November 19, 2010
Education: The Elephant in the Room
For the first two hundred years of America's history, there was little in the way of public education. Thus, from the middle of the 17th century to the middle of the 19th century, education was most often a family affair (though churches, literary societies, and apprenticeships also contributed to the education of early America's youth).
As youngsters, our Founding Fathers were educated like most other children of early America. Of the six Founding Fathers, three were homeschooled: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Two were self-taught: Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin (though Franklin did attend primary school for two years). And one, John Adams, was both homeschooled and privately taught (at a very small school).
How far from our early ways America has strayed! Today, only a minority of children are homeschooled. Granted, the homeschool movement is resurgent and growing at a healthy rate of 12% a year. Even so, the majority of America's children attend public schools, learning not at their mother's knee, as previous generations of Americans did, but under the tutelage of government employees, per the dictates of statist bureaucrats. To top it off, a growing number of America's children receive their very sustenance from their school benefactors. In San Diego, California, for example, more than 46 elementary schools begin their day by feeding all of their students breakfasts at their desks.
Is it any wonder, then, that America's youth has a cozy relationship with statism and a relatively high regard for big government? How can young Americans not feel a fondness for government when they have more or less been raised by it? Would it not, in fact, be somewhat immoral (or at a minimum, ungracious) for children to be raised by their surrogate parents -- government teachers -- and then oppose teachers and their employer, big government, at election time?
The truth of the matter is this: as long as America's children continue to be educated (and fed) by government employees, conservatives will make precious little headway in preventing America's steady march towards statism. This holds true no matter how well conservatives organize or electioneer or broadcast their limited-government message. It simply defies logic and historical evidence to believe that a populace raised and educated by government employees will choose to move away from government encroachment. True, there are exceptions to the rule. But these are so few (and decreasing yearly) as to be little more than the Ciceronian gasps of a dying Republic.
If America is to return to her founding principles, she must become a nation whose children are raised by parents who teach them not only their A-B-Cs, but also the proper path to virtue and the importance of liberty. When we sequester our children five days a week in age-segregated government institutions, we minimize the time our children spend with the very elders who might pass on to them the immortal truths enshrined in our founding documents -- truths passed down from Athens and Rome to the Medievals and, ultimately, to our Founders.
Not only that, but by sending our youngsters off to public schools, we force our children to spend their days learning to behave as good drones do, thinking not for themselves (as liberty-minded, self-reliant individuals), but for authority figures hired by the government. The authority figures are grooming our children to become not individualists and innovators, but worker bees who may someday do their part to maintain the health of the collectivist hive. Like good little worker bees, our children learn to pick up their pencils when the bell rings, to regurgitate facts that bureaucrats have decided are good to memorize (facts that rarely align with the truths taught by Aristotle, Cicero, and Madison), and then to put their pencils down when the bell rings again.
Though most of us grew up holding our public schools in high esteem, I believe it is time we rethink our loyalties. We ought to understand that the modern public school system is no friend to liberty. If in doubt, consider the fact that Karl Marx included free education for all children in public schools as one of the Ten Planks of the Communist Manifesto. Consider, too, the fact that America's modern public school system was not invented in early America, but in Prussia. It was the Prussian educational model that advocated compulsory attendance, specific training for teachers, and a uniform curriculum for each school grade.
America adopted the basic tenets of the Prussian education system at the end of the 19th century. Should America, the last, best hope of mankind, continue to goosestep along with a Prussian model for educating its youth? Or is time to cast aside a system that is unfriendly to our founding principles and return to the educational methodologies of our forefathers? A lot rides on the answer to that question. May we choose wisely.