Eliminate Public Schools

The following is a fictionalized scenario of what might result if the public schools were eliminated. At the moment this idea has a near-zero, if not zero, chance of happening, particularly in those states whose constitutions now contain or have been construed to contain provisions enshrining a “positive right” to an education, meaning a positive claim upon the labor and property of others, a claim backed by the left’s stock-in-trade, the coercive force of the state. As resistance to ever-bigger government increases, with a commensurate greater appreciation for individual liberty, state constitutions will be re-examined, perhaps even amended. What follows is not a prediction, only an exploration which in turn may lead to better ideas. Finally, readers should bear in mind that eliminating public schooling is not the elimination of education, but rather the expansion of both freedom and education.

“Alright, George Bailey, you’ve got your wish. The public schools were never invented. Now stay calm, and don’t fret about the many strange but freedom-affirming phenomena you’ll encounter as you stroll through a re-invigorated Bedford Falls. Ready?”

Freedom for Taxpayers. Property taxpayers would no longer support a system which even its supporters readily admit must be “structurally improved” [Statist-ese for, “Give us more money”]. Anything in constant need of major improvements, not just routine adjustment, which produces uneducated “graduates” year after year (JayWalking anyone?), for decades on end, is irredeemable, netting very poor investment returns for taxpayers despite huge outlays. Since a sizable percentage of local municipal budgets (usually well over 50%, typically with supplemental “help” from state capitols) is dedicated to school funding, the elimination of this line item will give meaningful property tax relief.

Freedom for Municipalities. In the view of some – though at this point in time not nearly enough – all education is intrinsically coupled with morality, religion, and the reason of life itself. Necessarily it cannot then lawfully be a proper function of government if we’re to be serious about individual liberty and separating church and state. Governmental involvement in matters with religious overtones and nuances including differing worldviews conflicts with the Establishment Clause and state constitutional counterparts. Freed of school budgets, cities and towns will confine themselves to matters within their appropriate purview, generally subjects associated with public safety.

Freedom for Parents. Parents, relieved of a portion of their property tax burden, will have greater disposable income with which they may choose a private school appropriate for their child. Including a home school. Today, families wanting alternative schooling for their child/ren pay two tuitions, one to the chosen school directly, another to the municipality to support the public schools.

Freedom for Students. Relief to students who simply do not want to spend time in school for whatever reason (e.g., attitude, disinterest, safety concerns). Relief from One-Size-Fits-All-ism. How these now-emancipated students will choose to spend their newly-acquired time and freedom will be left to them and their parents. For the student willing to learn there will be choices galore as a thousand points of light evolve following the demise of the public schools. Throughout their history Americans have shown themselves to be both generous and ingenious. From scholarships and tuition assistance (remember, property tax relief will enable all citizens to spend their property tax relief as they see fit, not as government sees fit) to an array of different school types, all manner of ideas will come forth on “what to do with all those children.” To believe otherwise is to concede that we have lost our way as well as our senses of freedom and personal responsibility, and that only overseeing superintendent-esque nannies can save us.

Repealing the truancy and compulsory attendance laws frees students enabling but also requiring them to become personally responsible for usefully filling their time, simultaneously serving as a sobering means of correcting immature attitudes via a dose of reality. Students and parents will of necessity become discerning consumers of those educational services which they desire. Consider this example. A parent/s believes that comprehensive sex education, including awareness of all different perspectives of human sexuality, is an important educational value and that such information should be taught, at all grade levels, to his/her/their child. These parents will choose, through free association and without compulsion, schools accommodating their expressed wishes. While acknowledging the rights of those parents to choose as they may, other parents might avoid those choices, preferring instead other educational values which for them may include emphasis on math & science, fine arts, building trades, mechanics, religious instruction, and so forth. They too will decide through free association and without compulsion. Open choice aka freedom aka liberty will enable each educational consumer to receive the specific educational values which he/she/they seek/s without the application of governmental force upon others who do not share or want those educational choices.

Freedom for Teachers. To those who tsk-tsk the viable idea of doing away with the public schools, they should know that eliminating the public schools will not be the end of education. To the contrary it will encourage genuine learning. In an atmosphere of non-compulsion students who want to learn a chosen curriculum will present themselves before teachers who want to teach. The discipline problems of which teachers complain, including bullying, will largely disappear. Teaching to willing students is a joy unto itself. Having been a teacher in several venues – as seminar instructor on tax law matters to other accounting, tax & legal professionals; as host of numerous client seminars; as a homeschooling parent – I am keenly aware of how fulfilling it is to teach receptive students.

Freedom from Incompetence or Indifference. Every large public school system has its “rubber rooms” (search, “rubber rooms Stossel”) to which incompetent, insubordinate, or dangerous teachers are assigned, at full pay, while their cases for dismissal wend their way through a labyrinth of union contract provisions. Why such rooms? Because in the perverse world of public schools it is next to impossible to get rid of bad teachers. Despite the overriding concern, stated endlessly by politicians, bureaucrats and unions, of how much they all want to “educate the children,” the game is really about protecting government and its employees. Big government types, invariably “led” by Democrats and lapdog teachers’ unions, are the biggest offenders. Bureaucrats and union members have little concern whether children learn or not; their principal worry is their own paycheck. And please, let’s not hear about the many fine, dedicated teachers, blah, blah, blah. Even if true, these teachers are like students and parents: trapped in the grip of the union–big government vise. The fine intentions of these teachers will never loosen this grip; only an adherence to limited government and a commitment to personal responsibility will do that.

Freedom for the Uninvolved. Elimination corrects an inequity visited upon those who have no current direct stake in the educational system. Why should those who have no school-aged children be burdened with the schooling costs of those who do? If you choose to raise children, your obligations include clothing, sustenance, housing, and education. Before setting out, the cost is to be counted. The decision to start a family was yours, not that of your elderly, childless, or empty-nest neighbors. It doesn’t take a village to raise a family: it takes a responsible mom and a responsible dad. As matters now stand your neighbors, not exercising any influence in your family-raising decision, are sent the bill for educating your children. All sorts of rationales are given for continuing this unfairness. They reduce to one: We benefit when all citizens are educated, or in bumper sticker language, If you think public education is expensive, try ignorance. This slogan’s encapsulated arrogance assumes that people are incapable of acting in their own best interests and would forever remain inert until the Nanny State intercedes and affects a rescue, all for their own good you must understand. Who else but leftists sell people for such short money? If those who are inadequately prepared understand that the principal difference between themselves and others who have better prospects, employment, or social standing, is education, common sense says that the former will know what to do.

Freedom to Choose. Each of us has different driving wants and needs; we choose cars accordingly, based on factors which include cost, safety, options, color, type (sedans, wagons, SUVs, minivans, pickups, light & heavy duty trucks, et alia). Yet the choice of schooling, also subject to a variety of factors, is far more determinative of an individual’s life direction than the choice of a car whose life span is a matter of mere years. Freedom prevails when parents and students, acting as consumers, make thoughtful choices for their purposes among competing alternatives with funds that would otherwise have been taken from them and wasted on a scheme that has failed for decades. Even leftists endorse educational choice, but only for themselves. When given the chance, leftists never choose the public option. Obama’s daughters go to private schools, as did Chelsea Clinton, as did Ted Kennedy’s kids. If this is leadership by example, then the people too should be able to choose. “Do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do.”

What is more, genuine educational choice (without a public option) will defuse, at least in the school setting, many of society’s divisive issues, issues brought into the public schools through raw political power imposed on students, a captive, generally powerless audience. Without forced public schooling there would be no more of the seemingly endless battles on church-state separation and courses on human sexuality. Gone and unmissed will be battles over religious songs and symbols, whether religious days special to a particular faith should be recognized as school holidays, refusals to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, prayers at games or graduations. Mandatory sex education and associated hot-button topics such as abortion counseling, creationism, evolution, environ-ism, and countless other subjects which at best are only marginally tangential to core academic subjects, will be dealt with in a manner agreeable to students and parents since they as consumers will be freely choosing schools compatible with their wishes and expectations in these areas.

Tuition will be reasonable as schools will no longer be forced by law to deal with the selfish demands of public employee unions. Rather than serving the interests of their employees and administrators, schools will compete as every other successful consumer service competes, by placing the customer, here parents and students, not employees, as Priority #1. Sometime in the 1980s I heard Lane Kirkland, a then important union leader, speak at an American Federation of Teachers function. After his prepared remarks he took some questions one of which touched on the declining academic achievements of students. His blunt and forceful answer remains with me to this day. Paraphrased, “When children become union members paying union dues, then I’ll care about children’s education.”

Ending educational compulsion will bring freedom and freedom will bring responsibility and accountability. Schools in the post–public school era will be burdened to please their customers, parents and students, if they wish to succeed. Today, failing public schools are neither punished nor eliminated; rather, in the eccentric world that defines the “public domain,” they’re rewarded by being allowed to continue, often with increased funding, in order to “self-correct.” Bailouts may be new to Wall Street & Detroit carmakers, but bailouts have long been a part of failed public school systems.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss the beneficial effects accruing to the American system of federalism, which will naturally flow from the elimination of public schooling.

Paul Galvin
Whiskey & Gunpowder

May 3, 2010