Public Education: Pros and Cons

It doesn’t take much thought to realize that education is key to success, both individual and societal. Knowledge is power. It is full metal jacket ammunition to attack any challenges that one faces in life. Education provides an advantage over the uneducated. One merely needs to look at one with a high school diploma verses another with a doctorate degree to see the benefits of being educated.

Now that the obvious has been stated and restated, let’s head towards something not so obvious: who should handle education. Should it be the government (state, local or federal?), or solely by individuals? There are arguments for each side, but history has a strong bias in favor of one.

Let’s examine some of the arguments first, though.

Should the government handle education? A vast amalgamation of different layers of elected officials and bureaucrats all working against each other. The feds always want more power from the states, the states are always fighting the feds on something, and no one knows the names of their town/county council. There doesn’t seem to be much good in this situation. Ah, but there is one specific benefit, and people come running from all quadrants to get some of this benefit: money.

Governments, local, state, and federal, all have larger budgets than individuals and most secondary institutions. When such a thing as education is on the table, a great deal of money is shelled out for its construction and maintenance.

What is some of the good that comes out of state funded education? Well, through compulsory taxation everyone can send their child to school for free (well, not really because you’re paying for it through taxes). No matter the number of children one has, they can all attend a public school without having to be concerned about tuition.

This enables people with lower incomes to send their children to primary and secondary schools. Perhaps this education will enable those children to rise above their previous level of poverty and make it big. After all, isn’t that the American Dream?

This is not merely speculation of a 21st century Millennial. John Adams, one of the United States’ most prominent founders, made an argument similar to this in his short essay titled “Thoughts on Government.”

Laws for liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.

During the 18th century, perhaps Adams was right on this. But he wrote this statement long before the formation of teacher’s unions and the massive education industrial complexes that have been built across the country. Teacher’s unions, in theory, are a good thing. But there is always a distinction between theory and practice.

Now a days, teacher’s salaries are the main concern of the unions, not of providing higher quality education for students. Don’t take this the wrong way, many teachers want the best for their students, but union members make it so that it’s all about money and not the students. That is an expense too extravagant, Mr. Adams.

So there’s big bucks in education. But it just gets better. Now we have education corporations, Pearson Education for example, that are lobbying the federal government to mandate its curriculum on the states (with some blackmail added in, if I also might mention). Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced in 2014 that he was suing the federal government over funding and regulatory manipulation in regards to adoption of Common Core standards.

J. Gresham Machen, a Professor at Princeton Theological Seminary in the early 1900s, testified to Congress on the issue of federal control of education. He claimed a universal truth that so many states are starting to realize now under Common Core.

It is perfectly clear of course, that if any such principle of Federal aid in education is established, the individual liberty of the States is gone, because I think we can lay it down as a general rule, with which everyone who has examined the course of education recently will agree, that money given for education, no matter what people say, always has a string tied to it.

So we’ve got just two major issues with education here: too much money, and manipulation of the states through that money. Is anything starting to click yet?

So if not the government, then who? I answer, without the government, then who not?

Private education is of such a higher quality than government education. Curricula are made independent of bureaucratic agencies with unaccountable officials, schools compete amongst each other for students, and teachers are required by the nature of the profession to teach at a higher quality than in public schools.

The notion that educational standards need to be government mandated or else kids will fail in life is simply fallacious. I would counter that state standards are part of the reason why so many kids fail in life. State standards are not a bar of excellence, but one of mediocrity. Dr. Machen illustrates this principle much more succinctly than I ever could.

I do not believe that the personal, free, individual character of education can be preserved when you have a Federal department laying down standards of education which become more or less mandatory to the whole country.

Government standards are a kind of tyranny over the mind. At public schools, where attendance is compulsory, one does not receive individualized instruction that can work with a student’s weaknesses to improve upon them, nor with a student’s strengths to teach him/her how to capitalize on such strengths. No, uniform standards destroy the delicate nature of education, and turn schools into little more than government indoctrination camps.

Private schools counter this dangerous tendency. With private schools, there is no forced standard that everyone has to meet. Rather, standards are set by the competitive forces of the free market. Yes, a free market in education, indeed a radical concept. And why shouldn’t we? Would you want to only have one brand of car to buy, or cereal to eat, or shoes to wear, or computer to use? Of course not, it’s nonsensical.

Then why do so many people fall into the trap of believing in a government monopoly on education? For all the talk about the dangers of monopoly on the left, they sure don’t talk all that much about the monopoly over the mind… But that’s none of my business.

In the end, who wins? The government with their millions and billions of dollars and the entrenched teacher’s unions, or the decentralized, voluntary spontaneous order created by an unlimited competition in the sphere of the intellect?

Don’t look just at me, look at New Orleans, where public schools have been abolished for an all-charter school system. This is a huge victory for students. Failing public schools were shut down, and higher quality charter schools were put in their place. Just one of many examples of why private school systems will always trump government schools. Private schools have incentives to improve, government schools stagnate in mediocrity and uniform lowliness.

Now which do we really want for our kids?

Follow Seth on Twitter: @sconnell1776

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