Why Shouldn’t the Government be Involved in Education

The Short Answer:

  • Government schooling stands in direct opposition to the liberty this country was founded on.
  • It fosters unquestioning obedience, acceptance of authority, herd mentality, and dependency.
  • It manufactures “equality” by lowering standards.
  • It discourages individuality, innovation, curiosity, creativity and overall excellence.
  • It undermines families and other relationships.
  • It undermines religious beliefs, values and morality.
  • It fosters social, psychological, emotional and intellectual dysfunction and promotes immaturity and perpetual adolescence.
  • It makes children the victims of political change, special interests, researchers, unions and social reformers.
  • It undermines the ability of parents to provide their children with the quality and type of education they desire for them.

The Long Answer:

Many people, possibly even most people, think or suspect that it’s important for the government to control schools for a number of reasons:

  • To make sure equal educational opportunity is available to everyone.
  • To force parents who might otherwise neglect their children’s education to send their children to school.
  • To make education affordable for everyone.
  • To ensure the preservation of democracy.
  • To help create a common social fabric where all are respected and accepted.

It is certainly true that many of the founders and promoters of government schooling had these thoughts in mind as they petitioned legislators to pass compulsion laws and to levy taxes to support the new method of education. Horace Mann (often referred to as the father of public education) and others had a dream, and they had no qualms about using force to impose their vision of the future on a largely unsuspecting populace.

What most people don’t know is specifically what this new dream entailed. Yes, the reformers wanted all children to be educated ─to a point. To the point of being useful as citizens and servants of the government and industry, but not to the point of becoming too independent to control. Here it is in some of their own words.

Our schools have been scientifically designed to prevent over-education from happening. The average American [should be] content with their humble role in life…
– William T. Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education in the late 1800s

The children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming, where everyone would be interdependent.
– John Dewey, philosopher and education reformer of late 1800s-mid 1900s

Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order… In this way, the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer-in of the true Kingdom of God.
– John Dewey, philosopher and education reformer of late 1800s-mid 1900s

Only a system of state-controlled schools can be free to teach whatever the welfare of the State may demand.
– Ellwood P. Cubberley, former superintendent of San Diego schools and Dean of Stanford University School of Education (late 1800s-early 1900s)

‘Parent choice’ proceeds from the belief that the purpose of education is to provide individual students with an education. In fact, educating the individual is but a means to the true end of education, which is to create a viable social order to which individuals contribute and by which they are sustained.
– Association of California School Administrators

We who are engaged in the sacred cause of education are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause.
– Horace Mann, education reformer, abolitionist

And this is just a small sampling of hundreds of similar sentiments from education founders and reformers. But maybe Horace Mann said it best─he believed his cause was sacred, and for that reason, he felt he had the right to force people to sign on. Not all parents handed their children over willingly, especially in Mr. Mann’s home state of Massachusetts, where parents refused to comply with compulsory attendance laws and found themselves at the sharp end of state militia bayonets. Mr. Mann’s dream had come true─the state would enforce his plans for the future of all citizens.

But the dream has turned into a nightmare for families and society. Even Mr. Mann might be shocked at the results of his win for compulsory state schooling. When push comes to shove, people, and Americans in particular, don’t take to force very well. They don’t buy the idea that one man or a small group of men can know what’s best for everyone. And they certainly don’t believe he has the right to use the police power of the state to force his views on others.

But while people are busy working and living and supporting the state, while they’re busy creating a successful economy, legislators and reformers are often busy working against the people. By the time the people realize what’s happened, it’s too late. The shock of finding themselves at the mercy of the state can take a while to subside, and by then the state has dug in its heels and reversing the encroachment of liberty is not so easy. Because people are so busy with life, they often do not have the time or resources to fight back. That is, until they just can’t take anymore.

Thomas Jefferson said it best in the Declaration of independence:

…all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government…

Of course, Thomas Jefferson was specifically referring to the British. But he was also making a broad statement about unjust actions of government. People will put up with it for a long time, but not forever. When it finally reaches the point of being unbearable, people will rise up and take back their liberties. And just as the British fought desperately to keep their control, so will all other forms and levels of government when faced with a loss of power.

In the case of government schooling, the move toward freedom has already begun and is gaining steam.
 The parents of over eight million students already send their children to private schools or home school them. Many thousands more spend $25-$80 an hour on tutors to supplement or compensate for their children’s public school experience.

But the question still remains, why should the government NOT control education?Here is a handful of good reasons to supplement the ones already listed in our “Short Answer” above (some merely elaborate on the points above). You will probably be able to come up with some more of your own.

  • The government does not have the right to force one group of people’s ideology on others.
  • History shows that almost all people with power will abuse that power. Exceptions are few. Our children should not be captives to the police power of the state.
  • Government education undermines the strength of families by implying or even teaching that parents are backward and unenlightened─that teacher knows best, and by monopolizing increasingly larger portions of children’s lives.
  • In its effort to create “equality” and because of its unwieldy bureaucratic nature, government schooling reduces most children to a lowest common denominator, denying kids true opportunities to soar.
  • It reinforces all the negatives of human nature─selfishness, cruelty, disrespect, unfeeling competitiveness─by disenfranchising families, by keeping children under a tight regimen of being graded and judged, and by its institutional nature that forces children into self-preservation modes that would not exist in real-life, family and community settings.
  • It teaches children not to trust themselves and to completely trust and be obedient to authorities. Kids are tested, graded, judged, held back, allowed to pass, all based on the decisions of school authorities. Children learn that above all else, they cannot know anything until they are taught or until they are told they are right or wrong.
  • Because schools cannot teach religion or address the big questions of life (meaning, good and evil, etc.), these things are simply left out of the curriculum, leading children to believe they are not important and that parents who say they are not to be taken seriously.
  • Students are routinely taught or led to believe things that the state wishes them to believe and are not taught other points of view. For instance, students are taught that paying more in taxes is good and that people who object to supporting schools or the needy through taxation are greedy and uncaring, contrary to the teachings of our country’s founders. They are taught that it is important for people to trust the government, and while the government should certainly work for that trust, that doesn’t relieve people of the duty to trust, even when the government falls short.
  • Students are NOT taught what may be the most important lesson the founding fathers tried to impress upon posterity: no one, no one with the police power of the state to back them up can be trusted. Government may be a necessary evil, but no government is to be trusted. Government must be watched and kept under control at all times, with “eternal vigilance.” Power corrupts. Authority will be abused. As if to make their point, some of the founders went on to abuse their own authority.
  • Schools backed by the power of the state have no need to answer to parents, nor do they have any intention of doing so. They may make small (and usually temporary) concessions to community mores, but they know that in the end, they can do as they wish, regardless of the desires of parents or community.
  • Government run schools become tools for special interest groups who wish to target children with their message. Parents would be shocked to know that schools allow many special interest groups access to their children in a variety of ways, ranging from allowing psychologists to conduct studies on kids to allowing groups to do special programs in schools to allowing teachers to use materials from these groups in the classroom. Parents have virtually no say in these matters.
  • Schools make superficial changes from time to time─more tests, different curricula, a new grading system, but nothing changes about the most important aspects of government schooling: it is coercive; it serves the ends of the government and those who find ways to use the government; it undermines the family and morality and liberty; it robs the vulnerable young of their independence of spirit and thought, replacing it with trust in government and fear of retribution for disobeying that government.

There is one more reason that needs to be explored─the famous (or infamous) problem of government endorsement of a religion.

Consider these things:

  • Government schools cannot present lessons within the context of any religion’s worldview, because they would certainly violate the principle that the state has no right to endorse one religion over another.
  • Teaching “just the facts” about religion in history is impossible. Everyone interprets even the facts differently. For instance, people might quote Thomas Jefferson’s endorsements of religion in the public sphere, but Jefferson was a deist. Did he speak from that context? How did he see religion as part of public life?
  • To teach just the facts means to remove anything open to controversy, which can’t be done outside dates, times, places, and facts that are meaningless without deeper discussion.
  • For Christians, Jews, Muslims and many other people of faith, a view of the world that does not take into account the dictates of their religion is a skewed view. How might the Crusades be meaningfully studied without understanding the entire history and meaning of Christianity, Catholicism, Islam? How might the Holocaust or the establishment of the state of Israel be meaningfully studied without understanding Judaism?
  • To be sure, history can be studied without meaning─dates, times, places, names of people and events. But there is no purpose in knowing facts without understanding why. To try to explain why without exploring the beliefs people base their lives on is not only a futile exercise, but it actually creates a sort of new religion─a sterile religion of the state, void of insight, void of meaning, designed to replace all competing worldviews.
  • Don’t blame the government. It has no choice but to teach within meaningless contexts. Whose meaning should it endorse? When a student wishes to understand why an American founder felt that liberty would not be secure except in a moral society, what can the teacher say that will not provoke protests of misinterpretation about the meaning of “moral”? So the fact is left out altogether, and history is taught without any moral context except whatever the state decides is right and wrong. Why the state decides that one thing is right and another wrong is not open for discussion. Students learn that a certain level of morality, of right and wrong, does exist, but they are led to believe it exists as a creation of the state.

So, what lessons do public school students learn about religion? They learn the following, more often because of omission rather than any lessons they are taught in the classroom.

  • Religion holds no real historical significance.
  • Religion is of no current significance. They can receive a complete education with barely a mention of religion. Religion need not inform their worldview.
  • Religion can and should be separated from the rest of life, delegated to the weekend status of a hobby.
  • If there is a conflict between faith and the state, the state’s desires should take precedence.

Non-religious students learn all of the above, though some of it does not apply directly to them. In addition, they learn that:

  • Religion (and thus religious people) is not to be taken seriously and might even be dangerous to democracy(!).
  • Among the many differences we should respect in others, religion (or whichever religions are in current disfavor) is not one of them.

Religious students spend most of their weekdays, nine or ten months out of the year, seeing their beliefs marginalized or dismissed altogether. Non-religious students may avoid this pitfall, but they are encouraged to consider religion a trivial pursuit, rather than to engage in serious and respectful discussion about the one thing that has affected human history more than any other factor.

The only solution for parents who wish their children to grow up with a strong worldview that reflects their beliefs is to choose a form of schooling that is compatible with their faith. It is in private schools and home schools that all faiths can be discussed openly and freely, that the impact of religion on history and the meaning of life can be freely learned and debated.

Whether you are of a religious persuasion or not, the big questions of life — questions about meaning and purpose, questions about the role of religion in history — will be important to you, and you will want those questions addressed in such a way that your children will absorb your values and beliefs. It is one more reason, on top of many others, to choose independence from state schools.