Monday, April 3, 2017

Education Is a Parental Responsibility

Contrary to popular near-religious belief, public education is not the best way to get an educated populace.
Back when I wrote the original articles for the Spherical Model website, I used education as an example of something government is doing beyond its proper role. And we know that anything government does beyond its proper role will cause negative unintended consequences, most likely the exact opposite of the stated intention.
I’m going to repeat, pretty much intact, that section on education. It’s relevant here in Texas during a week that the state legislature is debating school choice issues.
But I also recommend reading Matt Walsh’s blog today, about the social environment of schools. He makes a good case for not relinquishing our parental rights and responsibilities to a government institution with its indoctrination agenda.
While the nation has an interest in having an educated populace, the responsibility for educating individual children lies with each child’s parents. They care the most; they have the most interest in the child’s welfare, and the most insight into the child’s learning needs and idiosyncrasies. So, education of children is best decided and provided by the child’s parents. (If you’re not agreeing with me on that point, then carefully consider who you think does hold the responsibility for your child and why. And how did you come to believe that a government entity was more deserving of loyalty as the basic unit of society than is the family? Because whenever society degrades the importance of the family, civilization decays. See the article “Civilization vs. Savagery.”)
A homeschool science experiment, 2007
The nation’s stake in the education of its citizenry does not supersede the responsibility of the parents to provide it (despite the unfortunate ruling of the California appeals court in March 2008, declaring that parents do not have a constitutional right to see to the education of their children, that it is the right and responsibility of the state, a decision that, like many California decisions, was shortly thereafter thrown out). Usurping that responsibility does several negative things. The federal government doesn’t know what challenges a local school (or even more locally, a family) may face. By providing a one-size-fits-all approach, there may be relatively broad mediocre success, but there cannot be success for all (or maybe even most) individual children. That’s why parents who care about their children’s education have always been involved in it: paying private tutors, teaching them themselves, or paying for a high quality private education—or, as a last resort, getting very involved in the local public school to make it as good as possible.
Historically, this last option, public education system, is a recent and not very successful experiment. Government institutional education was only invented as a response to a perceived need in inner cities where a number of poor immigrant families had working parents and no one to oversee the children. Children too often were left to the streets, and were creating mischief, as you would expect. So government assumed responsibility where parents failed (either because of unwillingness or inability to provide). The problem is that government stepped way beyond the actual need (to provide rudimentary educational skills for unsupervised children so as to protect society) and imposed “free” education on all children—usurping parental responsibility and authority. And as you might expect, social engineers (Horace Mann, followed by John Dewey, among others) used this excuse to convince (dupe) the public into believing education was the government’s role, and that it was a “right” everyone was “entitled to,” “for free,” which was actually paid for by taxes filtered through bureaucracy. Since it got into the business, government has always provided this so-called free public education for the very purpose of controlling what was taught. National government education, by definition, is socialist (south/east quadrant of the model).
At the time of the writing of the Constitution, there was no public education in America. Generally children were taught the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic at home by their parents. As they got older, some went on to private, often community-provided schools or, if parents were unable to meet the need themselves, they hired tutors. Always the training went through the basics and the classics. Then the young person, when aiming for a profession, continued to be personally mentored and guided in his learning. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, education was so successful that a typical farmer in New York could understand the concepts in the Federalist Papers (as well as the responses provided by anti-federalists), many of which appeared in newspapers and were read by a large portion of the population, a skill that challenges most college students today. In order to enter college, an applicant had to be fluent in Greek and Latin, and be familiar with many of the ancient writings, having translated them. Even our best colleges today would be sparsely populated if that kind of requirement held.
When the country was still new, in 1830, Alexis de Tocqueville visited from France and marveled at how every farmer and tradesman he met could read. We had essentially a fully literate populous before public education, but have never had it since.
Daughter Social Sphere, dissecting a squid
at a homeschool science day 2009
Still, the nation clearly has an interest in having an educated populace. So how should government deal with families where parents won’t or can’t provide for their own children’s education? First of all, it shouldn’t take over a family responsibility for the entire population, at citizens’ expense, to solve a limited problem. Granted, there are going to be exceptions, but in a functioning civilized society, parents unwilling or unable to see to the education of their children will be rare. And, being few, with individual causes and circumstances, they might be best solved locally—by donations from benefactors for individual children, by local schools that provide a rudimentary education that will help a child be at least productive to society, and based on his/her own efforts and innate gifts, the student might move on to some scholarship resource later on.
The solution is free market plus philanthropy—exactly what you’d expect from a Constitution that is silent on government’s role on the issue. (Despite various tortured Supreme Court arguments to the contrary, silence in the Constitution means the federal government has no right to usurp that responsibility from more local governmental levels: see the 10th Amendment.)
Getting back to the education example, instead of the limited customized solution the free market provides, the factory style approach so common today allows very little individualization, so we tend to badly fail those who need remedial help, and, possibly worse for the nation’s future, we fail those who need enhanced opportunity and are held back by the average learning rate and tedium of the typical classroom. In addition, there is so much care taken to teaching only non-offensive “everybody agrees” philosophies of right and wrong (or worse, values the government chooses based on special interest pressure groups over the values of the family), it is nearly impossible for the government institution to instill the values needed to keep behavior in the civilized freedom zone. (See “Civilization vs. Savagery.”)

Federal interest in an educated populace could be justifiably ignored entirely, as it is in the Constitution. Or (I’m being open to meeting government’s interest in an educated populace, but I’m not being prescriptive that this or any other solution is justified) there could be a government entity, but it could be limited to becoming a clearinghouse for ideas, methods, testing, data, and resources that state and local educators (including individual parents) could turn to for assistance—like a big but powerless library. This would satisfy the central government’s interest in assuring an educated populace without usurping the responsibility and power to accomplish it from the parents and the local communities they live in. There could be debate on the issue, to decide what if any form such a government entity could take. But there isn’t any such debate taking place.
Even as you’re reading this, you’re likely thinking the very idea of eliminating federal control of education is the suggestion of a right-wing nutcase. Bringing it up instantly brings the response, “How can you be against the education of our children? Are you crazy?” which is not only untrue, it’s intellectually stilting. If you can’t even debate whether an issue belongs in the purview of federal government control, then the demagogues have already pushed the populous far south of the freedom zone on that issue.
Incidentally, the Department of Education was created, amid much opposition because of its unconstitutionality, as recently as 1979, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Despite immediate efforts by Reagan, demagoguery phrased attempts to get rid of the federal department as being against the very education of children. Citizens over their mid-40s today [or mid-50s, as of 2017] all managed to get educated in the US without federal oversight, but immediately federal education became equivalent with all education. Not surprisingly, the homeschooling movement began to grow from then onward.

So, the point is, federal government powers should not exceed what its responsibilities rightly are. Having a national interest is not adequate reason for usurping power from the people. Evidence is that, every time government takes on a responsibility it shouldn’t rightly have, it provides worse service than could be provided locally or through the free market. Anyone considering government’s role in health care should keep that in mind.

1 comment:

  1. Hey! I've got a couple genuine questions for you, knowing that you've spent much of your life focused on education. 1.) As long as parents have the ability to homeschool their children, how does public education usurp power from the people? Is the main issue with spending tax dollars on education or are there other ways you feel power is being taken? And 2.) while it's admirable that the general population was relatively well educated in the early 1800s, what of the slave population during the same time period? What of the many immigrants and non-English speakers who have come since? And what of the increasing number of households who need two incomes to provide for their families, and even then still can't get by? These are issues that have increased dramatically, and they are issues public education *attempts* to address. Totally imperfectly to be sure. But I can't see how a free market or philanthropy alone would do any better. As of 2011, one in five kids live in poverty--what is the incentive to supervise/educate/feed these kids, relying on philanthropy alone? It would be wonderful if parents were able to take full responsibility, but that is not the reality for most households. Help me to see what should be done.