After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism. My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy. I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting outside of a Manhattan bank.
At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way. Statist parents object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the Constitution. Secular parents object to mentions of God and overly-positive descriptions of religion in history. Religious parents object to secularized science and sex education. Free market parents object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics. Some parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem, while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't learning what they are supposed to.
I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one day drive acceptance of school choice in this country. Certainly increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by just the three R's.
So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side. Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice. I'm not talking about rolling back government spending or government commitment to funding education for all. I am talking about allowing parents to use that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of their choice. Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine, they can find a school for that. Parents want a strict, secular focus on basic skills - fine, another school for that. Parents want their kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.
Yes, I know, private schools to fit all these niches don't exist today. However, given a few years of parents running around with $7000 vouchers in their hands, they will. Yes, there will be problems. Some schools will fail, some will be bad, some with be spectacular (though most will be better than what many urban kids, particularly blacks, have today). Some current public schools will revitalize themselves in the face of comeptition, others will not. It may take decades for a new system to emerge, but the Left used to be the ones with the big, long-term visions. The ultimate outcome, though, could be beautiful. And the end state will be better if the Left, with its deep respect and support of publicly-funded education, is a part of the process.
Of course, there is one caveat that trips up both the Left and the Right: To accept school choice, you have to be willing to accept that some parents will choose to educate their kids in a way you do not agree with, with science you do not necesarily accept, and with values that you do not hold. If your response is, fine, as long as my kids can get the kind of education I want them to, then consider school choice. However, if your response is that this is not just about your kids, this is about other people choosing to teach their kids in ways you don't agree with, then you are in truth seeking a collectivist (or fascist I guess, depending on your side of the aisle) indoctrination system. Often I find that phrases like "shared public school experience" in the choice debate really are code words for retaining such indoctrination.
In other words, are you OK if Bob Jones high school or Adam Smith high school exist, as long as Greenpeace high school exists as well? Or do you want to make everyone go to Greenpeace high school exclusively?
I honestly don't know how folks on the left would answer this question. Is Kevin Drum hoping that all parents have the choice of a secular education available to their kids, or is he hoping that all parents are forced to have a secular education for their kids? Is he trying to protect his kids from intrusive creationism supporters or is he trying to impose his beliefs on the children of those creationism supporters? I can read the article and his fear of creationism either way.