Friday, August 15, 2014

The Shame of Public Education

There was an interesting article on the increasing popularity of homeschooling. This article concentrated on North Carolina. Equally interesting was a list given by someone in the comments by one Tony Esolen. I am sure he won't mind me copying his list here:

Reasons to teach your kids at home:

1. Schools are too big, by a factor of five to twenty.
2. Schools are not answerable to the employers.
3. Schools have abandoned the classics.
4. The curricula are incoherent: one class has nothing to do with another.
5. Schools have abandoned fostering the memory.
6. Schools no longer teach grammar as a systematic whole.
7. Schools allow minor governmental functionaries to play Naming of Parts with your kids.
8. The textbooks are politically "correct" and typically sneer at religious faith.
9. The general moral atmosphere is toxic.
10. Many teachers do not actually know their subjects.
11. Your kid will be separated from the family, in heart and mind.
12. Your kid may develop all kinds of strange psychological troubles, because he or she will be forced to endure a wholly unnatural environment.
13. Your boys will learn that they should be despised for being boys.
14. You can do it!

Of course, like the article the context is American, but everything about the list is pretty much transferable to the situation in Canada, whether you are in the Ontario Catholic system or anywhere else.

Now, his first reason is one of the ones I have thought a lot about and that I do not think gets enough attention. Schools are too big. They are not big because big schools make for better learning. They are big because that is cheaper. But big in this case is bad. I would say very bad. Bigness makes all the bad things that can happen in schools almost inevitable.

That fact is just one part of the overall problem with public schools - they are government, rather than community, controlled. Schools should be small, perhaps no more than 100 students, and they should reflect the values of the parents who have their children educated there. Yes, even the boogeyman values of Neo-Nazis and creationists. Why? Because governments have no greater insight into morality than parents do, and always care a whole lot less about them.

Public schooling practice brings out the worst of modern governmental practice. As I have said elsewhere (Catholic Insight in Winter of 2012, I think), the totalitarian states of the past could have only dreamed of attaining the kind of control over education that they have today in North America. It has become almost inconceivable that education should not be government-controlled, such has been the effectiveness of the campaign to equate parents with Neo-Nazis.

The whole public school thing began with the good idea that governments should provide a leg-up to poor families who couldn't afford education, but then the idea of fairness grew and grew to mean that only sameness can be fair. So, now we have equally bad education for everybody. This is the kind of mindset that says that, no, it is not fair that one kid should be from a good family while another stigmatized for being from a broken family, so let's make it fair by saying that all families are equally good, let's facilitate divorce, undermine the values of monogamy, fidelity, cooperation so little Johnny from the divorced family doesn't have to feel bad. But it's natural to feel bad about divorce because it is bad. No amount of lying about how normal it is can change that. So, back to education, kids from poor families who don't value education, kids of parents who live immoral lives, yes, they are disadvantaged and no amount of undermining good education will make those children's lives better. A child who feels the need to question his sexuality is in a kind of crisis. Calling the crisis good doesn't change that fact.

So, yes, I firmly believe that, like religion, education and state should be absolutely separated. Most honest economists agree that government makes everything worse - whether that be health care, telecommunications, or the economy as a whole. It is a notoriously bad at using money, it creates systems of preferment not based on talent and hard work, etc. Back in my friend's, Augustine's, day, but all the way up to the times of Abelard and those guys, a teacher got paid according to how good a teacher he was. People went to the effective teachers and left poor and destitute the people you hear about all over the news today - the teaches that don't know their subjects, who yell at kids for being religious or for not towing the party line re. gayness, who have sex with their students, who teach them about masturbation and bondage, etc. Those losers whom the system protects and proffers today would be cold and hungry if market forces were allowed to prevail in education.

Through their taxes, parents contribute something around $10,000 a year per child on average. You might say, "No, that's impossible. I have 3 kids and I don't pay $30,000 in tax and even if I did all that doesn't just go to education. It also goes to healthcare, national defense, the roads, etc." But this belies your economic ignorance. The welfare state doesn't just effect tax-rates. It also effects what employers pay their employees, for instance, because businesses are also taxed to support the welfare state; it also effects how much you pay for gas, beef, televisions... Yes, you are paying $10,000 per child on average, in other words. But this is just a side-point anyway.

So that extraordinary amount of money the government siphons off from you goes to pay for the education of your children over which you have no control or say, and is called 'free.'

There are economic losers out there - I might be one of them. And such people's children would be short-changed in free market education. Sure, there are lots of ways to help them, but I don't want to get into them. I want only to say that, the cost we are currently paying to make an equal playing field is too high. I don't mean that it costs too much (which is does). Most of all I mean the cost to freedom of thought. I mean the cost to families' rights. Secondly, I mean the cost to caliber of education and industriousness of students.

I would rather be free and poor than humiliated by a government that tells me that I am not smart enough or good enough to make decisions about my own children's education.

The problem with society today is that it has made the other choice: it chose the safety blanket over personal dignity.


  1. The per student payment is more than $12000. Plus capital investment grants of more than $1B/yr provincewide

  2. "The whole public school thing began with the good idea that governments should provide a leg-up to poor families who couldn't afford education, but then the idea of fairness grew and grew to mean that only sameness can be fair."

    Hmm... That's not exactly the most satisfying explanation in the world. Even if I believe that justice is fairness and fairness is sameness, I needn't be an ideological totalitarian, surely? People need direction from authorities - they instinctively know this - and so they'll happily submit to the guidance - esp. guidance backed with a power of coercion that is generally recognized as being legitimate (well-grounded, sophisticated, smarter-than-thou, progressive, a necessary evil, or whatever) - of whomever they believe to possess authority. I think this is more of a human nature/sociological reality kind of problem, than anything about the idea of fairness per se. If you want to blame an idea, then you still have the problem of explaining why people accept this dumb idea.

    The point about size is important. But it's also pretty intractable because it applies to the governments setting educational policies just as much as it does to the schools which are shaped by those policies.


  3. Sameness is an industrial possibility, an industrial reality, an industrial perfection. No one used the word before the Industrial Revolution. Now, since it marks industrial perfection, it is thought to mark governmental perfection, human perfection, and so has begun to take on the form of a moral imperative. to describe justice in its essence. In other words, those who think politically, think about mass production and think about sameness of outcome. The modern nation state is built upon industrial notions and therefore is always informed by totalitarian notions. The modern nation state is a factory.

  4. So, in other words, David, what I am saying is that for modern people the totalitarian drive is all too automatic. If you think fairness is sameness, you will think it a good thing to impose it. People who think fairness = sameness are ipso facto too dull to grasp the subtler things in life that make it truly special and that these require non-interference from the governmental mass production mindset. One blindness leads to another as policy.