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The Failures Of Public Education Must Be Reversed

Updated on April 30, 2009

 I know a significant number of young adults who are products of the public education system. They struggle to find anything but low paying service jobs since they were so alienated by the public education system that they are functionally illiterate.

One of them, an otherwise intelligent but fundamentally uneducated young man in his middle twenties, has no concept whatsoever about the simplest Euclidean geometry; can't tell you who won World War II; doesn't know whether Europe is to the east or west of North America; never heard of Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, New Zealand, Nepal, Peru, Bolivia, or Tibet; has no idea who John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mahatma Gandhi, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, John Paul II, or even George Washington or Napoleon Bonaparte were; writes like a six year old; and can't add single figures together without a calculator.

Whenever he is challenged on his appalling lack of knowledge, he states that he is "a product of public education."

The state has an interest in public education. Public education breeds good citizens (read dutiful, obedient citizens). When the government decries the state of public education today, it is not condemning the lack of academic standards as performance on standardized assessment tests has improved over the last thirty years. It is not complaining about the increase in violence, because despite several spectacular counter-examples, the level of school violence has actually decreased over the same three decades. What the government doesn't like is that citizenship education has taken a back seat to academic education, and that more and more families are opting out of the public school system and thereby ending governmental control of what their children are taught.

The statistics above almost sound like an endorsement of public education. In fact, as public education goes, the US does have a pretty good system. It does things many other societies don't even attempt. It teaches the developmentally, physically and emotionally disabled alongside its "normal" students. It allows children from all walks of life, depending solely on ability, to prepare for post-secondary education. Not bad, eh? But not enough. Being all things to all people guarantees that you end up being nothing to anyone.

There are problems with public education that only privatization can fix. Chief among these is choice of curriculum.

Are you a devout Christian? Jew? Muslim? Hindu? Buddhist? Pagan? Are you an atheist? Do you want your child to be educated within the system of your values, your faith? Don't ask the public schools to do it. They cannot and should not. The state would be forced into the unconscionable choice of establishing a state religion.

Does your child learn kinetically rather than through visual or auditory stimuli? The public schools may attempt it, but with the class loads the average teacher carries, your child is likely to get labeled as a troublemaker or lost in the shuffle.

Would you prefer a longer school year? Would you like more say in which subjects are emphasized or de-emphasized? Smaller class sizes? Non-standard subjects? Better paid teachers? Don't count on any of these from public schools.

There is a finite proportion of the gross domestic product available for investment in the education of our children. How should it best be spent? And who should choose the priorities?

The best approach is that the government release this funding from the public coffers and place it back into the pockets of the citizenry. Let each individual family decide how best to educate its children. Let individual communities, whether geographical, religious, or interest oriented, decide how to educate the children of its members. Let corporations educate the children of its employees. Let unions do the same for their members, and owners of small business band together also. Let parents who choose to homeschool their children do so with the full support of their communities and larger networks of resources.

What about the poor? That's always the question, isn't it. What about the poor. See above. Churches. Corporations. Homeschooling networks. This is about investment in people. That's one investment someone always seems willing to make. Privatization leads to greater efficiencies and lower costs than government schools, because they are not trying to be all things to all people. Investment in education means scholarships, grants, whole schools built from the generosity of a good heart, or the savvy of a smart investor.

The homeschooling movement today is already showing that ordinary people without special education or wealth can effectively educate their children. The materials necessary are already readily available, both in stores and on line, and often for little or no money. Home schooling networks pay for and maintain more expensive school equipment and arrange for knowledge swaps to fill in gaps in individual parents' educations.

Some of the most valuable lessons a child can learn are that learning is fun for its own sake, that she has value for her own sake, and that her family's belief system is an integral part of daily life rather than apart from and unimportant to daily life.

These lessons are more effectively taught in a private setting. A family can best influence the type of education its children get in a private setting. A child can have its individual needs more closely met in a private setting.

I am aware that some parents do not value education for their children. Those same parents exist today, and today are holding their children out of their school under cover of homeschooling (thereby being the rotten apple in the barrel). This is neglect, and neglect is actionable even in a libertarian society. It can be handled through the legal system.

The vast majority of children in the United States are going to public schools. Should you pull your child out and homeschool or enroll in a private school? Absolutely not. Not unless you can afford the time and money necessary. The money for public education is being stolen from you. You might as well benefit from it.

Keep educating your children about your values. Fill in the gaps left when the system fails. And speak up. Above all, let the government know that we who want our children raised to be good individual rather than good citizens are out there... and are voters.


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    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      9 years ago from Toronto

      Thank you, James A Watkins. I also agree that the Politically Correct version of American history has no place in the classroom.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Outstanding and informative Hub. Thank you. I enjoyed your thoughts. One huge problem is the Teacher's Union. All they know is how to demand more money. Another problem is the lack of teaching of Civics. Another is how they make the kids ashamed of America instead of proud—as they should be. The revisionism of US History is, however, the worst thing that ever happened to our children. The "self-esteem" movement a close second.

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      9 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks eovery. I know of a senior computer programmer at IBM who has worked there for 20 years, and all of his colleagues ask him to call or meet rather than receive an email... because his writing is so bad, it is incomprehensible! I guess he codes better than he writes! :(

    • eovery profile image


      9 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

      I hear you on this. There are kids graduating that can hardly read or do any math. This is a failure. These kids need to be held back. No more of this "but this will make him/her feel bad and hurt his/her esteem." Well, they are being unjustly dealt with by not obtaining the education they need to function in today's employment world. They need a wake-up call that they are failing and need to do better.

      Keep on hubbing!


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