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When people hear “democracy,” they tend to get warm, fuzzy feelings. As the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg writes in an article that, among other things, portrays private school choice as a threat to democracy, “public education…was also meant to instill a love of liberal democracy: a respect for the separation of powers, for a free press and free religious exercise, and for the rights of political minorities.” The fundamental, ironic problem is that both democracy and democratically controlled public schooling are inherently at odds with the individual rights, and even separation of powers, that Kahlenberg says democracy and public schools are supposed to protect.
"Democracy” means that people collectively, rather than a single ruler or small group of rulers, make decisions for the group. We typically think of this as being done by voting, with the majority getting its way.
In a public school a teacher, committee, school board, or other government actor must decide what aspects of history will be taught or literature read. This requires that government elevate some peoples’ speech and perspectives, while deeming others’ essentially unworthy. As a result, we have perpetual battles that tear at the social fabric over which books should or should not be read in class or over whose history should be taught, and the losers are rendered unequal under the law.
The good news is that American government is not supposed to be grounded in democracy. It is grounded in liberty—the freedom of individuals to govern their own lives, and to combine however they freely choose.
Certainly, it is preferable for all people to have a say in decisions that will be imposed on them than to have a dictator impose things unilaterally. Indeed, in a pure democracy, as long as the majority decides something, no individual rights are protected at all. The will of the majority is all that matters.