So You Think Public Education Is Failing? It Helps to Understand Its Goals

Donald Trump’s base is widely characterized as “low-information voters.” As he continues to rack up primary wins, does this indicate that the majority of voters is now low-information?

Meanwhile, a recent poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics of 18- to 29-year olds finds two-thirds of them neutral to Sanders’ self-identification as a socialist, while a McClatchy-Marist poll shows 25% of millennials saying they would “definitely vote for” any socialist presidential candidate:

“As a millennial, I believe that we identify with what Bernie Sanders has to offer because we’ve had so much taken away from us.”

In 1979, the nation’s public schools were put under the control of the newly created Department of Education. In our forthcoming book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children, Vicki Alger traces the genesis of the department’s creation, and its numerous attempts to remake itself since, concluding it has—by its own stated goals—failed.

But one could conclude from the current election campaign that the Department has in fact succeeded beyond all expectations: one just needs to understand its actual goals.

As Charlotte Twight showed in this recent article in The Independent Review, “Through the Mist: American Liberty and Political Economy, 2065,” for 30 years, American students have “unlearned” the concept of liberty during their passage through the government education system—with the result that they have been formed into increasingly compliant subjects of an increasingly powerful state.

Much attention is currently being given to the sad state of higher education: with campuses now free speech-free zones, more attention paid to issues of race, gender, or other label du jour swamping interest in producing students who can actually participate in a free and prosperous society, and indenturing young people with massive amounts of debt to feather the nests of tenured faculty with low course loads.

But addressing the problem at the university level is way too late. As Dr. Twight summarized:

The future of America’s political economy largely will be determined by the extent of personal autonomy the federal government will tolerate, the additional powers it covets, and the current powers it will not willingly relinquish. Over the next fifty years, government’s technological capability to surreptitiously monitor the populace and crush domestic dissent or resistance will grow. …

Our one hope is the severance of education from government control.

And the only hope for doing so is for Americans to wake up to understanding that “public education” is about strengthening the “public” sector—our would-be rulers—not “education.”

If we want children who can succeed in a global economy that runs on tech, children who embrace and defend individual and civil liberty, who value and help their fellow-man, we’re going to have to educate them ourselves. And that can only be done privately, wholly divorced from government involvement.

A pipe dream?

Consider this:

Prior to state involvement, literacy and school attendance rates in England, Wales, and the United States were 90 percent and rising.

More recently, James Tooley has spent 15 years finding the world’s poorest of the poor doing just that for their children—scores of private schools, paid for by desperately poor parents, in countries from India and China through sub-Saharan Africa.

As he says, “If Liberia can, why can’t we?”

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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