(entry for the Carnival of Anarchy)
I think it would be hard to argue against the fact that the state of education in the “United States,” and the Western world in general, has gone in a downward direction since the last century. In Separating School and State, Sheldon Richman points out that in 1850, before enforced education, the literacy rate in Massachusetts was 98%: now it is 91%. All throughout history, voluntaryist education systems have consistently shown better results than coercive systems.
According to the book Market Education, four factors account for this: choice and financial responsibility for parents, and freedom and market incentives for educators. The issue is simple, and follows the principles which all Anarchists know by heart: whatever the State takes over, it invariably controls and manipulates for its own interests. Wherever power settles, it corrupts. This is an iron law of politics.
The role of the “education system” in a democratic society is a key one: it serves as a vital part of the indoctrination process (the notorious triumvirate of family-media-education), necessary to maintain collectivist belief and homogeneity. It is pretty clear why public education arose so early in the history of American democracy: without mass indoctrination, the expansion of the State would be very difficult indeed. A democratic State must indoctrinate its subjects in basic collectivism (obedience to authority figures, grading systems, school pride), nationalism (through skewed “history” classes), “proper” sexuality (heterosexuality, “safe sex”) and (depending on the society) religion, in order to flourish.
So the basic role of schools is not as much to educate as it is to prevent education. Its most important tool in that regard is the imposition of a standard curriculum. They give more jobs to unionized teachers, they burden the mind with useless courses, and promote rote learning. Who can possibly relate to, or use in his life, the vast majority of what he “learned” in primary and high school?
Parents pride themselves in how well their children learn collections of facts which, for the most part, they will forget or never need again, while contestants on Family Feud can’t even name one “country” that starts with “A.” That’s not an issue of sleeping in geography class, that’s just plain illiteracy or close-mindedness.
As for university, I hope I don’t have to discuss all the nonsense going on there as regards to academic speech. Those interested in the topic would do well to watch the Bullshit! episode “College” (in fact, if you haven’t yet, rent every single disk of that series, it’s just brillant).
Control over education also serves another important role: it gives the State an opportunity to physically control children: restrict what they can eat or drink, what they wear or say, and most importantly give them drugs. In fact, the Bush administration is already administrating massive quantities of drugs to schoolchildren in order to further the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.
And why wouldn’t they? They have a literally captive audience, and they have strong corporate interests ready to exploit it. It’s a marriage made in Hell. They have the perfect excuse: people are now so brainwashed that every time a problem is brought up about children, the school system is automatically petitioned to provide the solution. And as we know, once anything is in the hands of the State, it will be used for immoral purposes.
The “education” they propose is a system of rote learning, where one’s worth is solely based on grades, which are often calculated in rather dubious ways. It is rather ironic that a supposed Capitalist Republican government has brought us the most Communist idea in the history of American education: the No Child Left Behind Act, which turns schools into grade factories, manufacturing grades en masse in order to make quota.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that public schools have created the biggest joke with the most depressing punchline: so-called “gun-free zones,” which are only “gun-free” until a criminal comes in, and then becomes “corpse-filled.” The way the State gambles with the lives of our children is expected, but the way the general population eats it up is downright revolting.
It is clear that the democratic State has obliterated education. Can the elimination of the State revivify it? With the elimination of standardized ways of doing things, I think we would see a renewal of education. It seems to me that people would rather see their children educated in topics they will use later in life, than topics they will not use at all. Therefore, insofar as we have to tolerate parenting as a social phenomenon, it seems that it would be a positive influence in education.
Certainly public schools would still exist (religious schools, despite their appellation “private schools,” are “public” in the Anarchist sense of “financed by non-users”), but they would be far less uniform than they are today. As such, progress in education would not be a matter of one segment of the population resisting against another, but would be something sought by all parties involved. The Internet has opened a great door in that respect, and the future of a market system seems rosier than ever, if only we can get rid of the State.
God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board.