Public schooling in America has become a nightmare. It is a tax-feeding, compulsory, monopolistic indoctrination tool of the state that has more to do with control than it has to do with education.
Consider this statement by Robert M. Hutchins, former President of the University of Chicago, and Chairman of the Board of Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica:
“The countries of the West are committed to universal, free, compulsory education. The United States first made this commitment and has extended it further than any other. In this country, 92.5% of the children who are fourteen years old and 71.3% of those between fourteen and seventeen are in school. It will not be suggested that they are receiving the education that the democratic ideal requires. The West has not accepted the proposition that the democratic ideal demands liberal education for all. In the United States, at least, the prevailing opinion seems to be that the demands of that ideal are met by universal schooling, rather than by universal liberal education. What goes on in school is regarded as of relatively minor importance. The object appears to be to keep the child off the labor market and to detain him in comparatively sanitary surroundings until we are ready to have him go to work.
The results of universal, free, compulsory education in America can be acceptable only on the theory that the object of the schools is something other than education, that it is, for example, to keep the young from cluttering up homes and factories during a difficult period of their lives, or that it is to bring them together for social or recreational purposes.”
Dr. Hutchins was the Chairman from 1943 until his retirement in 1974. Those words were published in 1952, in The Great Conversation, Volume I of Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World. He was discussing, and pleading for, traditional liberal education, based on a study of the accumulated wisdom of the great thinkers and writers of the ages, as contained in the Great Books.
The school system that Dr. Hutchins was criticizing might look like nirvana if compared with the public school of today. In those days, they did not have psychotropic drugging or the labeling of school children with mental disorders for demonstrating “inappropriate” behavior. They did not have the police state mentality that is proliferating today. They did not have random psych-drug-induced slaughters of children in schools as a tragically familiar event. They did not indulge in “zero-tolerance” arrests of little children who had the poor taste to commit childish acts. They did not have the psych-based feel-good system of assessment that undermines academic achievement today. Yet by Dr. Hutchins’ accounting, they were doing little more than detaining those students, keeping them off the streets and out from under foot until their labor was needed.
Fast forward to 1965, and the enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which opened the door to federal funding for all sorts of mental health professionals in the government schools. This was a watershed in American education. However bad the schools might have been before this event, the formal establishment of a federally funded psychological paradigm in the schools triggered a long and inexorable march, continuing to this day, toward the dumbing down, medication and indoctrination of its students, as if the goal were specifically to prepare them to add their labor to the economy while snuffing out any individual creative power or any motivations they might harbor toward bucking the system. Individuals schooled in this way are being victimized by an educational structure that can only be antithetical to their best interests; and skilled teachers, attempting to educate students within this paradigm, are at a terrible disadvantage. They cannot peel away and construct their own creative programs, but must try to work within a fixed and stifling model based on government decrees from faraway bureaucrats.
When a student has difficulties under this system, as so often happens, the student is generally blamed and is sent to see the school psych, or via the parents, the local psychiatrist or even the family doctor, and the blame is officialized with a diagnosis. This is followed by the writing of a prescription to make the student more tractable.
As if that were not enough to make the school environment unsuitable as an educational setting, the proliferation of school shootings over the years has added a certain element of physical risk. This is unnerving for everybody; we are pretty sure it is going to happen again, but nobody knows when or where, so all we can do is hope and pray that it doesn’t happen to our kids, at our school. And even assuming that we escape this horror, we still have to endure the burgeoning police state that is developing around the schools to try to ward off future attacks. This makes for an environment that can be uncomfortable if not downright forbidding.
This kind of arrangement is hard on the kids. It is hard on the teachers. It is hard on the parents. They are trying, most of them, to conduct the very natural and normal business of education with an unnatural, abnormal and coercive “schooling” environment.
I have seen no evidence suggesting that this can be fixed without separating the local school system from federal control and manipulation, and this is not likely to happen. The system is too deeply entrenched. It is not open to competition, and it has its own agenda.
The divergence of this agenda from the expectations of most parents was starkly highlighted by a statement made in 1973, in the keynote speech at the Childhood International Education Seminar in Boulder, Colorado, by Harvard psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce:
“Every child in America entering school at the age of five is mentally ill because he comes to school with certain allegiances to our founding fathers, toward our elected officials, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being, and toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It’s up to you as teachers to make all these sick children well – by creating the international child of the future.”
I do not know a single parent who would actually choose this kind of educational framework for his children, if he thought he really had a choice, but the public school system has become such a ubiquitous part of our society that it can be hard to see it for what it is and what it has become. It can be hard to break away. We just naturally assume that, because it is here and has been here for so long, and everybody accepts it and is used to it, that it must be okay.
It can help to read the work of somebody who has been deeply immersed on the inside and has stepped back to take a good look at the institution of public schooling. This has been done, and beautifully, by John Taylor Gatto, former New York State Teacher of the Year, whose tireless research into the historical development of our school system and its unspoken purposes is detailed extensively in his brilliant book, The Underground History of American Education. This book would be a good place to begin research… that and a long close look at your local public school.
Fortunately as awareness of this problem has grown, an increasing number of parents have decided to take matters into their own hands, and so homeschooling, among other options, has been growing by leaps and bounds. With the explosion of online resources, the opportunities for these families are expanding like never before: Kahn Academy, Robinson Curriculum, the Ron Paul Curriculum, just to name a few. Heck, the local public library is a pretty good starting point for developing a curriculum, all by itself. It is an exciting time for independence in education, and the many successes of homeschoolers across the country have provided solid evidence that we can do better for our kids outside the system.
So study up on it for yourself; and if your own research supports this view, and you can find a way, then take the plunge and break up with the public school: get your kids out, to someplace safer, where they are not at risk of getting assimilated by the Public School Borg, or worse. This applies to teachers, too. If you can find a way, bring your talents out into the private market where they can flourish. We need them!
For every person, every family, who breaks free, we as a culture will come one step closer to getting the compulsory government school system out of our lives and away from the honorable work of helping our children to get a real and independent education.