In a recent New York Times piece, “School Is for Everyone,” Anya Kamenetz lavished praise on 19th Century education reformer Horace Mann, who saw public schools as a “crucible of democracy.” His goal was to have the state take over schools and increase taxes to pay for it all.
Mann and his acolytes insisted that shifting the reins of educational power from private to public hands would “yield better teaching methods and materials, greater efficiency, superior service to the poor, and a stronger, more cohesive nation.” He even ventured to predict that if public schooling were widely adopted and given enough time to work, “nine-tenths of the crimes in the penal code would become obsolete,” and “the long catalogue of human ills would be abridged.”
On the macro level, Mann was dead wrong. Our nation, with its massive education bureaucracy, is more divided than ever, crime is skyrocketing, and we have more “human ills” than we can handle.
On the micro level, he also misses the boat. In a rebuttal to Kamenetz, National Review’s Kevin Williamson asks why “some abstract egalitarian ideal should be given predominance over the real-world interests of actual children and young adults whose lives would be improved — not in every case, but in many cases — by access to different kinds of education better suited to their own needs and interests.”
Williamson gets to the heart of the matter. What is the primary purpose of a school? To make good citizens? To teach children how to eventually earn a living? To foster creativity?
The correct answer is that parents should be able to send their kid to a school that shares their own vision and values. The government’s vision – with bureaucrats and teacher union honchos running the show – may be very different than theirs.
In fact, Mann’s vision, nearly 200 years old now, has been fully exposed. Due to the extended Covid-related lockdowns, parents are fleeing the government education plantation in unprecedented numbers for private schools, microschools, homeschools, etc. But Kamenetz bemoans this, claimimg, “This country has seemingly never had a harder time embracing a shared reality or believing in common values. The parents who are showing up at school boards yelling about ‘critical race theory’ and pronouns are trying to get public schools to bend history, reality and values to their liking. I disagree with them vehemently, but I also want them to stay in the argument. It would be far worse if these parents went home and created their own schools. Because their children would then grow up with one set of unchallenged beliefs, while my children and the children of like-minded people would grow up with another — emerging as adults who have no hope of understanding one another, much less living together peacefully.”
While Kamenetz is well-intended, her kumbaya exhortations fall flat. For starters, Mann’s vision was indeed religious. The “common school” movement was launched for the purpose of instilling Protestant values in our nation’s youth. Catholics, who were immigrating to this country in large numbers, were seen as a threat to the dominant religion.
And now, common schools are becoming more sectarian than ever, but the dominant religion has morphed into Cultural Marxism whose tenets include Critical Race Theory, Black Lives Matter, the 1619 Project, and sex and gender indoctrination.
So, the best way forward is to get the government out of education entirely. Ramming a one-size-fits-all, heavily bureaucratized education regimen down the throats of American families, with diktats coming from D.C. and the 50 states, just isn’t working. Families should be able to pick the best type of schooling for their child. So if a parent wants to send their kid to a school that teaches CRT, let them pay for it. As a taxpayer, I deeply resent that money I have earned goes to schools that espouse curricula I despise. It’s worth noting that as things stand now, the citizenry pays almost a trillion dollars a year for education, and with a smaller tax bite most families would have some newfound money to pay for their kid’s schooling.
What about poor families who don’t have the money to pay for their children’s education?
If a family demonstrates it can’t afford to buy food, we give them a SNAP card with which they can purchase groceries. Similarly, we can assist impoverished families by helping to subsidize their child’s education. We have Pell Grants which enable poor young people to attend college. These federal dollars go to needy students, and can be used to attend private colleges, including religious schools like Notre Dame and Brigham Young. Why not extend Pell Grants to k-12?
But can literacy be maintained without direct government involvement?
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 54% of U.S. adults 16-74 years old – about 130 million people – lack proficiency in literacy, reading below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level. Yet, in 1840, before the trend toward government involvement, literacy rates were about 90 percent. So it should come as no surprise that a June 2022 Gallup poll found that only 13 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of Democrats have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in U.S. public schools.
Those who insist – like Kamenetz and teacher union bosses – that public schools are necessary to foster a “common good” also come up short. As researcher Greg Forster reports, of 11 empirical studies, 8 of them found private schools in choice programs produced stronger tolerance and civic values than public schools, while three found no visible difference.
I realize that a transformation to an all-private system could not happen overnight, but a 13-year phase-in would be workable. Let the kindergartners escape first, and then add a grade each year through grade 12, so by the end of 13 years the conversion would be complete. That way, every young person now enrolled in a public school could complete her k-12 education the old-fashioned way. Also, that amount of time will be needed to help existing private schools get ready for the barrage of students they will be receiving, and nascent operators will have plenty of time to plan for their new schools.
The late Andrew Coulson summed it up perfectly in a piece he wrote in 1999. “Because public schools constitute the official government organ of education, everyone wants them to reflect their own views. In a pluralistic society, that is impossible. When one group forces its views on the public schools, it does so at the expense of all others, creating inevitable turmoil. Battles over such things as evolution vs. creation, book selection and censorship, and sex education are endemic to state-run schooling. Free-market school systems, by contrast, have allowed people to pursue both their own unique educational needs and their shared educational goals without coming into conflict with each other.”
Horace Mann died in 1859. It’s time to bury his flawed idea with him. R.I.P.
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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.
It can’t happen too soon.
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I WISH the schools sti taught a WASP centered education. When I grew up– it was like everyone was a WASP, no matter their background. We all revered our country, we were stoic and egalitarian and got along with everyone. Now today– all the kids act like JAPs- petulant, narcissistic, entitled, spoiled and forever complaining.
How can we ever restore the culture of our country? I think the only way is to import teachers from.other countries– namely former British colonies. I’d love to see, grateful, strern, happy and well-educated Africans in charge of education rather than an oversexualized, grotesque, peirced and tattooed hoodie-wearing 35 year old.
excuse me are you insulting Japanese or Jews with your casual racial hatred?
Rhetorical question – I am well aware of who your Protestant egalitarian heartlessness hates and spews it out as if its just dandy to do so.. Well, this is one site where not everyone is “one of your kind” and agrees with your prejudice. What bald face ignorance! And shameless. Vicious!
And on FPM site, no less!
My kingdom for a block,. report, silence the troll button!
Loran Blood says
“When I grew up– it was like everyone was a WASP, no matter their background.”
Newsflash: they weren’t.
THX 1138 says
There was such a thing as the “WASP standard” that was the American cultural ideal to aspire to. The crucial essence of the WASP standard was not racial or ethnic but cultural. Good manners, politeness, articulate standard American English, etc..
Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn exemplified that standard. So did Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. What do we have now? It certainly isn’t a standard of good manners and politeness. What we have now is for lack of an official term the “Ghetto and Trailer Park standard”. The Stanley Kowalski standard, keep it loud, keep it vulgar, keep it dirty, keep it violent.
What we have now is Will Smith slapping and cursing Chris Rock at the Oscars.
It was the New England WASPs who went down South to educate and improve the Southern Rednecks and their Redneck culture which was the antithesis of WASP culture. WASP culture was discipline, good manners, politeness, cleanliness, the Protestant work ethic, etc.. Redneck culture was the opposite.
As corny as the show looks now every once in a while I like to watch a few minutes of an episode of the Lawrence Welk show to see what the WASP standard was like. Men were expected to be gentlemen and women ladies.
Of course the WASP standard came with a good dose of racism, snobbery, and xenophobia but the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater.
…Congress should abolish the NEA and stop funding these overpaid, underworked lunatic teacher’s unions. These entities are ruining our future leaders. We’ll have a full generation of young adults very ill equipped to handle the necessary stresses of running a Country. We’re seeing this play out with the current hires in power now.
Andrew Blackadder says
I finished my schooling at 14 years and six months in a slum school in Glasgow Scotland, 1962, however I never let my lack of schooling get in the way of my education.
THX 1138 says
“What is the primary purpose of a school? … The correct answer is that parents should be able to send their kid to a school that shares their own vision and values.”
What if the parents are communists, Nazis, Klu Klux Klan, Black Hebrew Israelites, or Black Panthers? Or Muslim Jihadists? Or Fundamentalist Christians who reject scientific medical care for prayer and miracles? What if the parents are just common thieves and want to send their child to a school for pickpockets and muggers?
“The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life—by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. The training he needs is theoretical, i.e., conceptual. He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past—and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort.” – Ayn Rand
“A philosophy of education, in short, is essential to being a proper parent; otherwise, you are merely turning your child over to blind chance….
I believe that a proper education in grade school would achieve much more for the general public than getting an M.A. in the best college today ever would. You do not need millions of courses across decades and decades. That is a modern absurdity. It is the result of a worthless, self-perpetuating educational bureaucracy. Even with the explosion of knowledge, you can give people a proper, thorough education by the time they are a normal high school graduate….
The language and themes of the classics are too difficult for today’s students to grasp; one does not teach Shakespeare to savages, or to civilized children being turned into savages….
I say close down the schools of education. At most, all that is required is a one-year post-high school course on practical advice: tips on motivating;”― Leonard Peikoff, Teaching Johnny to Think
I think it’s a crying shame to see what 13 years of “schooling” turns out in today’s society. Anyone who has seen the “street interviews” of young college students should be embarrassed by the level of general ignorance on display. An 8th grade graduate from 1822 would consider one of todays college graduates a moron. There is so much wrong about what today’s “education” considers important. Too bad it took a pandemic to open the door on what’s been happening for decades. Participation trophies, not keeping score in games and a laser-like focus on “feelings” has turned out a generation, or more, of narcissistic hedonists more concerned with their social status than what’s going on in the world around them. I’m afraid it will get much worse if we continue to tolerate the hoax of “public education”.