Lead. Don’t Follow.

January 19, 2009

by Tammy Drennan


While I believe it’s wrong for the state to be involved in education no matter how good a product it produces, I think it is nevertheless telling to take a look at just what state schools are turning out in the way of scholars and human beings.


I don’t pay much attention to test scores and studies. I tend to judge things by more real standards. I have recently been immersed in close contact with a host of public-school graduates, most of whom also have varying degrees of post-high school education. It has not been an encouraging experience.


Here are some things I’ve learned:


  • Very few people know where anyplace in the world is, including U.S. states. Out of one group of people with whom I played a geography game, not one could identify over 12 states on a U.S. map. Most could identify no more than five!
  • There is no point in making any reference to history in a conversation; you lose your listener. Try pop culture instead.
  • Common sense dies a long twelve-year death in school. There is almost no point in trying to reason with many people – the ability to see the absurd or irony in a situation simply does not exist for them.
  • Personal responsibility went out with Horace Mann. If it’s officially someone else’s job, it’s no skin off your back no matter who is affected by the inaction. You followed procedure and that’s all that matters.
  • Most adults operate on the level of ill-reared children – do as little as you can get away with; keep an eye out for the displeasure of an authority before you do an ounce more.
  • Lie to get out of trouble, lie for the sake of lying, and don’t be embarrassed if you get caught in your lies.
  • Don’t be embarrassed about your lack of education, which is easy enough when you don’t realize you have no education.


One thing that many homeschoolers learn when they begin to educate their children is just how shallow their own schooling actually was. They learn that all those A’s and B’s didn’t mean diddly-squat. But they’re the lucky ones – they make the discovery and proceed to correct the crime as they educate both themselves and their children.


Another thing they learn is how empty of morality their education was, how much it taught them, both deliberately and incidentally, that truth is relative, principled living adjustable to circumstances and personal desires and goals, and that satisfaction with self is just a shrug of the shoulders away. This, too, they find ample opportunity to understand and correct as they rear their children with purpose.


What of all the ignorant and marginally moral folks running around thinking they’re okay? Is ignorance bliss? Is unswerving, principled living only for fanatics? How much longer can freedom withstand ignorance and moral apathy?


It may be true that we cannot blame the situation entirely on state schooling, but this is the very institution that insists it has always and still does hold the key to a better world. Not only has it not delivered on its promises, it makes the situation worse with every generation.


Thomas Jefferson and many other American founders believed that ignorance and moral corruption were incompatible with the survival of liberty. But many of them mistakenly believed that a system of government education could safeguard the freedom they worked so hard to establish.


We now know that such a system is one of the greatest threats to the future. We must increase the number of people who understand this and work together to become strong, to become leaders.


“Lead, don’t follow” is a principle I’ve tried to impress upon my children from the time they were young. Even within the independent education community, it is a principle we’re still learning.


We may be rebels with a cause, but we must take the next step. We must stop pining for the approval and recognition of the state. That’s what followers do. Leaders set the standards; they do not fawn over someone else’s standards, regardless of the perceived authority or advertised expertise of those people. They are confident in their own definitions, in their own standards. They are the ones others wish to impress and emulate.


Our numbers are sufficient. 14% of children are educated outside government schools. It’s time to stop letting state schools define education and morality and possibility and the future.


It’s time to stop following and start leading. Teach your children: Lead. Don’t follow. And show them how it’s done.