Government Education: The Problem, Not the Remedy

I’ll be speaking tonight at the Winter Haven 9/12 Project meeting. The topic will be one of my favorites: government control of education. It’s not a favorite because I’m in favor of government controlling education, of course, but because I’ve seen the danger signs for years and want to be sure others understand them also.

Education in American began as a mostly private affair; the only thing even halfway resembling what we have today was when a New England town collected local taxes to cover the costs of a “common” school. Yet even during that time, private schooling prevailed, whether at home, with a paid tutor, or at a private academy.

The big change occurred in Massachusetts in the 1830s. That state became the first to set up a state-level board of education. One of the biggest concerns back then was having education in the hands of the churches. The Unitarians, who denied the divinity of Jesus, were the driving force behind this change. As the idea spread, orthodox Christians dominated early “public” schooling, but they also adopted the Prussian system that eventually led to the view that education was the proper sphere of the government.

As the nation’s foundational thinking shifted toward evolutionary humanism, so did educational philosophy, and eventually the Christian influence waned. The only saving grace was that the federal government hadn’t yet entered the field, attempting to force one philosophy on everyone. That changed also, with the Common Core experiment being only the latest scheme.

The loss of Christian foundations in education has led to abysmal results—in learning, in bureaucracy, and in student behavior. The best public school teachers know this is true. What’s the evidence?

Last One Is True

Twice As Many

The government-controlled education system is awash in political correctness and enamored with every new trend or innovation in educational theory. Rare is the school where real education can be found:

Dark Days

We’ve also bought into the belief that nearly everyone needs to get a college degree. Well, perhaps one reason for that, on the practical side, is that many of our college degrees give students what they used to receive in high school. I know, because I teach American history survey courses, which are basic information about what already should be common knowledge for anyone with a high school diploma. Yet few of my students have an understanding of those basics. But it’s not as though they are finally getting it in college either. Studies have shown that graduating college seniors have about as much knowledge of American history as they did when they entered college as freshmen. That’s only one example, from my field; I’m sure examples could be multiplied as we examine what is learned in disciplines other than history.

So college graduates leave their institutions after four years with a piece of paper saying they have achieved something, but how many have actually achieved what that paper signifies? There is one thing, though, that a large majority do leave college with:

College Debt

I would submit that the root of our problems is the acceptance of government’s role in education. Early Americans resisted government involvement for three reasons:

  • First, they feared any system that allowed the government to tell you what you should think. They already rejected the concept of a state-sponsored church because that would be the government saying what you should believe. Isn’t it rather ironic that a people who said no to a government church would later say yes to government education, which would set itself up as an imitation of a government church, telling everyone what they should believe and think?
  • Second, they believed education was the proper sphere of family, church, and locality. They never envisioned the bureaucratic juggernaut we deal with now.
  • Third, they knew it would become expensive, since bureaucracies always end up costing more than advertised. Whenever anyone tells you the public schools are offering free education, remind them that you pay taxes, and that, in most states, the majority of those taxes go into the education system. You’re not getting what you are paying for.

My approach is not to tinker with the current system and try to improve it. That’s somewhat like Gorbachev tinkering with the Soviet Union’s system and thinking he could make socialism work. Our education system is built on a faulty foundation of government control. Only when we realize that and allow for expansion of the private sector in education will we ever come close to the remedy for our current ills.