As Democrats object to Donald Trump’s appointment of conservative billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos to head up the U.S. Department of Education, Republicans, are once again, not surprisingly, abandoning the principles of their favorite mantra—“free enterprise, private property, and limited government.”
The Republicans now control both houses of Congress, right? They also now control the presidency, right?
So, what’s the problem? Just introduce a bill in Congress to abolish the Department of Education, the position advocated by conservative icon Ronald Reagan, pass it, and have President Trump sign it into law. Voila! No more Department of Education.
Even if some Republicans vote against the bill, at least the discussion and debate would cause the public to consider an important question: What business does the federal government have in education?
In 1976, presidential candidate Jimmy Carter promised to create a Department of Education. Three years later, Congress split off a new Department of Education from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan called the Department of Education “President Carter’s new bureaucratic boondoggle” and vowed to abolish it. It never happened and the Department of Education is still with us today.
That’s the problem with conservatives and Republicans. They love their free-enterprise mantras but they love the welfare state and its myriad socialist programs even more.
Among the best thing that our American ancestors bequeathed to us was the First Amendment, which separated religion and the federal government. Even without the First Amendment, the federal government was precluded from establishing a federal Department of Religion or involving itself in religious affairs. That’s because when the Constitution called the federal government into existence, it limited its powers to those listed in the Constitution. If a power wasn’t enumerated, the federal government was precluded from exercising it. Since the Constitution failed to delegate the power to establish, regulate, run, or subsidize churches to the federal government, the federal government was prohibited from involving itself in religious matters.
The First Amendment provision regarding religion simply made that point clearer, just in case federal officials failed to get the point. It’s too bad that the crafters of the First Amendment didn’t also include education in it, but the point still remains: The original Constitution failed to delegate to the federal government the power to establish, regulate, run, or subsidize schools and, therefore, constitutionally speaking, the federal government has no more business involving itself in education than it does in religion.
But the point goes much further than that. Morally speaking, the states and localities also have no more business in education than they do in religion.
As everyone knows, there is a separation of church and state at the state and local level, just like at the federal level. State and city governments are prohibited from owning, operating, regulating, and subsidizing churches or involving themselves in religious affairs.
It wasn’t always that way. After the enactment of the Constitution, religion was a matter left to the states, which meant that states could involve themselves in religious matters. For example, a state could have enacted a compulsory-attendance law requiring all children in the state to attend church to receive religious indoctrination, just like they do with public schools. If states had done that or built, operated, or subsidized churches, there is nothing the federal government, including the U.S. Supreme Court, could have done about it.
That changed with the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment, which, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled, incorporated by reference the First Amendment and applied it to the states. Ever since, states and cities have been constitutionally prohibited from involving themselves in religious matters.
Unfortunately, in the 20th century states and cities got heavily involved in education, primarily through public schools, mandatory-attendance laws, and school taxes. Later, the federal government got into the process by providing grants, rules, regulations, standards, and control. The entire system has become such a mess that any conscientious parent does his best to remove his child from public schools, which, of course, is what President and Mrs. Obama did.
The mess of public schooling shouldn’t surprise anyone. The state educational system is a perfect model of central planning, which is a variation of socialism. The state plans, in a top-down, command and control manner, the educational decisions of millions or thousands of children. Any person who lived under central planning in the Soviet Union can tell us that central planning always produces messes and crises.
Even worse, through indoctrination and training, public schooling also produces a nation of compliant and submissive citizens, ones who are ever-ready to defer to authority and accept whatever the government says, especially with respect to foreign affairs.
There is one and only one solution to all this: a total separation of school and state at the federal, state, and local level — that is, the end of all governmental involvement in education — that is, a total free market in education.
That’s where the Republican-controlled Congress could take the lead. Congress should submit the following constitutional amendment to the states: “No law shall be enacted, by either the federal government or the states, respecting the establishment of education or abridging the free exercise thereof.” It would be the greatest thing that could ever happen to the children of America and everyone else.