Conservatives Need to Think Long-Term, and Charter Schools are One Place to Start

Education could be revolutionized if conservatives simply took hold of generational thinking and applied it in practical, community-serving ways.

By Joshua Charles Published on August 21, 2016

I recently wrote a column that talked about the need for long-term, generational thinking among conservatives, and a hard break with the myopically political ways in which we conceive of solutions to our country’s malaise.

There is perhaps no area in which this new way of thinking needs to be adopted as much as education. Which gets me to a school I want to tell you about that gives me a great deal of hope. And believe it or not, in perhaps one of the least likely of places: California.

The school is John Adams Academy, a charter school in the Sacramento area named for the American Founding Father and second President. Its motto is “Restoring America’s Heritage, Developing Servant Leaders.”

To live up to this motto, John Adams Academy has what it calls its “Ten Core Values,” which every student and teacher is required to know by heart, and which are emphasized throughout their curriculum:

  1. Appreciation of our National Heritage
  2. Public and Private Virtue
  3. Emphasis on Mentors and Classics
  4. Scholar Empowered Learning
  5. Fostering Creativity and Entrepreneurial Spirit
  6. High Standards of Academic Excellence
  7. Modeling what we Teach
  8. Abundance Mentality
  9. Building a Culture of Greatness
  10. Self-government, Personal Responsibility, and Accountability

John Adams Academy follows what it calls “Classical Leadership Education.” Students are educated to think like leaders, and there are two crucial ways this is done: the classics, and mentors.

“The classics” simply means that instead of reading from modern textbooks, they actually read the great words and thoughts from the past. For example, if they are studying Greek history, they will read Plato and Aristotle; if Roman history, Cicero and Virgil; and if American history, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, with lots of other examples in between.  They are bathed in the great words and ideas that formed both our own civilization, as well as other civilizations around the world. All of this is guided by teachers who see themselves as mentors to the students, called to help each individual student fulfill the “unique and individual mission” of their lives.

It comes as no surprise that John Adams Academy is bursting at the seams, outperforms its traditional public school counterparts, and is looking to expand by building other campuses.

This is a school that was literally started by parents who were concerned about America, and the educational opportunities open to their children — who simply wanted to give their kids the chance at a world class education, and in a way that taught them the big lessons that are often skipped over these days; things like the world doesn’t revolve around you, the importance of service, the importance of virtue combined with knowledge acquired throughout careful study, the importance of seeking out wisdom through mentors, etc.

I believe charter schools are a great way to help reform our education system. They, like other public schools, draw from public funds in proportion to the number of kids who attend. But, the really exciting part is that unlike other publics schools, they can be setup as non-profits (at least in California), and can thus be the beneficiaries of tax deductible donations.

Which means that, if we have the will and the willingness, we can begin to fund more and more schools like this one that outperform the traditional system, and in many of the areas that need it most. Better outcomes can only be denied for so long before our fellow citizens demand such things for their own children. It is a cause for which conservatives should rightly use the word “justice,” and for which we could tell amazing stories about how real people, and the lives of their children, have been changed for the better. Who can argue with that?

So I ask conservatives: why aren’t more of us giving to schools like this? We may not see the fruit immediately, but imagine what would happen if even a small proportion of the hundreds of millions of dollars that are spent on politics (much of which has seemed to have been utterly wasted) was diverted to the maintenance, and establishment of new schools just like this one?  What if conservatives started funding networks of these schools, and started expanding them into more urban areas where educational opportunities, particularly for minorities, are diminishing, so that we can give every American child a fighting chance to live up to their God-given potential?  What is more conservative than that?

Imagine the long term cultural impact of such a thing! It’s a hard slog, it would take years, it would take sacrifice on a personal level (through giving), it would no doubt come up against truly establishment forces.

But imagine what we could achieve.

Imagine if our goal wasn’t to create ideological clones, but something much less paltry, pitiful, and pointless — what if it was to teach the next generation a set of values and principles which, if they were given a fair chance to consider, dialogue about, and study through the great minds of human civilization, would allow them to think for themselves, and arrive through their own study, and thus their own conviction, at the right conclusions.

This is just one area of education that could potentially be revolutionized if conservatives simply took a hold of generational thinking, and applied it in practical, community-serving ways.

The bad news is that we aren’t.

The good news is that we can, and in many more ways than just this.

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  • Wayne Cook

    Completely agree!

  • Jim Mason

    What he is suggesting is essentially what Humanists set out to do some 30 years ago, as so aptly described by Humanist John J. Dunphy in The Humanist, and in which they have been exceptionally successful.

    “I am convinced that the battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity that recognizes and respects the spark of what theologians call divinity in every human being. These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preachers, for they will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level—preschool day care or large state university. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new—the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism … “. (Dunphy, J.J., A Religion for a New Age, The Humanist, January–February 1983.)

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