Thursday, August 02, 2012

Public Schools...or Government Schools? Words Have Meaning.

A rose by any other name? Hardly.

Among the NRO tributes to the late Milton Friedman, Deroy Murdock reminds his readers about the economist's preference for precise language, as in using the terms "government schools" and "death tax" instead of "public schools" and "estate tax."

As a pro-life activist who has, for more than 30 years, battled the distortions of language by "progressive" propagandists (such as the horror of abortion being called "a voluntary interruption of pregnancy," "an evacuation of uterine contents," or "the restoration of normal menstrual health"), I certainly concur with Friedman's suggestions. The first step in effective reasoning (let alone in argument) is insisting that language be precise, relevant and aware of such things as connotations, context and historical usage.

Here's a bit of Murdock's post:

Quite simply, Dr. Friedman urged his supporters to drop the term “public schools” and, instead, say, “government schools.” As he told Reason magazine in December 2005: “I try to avoid calling government schools public schools because I think that’s a very misleading term.”…

The term “public” has a positive ring, as in “public service” and “the public good.” Pro bono publico is a lovely idea.

The word “government” lacks this gloss. It rarely gives people a warm and toasty feeling.

Thus, the term “government schools” stops people in their tracks. It reminds them why schools run by politicians frequently fail: They are part of the same state that too often robs us blind, delivers poor services, and founders in corruption.

Similarly, Americans had little trouble with “the estate tax.” Few people burst into tears at the notion of rich people in “estates” paying higher taxes.

However, when Jim Martin of the 60-Plus Association persuaded fiscal conservatives to decry the “Death Tax,” Americans suddenly became outraged at the fact that Uncle Sam taxes dead people. Support for this levy plunged, and it actually vanished — for one year. Alas, the Death Tax sprang from the dead as part of the 2010 extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

Americans who miss Dr. Milton Friedman can honor his memory and continue his excellent work in modernizing American education. They can abandon the term “public schools” and adopt the phrase “government schools.” While plenty more needs to be done to rescue the American classroom, each of us effortlessly can take this small step forward.