Monday, December 19, 2016

Help Us with Public Education, Donald - By Richard F. Miniter

I have one great hope for a no-nonsense, business-oriented Donald Trump administration.

It's that the Federal Government finally begin to ask what the return was, and is, for money spent – just as every private enterprise, from the window cleaner's one-man show to Exxon's army of thousands, is forced to do.

Take for example WIC – the Women, Infants, and Children federal nutrition program.  Very similar to food stamps, WIC spends billions and billions of tax dollars and in great measure was implemented because somebody noticed that drug-addled mothers were not feeding their children nutritious meals.  Well?  What happened?  Have the dopers started baking their children homemade chicken pot pies?  Or are they just buying their boyfriends more crack with the WIC assistance?

It's a question the Obama administration would never ask and was terrified of asking, but it must be asked and answered if you're a sensible steward of the taxpayer's money.

Another example is the close to a million civilian employees the Department of Defense has.  Can't they get by with less?  Say, with the much smaller proportion of civilians to the uniformed, the likes of which it employed during the height of World War II, when the military and naval establishments were fifteen times the size they are now?

But if you're going to hunt where the greatest number of ducks gathers it's hard to choose between the bloated Defense Department and an area in which federal and state resources commingle on a grand scale: K-12 education.
It's estimated that as a nation, we spend $620,000,000,000 on K-12 annually.  So what do we get for a stack of dollars bills that would reach to the moon and back?  Many if not most would say a nation that can read and write.  

But is that true?  Because there is a fascinating tidbit offered in British historian Paul Johnson's The Offshore Islanders, which you can verify with your own Googling elsewhere on the net: that England had essentially the same high literacy rate in 1890, before public education came around in that country, as it does today.
In other words, and at least by that one measure, no or little net gain in literacy for the expense of a hundred and so years of public education.  

True?  Difficult to tell, because in an artful dodge, the educational establishment insists that the literacy rate today is higher by defining the ability to read and write not as any reasonable person would, but by the number of years someone sat in a classroom.  And so, they insist, they have as close to 100% literacy as you can get, because close to one hundred percent of the population over fifteen has been required to sit in a classroom for at least five years.

This argument, of course, ignores the fact that modern public schools, both here and in the United Kingdom, regularly graduate illiterates or functional illiterates after ten or twelve years. 

So what's the point?  Simply put, it's based on Britain's experience, which admittedly Britain itself has not digested: public education is unnecessary, a waste of resources, and maybe the biggest boondoggle since the pyramids.

Why?  Because the overwhelming majority of parents want to educate their children, have always wanted to educate their children, and will continue educate their children if it means a better life for them.  And they're going to act that way whether or not they're no longer offered a "free" education.

Then there's the fact that modern free markets deliver.  If the population of the United States requires sixteen million new cars and trucks every year, that's what the United States produce.  Need a million tons of potatoes? 

You got it.  A billion cheeseburgers?  Get the ketchup ready.  And so it follows that absent government education, one might confidently predict that if the nation has a requirement for 95 or 90 or 80% literacy among parents or the labor market, that's what the free market will hand off.

If the market is free to do so.

Make it homeschooling, small local private schools, expensive snotty private academies, distance learning – whatever.  With whatever that is, parents have the means and the inclination to indulge themselves with.

And in sum, they'll probably achieve superior results, because as Friedrich Nietzsche remarked:
Let us have as few people as possible between the productive minds and the hungry and recipient minds! The middlemen almost unconsciously adulterate the food which they supply. It is because of teachers that so little is learned, and that so badly.

I leave you with a thought.  The greatest advance in information distribution since the invention of movable type is the still unfolding computer revolution.  But what we don't think about is that this revolution is accompanied by the most incredible educational effort ever undertaken in the history of the world as children learn how to use computers, smartphones, and other handheld devices in order to begin texting or talking to one another.  To learn how to connect to the world's databases, encyclopedias, books, news, and opinion sites.

And every bit of this vital education has occurred outside the government's K-12 system and at zero cost to any taxpayer.  Without public school teachers, "education presidents," school boards, state departments of education, without landscaped multi-million-dollar campuses or two-hundred-dollar boring textbooks, and without having most of a $620,000,000,000 annual bill for services vanish into teacher salaries and cushy retirement funds.

So ask yourself this: if the text messages your children compose and send already exceed by a factor of two hundred the word count of the essays they're required to produce in public school, who and what are actually teaching your child to write?  If your children are accessing the millions of free or very inexpensive books and other information sources online in order to explore and master the subjects that excite them, who and what are teaching your child to read?

Or if the school taxes you're required to pay on your home run five, ten, or fifteen thousand dollars annually, is having a teacher show your child how to put glitter on his finger-painting worth that?  Is the danger to your child from violent students the school cannot expel worth that?  Or are the long bus rides, endless indoctrination in transgenderism, the really diseased obsession with "diversity," skewed history classes, dumbed down textbooks, having somebody sell your child drugs in a school bathroom, worth that?

In short, what's the real return on your, on our, investment in public education?

Help us with this, Donald.

Richard F. Miniter is the author of The Things I Want Most, Random House, BDD.  See it here.  He lives and writes in the colonial-era hamlet of Stone Ridge, New York; blogs here; and can also be reached at