Leaving Never Land

November 9, 2009

by Tammy Drennan

Tighten your seatbelts, everyone. The federal government is brewing another experiment that will utilize public schools as laboratories and students as lab rats. And they’re backing it with 2.35 billion dollars.

Here’s the deal. Key (politically influential) people believe students still don’t read as well as they should. Even though the government has been in charge of teaching reading for 160 years, these people still feel it’s the best vehicle to improve reading scores in the United States. In spite of over a century and a half of government education flops, legislators and the president think they’ve finally found the solution.

Jamie P. Fasteau, vice president for federal advocacy for the Alliance for Excellent Education, thinks the proposed legislation is great, because, he says, “We had long known how inextricably linked literacy is to high school success.”

Please excuse my incredulity and the resulting sarcasm, but I must say that our insights just get deeper every generation: We know that high school success is linked to literacy? When did we not know this — and whatever will we discover next?

Here’s a discovery that would really rock our country: Government involvement in education is linked to intellectual mediocrity, moral and cultural decay, destruction of community, and loss of liberty.

Quite a few million families have already made this discovery and taken corrective action – they’ve chosen independent forms of education. Millions more are on the edge of making the discovery; they just need a gentle nudge to fully awaken them.

But the majority languish in the sort of public education Never Land that produces statements so patently absurd that they’d be funny, if only the people who made them didn’t have so much influence over real children.

The solution to this state of affairs is to expand and strengthen the foundation of freedom by refusing to be educated by and refusing to allow our children to be educated by the government.

The solution is to stop further empowering the state by throwing our energies into vouchers and other schemes that increase government’s control over children.

The solution is to take all that passion and money (are you listening, Bill Gates?) and instead of trying to manipulate the public school system, create government-free education choices for the neediest – choices that help families up and out of the cycle of despair inflicted on them in large part by schools that fail to prepare children in any way for a life of significance and liberty.

The solution is to inspire parents, to help them see what education could be, what their children’s futures could hold, to light fires of indignation over what the state and its partners have inflicted on us all.

The solutions will be as various as human beings. I’m not talking about creating a new school bureaucracy, even if it is free of government meddling. Our whole history as a country proves that variety is the life of growth and improvement. Until the mass government takeover of education in the 19th century, we were a nation that reveled in diversity. It wasn’t always neat and it certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was a system inclined to progress. And we were moving forward — in every way — until our government found a dozen ways to wrestle our progress from us and turn it into a campaign to make everyone the same, the chief means being public schooling.

Mao loved conformity, Stalin loved conformity, Hitler loved conformity. Does this not teach us something? Conformity requires control – lots of it. If we hope to see a free and prosperous and happy future, we will have to give up control and depend on persuasion and example. It will be a hard principle to embrace, even without government in the picture. Control is easier and more satisfying. Power is addictive.

But the manipulation and coercion of others has never resulted in anything good. It never will. It doesn’t work in the most basic relationships. It doesn’t work at the governmental level, and it doesn’t work in education. It results in the opposite of everything it purports to accomplish. When we accept this obvious truth, we’ll be able to move forward.

Respect, persuasion, creativity, innovation, invitation – these are the ways to revolutionize education. Offer substance, model excellence, lift others up to become your peers, not your beneficiaries.

Let’s shed the numbness of mind so long imposed on us through government-delivered education, so we can have meaningful conversations and create meaningful options.