How Did Government Get So Involved in Education

It wasn’t always this way.

The United States was founded, formed and grew to international prominence and prestige without compulsory schoolingand with virtually no government involvement in schooling. Before the advent of government-controlled schools, literacy was high (91-97% in the North, 81% in the South), private and community schools proliferated, and people cared about education and acted on their desire to learn and have their children learn.

Mr. Matthew J. Brouillette, President of the Commonwealth Foundationin Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and former Director of Education Policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, wrote:

From the outset of the first settlements in the New World, Americans founded and successfully maintained a de-centralized network of schools up through the 1850s…

For the first 150 years of America’s settlement and the first 50 to 75 years of the nation’s existence, government schooling as it is known today did not exist.

Today, few people ask how Americans,without the help of government education, came to tame an unsettled continent and eventually establish the freest nation in history.

Mr. Brouillette goes on to say:

Early America was arguably the freest civil society that has ever existed. This freedom extended to education, which meant that parents were responsible for, and had complete control of, their children’s schooling. There were no accrediting agencies, no regulatory boards, and no teacher certification requirements. Parents could choose whatever kind of school or education they wanted for their children, and no one was forced to pay for education they did not use or approve of.

Americans were as innovative about education as they were about everything else.They started private schools, hired tutors, taught their children at home, taught themselves. As the country grew, private schooling of many varieties grew and complemented the many other options.

But there were always the reformers,the people who thought they knew better than everyone else and felt they had the right to force their views on others — by law, if no one would cooperate otherwise.

From the PBS web site:

Public education today is a product of more than a century of reform and revision [mid 1800s to present]. In each era, visionary individuals have taken the lead and transformed the system to meet their ideals.

“Visionary individuals” is an overly nice term for people who consider themselves superior enough that they should have the right to force “their ideals” on all others.

One of these visionaries was Horace Mann, a lawyer from Massachusetts. He’s often referred to as the father of public education because he was such a fervent reformer, but there were others before and after him.

Mr. Mann’s hometown of Boston was a city of many private schoolsin the early and mid 1800s─with attendance reported at 96% by a committee commissioned to study the issue.

But high attendance was not the goal of school reformers.  Horace Mann helped establish a board of education in 1837, and by 1852, he had his compulsory schools and state schools from elementary through high school.

Power is tempting and many reformers and politicians fell to its lure.  One state after another tightened its grip on American education. Parents who refused to comply sometimes found themselves at the sharp end of state militia bayonets.

Once the state grabs power in a particular area, it is only natural that unless people fight back the power will grow and freedom will slowly die. That’s where we stand today.

Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers, said this:

It’s time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody’s role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It’s no surprise that our school system doesn’t improve: it more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy.

But Americans have not surrendered their freedom altogether.27,000 private schools serve over six million students in America. Nearly two million students are home schooled. Tutoring services and learning centers number in the thousands. Community groups, churches and charities offer free tutoring. Parents pool their resources to run summer schools and special classes for their children.

Much more could be done if parents and students were not trapped in the web of government schooling. As it is, many parents are actually afraid to step into independence. Some are afraid because schools threaten or intimidate them. Some are afraid of the financial responsibility. Many simply are unaware of all the opportunities and possibilities available.

It is our goal to not only explain why government involvement in schooling is detrimental to students, families, society and liberty, but to provide families with ideas and resources to aid their path to independence.