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The Case Against Public Education

It never occurred to me that public education was a bad thing. It seems that it has always existed and everyone seemed to agree that ignorance was intolerable and public education fixed that. As time went by I began to see chinks in the amour of public education. I wasn’t alone in this. That public education is broken is something that both the left and the right agree on. Even teachers, dedicated teachers, the real kind (we all had at least one I’m sure) say that education is broken and needs fixed!

Once that agreement was reached the two sides began debating on just what the fix should look like. For the right it took the form of programs like “no child left behind” which turned out to be more about standardized testing than education. For the left this took the form of greater dollars and infrastructure and new methods of teaching like Common Core which was meant to be more fair and egalitarian in methodology.

We now sit at a point in the education debate where both sides have had a go and both still agree that the problem isn’t fixed. The solution they say, is more of the same. Make it tougher on teachers so they have to teach. If the students fail, then the teacher fails! Make it easier on students, everyone learns differently, you can’t expect everyone to be taught the same! Teachers need more money, classrooms need more technology, students need less homework!

But in the midst of this maelstrom of fixing things another idea arose: what if public education itself is the problem?

This was shocking, unheard of! It earned an immediate backlash from both the left and the right.

Do you WANT our children to be stupid?!

Immediately put on the defensive those pondering this backed down, but only temporarily. This group, this third group, asking the hard questions about public education weren’t like the other two groups. They weren’t like the Democrats and Republicans with political skin in the game, nor like the leftists and the right wingers who hung their ideological hats on control. This third group honestly and deeply cared about the students.

That’s because this third group, was the parents.

In their eyes students weren’t just butts in a seat, they were their children. They represented something other than a paycheck. Parents saw their children weren’t learning the subjects they thought were important and were spending time on social subjects that the parents either felt weren’t important or that the parents wanted to reserve for the home. Like all good parents they wanted to chose the type and level of indoctrination their children received and they suddenly found the schools were doing it instead. And the schools had their children for more undivided hours of the day. At the same time the politicians pushing public education were sending their children to carefully chosen private schools.

I want that

These parents still supported public education, just not for their kids.

Sure, they said, public education is good, we shouldn’t get rid of it, only, I want a choice for my kids. Everywhere it seemed the schools “around where we live” weren’t good enough. Schools in other parts of the country, they were sure, were just great, but not in our city or town or state. We need choice. Many states granted that and opened up education to charter schools and loosened criteria for home schooling. Many parents responded and took to these new options. For some home school was too much to manage, they realized their own shortcomings and inabilities and opted for charter schools.

Some said this worked, others said it was making our children stupid and robbing them of the diversity found in public schools. Diversity of course being the most elevated state of being in leftist thinking. We don’t need the best point of view, we need all different points of view, only in this way will our children really understand the world around them and be prepared.

Prepared for what?

People began to suspect that the preparatory state their children found themselves in was not the kind needed to get a good job or raise a family, but the kind that made them a “productive member of society”.  I think schools have always taught morality in one way or the other. But as time went by the parents began to get uncomfortable with this as the morality being taught wasn’t the same as the parents’ morality or even the local community. Those in charge of education acknowledged this. In some cases they said it was because the morality if the community wasn’t right, was too narrow, needed to be brought into modern times, and was making the children bad citizens of the world. In other cases they simply said it was what was being taught to everyone.

Parents began to ask themselves, “is that the purpose of school? Why am I sending my kids there?” They still harbored the idea that school was for learning things like reading, writing, math, science, perhaps a second language and a few art classes, and of course PE, there is always PE.

All the while the same people in charge were teaching, over and over again, that the only way to get ahead in this world was to go to college. So colleges became full of the children that had been taught in the public schools by teachers that had been taught in the public schools and thinking, it was clear, was on the decline.

The abilities of youth

I sometimes wonder, jokingly, if the voting age should be changed to 30 since that seems to be the time at which the pressures of “real life” come to bear on the dreaminess of youth. 18 year olds it seems just aren’t smart enough to understand politics and how to vote with wisdom. Then I realize they are what public education has made them. They are voting the way they were taught.

Parents, of course, have an obligation to teach their children and see to their child’s education. Many turned that over to the school as they focused on work and their own lives. Sometimes because a bad economy dictated it, other times because feminism dictated, other times because masculinity dictated it, other times because they wanted more money, because hey, money. But the parents that had seen the decline stepped in strongly and I see in the rising generation, the ones just younger than the screaming protesters and Bernie lovers, a hope for the future. Not because of public schools but despite them. Because of parents.

I’ve written about John Adams and his singular contribution to America. He’s one of the rare parents whose son also became president – John Quincy Adams.

Adams saw to his son’s education, pushed him learning, and made sure he received a true liberal education in the meaning of that word in Adam’s day, not the meaning we now assign it.

I marvel at the abilities of John Quincy. At the age of 14 he was hired by Francis Dana as a personal secretary and accompanied him to Saint Petersburg, Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark in an effort to gain official recognition for the United States of America, a newly formed nation. Today, 14 year olds are still 2 years away from driving a car. If you have a 14 year old, or know one, take good honest look at them and ask yourself, “could they leave home, travel the world with a stranger, and do a job that required reading, writing professionally, and showing forth decorum and diplomacy in all situations among the seats of foreign governors?”  If we are to be honest the answer is most likely no.

Even in his day John Quincy was not average. The status of his father put him among the greatest men of thought and he lived in times that demanded more of him, and he owes much of his success to his mother since Adams himself was often gone from home for long periods of time in service of the nation. But really, is that so different than a modern family?

My point in bringing up John Quincy is to point out something we seem to have lost as a society, 14 year olds are not stupid and are capable of all the thoughts of manhood.

When it’s all for the children the children rule

Why then, if 14 year olds are so able, do modern 14 year olds do so little? For the secular among you the reason is what Spider-man’s Uncle Ben told him, “With great power, comes great responsibility” or for the religious, “Where much is given, much is required.” We haven not given our children great power or great responsibility. Instead we’ve done everything for them, and about them. How many times have you heard politicians invoke “for the children”? How much we do in our political culture for the children sends a message to those children that they are so important that the world revolves around them. Depending on the age, they already have an inflated sense of self and this kind of chatter just feeds the monster of ego residing in adolescence.

Daddy they don't care

Doing everything we do for the children has turned them into a sort of modern equivalent of pre-revolutionary French aristocrats. Everything is owed to them, nothing required, it’s all for them, let them eat cake! It is no wonder we have a generation so sensitive they need safe spaces. The real world isn’t like that protective bubble they were indoctrinated into.

John Quincy was prepared for the real world. Parents observing public education suspected their children were not being well prepared.

What is the solution then?

I think the solution happens in two ways. First, we acknowledge that parents have a right to send their kid to whatever school they want. If this means vouchers or even doing away with public education I’m fine with that. That won’t mean teachers are out of work. Parents will still want their children to be educated and will seek out good schools. The teacher unions, and to some degree the teachers, fear this. Rightfully so, I don’t blame them. This would mean they would have to compete in the marketplace and only the best teachers would get hired. It means greater control over education at the local level where each state can decide what works best for their community. To the student school likely wouldn’t feel much different. They would still go, study, do homework, have friends, have teachers like like and others they don’t. But they would be getting the kind of education their parents want for them, not the kind that a politician wants or the kind a teachers’ union allows and that resides within the confines of their negotiated contract.

Work smart not hard
Posters like this were put in schools to show that college was good and hard work was bad.

The other method is one I’ve been advocating for a long time and which has gained a strong voice in the person of Mike Rowe. He’s created an organization called the Mike Rowe Works Foundation which is a “…public charity that rewards people with a passion to get trained for skilled jobs that actually exist…Through its scholarship programs, including the Work Ethic Scholarship Program, the Foundation provides financial assistance to qualified individuals with a desire to learn a skill that is in demand.”

You see, Mike Rowe learned that there are about 3 million jobs available at any given time to qualified applicants for which there was a lack of qualified applicants. He blames the push for college. For years we’ve all been told college is the way. If you want to be successful you have to have a degree. Then everyone got one. The mantra became, it used to be that a bachelor degree was enough but now, in today’s competitive market if you really want to get ahead you need a Masters. Mike Rowe’s contention is that this thinking is wrong. A degree gets you nothing if it’s not a degree in a marketable skill. It’s a fact that skills don’t have to be learned in college. You can make a lot of money as a plumber and you don’t need a degree, but you do need training. It’s an old road to good jobs and Mike Rowe is striving to bring it back. In a society where the government runs the schools, and runs the student loan program is it any wonder they push college? Go if you want but don’t go in blind. Instead pick wisely those courses that will teach you something valuable. Does it matter if you get a degree? Perhaps, but not always. Maybe you just need to take three or four classes on specific subjects, maybe you need a certification, perhaps a trade school is better though.

Public education is a hammer when what you need is a socket set

We have a trillion dollars in student debt held by people who can’t get jobs and will thus never pay it back and in the end will either take a low skilled job or go back to school again for something that is actionable but in the process gain more debt. Or they could skip the crap and pick a skill and go to work.

An education doesn’t make you better, and it doesn’t make you smarter, it just makes you educated. Knowing stuff only matters when you can turn those things into practical applications for real life. The problem with public education is that it teaches so many useless things. There is only so much time in an 8 hour school day. For every block of diversity that is shoved into the curriculum a block of math or science must be pushed out.

There’s an old proverb, “When the winds of change blow some people build walls and others build windmills.” The unions are building walls, and people like Mike Rowe are pointing the way to the windmill factories. It’s always odd to me how those who push diversity end up creating sameness instead. There are millions of kids who are all different being taught the same thing and left without jobs because they only have one tool in their tool box and it’s not the right one for the job. Public school, right now, is a hammer when what you really need is a socket set.

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