Rick Hess makes a valiant but unsuccessful effort to provide a new origin story to the idea of school choice, attributing it to Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill. That’s quite a stretch, because Thomas Paine lived before there were any public schools in the United States, and Mill, of course, never had any contact with the American idea of free, universal, democratic public schooling. In my experience as a historian of education, there was zero support for school vouchers in the United States in the nineteenth century, although Archbishop John Hughes of New York proposed that there should be Protestant public schools and Catholic public schools. That idea went nowhere.
At that time and well into the twentieth century, American public schools were broadly admired and considered a high point of our democratic experiment, even though they were racially segregated and had many flaws.
However, there was political opposition…
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