“If you can read this, thank a teacher.”
Those eight words, a common refrain of public education and teachers union advocates, send a very powerful message. They remind the absentminded passerby of the perceived value of public education, and perhaps, the supposedly vital role our teachers and schools play in building a functional society. But, they also inadvertently highlight to the rest of us what a failure the public education system really is. I wonder how many public education advocates really believe that being able to read such a simple (and inane) sentence represents some sort of public school victory.* Do they not realize that 30 million or so adults, most of whom are a product of public schooling, struggle to comprehend such simple sentences? What exactly should we really be thankful for?
Our nation spends over $10,000 per K-12 student per year, the second most in the world. That means American taxpayers are being forced to turn over more than $500 billion a year (money they could otherwise spend as they see fit) to the government to pay for a sub-par schooling system that lags in international rankings. What exactly should we really be thankful for?
Because public schools are funded by all taxpayers, not only parents, the perceived cost of public education to any given family is zero dollars. This artificially low cost of public education to families squeezes out of the market place potential low-cost private schools, leaving only the financially better off families the option of private schooling. At the same time, the public education system works as an effective monopoly, carving up cities and states by districts where only one public school option is available to most families. Public schooling thwarts competition, both private and public, stifling the innovation that is necessary to improve education. What exactly should we really be thankful for?
Public subsidized schooling requires parents who would like to homeschool or private school to pay for their child’s education two or three times over. They pay first through taxes used to fund the public education system for schooling that their children do not receive. They pay second through out-of-pocket costs spent on learning products and services, or private school tuition. And for many homeschool parents, they pay third through the opportunity cost of staying at home whereas working parents send their kids off to school during the day. By inhibiting lower-cost private schools from entering the market place, and forcing parents to pay multiple times for their child’s education, public schooling creates an unfair financial burden on parents who don’t want to send their kids off to government schools. What exactly should we really be thankful for?
Since the government is already taking money out of our pockets to pay for the public education system, and because the government increases the financial burdens on those who homeschool or private school their children, many parents feel forced to turn their children over to strangers in government schools for six or seven hours a day, for 180 days a year. This is time that will never be recovered by the family. Parents who send their kids off to government schools find themselves less able to connect with and maintain a loving relationship with their children. They find themselves less able to impart values to their children. Public schools are driving a wedge between parents and their children, and destroying the family unit in this country. What exactly should we really be thankful for?
The next time I see someone with a sign that says “if you can read this, thank a teacher”, I will be sure to show my gratitude for those teachers who take their jobs seriously, who work hard attempting to educate kids in public and private schools. But I will also remind them of all the ways in which our public education system is failing our kids, destroying lives and destroying families. I will make it clear to them that I am most certainly not thankful for the public education system that they are hoping to prop up in spite of all of its failings.
* I recognize that most public school advocates don’t really care, they just like catchy phrases that can sway public opinion.