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reframing the question: what should schools teach?
we cannot win if we are having the wrong debate
a great deal has been being made of late about what is being taught in schools. critical race theory, critical and alternative gender theories, alternative histories, decolonization of math, activism, guilt, and who knows what else are all landing in headline after headline. and it’s an important issue, a pivotal issue. these are our kids. this is their education. it will shape them and their perceptions of the world. and almost no one seems happy.
teachers’ unions seem furious that parents want a say in what their children learn. parents are furious at what their children are (and are not) being taught. and, of course, the state wants to stick its oar into this turgid stew and mix things in all manner of directions. the debate over what education should mean (and possibly for the right to ideological control and inculcation of kids) is on.
and we are losing.
all of us.
we are losing because we are not asking the correct questions and everyone is becoming a hypocrite and everyone is engaging in 20 kinds of misrepresentation, mis and disinformation, and political poo flinging to “do what they think is right” or just to grab and hold power and push ideology. and there is nothing good down that road.
it’s just pointless argumentation and wrestling for controls that the state should never have had in the first place.
this WSJ article has kicked off a firestorm. the kind of firestorm that is only possible when both sides are kind of right.
is bloomberg misrepresenting this bill? yes. he is.
but is the bill itself also a problem in that it’s just a different dictator telling schools what they can and cannot do and validating the notion of such dictation? yes, it is. (and, of course, bloomberg would have no issue with this were he picking the curriculum. nobody acts like the good guy here when they are winning)
it’s a great deal of dishonest argumentation, straw manning, and deliberate hyperbole and disinformation, but it also carries a kernel of truth as well:
once you have invited the state as rule-maker into any discussion of speech or education or agency, you’ve already lost.
and this makes some of mikey b’s complaints valid criticism. desantis is fighting fire with fire and becoming what he purports to hate. and we don’t wanna go there.
tyranny of the other side is not liberty and such systems are not robust: the powers and prerogatives they take, even if they are used by one you currently like to ends you currently support, will one day fall into the hands of one you despise. and what will happen then? do you really want to leave this kind of top down control lying around?
it's just replacing one set of diktat with another.
the truly strong play would be to push school choice and parental transparency into curricula.
we need to shift this debate away from “what agent of the state shall determine what kids learn?” and onto something that places the agency in the system where it belongs.
i suggest this:
we will not tell you what to teach, but you must tell us what you are teaching and allow us to make an informed choice about whether it's what we want for our children.
no system is entitled to education dollars. we fund kids and they and their families pick schools freely and without interference or requirement. we replace the monopoly of public ed with a market to best serve the students.
this is the ONLY way to solve this issue for good and all. there is no untangling the gordian knot of “to what state sanctioned curriculum should leviathan require that schools adhere?” the desires of the public are too varied, impossible to know, and the incentives to discover and support them non-existent in any event. the whole systemic incentive structure is perverse and as a result so too will be its squabbles and output.
there is a fundamental dissonance at the core here:
one man’s “reshaped against us” is another man’s “rescued from you.”
and let’s face it, it’s not as if “woke” has a great track record of putting students and their basic education first
but the fact of the matter is that if we’re having this debate at all, we’ve already lost.
public education is one of those funny things. like the minimum wage, which was originally conceived as a form of jim crow law to prevent newly freed black slaves from taking white jobs by underbidding them, it was mostly emergent from structures not of beneficence but of control. it’s not a liberation, but a cage and it’s one that if you “get em young” you can teach the inmates to love.
dating back to the early 1800’s, this has been endemic to US education because the american educators from john griscom to horace mann who pushed “compulsory school” were mimicking the regimented, top-down controlled, standardized, and most of all compulsory prussian educational system. our system is modeled on it to this day. does this sound familiar?
That system was characterized by compulsory attendance, teacher colleges, standardized national tests, national age-graded curriculum, compulsory kindergarten, the fragmenting of concepts into separate subjects with fixed periods of study, and the state ultimately asserting a superior claim to the child over the rights of the parents. This was a radical departure in methodology and content from the successful traditional forms of education in America.
and its aims were never “to create well rounded free thinkers taught not what to think but how to think” but something altogether different:
the use of aggressive “grooming” tactics to separate children from parents and instill state loyalty uber alles is far from new. at its core has always lain simple practice of:
instilling a sense of crisis,
of indoctrinating ideology both apart from and paramount to parents,
creating a sense that you can trust the school and the state but not your family,
and instilling a sense of separation from traditional structures that compete for loyalty
the purpose of the early public schools systems was not to create thinkers and builders and free and elevate minds: it was basically one long shop class to teach students to fashion their own chains by which they would be yoked lifelong into service of the state.
this was not a bug.
it was the primary feature of the product.
we’ve seen it rear its head over and over in the US and it gets bad every time we’re having something of a fascist moment and when the pendulum has swung too far in the statist direction. in the 1930’s, FDR turned US schools into terrifying indoctrination factories and this banner was gleefully picked up by locals.
the entire boston public school system was infamously gathered on boston common to take a loyalty oath to the “blue eagle” of the national recovery act (a national system of fascist style price fixing and allocation).
"I promise as a good American citizen to do my part for the NRA. I will buy only where the Blue Eagle flies."
teachers encouraged students to turn parents in for violating such edicts. there have been dozens of similar examples from wilson to mccarthy.
US schools have had many deep departures into scary indoctrination and performative loyalties from pointless nuclear attack drills to ensure constant fear of a collective (and thus unifying) foe to struggle sessions of the profession of white privilege and other such “indoctrination away from traditional loyalty points.”
it’s always the same game, they just change the pretexts.
it is not an accident that this disease keeps breaking out in schools.
they were designed as a vector to spread it.
and so long as we allow the question to remain: “so which public leader should be deciding what the children learn?” they always will be.
and the answer is right in front of us: so stop.
cut the knot.
there is absolutely no reason to even include the state in the discussion of “so what shall the children learn?” none.
you know why we have so many choices about what to read, what to watch, what shows to see, and what internet to consume? because we mostly keep the state out of it. it’s driven by consumer sovereignty and a desire to serve the manifold and varied desires of the people.
we already have all the money we could ever need associated with education in america. we spend something on the order of $15k per student per year on k-12. that’s $300k per class of 20. seriously, explain to me how you can’t provide the most incredible 3rd grade immersive educational experience anyone could ever want for that.
the issue is that we have no incentive to get it right and would not have the information to do so if we did. but a market does and a market would.
yeah, sure, no government school at all is more in keeping with ancap ideas and ideals and we run into problems about “is this too much or too little and how could we know?” but sometimes you need to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the excellent and start taking steps toward the better.
there is a massive failure to agree on many topics about how to structure schools and in what they should instruct their charges. this cannot be resolved. but the good news is that it does not have to be. you can have pistachio and he can have chocolate and she can decide she doesn’t want ice cream at all and have a tuna sandwich.
one size fits all is one size fits none. why are we even pretending it’s a good idea?
we need choice, variety, and experimentation. we need evolution.
and it’s really not that hard to get.
the steps are simple, obvious, and, i think, currently politically palatable.
fund students, not systems. every kid gets $15k. (maybe we attach more to special needs cases.)
parents may choose to spend this money however they like to educate their kids
that’s it. that’s the whole system. nobody gets to add anything else.
we’re at an interesting inflection in america. people got a good look at the schools, their attitudes, and the people who dominate them over the last couple years. and a great many people have a great many problems with what they saw.
this is the time to move.
and it’s fascinating the extent to which this, like so many other issues, is coming into focus as a legitimate topic of mainstream debate.
does this bill have a hope of becoming law? i doubt it, especially with this congress and this president.
but that can change. and it might change soon.
and if ever there was a time to gather support and energy behind a “fund students not systems” movement, it’s now.
this issue is ripe. the fact that it is not the centerpiece of political campaigns across the country and the signature issue on which any liberty loving leader wants to run mystifies me.
school choice is a massive winner, a unifier, and a collector of the center behind attainable, affordable policy that will change lives and the future of the nation.
it’s SO clearly the way forward.
we could replace monopoly with markets.
our school system could serve our actual wants, tailor itself to need, specialize for divergent interest, and attain multiples of its current efficacy.
competition could breed competence and force even the worst schools to become so good they could rival many of today’s best.
and all anyone wants to talk about is problems if we try.
this is cowardice, lack of vision, and lack of commitment.
you want change? then bring change. demand change. this is what that looks like.
take this agency from the state and for yourself. they’re YOUR children, not theirs.
why on earth would you trust them when there is this much at stake and why would you possibly stake your children’s futures on the whims of agencies and unions that pay no price for being wrong?
stop waffling and grab it.
if not now, when?
if not us, who?
this piece continues in a second post here:
please read it before commenting. a lot of folks are raising issues it directly addresses.