Shackled by Public Schools

by Catherine Van Arnam:

“Everybody does it” has never been much of a logical argument, but it’s one that proponents of establishment government school quite heavily rely. The ideal of a walkable neighborhood school has been cast as an idyllic vision of public education for so long, it’s hard to shake off the stupor and see the reality of our state of government education, much less envision a brighter future.

Shackled by Public SchoolsIn Texas there are almost 1,000 schools that have been deemed, by the invested state’s own measure, to be “failing.” Why not just close them? That would happen immediately if there were a free market in education. If a local restaurant fails their customers, the customers don’t come back. Ay, there’s the rub. Those customers have a choice. In much of Texas, and America, there is no alternative.

Even an excellent school may have aspects that any percentage of those mandated to attend may disagree. A highly-rated local elementary school decided to implement a values-promoting, school-wide “Leader in Me” program. Parents were not permitted to opt out. “I can’t imagine how you could,” the Principal told me. Maybe the school district couldn’t imagine why a parent would want to opt out. How could a parent’s values be different than what school administrators decided would be best for children?

Maybe the school district couldn’t imagine either why any parent would object to a neglect of history, geography, science, and instead place an emphasis on environmentalism and an untouched nature. What parent could oppose the Think Through Math program used, a thinly veiled Common Core curriculum. Often a school’s PTA will pay for field trips and plant gardens, but how many parents realize they’re also supporting a lobby group, as the PTA mobilizes every legislative session to support progressive policies, from nutrition to Common Core.

The fellow that came to inspect our home for insects looked aged beyond his years, and he shared with me how focused he has been on scraping up any money he could earn to send his child to private school. The tech in my dentist’s office lept out of his seat when I told him about a new charter school opening, immediately calculating commuting distance and despairing over low lottery odds. His family had just decided to homeschool. Another parent applied to a charter school online moments after I mentioned the alternative to her, and reported back sadly the dizzyingly high waitlist numbers for her children.

Those people are already paying for school, though. We all are! Every taxpaying individual, small and large corporation, is supporting the status quo in education. We’ve all been shepherded into complicity – supporting this educational industry that does not emphasize excellence and individual achievement, but rather expanding the number of government employees that it can sustain.

It’s wonderful for neighbors to walk their children to school together. It’s hard to imagine a slightly different system. Where like-minded neighbors come together by choice, selecting from a mix of educational options, funded by vouchers or tax-funded charters.

It’s even harder to envision the shackles of education establishment-driven taxes unclasped. A whole community freed from what is typically the biggest cause of high taxes. Charity money freed from government coffers, family profits able to go directly towards educational choices that fit that family. Most importantly, curriculum no longer set by slow-moving government bureaucrats, but instead by individuals and corporations focused on providing what each student needs. Where they fail, bad choices will cease to exist. From distance learning, classical education, religious instruction, to unschooling, an inspiring array of choice is possible, and currently so far past our grasp.

Everybody does not need to become an advocate for school choice in their family or community. Anyone who is passionate about the potential that education can unleash in young Americans, or cares how their escalating taxes are being apportioned, may want to pay attention.

There is a battle underway to smear those who want to slightly loosen the shackles of mediocre and failed government schools. It can be won simply by the slightest awareness: of the shackles.


Catherine Van Arnam is a dilettante who with her husband recently decided to at least raise her children right, so they moved to Texas.

One Comment

  1. I like this article because it gives me a chance to use a term I learned recently: falling between two stools. Is the argument here that schools are indoctrinating kids? Or is it that schools are expensive? As a result, this argument against public education amounts to little more than “if the government does it, it is bad.” I suppose that appeals to Republicans (in all things *except* the military where apparently the government can run education, medical coverage, food distribution, etc. effectively) but to everyone else it is simply a reminder that Republicans are the anti-science anti-education party. (Related point: This is EXACTLY what Jon Huntsman was saying in the Republican primaries in 2012. He was almost entirely ignored. Just saying Republicans… you could have had your good looking Mormon from a millionaire family *with* the added bonus of staunch pro-lifeness and a realization that the GOP is in more trouble than it thinks. Or you could go on absolutely puzzled how Obama won a second term.)

    Ok, that’s a little unfair. Republicans are only anti-science in that science occasionally seems to conflict with deeply held political beliefs. For example: Global Warming isn’t real because otherwise we’d have to do something about it. (Liberals do that too, but thankfully there haven’t been any pushes to get Medicare to cover crystal healing and reiki… yet.) Further, Republicans aren’t anti-education so much as they are anti-educational opportunity based on an undying faith in the efficiency of the market. They are okay with people getting an education but don’t want to lift a finger to actually help anyone get that education. This combined with the further criticism against people who go into debt for education leads to the conclusion that the only people who should get an education are the ones who have families who can afford that education. Everyone else? Well, someone needs to make the sandwiches.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *