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Compulsory Government Education: Origins and Solutions

by Rick Gee


Origins

A year after Napoleon’s amateur army defeated the professional forces of Prussia at the battle of Jena in 1806, German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte delivered his celebrated “Address to the German Nation.” In essence, he told the Prussian people that forced schooling in which all would learn to obey orders was the only way for Prussia to rebound from this most ignominious defeat.

Modern compulsory schooling began in Prussia in 1819, the first time in human history that education was foisted upon a nation by force. The goals were simple: obedient soldiers to the army, subservient workers to the mines, submissive civil servants to the government, compliant clerks to industry and citizens who thought alike about major issues. The results were no doubt pleasing to the Prussian ruling elites; industry boomed and warfare was successful.

In Prussia, the Volksshule educated 92 percent of the children. Its purpose was not to develop the intellect, but to socialize the children in obedience and subordination. Only eight percent of children were schooled in Real Schulen. For the masses, intellectual development was seen as the major contributing factor causing armies to lose battles.

Compulsory Schooling Arrives in America

How did Prussian-style compulsory education make its way to America? Thousands of young men from important American families went to Prussia in the 19th century and brought home Ph.D. degrees, a credential that was then unknown in the States. Eventually, those with Ph.D.s assumed the highest positions in government and academia, effectively closing such opportunities to those lacking the degree. Almost all the founders of American schooling had made the pilgrimage to Germany; many, most notably Horace Mann in his legendary 7th Report of 1844, extolled the virtues of the Teutonic methods.

In 1852, the famous “Know-Nothing” Massachusetts legislature rammed though education by compulsion. Within 50 years, state domino after state domino fell in line, ending school choice and creating a vast government monopoly.

Minimizing the Individual in Favor of Collectivism

By 1889, U.S. Commissioner of Education William Torrey Harris was assuring railroad magnate Collis Huntington that American schools were “scientifically designed” to prevent “over-education” from occurring. In 1896, John Dewey at the University of Chicago said “independent, self-reliant people were a counter-productive anachronism in the collective society of the future.” Dewey went on to assert that, in modern society, “people would be defined by their associations – not by their own individual accomplishments.”

Such was a long leap toward state socialism, a vision that runs counter to the traditional American purpose – to prepare the individual to be self-reliant. The underlying premise of Prussian schooling, and therefore that of the American system, is that the government is the true parent of all children, i.e., the State is sovereign over the family.

What can be done about this deplorable state of affairs?

Solutions to the Public Education Debacle

Political candidates on all levels, and from both major parties, continually trumpet the need for more tax dollars to be spent on education. They accurately perceive that the electorate considers the education of our children to be an important issue. Opinion polls consistently show education to be one of the chief topics of concern among the American people.

Since the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law in 1965, the federal government has spent more than $130 billion to improve public schools. The latest education bill passed by Congress is the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which provides $44.5 billion for the Department of Education for fiscal year 2002, an 11.5 percent increase in budget authority.

I would argue that the government spends far too much on education, not too little. If that sounds controversial, you are not alone. But counting on politicians to solve the education problem is sheer folly. The crux of the problem is the politicians themselves.

The current dismal state of education in America is directly attributable to the government’s monopoly, wherein more than 90% of school-age children are forced into this failed system.

The Ultimate Solution

Government schooling is a duress-based system, a monopoly funded with confiscatory taxes. Rolling back the income tax and property taxes and kicking government at all levels out of the education business is the supreme solution to what ails us. The government’s one-size-fits-all model of education is archaic. With the State out of the picture, entrepreneurs would be free to develop a myriad of educational solutions that would be tailored to fit the many different learning styles of our children. While some traditional schools might remain to serve the needs of children who do learn well in that setting, new education paradigms, some not even conceived at this time, would emerge in a free market of ideas and school choice.

The chances of this happening in the foreseeable future seem remote, especially with the stranglehold that the National Education Association (NEA) has on the Democratic Party. We are 150 years into compulsory government education, and it may take decades before enough people stand up and say, “Enough is enough!” Until that time comes, only one viable option exists.

The Interim Solution

Private schools offer an alternative to government education. Limitations exist, however, and foremost among them is the sometimes prohibitive cost of tuition. Aside from that, most private schools labor under some degree of government regulation. Most also employ the government model of grouping kids together by strict age divisions, beginning and ending learning sessions at a prescribed time by the sounding of a shrill bell, and subjecting students to the same pre-determined academic standards, grading policies and behavior standards. So while private schools may have superior teachers, more rigorous standards and a safer environment than their government school counterparts, the model is similar.

The best option at the current time is to homeschool your children. Homeschooling is based on a foundational American belief in freedom. Such freedom allows families to teach whatever they want, on their own schedule, in order to suit their lifestyles. Homeschool parents may teach their children evolution or creationism without the fear of offending any politically correct interest groups. Very importantly, homeschool families don’t take any money from the taxpayers.

When most people think of homeschooling, they imagine Johnny at the kitchen table with mom, buried under a stack of books. While instruction of this type is common in homeschool families, the flexibility and range of homeschooling promotes an immense variety of alternative educational models. They range from child-led learning, or “unschooling,” to the more traditional classroom model with professional instructors. Some methods that can comprise a homeschooling education include distance learning (correspondence courses), commercial learning centers, tutors, cooperative teaching between parents, and taking community college or university courses. Such is the great advantage to homeschooling: flexibility and variety.

More Advantages of Homeschooling

Besides the aforementioned flexibility of the homeschool paradigm, many other benefits of homeschooling have become apparent. The average homeschooling family spends approximately 10% of the per-pupil costs typical of government schools. The academic achievements of homeschoolers cannot be denied. An extensive 1999 study by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) analyzed the standardized test scores of more than 20,000 homeschooled students across the country and revealed that a large majority of homeschooled students scored well above the national average, with most of the scores in the 75th to 85th percentile.

Beyond standardized test scores, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation selected 150 homeschooled high schoolers as semifinalists in 2000. Homeschoolers have also excelled in the National Spelling Bee and the National Geographic Bee.

The Socialization Question

Perhaps the most often-mentioned objection to homeschooling is “How will a homeschool child acquire social skills? How will he make and keep friends?” Government schools have a well-earned reputation as non-democratic societies in which cliques emerge and bullies dominate weaker kids. Defining socialization is capricious at best. In fact, a study by J. Gary Knowles and James A. Muchmore at the University of Michigan revealed that homeschoolers appear to grow up to be content, hard-working adults with a strong sense of right and wrong.

Believing that kids can only make social contacts at school is narrow-minded at best. Homeschool kids can make just as many friends by joining sports teams, attending scout meetings, going to church, volunteering, working part-time jobs and engaging in countless other activities. In addition, many homeschool support groups have emerged, where parents can combine their efforts to provide educational and social opportunities for their children. Parents are the greatest judges as to how their children will best achieve socialization.

A Worthy Sacrifice

There can be no doubt that a considerable sacrifice must be made by parents who opt to homeschool. Parents may need to forego certain creature comforts, or live on one salary to accommodate the homeschool experience. But the alternative is to turn children over to the government for six to eight hours a day, 180 days a year, where they will be subjected to ideological indoctrination, inferior academic instruction, and a one-size-fits all system that is antithetical to their nature as individuals with very different needs. All kids need education, but parents, not government, should provide it. To allow government to educate kids is no different than to allow government to provide their religious training. Homeschool your kids.


Rick Gee resides in paradise, also known as Santa Fe, New Mexico. He writes about liberty, sports, film and other topics for The Valley News. In addition to being a Root Striker, he is a columnist at anti-state.com and a commentator at LewRockwell.com.

Written by: Rick Gee
25 September 2006





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