Guest Editorial

By jacob g. hornberger  |   APRIL 22, 2015

The Inherent Defectiveness of Public Schooling

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The February 15 Washington Post reported 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.

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

Public schooling is inherently defective because it is a socialist system, which 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 to dismantle it, which means the free market, which 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 central-planning models employed by the Soviet Union, those in which a central board planned the production of shoddy clothing, food, and other important items.

Moreover, education by the state is really army-lite. Think about what the army teaches people – regimentation, conformity, obedience, and deference to authority. Individualism, nonconformity, and independent thinking are not traits treasured within the military structure. In fact, the military does everything it can to stamp them out of its members.

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

True education is a seeking process, one in which a person voraciously seeks to acquire more knowledge about a particular subject 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 in other areas that relate to the primary subject 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 children six or under: Why? Why? Why?

By the time the child has spent twelve 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 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, during those twelve years of state schooling, children have been molded into becoming what one might call “good, little citizens,” cogs 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 government

No reform can fix public schooling, and 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.

Jaocb G. Hornberger is president of The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (