PJ O’Rourke on Public Schools

A must-read and fun, too.

P. J. O’Rourke has outdone himself in a blistering (and, of course, quite humorous) article in The Weekly Standard on the state of public education and what we should do about it. You won’t want to miss it (thanks, Frances, for the heads up). Here’s the link and some excerpts:

End Them, Don’t Mend Them


Figures in the Statistical Abstract of the United States show that we are spending $11,749 per pupil per year in the U.S. public schools, grades pre-K through 12….

In March the Cato Institute issued a report on the cost of public schools. Policy analyst Adam Schaeffer made a detailed examination of the budgets of 18 school districts in the five largest U.S. metro areas and the District of Columbia. He found that school districts were understating their per-pupil spending by between 23 and 90 percent. …

Schaeffer calculated that Los Angeles, which claims $19,000 per-pupil spending, actually spends $25,000. The New York metropolitan area admits to a per-pupil average of $18,700, but the true cost is about $26,900. The District of Columbia’s per-pupil outlay is claimed to be $17,542. The real number is an astonishing $28,170—155 percent more than the average tuition at the famously pricey private academies of the capital region.

[Article goes on to cite poor test scores and outcomes]

Enough, however, of outrageous statistics. Let’s generate some pure outrage. Here’s my proposal: Close all the public schools. Send the kids home. Fire the teachers. Sell the buildings. Raze the U.S. Department of Education, leaving not one brick standing upon another and plow the land where it stood with salt.

“Wait a minute,” the earnest liberal says, “we’ve got swell public schools here in Flourishing Heights. The kids take yoga. We just brought in a law school placement coordinator at the junior high. The gym has solar panels on the roof. Our Girls Ultimate Frisbee team is third in the state. The food in the cafeteria is locally grown. And the vending machines dispense carrots and kiwi juice.”

Close them anyway. I’ve got 11,749 reasons. Or, given the Cato report, call it 15,000. Abandon the schools. Gather the kids together in groups of 15.4. Sit them down at your house, or the Moose Lodge, or the VFW Hall or—gasp—a church. Multiply 15.4 by $15,000. That’s $231,000. Subtract a few grand for snacks and cleaning your carpet.

What remains is a pay and benefit package of a quarter of a million dollars. Average 2008 public school classroom teacher salary: $51,391. For a quarter of a million dollars you could hire Aristotle. The kids wouldn’t have band practice, but they’d have Aristotle. (Incidentally this worked for Philip of Macedon. His son did very well.)…

“Don’t kids need to experience the full range of human diversity that public schools provide?” No. And if you don’t understand the process by which modern kids become socialized, you seriously need to update your Facebook page. Also, let the Statistical Abstract tell you something about the diverse experience provided by public schools. During the 2005-2006 school year 78 percent of public schools reported “violent incidents,” more than one in six schools reported “serious violent incidents” (robbery, rape, sexual battery, or a fight or attack with a weapon), and 46 percent of schools reported thefts or larcenies. More than 10 percent of high school boys admitted to carrying a weapon to school during the previous 30 days. Among middle schools, 8.6 percent reported daily sexual harassment, 30.5 percent reported daily disrespect shown to teachers, and 43 percent reported daily bullying….

“And this $15,000, is it just going to be available with no strings attached? Won’t there be all sorts of exploitative scams cheating people who are seeking to educate their children?” Unfortunately there will be scams. What’s to keep the District of Columbia Board of Education from going private?

8 Responses to PJ O’Rourke on Public Schools

  1. Mia says:

    I really enjoyed this article! I do disagree with Mr. O’Rourke on a couple of other political issues (I’m Conservative, he’s Libertarian), but it’s difficult to disagree with him on this one.

  2. tdbwd says:


    Thanks much for reading and commenting. Even on this issue, good as O’Rourke’s article is, it’s hard to imagine that he thinks all that government money could actually go to the private sector without any strangulating regulation following it. Love your Snoopy icon. :-)


  3. Frances says:

    I knew you would like the article. I don’t agree with everything that he said, but it was a good read. I thought his response to “But kids might fall through the cracks” was good. My response is: Would you rather them fall through at the hands of the government or their parents (as it is undeniable that some kids already fall through the cracks)? And who do you think would let more kids fall through?

  4. tdbwd says:


    It’s one of the best articles I’ve seen on the topic, even with its flawed proposed solution (which may have been tongue-in-cheek on O’Rourke’s part, now that I think about it). Thanks for letting me know about it. He’s very good at using humor to drive a point home. I wonder just how bad it will have to get before people recognize the insanity of it. That’s where it has to start, and the evidence is that we’re still a long way from there. One person at a time…


  5. wintertime says:

    Very funny essay and well worth the time to read it!

    Honestly…What would happen if all the government schools closed tomorrow? What if we went to further extremes than even ORourke suggests? What would happen if there were no vouchers or tax credits whatsoever? What if every penny spent on education were now returned to the citizens in the form of reduced property, sales, and income taxes?

    The truth is there would be chaos for a while but parents, relatives, friends, and neighbors would find solutions. Within 2 to 3 years things would have settled down. If all government schools were to close tomorrow, what would we see by Labor Day?

    ** Schools would open in churches, Lion’s Clubs, and the YMCA.
    ** Existing day care centers would expand, hire an extra teacher or two, and offer 1st through 4th grade or even K-12.
    ** One room schools would open in the homes of trusted neighbors.
    ** We might even see tutoring academies similar to those that educated the explorers, Lewis and Clark and our Founding Fathers.
    **Homeschooling would explode as more mothers ( who are now working to pay property taxes) could then afford to stay home. Perhaps, for a fee, they would also educate the child of a friend or relative, as well.

    As parents, relatives, friends, and neighbors pulled together our communities would be friendlier, safer, stronger, and more civilized places to live. Just for an example of how this might work, think of the social interaction involved, and the many important life-lessons learned by the child, during the Girl Scout cookie sale.

    And….Finally, if all the government schools were closed think of the talent and creativity ( as well as the money of investors) that would free to work its magic. As ORourke pointed out more than 4 million people are now working for the government schools. Imagine, the creativity that is locked up and not fully utilitized in the brains of those 4 million people.

    In my community, the government school district is the single largest employer in the county. No other business comes even close in payroll or number of employees. These people would then be free to open business and/or work for businesses that are creating true wealth and health for the citizens of our county, state, nation, and even the world to enjoy.

  6. tdbwd says:


    Hear, hear. I believe we, as family, neighbors, friends and communities, would rise to the occasion and rediscover education and thirst for it enough to make it happen for our children.

    With that in mind, the question is how we might excite people about these possibilities without the collapse of the public school system — as a means of making the system irrelevant and eventually extinct.

    I doubt all those teachers want to be freed from their secure jobs and benefits, but if they were, the ones who were born to teach would gravitate to the new opportunities and most of the others would probably find more suitable work.

    I recently picked up a Chamber of Commerce publication for my tri-state region and discovered that, as with your county, over half the counties listed identified their public school systems as their largest employers.

    Good to hear from you.


  7. Kayleigh says:

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this fantastic blog! I guess for now i’ll
    settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to new updates and will share this blog with my Facebook group.

    Talk soon!

    • tdbwd says:

      Thank you! It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything new, because I’m in the process of opening a store, but I’m itching to write about this issue some more. Because my store attracts a lot of young people, I’ve been getting some very up close experience with the state of education today — on the parent front, I’ve seen hope, on the school front, not much, I’m afraid.

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