In the late 19th century, Americans from all walks of life recognized the value of a good education as the foundation of a free society. It seemed self evident that basic skills like reading, writing, and math were skills that separated the rich from the poor. Access to education promised a key to upward mobility. So when mandatory public education laws were passed, many (but not all) accepted the resulting policies as a fantastic gift. Families who had never dreamt of being able to afford reading lessons now had access to public schools. Young men and women who could read, write, and keep books were highly sought by banks, businesses, and industries that offered jobs which could support families without exposing them to hard physical labor and the risks such labor entailed. This gift was in fact a Trojan Horse, because when public education became mandatory, we robbed our younger, more impressionable citizens of their right to liberty. In doing so, we robbed our future of independence.
Despite widespread support for mandatory public education, problems have been evident from the beginning. Parents saw from the onset that with eight kids to feed, and eight kids in school, mom’s were often resigned to cooking and doing laundry all day. Alone. Work that was once enjoyable because it was shared, and because mom’s mind was engaged in teaching and developing her children’s skills and abilities, was now monotonous and unfulfilling. It was drudgery, and it was never done. The garden went untended, and the children grew up not knowing how to raise or prepare their own food, or teach their own children. Industrialized food was soon introduced and was grudgingly accepted by mom’s because it was just to hard to feed a family that could not share the effort of harvesting, preserving, and preparing food. We were told this was a better way, because children now knew how to read, and could get high paying jobs far from home. We were not told that the industrialized food was stripped of nutrients, and would promote generations of obese young adults with chronic disease.
As school systems grew, children were separated by grade level. Now, teaching about locally relevant topics that was once provided by moms, dads, aunts, uncles, neighbors the family traded with, and older siblings was condensed to teaching provided by hired hands (school teachers) about content that was most relevant to industry and government. Sure, these hired hands were trained professionals. But they were trained to prepare children to work for someone else, somewhere else. The intent was never to train children to sustain their own families. While families and communities thrive when children succeed, hired teachers had no long term stake in a child’s success or failure. It became easy to blame the students and parents for observed failures. After all, the teachers themselves were doing their best, and besides, they were following orders.
Of course, most students did not fail. Most learned what was being taught. Most learned to read and write. Most also learned how to set aside the immediate needs of their family and community in order to fulfill the needs prescribed by remote entities in a government designed to serve industry. Students learned that if they could master the art of sitting still, ignore what the child next to them had to say, wait for directions, and do as the teacher said they would be rewarded. They would be rewarded today with good grades and positive reports from the teacher. They would be rewarded tomorrow with a high paying job somewhere far from home where there were a lot of orders to follow.
Students also learned self denial. They learned that it did not matter when they were hungry, they needed to eat when lunch time came. It didn’t matter when they were tired. They had to rest during “nap time.” It no longer mattered when they were restless. They had to play during recess. It didn’t matter if they had a good idea. It only mattered that they understood the ideas their teacher presented.
It takes a few generations to erase the natural instincts that lead us to interact in ways that benefit ourselves, our families, and our community. In the generations since mandatory public education became a federal mandate, we have indeed observed a steady loss of integration between individuals, families, and communities. We’ve observed a decline of small communities. We’ve observed increased dependence on industry and government to provide services (childcare, elderly care, food, natural health care, counseling) that our families and communities used to provide. We’ve observed a loss of innovative spirit and cultural diversity, as individuals have learned to conform. Parallel with these trends, we have seen a concentration of resources among those large industries and government entities on whom we rely for our well being. We’ve seen an increase in our own dependence on these entities for the resources we need to survive.
Today, the door has opened and the soldiers are emerging from the Trojan Horse of mandatory public education. Once leaders of the free world, we are crumbling under the weight of lost innovation, decline of small businesses (small businesses can’t succeed when led by entrepreneurs who are waiting for directions and ignoring their neighbor’s needs), failing school systems, failing food systems, and failing healthcare systems. Our elderly are separated from our children, many of our marraiges end in divorce, and too many of our children are being raised by the state. The land of the “free” is under attack from within.
We can cripple the Trojan Horse and harness the soldiers within by 1) replacing the mandate that children attend school with an invitation to public education. 2) Allowing students to attend the school of their choosing at the age that is most relevant to them. 3) Allowing teachers to create their own curriculum based on their own talents and the needs expressed by students and their families 4) Adjusting teacher’s pay to reflect the successful recruitment, retention, promotion, and further success of the students they teach. Such efforts would liberate our children to develop new talents that serve their own interests and create opportunities in their own communities. By restoring liberty to the mindsets of our children, we can create socioeconomic freedoms and empower those innovations that foster new development. A free nation requires free choice in education.
Now a reader may object by asking, “What will come of the students who choose not to go to school?” The fact is that these children may be in school today, but they are not getting an education now. Each day children around the country are rejecting an education while taking up space in the classroom and slowing the progress of children who want to learn. These children have decided that school is not relevant to them, but they are required by law to learn what they do not wish to know. This violation of their civil liberty creates apathy, resentment, and a lack of motivation to participate in their community. In the proposed system, such children would be free to explore other schools, including other kinds of schools that are more in line with their interests. Parents who are currently using schools as a baby-sitting service would be forced to parent their children to find meaningful experiences that help them integrate with society. Children who will never learn to read and write may learn to sing, dance, build homes, or teach craft skills that benefit their community in ways we cannot imagine. When we free them from a meaningless existence, and recognize that what is meaningful to you and I is not meaningful to all, we open the door to the best of America’s ideals. We open the door to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.