The second question in the headline is based on an Ethics Alarms core principle: it isn’t ethical to propose policies and social changes that are impossible. Would it be possible to eliminate public school education, after it served the nation so well for so long? Still, another Ethics Alarms core principle is “Fix the problem!” Public school education is a serious problem for the nation, the culture, democracy and the future, and it is getting worse. If the problem can be fixed without eliminating public schools entirely, then it should be, though I am dubious about the practicality of that too. If the only way to fix the problem is to come up with a new model and fight for it, ethics tells us that it would be irresponsible not to make the effort.
I am thinking about this as a result of a few things. One is my own unshakeable conclusion that public education now is in a state of irreversible rot, and does more damage than good. I see evidence of this literally every day, and, as regular readers here know, we pulled my smart, curious, knowledge-hungry and authority-resisting son out of public school and eventually out of private school as well, having witnessed just how horrible the process of education was thanks to the institutions and the people who now provide it. Another thing is the now open embrace by schools, teachers and local governments of a deliberately anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-Western culture indoctrination.
A third prompt comes from the recent writings of conservative science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt, Glenn Reynold’s usual late night blogsitter for Instapundit. Sarah is a bit extreme for me most of the time—here’s her Ethics Alarms dossier—but I always take notice when a serious thinker starts thinking the same thoughts I’ve been thinking, or the equivalents thereof.
These are some of Hoyt’s trenchant thoughts in the post (Do read it all Sarah is always fun), “Let’s Separate State and Education”…
“What I am calling for is a cold, hard look at the utility of mass-industrial, state enforced education as we head out of the mass-production, mass-skills era….Oh, I know what the excuse/reason was at the turn of the 20th century. Then as now, the US was trying to digest a massive bolo of immigrants who didn’t know how things were done here. And let’s be honest, teaching them to be “good Americans” was better than now, when we teach them to hate the country they just immigrated to….So why not remove all educational requirements, take the public schools and raze them, possibly salting the land afterwards, just so people get the point that no, this is not good and should not be done again.
“Oh, you work and can’t be at home to look after the kids? Well, then. The money the government takes from your paycheck to pay for education should be refunded with all possible alacrity, and you can probably find someone to teach your kids what you want them to be taught, or just to let them free-range while you’re at work. Look, if you really insist, we can find you a multi-tattooed, pink-haired monstrosity to convince your kids that they’re really trans-dragons and you get the entire public school experience…..[W]hile there probably are still good teachers laboring in vain in public schools, I can guarantee there are fewer of them every year…The entire system is designed to make those who actually want to teach, and those who actually want to learn run out of the system or turn into useless drones. And our university system has been turned into a credential factory that actually teaches remarkably little.
“In fact, the predictable result of turning education over to the state (note not the states, but the state, since it’s all overseen and dominated by the Federal government) has been to make it a factory of indoctrination, turning out people with the “correct” views, instead of those that conform to reality. The only way we escape this dumpster fire in a clown shoe factory is to stop the automated production of more clown shoes by our state indoctrination mechanisms.
“But Sarah” you’ll say “People will be illiterate!” Will they? They weren’t by and large, before the institution of free public schooling. Communities, groups of families, and even cities got together and chipped in money to hire teachers. Yes, I know, horrors, teachers wouldn’t be “certified.” They might however — take heart – be able to count to twenty with their shoes on. And likely wouldn’t be trained in teaching your kids the new gender of the week. Or enforce bizarre rules that ostracize kids they don’t like. Or–
“Worst case scenario, the kids will indeed be illiterate. But they will be honestly illiterate and not illiterate holding a diploma from — is it Oregon? — that says they’re high school graduates, even though they cannot spell their own names.
“.…Heck, even in the worst neighborhoods it wouldn’t be any different. They are already not going to school. The only difference would be that there isn’t a gigantic building where some people are getting paid for not teaching them.
“All in all, yeah, the illiterate will always be with us. They’re with us now.
“But a lot of the now illiterate might very well learn to read and write, at least enough to get by, by other means than state school, if we weren’t imprisoning them in mandatory seclusion and stealing their best learning years in a system that is obviously broken.
“We don’t need any more state schools to produce “experts” for the system.Open the doors. Let the kids out. Let employers find their own way to certify what people know. Or allow different companies to set up competing systems of certification.
“Let the best system win.
“The free market works better than the captive market in everything.
“Education is no different.”
In her follow-up piece, “The Overton Window Moveth,” she adds in part,
…Some of you had quibbles, and a friend had straight up opposition, so let me dispose of those before I return to the whole over-tuned window of legend.
The quibbles were:
- —that letting the families fend for themselves in education meant some kids wouldn’t be educated at all. I think you’ll find that’s wrong, if you look at past and other places with no state school. There are all sorts of organizations and societies that offered schooling, down to “That kind lady on the corner, who teaches poor kids”. (Someday remind me to tell you about my very first school, which was not a government school.)
- “But Sarah,” you say. “If the parents don’t care, the kids won’t learn.” “Yes,” I say. “And the same is true of government schools. We’re already in a massively stratified educational culture, in which kids don’t learn much, and most of what they learn in school is indoctrination about whatever the thing the government is chasing is. (Right now, weirdly, anti-Americanism.) If parents don’t take an interest and push, they end up with maleducated liberal parrots. I don’t see how getting rid of the centers that make them so is any worse.
- —For a well educated officer corps, there must be central instruction. Well, yes, indeed. Which means the various services could/should set up schools (perhaps at high school level, to which admission would be by exam, and those interested in the services, or perhaps merely wanting to study there, would apply to them. Yes, these would still be government funded, but with specific purpose and intent, which makes them different from “push the newest thing this administration thinks it’s cool at everyone in general.” Which leads to yes, anti-Americanism, but also total educational malpractice, such as teaching kids that white people invented slavery to enslave blacks, instead of just teaching them that slavery is a sin as old as mankind, and existing in all races, and inflicted upon all races. And that we’re blessed and happy to be existing in a time when slavery is not everywhere. All of this poison is being put in the national bloodstream by the schools paid for by a government that seems bent on annihilating us. A school set by a military service would obviously be different. But beyond that, you’re missing the fact that other entities would set up schools. Small towns, for instance, would be quite likely to start schools for their youth. As would larger cities. Various companies would set up schools for the kids of employees, as a benefit (bet me.) As would neighborhoods and just some people wanting to make money.
Now, would all those be equal/comparable/teach the same thing? No. And therein is a strength….Yes, if you have different entities controlling the schools, then all of them will teach false things to some extent. It is impossible to teach the absolute truth, not the least because we don’t know it (though the truth 200 years back should NOT be a challenge.) But then many “Truths” will be in circulation, and by rubbing elbows with people who were taught differently, people get to discuss things, and eventually maybe come closer to the truth.
Then the essay expands to the connection between eliminating state-controlled public school education, and breaking the “Overton Window,” which has come up for discussion here before. By all means read it, but let’s keep this post on public school education.
I think Sarah underestimates the extent to which the internet and the resources it has made available at the click of a mouse have rendered current public school education methods obsolete. Watching “The Civil War” PBS documentary with my son, for example, I and he learned far more about that period in history than I learned before college, and I graduated out of an excellent public school system for the time. Grant taught himself how to repair computers and cars by checking online resources and experimenting on his own. He has watched dozens of Ted Talks, and taken video recordings of classic college courses on subjects that interested him. The greatest loss to kids who don’t go to a traditionally run public school may be the socialization factor and the pure experience of dealing with a hierarchy and an often random, arbitrary, unjust system.There are other ways to acquire those skills though.
There are other ways to acquire those skills though.
I’m not sure what to do about our dangerously incompetent, irresponsible, societally toxic public schools. I have, however, come to believe that it is incompetent, irresponsible and dangerous not to conclude that an alternative has to be developed and tried. I know, I know, that sounds a lot like the “do something” mantra we hear to justify futile and dictatorial “solutions” to climate change and gun violence. Two material distinctions are that breaking up public school education won’t cost more money than the problem itself, and trying an updated approach to education doesn’t require constricting personal liberty.
Maybe it’s possible.
I sure hope so.
Apology: WordPress put me through hell with this post, I have no clue why. I could not get the formatting right, and it would not allow me to make the type shades consistent. I took 30 minutes to try to fix these issues after I saw what the post looked like published, which bore no resemblance to the draft. I failed. I’m sorry.