or hand them over for adoption or orphanages. It is hard for me to imagine educational neglect by parents nearly as bad as the irresponsible teachers who, in order to keep a paycheck, promote students who they know cannot read to higher classes where they know there is no effective reading recovery program. Very few parents would be as irresponsible as today's professional educator.

That's a pretty strong statement! I'll bet the teacher unions love you!

Marshall Fritz: I work hard to get along with and have open lines of communication. I do not think the teacher unions are anywhere near the heart of the problem. Government schooling was equally destructive in Soviet Union without unions. You could ban them and there would be no particular improvement. Those who fight them are flailing at the branches of evil and ignoring the taproot.

What about the new School-to-Work programs...aren't they supposed to help our kids get jobs?

Marshall Fritz: Nope. These programs are just the most recent example of the hubris of the "I'm so good I can run other people's lives" mentality that undergirds the whole paternalistic government schooling system. They give petty people who cannot manage their own lives a sense of power.

What IS the primary reason that compulsory schooling even exists?

Marshall Fritz: In all countries, in all centuries, the primary reason for government to set up schools is to undermine the politically weak by convincing their children that the leaders are good and their policies are wise. The core is religious intolerance. The sides simply change between the Atheists, Catholics, Protestants, Unitarians, etc., depending whether you are talking about the Soviet Union, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, America, etc. A common second reason is to prepare the boys to go to war and the girls to cheer them on.

What have the recent school shooting tragedies done to help your cause? Are you noticing any increase in phone calls and activity at your office?

Marshall Fritz: The 13 multiple murders in government schools in the last five years are taking their toll on the credibility the government educators have with the American people. Littleton very well may be a Krystallnacht moment. I just pray the Americans are more effective at leaving the government schools than the Jews were at leaving Nazi Germany.

We have seen no increase in phone calls. However, we got one from Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that is very promising, and it was triggered by Littleton.

Can anyone sign the proclamation?

Marshall Fritz: Anyone who can understand it and agree with it can sign the Proclamation for the Separation of School and State. We have signers as young as 10 or 12, and we have citizens from over 20 countries. I encourage all homeschoolers to discuss it with their children and get their signatures, too.

What can we do to spread the word?

Marshall Fritz: First, home educators must continue to improve their own lives so that they continue to be attractive. Other parents are watching you intently. When they see loving, obedient, engaging children --- especially teenagers --- they know you are doing SOMETHING right.

Second, take what you like to do and somehow wrap the Separation of School and State message into it. Perhaps the easiest way is to keep some Alliance brochures in your purse or briefcase, and look for opportunities to hand them out. Same for tapes.

After more than five years of speaking on Separation, I finally have an audio cassette that I think just might be "THE" tape. It's called "The Danger of Over-rendering: Why Christians Shouldn't Use Caesar's Schools." It is so bold that I put a warning label on it and sent it to 80 Christians asking for their advice on whether to distribute it. So far I have gotten 30 replies. All have said that this is the boldness that needs to be said and that no one else is saying it yet. By the way, we sell this tape "two for $8," and it comes not only with the encouragement to make copies as gifts for friends, it even comes with six printed labels so your copies will look nice, too.

Audience member question: Could you please define dame schools?

Marshall Fritz: Dame schools were popular from the 1600s into the mid 1800s. A woman would have 3-8 children come to her home each day, usually ages 5-8. She taught them to read.

Audience member question: Is it possible, Mr. Fritz, to push through a tax rebate for those folk that do not avail themselves of government schools?

Marshall Fritz: Perhaps. But most people will want it to be "refundable," a euphemism for welfare. A refundable opt-out tax credit is still a coercive wealth transfer from the haves to the have nots. It is still wrong.

Audience member question: How realistic is to believe that this can ever come to fruition given the enormity of the NEA?

Marshall Fritz: Separation is already happening as parents choose private- and home-schooling, as well as innovations such as co-op and on-line schooling. As millions more leave the "public" schools, we'll reach a point at which everyone will want out, and support for government schools will collapse. I can conceive of a plausible scenario that accomplishes it in less than four years.

Audience member question: What politicians can we trust are committed to this cause?

Marshall Fritz: Well, I would like to say you can trust my friend Ron Paul, U.S. Congress from Texas. But even he, the best man in the House, entered a bill that would have allowed the IRS to be the major decision maker on what is educational in the USA, and would have caused massive new borrowing or monetary inflation. You see, unintended consequences happen even to libertarians when they don't think through their proposals. (BTW, I said this to Ron's face, and we're still friends.)

Audience member question: What are the civic or civic governmental steps we need to go through to get a separation of school and government?

Marshall Fritz: First, work to repeal compulsory attendance legislation. Beyond that, I don't think we can plan political activity. The main thing now is to build a constituency for Separation. That means educational and moral instruction, not politics.

Audience member question: What should we say to folks that still think government schools should be reformed?

Marshall Fritz: Quote Al Shanker quoting Dr. Stanley Pogrow: 40 years of reform -- lots of bull, but where's the beef? They've been reforming the thing since Sputnik. Besides, it isn't even broken. It is doing what it was designed to do in the 1840s --- undermine parents. But, in the 150 years, it is no longer the evangelical Protestants trying to undermine the Catholics. We've played musical chairs, and now the evangelical Protestants are the underminED, not the underminERS.

Audience member question: What about the homeschooling reps? Are they supportive?

Marshall Fritz: Many homeschooling leaders are supporting us: Mary Pride, Gregg Harris, RC Sproul Jr, RJ Rushdoony, Pat Montgomery, Cathy Duffy, Inge Cannon, Lori Harris, and many more. Oh, Jessica Hulcy, Marshall Foster.

Audience member question: Beyond passing out Separation of School and State brochures, what can we do to help build a constituency for Separation?

Marshall Fritz: Speak; email; write letters to editor; get invited to local education forums; call talk shows. Ask you local talk show hosts to invite me to be on their show.

Audience member question: There seems to be a very close tie between "separationism" and libertarianism. How "tight" do you think this connection is?

Marshall Fritz: Any statement that "X" doesn't belong in the government is a "libertarian" statement. So we all have plenty of "libertarian" beliefs. At the moment, most of my financial support comes from libertarians I have known for 15 years. However, the new people in Separation are mostly conservatives. Now, where is a prosperous conservative who will sport $10,000 per month?

Audience member question: How do you help people see that public education is socialist, and is in direct conflict with democracy?

Marshall Fritz: I use a simple textbook definition of socialism: government ownership and administration of the means of production. Then I say government schools fit that to a 'T.' By the way, since most conservatives will conserve any liberal idiocy in place before they were born, it doesn't do much good to convince them it is socialism. It just makes them mad.

Many thanks to Marshall Fritz for sharing his thoughts with us here at HomeschoolChristian.com!