Federal and local governments spend billions and billions more dollars on education every year. Yet the results are unimpressive, to say the least. Many public school teachers are frustrated and dispirited.

Here’s what Stephanie Keiles, a long-time public school teacher in Michigan, recently wrote in the Washington Post:

I just can’t work in public education anymore. I have been forced to comply with mandates — from the Republicans at the state level and the Democrats at the national level — that are NOT in the best interest of kids. I am tired of having to perform what I consider to be educational malpractice, in the name of “accountability”. The amount of time lost to standardized tests that are of no use to me as a classroom teacher is mind-boggling. And when you add in mandatory quarterly district-wide tests, which are used to collect data that is ignored, you get a situation that is beyond ridiculous. [washingtonpost.com 8/12/15]

In her article, Keiles says that public education itself isn’t the problem. The problem, she implies, is public education as we know it. But what is public education supposed to do differently? She does not say. Like most people, she assumes that government-controlled schooling is the only way to go. If it’s not going well, despite billions more in money thrown at it every year, then something must change.

Who is to change it, and how? No answer is given. That’s for somebody else to know. But those we entrust with knowing it keep throwing more money at the problem … while nothing improves.

Keiles states, “Public education is the backbone of democracy — but we all know there is a privatization movement trying to undermine it.”

Privatization? Where?

Public schools hold virtual monopoly control over education. People are forced to pay property taxes and federal income taxes to finance public schools, whether they want them or not. This includes people without children, or whose children are already past school-age. This includes parents who prefer to send their children to private schools, or even home school their children.

This does not sound like privatization to me.

Privatization would mean shutting down public schools, gradually and systematically defunding them and replacing them with a free market. I’m not talking about “school vouchers” here; I’m talking about a free market. Parents pay for education themselves, and as a transitional step obtain tax credits to allow them the budget for doing so. Government gets the hell out of the way, and stops paying for everything. Open up the free market for education, allowing the profit motive to take hold and finally put schools in the position of innovating and competing for parents’ and students’ dollars.

We do it with cell phones, computers, clothing and fast food. Indeed, we demand it. We’d never want the government controlling those industries. Yet with education — arguably, the most important enterprise of all — nobody dares question monolithic federal control. Not even this teacher who detests its results, and is driven to teach in private schools instead.

Keiles should be grateful we have the little bit of “privatization” we do. If we didn’t, she’d be forced to live out her career in the public school system. Instead, she’s opting for a job in the private sector.

I don’t care whether a private system would “work” better than public schools or not. It’s the only fair system, because the people paying for schools should be those who use them. It also is the most rational system, because teachers and school owners would be accountable for results, subject to losing money if they fail to deliver or provide what parents want. I know that the private market for education — whatever it would look like, over time — would be infinitely better than what we have now.

The more public schools fail, the more we throw more money at them. Lack of money, we’re told, is always the problem. Is the problem really lack of money, or the way public schools manage and spend the money?

Consider some basic human psychology. Public schools cannot go out of business. They will continue to get funded, no matter what. The less they perform, the more money they will receive, because lack of money is the only problem people ever claim to find with public education.

Is it any wonder public schools perform so poorly? They cannot and will not go out of business. They’re responsible, ultimately, to politicians — not parents and children. And the more poorly they do their job (to be fair, an impossible one), the more money we give them.

Education is, by its nature, at odds with the one-size-fits-all, mandated and coercive nature of a public school system, particularly a federalized one like we have.

“Public education is the backbone of democracy,” says Keiles. It’s a revealing statement — because she’s right. Public education is state education, i.e. government education. It’s socialized education. Socialists like it, but socialism is not rational, and it’s not supposed to be. Under socialism (progressivism, or whatever they now call it), the purpose is to serve the state and become citizens; not live out your life with your inalienable right to pursue happiness as you choose.

Democracy is the system where majority rules; where conformity for its own sake rules; where the unimaginative and non-individualistic collective rules.

While I won’t deny that there are rational, objective principles of education to guide teachers in the training of young minds, it’s not a command-and-control process. There are right and wrong principles to educating, just like there are right and wrong principles for everything; but there are many different ways to be right, and individuals vary in their needs, capacities and interests. This is why the diversity and choice of free markets are so effective, while the grim and intellectually shallow edicts of government bureaucrats are so inhuman, callous, irrational and ineffective.

Human minds are individual in nature. Nowhere is this more evident than in the context of learning. Individuals have different styles, different brain patterns, different ways of doing things. Education is one of the most personal activities in which one will ever engage. It’s spiritual in the truest, and most secular and objectively real, sense of the term. If we would not permit the government to manage, run or control most of the other activities many of us consider spiritual or personal … why on earth do we allow the federal government to control all of education from birth to age 18?!

Government-run schools are, by nature, the problem. Tragically, this frustrated and demoralized teacher does not realize it, or cares not to face it. The more public schools falter and fail — by her own assessment — the more she champions their cause.

A private, free marketplace for education is the only thing that would help. Parents, students and teachers in the marketplace, acting freely, imaginatively, creatively and rationally, will solve the problem of education for far less money and without all the government interference, rigidity and politics.

The human mind only functions and prospers when it’s left free to think. You cannot have self-responsibility without freedom. If we had set out to devise a system of education at war with the requirements of the human mind, we could not have done a better job than devising today’s federal education system.

Just ask teachers like Stephanie Keiles. It’s not a free market for education that they want; but it’s the lack of such a market they decry, whether they know it or not.

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Dr Michael Hurd

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

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