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The Misguided Attacks on Betsy DeVos

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The mainstream media and American leftists are up in arms over the selection of conservative Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Department of Education. They’re pointing to her lack of knowledge about how public schools operate and her conservative devotion to school vouchers to show that she has no business running the federal Department of Education. They are lamenting the distinct possibility that under DeVos public schools have no chance of improving their dismal record.

Let’s assume that the critics had their way. Let’s find the most competent and most knowledgeable public school principal in the country and appoint him or her to run the Department of Education.

Would public schooling then be improved? Nope. Nothing would change. The dismal results would be the same.

This is what these people just don’t get. It doesn’t matter who is selected to run the Department of Education. The results at the public-school level are going to be just as bad and grow progressively worse.

There is a simple reason for that: public schooling, like all socialist institutions, is an inherently defective paradigm. Something that is inherently defective cannot be fixed. Attempts to fix it inevitably just makes it worse.

Public schooling is based on the socialist principle of central planning. A government board of people who have been either elected or appointed runs the system. The state determines the curriculum and selects the textbooks. The administration and the teachers are government employees and answerable to the government. Attendance is mandatory — parents are sent to jail if they refuse to send their children to the state’s institutions (or subject them in other ways to a state-approved education). Funding of the system is done through taxation, which is based on force.

Why would anyone think that such a system is going to work? In fact, the only reason that people do believe that central planning in education will work is that they are products of the system. As a result of the “education” they received in public schooling, they are incapable of “breaking out” and recognizing the virtues of a free-market system in education—that is, one that is based on the principles of separating school and state, just as our ancestors broke out of the box in religion by separating church and state.

In a free market system, there is no central planning. Consumers decide what they want and entrepreneurs and producers respond accordingly. Each person (or family) is planning his own affairs rather than having a state bureaucrat do the planning. The inevitable result of a system based on consumer sovereignty and decentralized, individual or family planning is harmony of interests and higher quality.

Defenders of public schooling often say that without public schooling, no one would learn how to read or write. But that’s palpable nonsense. Most kids learn to read before they are forced into the public-school system. They also learn how to speak English, which is one of the most difficult languages to learn. From the ages between birth and six, they absorb knowledge like a sponge. Education comes easy to them because it’s natural. Every child seeks to know more, which is what genuine education is all about — seeking and a passionate natural love of learning.

That’s what public schooling destroys. It destroys seeking. It destroys a kid’s natural love of learning. By the time people graduate from high school, most of them hate school and cannot wait to get out.

Being a state institution that is based on force, public schooling is akin to the army. The main thing that children, like soldiers, are taught are conformity and deference to authority. The goal of the state, both in public schooling and the military, is to produce people who have no ability to critically think or to challenge things at a fundamental level. They don’t mind that students and soldiers complain about various aspects of the system but they want them to lose the ability to think “outside the box.” They want them to follow instructions and orders blindly and not to question or challenge them.

That’s precisely why we have ended up with a nation of people who don’t question or challenge the forever wars that the U.S. national-security establishment has been waging in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Or a nation of people who don’t question the very existence of such Cold War institutions as the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. Or a nation of people who cannot imagine life without Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, foreign aid, and other government welfare. Or a nation of people who remain committed to the war on drugs notwithstanding its manifest failure. Or a nation of people who have no concept of the virtues of free trade and open immigration, notwithstanding the obvious lack of border controls between the respective states. Or a nation of people who have no conception of how they ended up with a monetary system based on paper when the nation was founded on a monetary system based on gold coins and silver coins. Indeed, a nation of people who cannot conceive of a free market in education, notwithstanding the fact that they live in a nation based on a free market in religion.

That’s the worst part about public schooling — Not only does it destroys the natural love of learning that exists in every child, it also produces a nation of good little citizens who blindly support the welfare-warfare state because the state smashed out of them the ability to think critically, challenge the status quo at a fundamental level, and think outside the box. Public schooling has produced a nation of people who have no concept of what genuine freedom is all about and, in fact, are convinced that freedom is equivalent to government control, such as with public schooling.

There is no one who can fix that type of system — not Betsy de Vos and not the most knowledgeable and competent high school principal in the world. There is only one thing that works: freedom and free markets — which necessarily means a total separation of school and state, just as our ancestors separated church and state — the end of all governmental involvement in education, just like in religion.

The challenge we face is getting a sufficient number of people to support the idea of educational liberty. That’s a difficult, albeit not an impossible task, given that most people are products of the state educational system and, therefore, have a terribly difficult time bringing themselves to think at that level.

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 LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.