Those of us who would like to see government separated from education, as it is from Church, must resist the temptation to call for that reform only on the grounds that the present government school monopoly is a mess.
It's true of course that it is, indeed, a dreadful mess. This month's National Adult Literacy Survey concludes that 90 million Americans have "at best, the most rudimentary" reading and math skills; that for instance, they cannot determine the difference in price between two items.
That appalling fact speaks volumes to the incompetance of teaching standards and to the corruption and dishonesty of school management, which routinely "graduates" 40% of its students who cannot even read their diplomas. Yet it is not, by any means, the whole story; and on its own, the shocking standard of education that the government monopoly has been delivering these many years is not a conclusive argument for wholesale privatization.
To my mind, we should rather look first at the question of values. Do we, as the people of America, believe in individual liberty, or do we not?
Freedom is what America was, and is, supposed to be all about. Yet even if somehow it could deliver the world's finest formal education, a government monopoly on schooling would violate that value, all over the floor.
Consider: forcing a child to attend school is not just a minor violation of his or her sovereignty over his own life, to achieve some major public objective; it's a massive strike against his self-ownership for the twelve most formative years of his existence. He is, from the tender age of 6, told what to do by Authority for the best hours of every day, for most days of every year.
This wholesale suppression of individual choice is, and was always meant to be, a devastating attack on his inclination to run his own life his own way. No wonder he graduates as a person who is submissive, obedient, or at least resigned to the impossibility of improving society; ready to be influenced by the next round of government-controlled apologists, at College or in the media.
"I agree, but what can you do?" exemplifies what I mean; and that sickens me. This is America! You can do whatever you want!
The light-bulbs went on for me only recently, when a friend in Connecticut, who is very active as a home-schooler, pointed out what learning is: learning happens when a person obtains answers to questions.
And if the child isn't asking a question (if he has no interest in some particular subject, that particular day) then no learning takes place.
A CLASS may happen, a teacher may labor, the kids may sit relatively still and survive, earnestly waiting for The Bell, but nothing is actually learned; because none of them happen to have an immediate interest in that subject.
The assumption that 30 or 20 or 15 or 10 or 5 or even only two children will want to know answers to the same questions at the same time is, when you really stop to think, a most astonishing piece of arrogance on the part of the Older, and supposedly Wiser, Generation. Why ever should they?
Yet not only government schools, but most private ones too, routinely make that assumption and go ahead and force the students in to the mold of organized classroom "education". No wonder so many switch off and mentally check out. No wonder they are so bored out of their skulls that they grasp at anything up to and including heavy and arguably damaging use of narcotics. When you force a square peg into a round hole, you get a bent peg.
We absolutely need not fear, that but for regimented classrooms and earnest pressure from professional teachers, the innate curiosity of the human child will somehow fade away. In the first five years of life, children learn at a much higher rate than at any time later. We even master all the essentials of a complete language! Without even the "bootstrap" of some other language with which to ask questions about it! It is the most astonishing feat of learning in all of education; yet it takes place without lecture, without classroom, without professional guidance and above all without government "help".
It occurs because humans are innately curious. Babies WANT to communicate, so somehow they learn how to do so. And when kids WANT to learn algebra, they will learn faster than any classroom teacher can keep up with them. Ditto Spanish, math, physics, logic and history.
When (not if; when - for this is America, and we can have any reform we want!) schooling is prised altogether from the deadly grasp of government, learning will explode and so will the variety of teaching methods and institutions. The then-free market in educational services will offer an almost bewildering variety of competing alternatives, to be purchased with the massive amount of money formerly stolen from us as taxes to pay for the government monopoly.
Home schooling will be served with a vast array of PC-based learning tools, to respond to just the QUESTION that is on the child's mind at that moment. The rudiments are already in place, waiting for the politicians and their clients to get out of the way so that the market can expand exponentially.
And more formal private-school alternatives will of course flourish too, for those who prefer to buy them. But instead of suffering the dead hand of central administrative control, they will vary like the flowers of Spring.