Let’s imagine for a second that we have the power to reform public schools however we want to, without interference from government, teachers unions or school boards. Would we expand the school day or the school year to get more teaching in? Would we test outcomes, and reward and punish teachers and schools based on those outcomes? Would we increase the number of charter schools or give every child a voucher? Would any of these reforms fundamentally transform the state of education in America for the better?
The first couple of reforms I listed would likely make the situation much worse, as more schooling would only further destroy ambition, confidence and intellectual vitality in children. Increasing accountability for teachers and schools sounds promising, but such actions would probably only further exacerbate the destructive teach-to-the-test culture that is infecting our schools. The most promising sounding reform, increasing school choice, would surely help improve schools that were opened up to some form of competition, but it would only transform select local markets from monopolistic ones into oligopolistic ones.* Popular education reforms do nothing more than move the needle (sometimes in the wrong direction) on an education system that fails most every child that goes through it – if we measure the quality of education in terms of intellectual development or in enabling children to reach their full potential.
The problem with public education is not that it is controlled by corporate, political and special interests. That public education is controlled by interests that undermine the education process is merely a consequence of the primary problem – that education is controlled by government. The history of government is not one of altruistic motives. It is one of coercion and violence. Governments are almost always instituted by a select group of individuals (elites or thugs who claim to represent the masses) to control a population. Government by nature exists for the benefit of those who control the government. The United States was unique in that it briefly entertained the idea that government existed to protect the liberties of the people (excluding slaves and women at the time, but a leap toward liberty that has no equal in the history of mankind). No longer can an objective person claim that our current government exists to protect our liberties, and therefore no rational person can claim that our government engages in any activity to benefit the people as opposed to the government and their cronies.
We must tear ourselves away from the absurd notion that government is going to save the day. The only way to significantly improve education for the masses is to undertake actions that will ultimately force the government to relinquish the responsibility of education back to the people. Parents are the ones who will lead this revolution, not voters, not taxpayers. Parents will do so by refusing to consent to the destruction of their children’s lives through public education. When they homeschool or unschool they give strength to a movement which provides an objectively superior education at an infinitely lower cost to the taxpayer (zero dollars compared to many thousands of dollars per child per year). As governments continue to collapse under their self-inflicted financial crises, the people will see the mass movement away from the failing and increasingly expensive public education system and ultimately demand its end, if only to prolong other fatally flawed government programs which they think they benefit from.
* As long as government offers “free” education it will continue to price high-quality, low-cost education providers out of the market place, preventing real school choice. Instead of helping the most economically disadvantaged members of society, public education prevents the poor from gaining access to quality education.