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Inherent Defectiveness of Public Schooling

Jacob G. Hornberger
from the Future of Freedom Foundation

The Washington Post reported yesterday that an outgoing superintendent of public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, Joshua P. Starr, is lamenting the short tenure of school superintendents. Starr took the job of school superintendent in 2011 and is now leaving because he failed to garner the support of the local school board.Starr stated, “I think the expectations for the superintendent can be not aligned with reality sometimes. People want to see dramatic improvement quickly. The expectation that a superintendent can do it alone I think just doesn’t work well. And we also have to comply with the accountability regs from the state and the feds.

Unfortunately, all too many believers in public schools just don’t get it: It doesn’t matter who they get to be superintendent, and it doesn’t matter what reforms they adopt. It won’t make any difference whatsoever. The problem with public schooling is public schooling. It is an inherently defective system. When a system is inherently defective, that means it cannot be fixed and it cannot be reformed. In fact, oftentimes when a system is inherently defective, any reforms only make the situation worse.

Why is public schooling inherently defective? In the final analysis, it is a socialist system and as most everyone knows by now, socialism itself is an inherently defective paradigm. It always produces a shoddy product no matter who is in charge of the system and no matter what reforms are brought to the system. The only solution to socialism is the dismantling of socialism, which means the free market. The free market is the only system that works. It produces the best possible product.

Consider the public schooling system in Montgomery County. Eight people on a school board are planning, in a top-down, command-and-control manner, the education of 154,000 students. That is no different in principle from the old central planning models employed by the Soviet Union, those in which a central board planned the production of clothing, food, and other important things. The results in terms of quality of product were always horrendous. The only solution was to dismantle the boards, the commissions, and the central planning and to leave the production of goods and services entirely to the free market.

That normally is a scary thing to people who have become dependent on socialist systems. “What if the free market fails to produce any shoes at all?” a person might ask. “What if all the shoes produced are in the wrong sizes?”

It’s no different with respect to educational socialism. “What if children fail to learn?” What if parents are irresponsible?”

But as someone once said, better to be educated not at all than to be educated by the state.

There are many reasons for that. Education by the state is really army-lite. Think about what the army teaches people — regimentation, conformity, obedience, and deference to authority. Individualism, non-conformity, and independent thinking are not treasured traits within the military structure. In fact, the military does everything they can to stamp them out of its members.

It’s no different with public schooling. It’s army-lite — an environment of regimentation, conformity, obedience, and deference to authority. Like the army, public school authorities stamp out individualism, non-conformity, and independent thinking.

True education is a seeking process, one in which a person voraciously seeks to acquire more knowledge about a particular area about which he is passionate. When a person gets interested in a particular subject, he will do everything he can to learn about it, which oftentimes means learning about other areas that relate to the primary area of interest. Ultimately, a person might seek out a tutor, a class, or even a school that specializes in the area he’s interested in.

That’s what makes education fun and exciting.

From birth to the age of six, it’s that natural love of learning that characterizes everyone. Think about that infamous 3-letter word that bedevils every parent of every child six or under: Why? Why? Why?

By the time the child has spent 12 years in public school, that three-letter word has been smashed out of him. The passionate love of learning is gone. All that matters is doing well on the tests, which inevitably involves lots of memorization. Getting good grades is all that matters because that’s how one gets into college.

At the same time, over those twelve years of state schooling, children have been molded into becoming what one might call a “good, little citizen,” one who is a cog in a vast machinery, deferring to authority, blindly supporting the authorities in whatever they are doing, and not questioning the political, economic, or educational systems in any fundamental way.

Central planning isn’t the only socialistic characteristic of public schooling. Attendance is compulsory and financing is done through force. The textbooks are chosen by the government. The schoolteachers, no matter how good and how dedicated they are, are government employees and must, in the final analysis, make certain that what they are teaching is acceptable to the authorities. That’s why one could do a study of every public school in the land and find very few, if any, courses taught on libertarianism, a subject that is growing in popularity across the land.

In fact, libertarianism provides a good example of how genuine education works. Most every libertarian in the country today knows about libertarianism because he has sought it out and educated himself on libertarian principles. Since libertarianism is a subject that is not taught n public schools or even most state-supported colleges and universities, libertarians have gone out and done the studying themselves, at nights, on weekends, and during work or school breaks. They have found the books, the websites, and the conferences. They seek knowledge, rather than have it crammed into them by others. They don’t memorize, they just learn. And they are passionate about what they are learning. It’s fun for them. It’s like they were age 0-6 again.

That’s the way education should be for everybody, in whatever area they get passionate about. Unfortunately, the public school system, which people would like to think is about education, actually destroys education by destroying the love of learning that comes to every single person naturally.

No reform can fix that. Neither can getting better school superintendents. The only solution to public schooling is to dismantle it — to separate school and state — to rely on freedom and the free market for education.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at and from Full Context. Send him email.