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How to Destroy the Public School System

By Carl S. Milsted, Jr.

That's right, destroy.  Oh, I could talk about increasing parental choice or school competition, or even talk about merely giving this country's poorest parents an option when their children are not receiving an education.  But if I were to advocate even the mildest of reforms, the NEA and their ilk would accuse me of trying to destroy the public school system.

So I will save them the bother, and boldly use the word "destroy".

Besides, I truly want to destroy the public schools.  They are evil.  They are a font of ignorance, immorality and desire for tyranny.  Why should anyone want to fix them?  The idea of government ownership of schools should be sent to the dustbin of history.

Many people are currently whining about the paper shedding of Enron.  Big deal!  Throw in that scandal along with Watergate, Iran Contra, Monica Lewinsky and the Teapot Dome oil wells and you are still left with something that pales in comparison with the resistance of the public schools to teaching phonics.  The phonetic alphabet is one of the most important achievements of Western Civilization, yet our education establishment wants to teach our children hieroglyphics--except that combinations of Latin letters make for lousy pictograms.

But it doesn't stop there.  There was "New Math", which diligently avoided teaching my generation how to perform arithmetic in an efficient manner.  I remember my math teachers glancing out the window, as if they expected the Thought Police to come storming in, before sneaking in a quick lesson on carrying or other "old fashioned tricks".  Then throw in Social Promotion, tenure, and dangerous inner city schools.  Consider moral instruction that teaches that it is better to put up with a single disruptive student than it is to teach the other 25 in the class who are trying to learn--equality uber alles.  Finally, throw in amoral sex education and giving out condoms.  This is like holding wine tastings and giving out corkscrews--only there is a difference: moderate wine consumption is moral, at least according to the Bible.

The public schools system is Socialism applied to education.  Like Socialism applied to other sectors of the economy, productivity is terrible and there are nasty side effects.  In the Soviet Union, every five years the advocates of Socialism would implicitly admit the failures of the system and then come up with a new five year plan to finally make it work.  Similarly, the education bureaucracy comes up with a new set of teaching methods and textbooks, implicitly recognizing that all they had done before was a failure.  Alas, when the Russians finally decided to give up on Socialism, they underwent a very unpleasant transition towards a market-based system, a transition which is still underway.  It is not enough to resolve to end Socialism.  How we transfer the education system to the private sector is important.

The Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman advocates giving all parents government-funded vouchers that can be redeemed at the schools of their choice.  This looks like a good system at first glance.  Every child receives an equal amount of governmental largesse applied towards education.  At the same time, parents are able to shop for the best schools in order to provide true competition.  Schools can be owned by different organizations, both large and small, leading towards an optimum amount of bureaucracy--in theory.

However, the reality would be different.  With the government in charge of writing the checks for education, it would be the government's job to determine what constitutes education.  The education bureaucracy would remain, and quickly find ways to micro-manage schools which are theoretically private.  Also, with government writing checks to schools, there would be a great deal of debate about whether schools could teach morality in a religious context.  Given the importance of moral instruction (and religion!) this is not a trivial issue.

Another proposed approach would be to give tax credits to parents who send their children to private school.  This has some better legal precedent for parents sending their children to parochial schools, given that the IRS currently permits tax deductions to donations given to churches.  However, we are still in the position of having the government determine what constitutes education.  Further, many people are not paying enough of their taxes as income taxes in order for a tax credit to suffice for paying for their children's education.  Such a plan by itself would not only leave the education bureaucracy intact, it would fail to help the poor get out of the system.

An approach currently applied at the college level would be to have public schools charge tuition.  Such an approach could be coupled with increasing the per-child tax exemption.  Thus, no tax exemption or government check is directly coupled to education.  The education bureaucracy is kept out of the private schools and the separation of Church and State is maintained.

Once again, we are left with the problem of the poor.  Let them get "school stamps".  That is, give government school vouchers just to the poorest families.  Everyone else writes a check directly to the school of their choice.  The government can watch the market to determine what constitutes an education.  The education bureaucracy loses power when it is writing only some of the checks.

There is still the Church/State separation issue, but it is now smaller.  This issue only applies to the poor.  The parochial schools will thrive on paying customers.  As a Christian, I have no problem with the government refusing to send money to Christian schools.  As a Christian, I am supposed to contribute to helping the poor anyway, so helping to fund private scholarships for the poor is perfectly acceptable.

What say you?  Which is your preferred method for destroying the public schools?  Or do you have yet another idea how to dismantle this evil institution?  I look forward to hearing from you.  I can be reached c/o The Libertarian Party of Buncombe County, PO Box 18851, Asheville, NC. 28814.

A final word for those who call for yet another shot at "fixing" the public schools.  There are those who think that education is "different" and that it is "too important" to be left to the private sector.  Well, food is even more important than education, and look what happens when the government is put in charge of growing food: mass starvation.  See the histories of places like Russia, China and Cambodia.  Meanwhile, the United States has fat poor people buying privately grown food with Food Stamps.  The analogous difference in education would be public housing projects filled with kids discussing the Classics, debating philosophy and designing spaceships.

Copyright Dr. Carl S. Milsted, Jr.
Re-published by permission of the author.

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