I begin with my conclusion: The “public” school system is the most immoral and corrupt institution in the United States of America today, and it should be abolished. It should be abolished for the same reason that chattel slavery was ended in the 19th century: Although different in purpose and in magnitude of harm to its victims, public education, like slavery, is a form of involuntary servitude. The primary difference is that public schools force children to serve the interests of the state rather than those of an individual master.
These are—to be sure—radical claims, but they are true, and the abolition of public schools is an idea whose time has come. It is time for Americans to reexamine—radically and comprehensively—the nature and purpose of their disastrously failing public school system, and to launch a new abolitionist movement, a movement to liberate tens of millions of children and their parents from this form of bondage.1
Twenty-first century Abolitionists are confronted, however, by a paradoxical fact: Most Americans recognize that something is deeply wrong with the country’s elementary and secondary schools, yet they support them like no other institution. Mention the possibility of abolishing the public schools, and most people look at you as though you are crazy. And, of course, no politician would ever dare cut spending to our schools and to the “kids.”
For those who take seriously the idea that our public schools are broken and need to be fixed, the most common solutions include spending more money, raising standards, reducing class size, issuing vouchers, and establishing charter schools. And yet, despite decades of such reforms, our schools only get worse.
The solution is not further reforms. The solution is abolition.
Just as antebellum Americans in the North had to be roused, educated, and radicalized on the evils of government-sanctioned involuntary servitude and on the need to abolish slavery, so too 21st-century Americans need to be shown the horrors of government-run, involuntary schools and persuaded to abolish them. Americans must come to see not only that the public school system is failing, but also that it cannot be reformed—because, like slavery, it is fundamentally immoral. Abolition will not be achieved anytime soon, but we must work tirelessly, step by step, to achieve that goal.
The purpose of this essay is to inspire a revolution in the minds of the American people—to shake them of their sentimental attachment to the public school system—and to convince them to unify into an unstoppable movement toward the eventual abolition of public schools. To that end, we will examine what the “public” schools are, why they are immoral, why they are impractical, and why the only rational, moral course of action is to eliminate them.2
The Coercive Nature of Public Schools
When we talk about the public school system, what exactly are we talking about? What are its defining characteristics and purposes?
The public school system is a government-created, government-run monopoly that fills its classrooms with tens of millions of students through compulsory attendance and truancy laws and that pays for its operations with money coercively taken from American taxpayers. Government bureaucrats dictate what is taught in the classrooms and how it is taught. Government-trained or government-certified teachers run the classrooms, where they are required to use government-approved curricula, lesson plans, and textbooks. The so-called “public” schools are therefore more properly called government schools; and, because their essential characteristic is force, they are properly classified as political institutions.
From the time your children are five-, six-, or seven-years-old until they are at least sixteen, you are legally required to send them to a government-run or government-approved school.3 In some states today, there are attempts to establish compulsory, universal day care or preschool, which means that the age of compulsion could be lowered to four, three, or even two years of age. At the other end, some states are considering legislation that would raise the age of compulsory attendance to eighteen. Support for this idea comes from the top: In his 2012 “Remarks on the State of the Union,” President Barack Obama proposed that every state in the union pass a law requiring students to stay in high school until they graduate or until they turn eighteen.4
Because the government forces parents to send their children to government-run or government-approved schools, the government school system is properly classified as a form of conscription. Failure to comply with compulsory attendance laws means you can be harassed and interrogated by the government; your home can be subject to government inspection; you can be fined and jailed; and your children can be taken from you, evaluated by government psychologists, and put in the care of government social services workers.5
As an illustration of what compulsory attendance laws mean in practice, consider that in Texas this year, a seventeen-year-old honor student, Diane Tran, was jailed and fined for missing too much school. In addition to being a straight-A student, Tran works two jobs during the school year to support two dependent siblings.6
Homeschoolers, too, must comply with government demands. In 2008, Judge H. Walter Croskey of the Second District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles ruled (as Time’s Kristin Kloberdanz summarizes) “that children ages six to 18 may be taught only by credentialed teachers in public or private schools—or at home by Mom and Dad, but only if they have a teaching degree.” Croskey stated, “California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children.” Furthermore, Kloberdanz reports, the judge held that “if instructors teach without credentials they will be subject to criminal action.”7 Croskey partially reversed his ruling later in 2008, finding (in Kloberdanz’s words) “that as long as parents declare their home to be a private school, they may continue to homeschool their children, even if the parents do not have credentials.” However, Croskey continued to hold that parents may homeschool their children only at the indulgence of the legislature, which may grant, alter, or revoke permission to homeschool at its discretion.8
Earlier this year, the New York Department of Children, Youth, and Families accused a home-schooling mother of “educational neglect” (which is a criminal offense) and, with the sanction of a judge, abducted her son and put him in a foster home. What was the mother’s crime? Her crime was that the educational bureaucracy had been slow in processing her duly-filed paperwork to homeschool her son. Finally, after a protracted court battle, the woman got her son back—but only after assuring the government she had complied with its home-schooling regulations.9
Although subject to state control, homeschooling in America is at least legal. Not so in Germany. As the Observer reviews:
Home-schooling has been illegal in Germany since it was outlawed in 1938. Hitler wanted the Nazi state to have complete control of young minds. Today there are rare exemptions, such as for children suffering serious illnesses or psychological problems. Legal attempts through the courts—including the European Court of Human Rights—have so far failed to overturn the ban.10
Today, seventy-five years later, German education policy is set by Article 7 of the German Constitution, which reads: “The entire school system shall be under the supervision of the state.” (German law permits private schools, but only when approved and regulated by the state and “when segregation of pupils according to the means of their parents will not be encouraged.”)11 There is no difference in theory between the National Socialist law of 1938 and that which governs education in Germany today, and, for many individuals who live under the current law, there is no meaningful difference in practice.
For many German homeschooling families, the situation is dire. In “Home-School Germans Flee to UK,” the Observer recounts a few disturbing stories, such as this one:
Klaus Landahl . . . who moved in January from the Black Forest in Germany to the Isle of Wight with his wife, Kathrin . . . said they had no option but to leave their home, friends and belongings in order to educate their five children, aged between three and 12, legally and without fear. “It feels like persecution,” he said. “We had to get to safety to protect our family. We can never go back. If we do, our children will be removed, as the German government says they are the property of the state now.” 12
Other German homeschoolers, Time reports, have fled to the United States, including Ewe Romeike and his family:
Romeike decided to uproot his family in 2008 after he and his wife had accrued about $10,000 in fines for homeschooling their three oldest children and police had turned up at their doorstep and escorted them to school. “My kids were crying, but nobody seemed to care,” Romeike says of the incident.13
It gets worse. In 2007, as Paul Belien reports for the Washington Times, “15 German police officers forced their way into the home of” a German family and “hauled off 16-year-old Melissa . . . to a psychiatric ward. . . . [A] court affirmed that Melissa has to remain in the Child Psychiatry Unit because she is suffering from ‘school phobia.’”14
Another European nation that has recently banned homeschooling is Sweden,15 where political leaders are even calling for the legal abduction of children from home-schooling parents. Michael Donnelly of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) warns, “Sweden’s educational policy is becoming increasingly totalitarian. A country that does not permit home education is not really a free country.” HSLDA recounts one of the more egregious cases of abuse: In 2009, a seven-year-old Swedish boy named Domenic Johansson was abducted by armed police officers acting on behalf of the state social services department. Domenic was kidnapped from an airliner as it sat on the runway waiting to take off to India, where his family planned to resettle and homeschool him.16 When Domenic’s distraught father attempted to have his son released from state custody, government authorities publicly branded him a “human rights fanatic.”17
How do these foreign horror stories relate to education in America?
Attempts have been made throughout American history to pass laws similar to those established in Germany for the purpose of using government force against parents and their children in the realm of education. And these efforts were not limited to assaults on homeschooling; in seeking to require all children to attend government schools, they assaulted private schools as well.
Massachusetts led the way with compulsory attendance laws. As Murray Rothbard writes, Massachusetts first imposed compulsory education in 1789; then, in 1852, “established the first comprehensive statewide, modern system of compulsory schooling in the United States.” In 1862, the state “made jailing of habitual truant children mandatory, and extended school age to between ages seven and sixteen. In 1866, school attendance was made compulsory for six months during the year.” Most other states imposed compulsory attendance laws in the 1870s and 1880s.18 “By 1900 court cases had affirmed state enforcement of compulsory attendance laws based on the benefit to the child and the welfare and safety of the state and community.”19 By 1918, “compulsory-education legislation was passed in all the states.”20
By 1922, the full meaning of the compulsory nature of government education came to fruition in Oregon, where the state legislature passed a law effectively prohibiting the existence of private and parochial schools and compelling all children to attend government schools. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law in 1925 in a well-known case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters; however, the court upheld the ability of states to compel attendance at government-approved schools, whether “public” or private.21
Since that ruling, private schools have been legal in all states in America. But a movement to regulate or even ban all forms of private education—including independent, religious, and homeschools—has gained ground in recent years, with advocates in the media, America’s law and “ed” schools, and teachers’ unions. Homeschooling is on the front line of these attacks. For Robin L. West, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, the “recriminalization” of homeschooling is not a politically “viable option” today, but only because homeschooling is “such an entrenched practice.” So, in lieu of recriminalizing homeschooling, she supports government regulation of what is taught in the privacy of the home. Curricular regulation, West writes, would give the state the authority to ensure that students are “exposed to diverse and more liberal ways of life.”22 And Kristin Rawls, a popular journalist writing for Salon, does not “believe the answer is to end home schooling altogether,” nor does she think it necessary to “imprison” home-schooling parents, but she does advocate heavily regulating home education, including the creation of a government “home-school watch list.”23
Catherine J. Ross, a professor at George Washington University Law School, argues that a liberal society “should not tolerate the inculcation of absolutist views that undermine toleration of difference,” and so the state “can and should limit the ability of intolerant home schoolers to inculcate hostility to difference in their children—at least during the portion of the day they claim to devote to satisfying the compulsory schooling requirement.” Ross’s explicit goal is for the state to regulate those home-schooling parents “who believe in an absolute truth.” Such views, she writes, “have no place” in America.24 Apparently, Ross is oblivious to the fact that her condemnation of other people’s absolutist views is itself absolutist, not to mention the fact that she is willing to use the coercion of the state to support her absolutism.
Likewise, Professor Kimberly A. Yuracko of Northwestern University law school has argued that constitutional and political limits must be placed on home-schooling parents who “teach their children idiosyncratic and illiberal beliefs and values.”25 Professor Martha Albertson Finemen of Emory University Law School has openly proposed that public education in America “should be mandatory and universal”; that parents should be permitted only to “supplement but never supplant the public institutions where the basic and fundamental lesson would be taught and experienced by all American children: we must struggle together to define ourselves both as a collective and as individuals.”26
None of the aforementioned critics of homeschooling has specified—at least not yet—what punishments they would advocate for people who resist their decrees.
Government Schools Are Tools of Indoctrination
For almost 250 years, education in Britain’s North American colonies and then in the United States of America was almost entirely private. Parents had the freedom to choose the education, ideas, and values that they wanted for their children.
By contrast, America’s experiment with universal compulsory education, which began in earnest in the 1850s and picked up in the postbellum period, was explicitly based on the authoritarian Prussian model. In 1836, for instance, Calvin E. Stowe of Ohio, one of America’s leading education “reformers,” hailed the Prussian system of compulsory education. In his book The Prussian System of Public Instruction and Its Applicability to the United States, he urged America to adopt the Prussian model.27 America began to follow his advice in just a few years.
Originally, the purpose of America’s new Prussianized education system was twofold: first, to elevate and promote the interests of the state as the nation’s primary vehicle for establishing moral virtue and political order; second, to indoctrinate each new generation of children into being obedient and subservient subjects of the state. This view of government schooling was best summed up by the philosopher Johann Fichte, who wrote that the German schools “must fashion [the student], and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than you wish him to will.”28
Under this Americanized Prussian model, America’s government bureaucrats and teachers were to create a system that would foster collective obedience to those in power. Over the course of the past 150 years, the specific goals of the state have changed marginally with changing administrations, but the general goal of the government schools has remained the same: to indoctrinate children and mold them to the goals of the state. The purpose of government education, wrote Edward Ross, a prominent American sociologist and education theorist, is “to collect little plastic lumps of human dough from private households and shape them on the social kneadingboard.”29
The goal of government schools is not to serve children by teaching them to think and acquire important knowledge, but to serve the state by forcing children to conform to its will. The U.S. Bureau of Education made the point clear in 1914: “The public schools exist primarily for the benefit of the state rather than for the benefit of the individual.”30 More recently, William H. Seawell, a professor of education at the University of Virginia, defended government schooling by stating: “Each child belongs to the State.”31
What are the implications and realities of a school system that regards children as belonging to the state and holds the purpose of the schools as instilling obedience? Consider a recent example from New Jersey, where a school required its children to recite the pledge of allegiance—allegiance not to the flag of the United States but to the school itself and to its teachers. Students were told to pledge their allegiance to “the Marlboro Township School District and to the teachers who help us learn all that we need to know for the future.” FoxNews.com reports that, after receiving criticism for this, the school “opted to rewrite the pledge as a school song instead”—as though it makes any difference whether the propaganda is spoken or sung.32
One consequence of a system in which government schools push state-sanctioned ideas and values on children is that the system invites ideological groups to pursue political power in order to force their particular ideology on the community, the state, or the nation as a whole. Government schooling enables those who control the state to force their political views on those who do not. As a result, liberals in Kansas rightly fear that conservatives in power will use the government education system to support a religious agenda, and conservatives in Massachusetts rightly fear that liberals in power will use the schools to promote a leftist agenda. Parents who want their kids to get a good education in math, science, history, and literature rightly fear both—they no more want their six-year-olds being forced to memorize the Ten Commandments in school than they want them being forced to read Heather Has Two Mommies.33 Parents, of course, are properly free to introduce their children to such subjects, but the government has no business pushing religious or sexual preferences on students.
It is clearly a violation of rights for the government to force secular parents to send their children to schools that teach them the world was made in seven days, that snakes can talk, that a virgin gave birth, that a man walked on water, or the like. And it is likewise a violation of rights for the government to force religious parents to send their children to schools that teach them to worship mother earth; to put condoms on cucumbers; to reject the Bible but enjoy the Koran; and to regard American society as inherently racist, sexist, classist, and homophobic.
The problem here is not that schools are teaching values. No education—whether it is government, private, parochial, or home schooling—can escape the teaching of values. The problem is that the values being taught in government schools are chosen not by parents but by the state.
The role parents play in the system of government education is minimal to nonexistent. Parents today have virtually no control over the ideas or values taught at the school to which their children have been assigned by the government. Over the past 150 years, the government has acquired the authority to teach children values that were once the exclusive domain of mothers and fathers; it has done so on the supposition that it knows better than parents how to bring up their children and which values they should embrace.
Although in some school districts parents are given a token voice in school affairs, even this small role is granted by permission rather than by right. The view of government authorities and educators on this matter is that parents are an unenlightened, harmful influence on children during the formative years of their development. As Judge Archibald Douglas Murphey, founder of the government school system in North Carolina, wrote in 1816, the government must educate children in the virtues of “subordination and obedience” because “parents know not how to instruct them. . . . The state, in the warmth of her affection and solicitude for their welfare, must take charge of those children, and place them in school where their minds can be enlightened and their hearts can be trained to virtue.”34
Since Murphey’s time, leaders of the government school establishment have always viewed parents not as clients whose needs and values were to be respected and catered to, but as recalcitrant reactionaries standing in the way of genuine reform. In 1864, the state superintendent of public instruction for California stated unequivocally the role that the state should play in the education of children: “The child should be taught to consider his instructor, in many respects, superior to the parent in point of authority. . . . [T]he vulgar impression that parents have a legal right to dictate to teachers is entirely erroneous.” To enforce the point, California Progressives even denied parents the right to criticize government schoolteachers. The California Penal Code declared: “Every parent, guardian, or other person, who upbraids, insults, or abuses any teacher of the public schools, in the presence or hearing of a pupil thereof, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”35
The goal of government schooling is and always has been social reconstruction for the purpose of advancing the ideological agenda of those in power. This means that the teacher, the school, and ultimately the state must assume control of the child in order to reeducate him and to break him from the influence of recalcitrant and ignorant parents who almost always teach the wrong ideas and values.
Horace Mann, the 19th-century godfather of American government schooling, summed up the anti-parent premise of state-run education in these terms: “We who are engaged in the sacred cause of education are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause.”36 Backed by the state’s monopoly on coercive force, the government schools, in effect, seize children from their parents, then indoctrinate them with a government-mandated curriculum. What parents want for their children is beside the point. As the Wisconsin Teachers’ Association declared in 1865, your “children are the property of the state.”37
On the basis of these and related premises, government schooling takes away from parents the enormous responsibility of providing their children with an education and transfers that responsibility to the state. The government decides which schools children will attend, what and how they will be taught, and who they will associate with for several hours a day. The parents’ only responsibility is to ensure that the child is delivered to the school on time every day. If they should fail in that responsibility, the child is declared truant, and in most states the parent is subject to fine and/or imprisonment. The schools have become surrogate parents concerned with child rearing—not through default, as they typically argue, but by design.
In California, for example, a federal appellate judge ruled in 2005 that the government school system has the absolute authority and right to educate children about whatever it wants, including matters dealing with sex. In the case of Fields v. Palmdale School District, the court invoked the doctrine of parens patriae (i.e., the country as parent), which says that the government has the authority to do anything reasonably related to its educational mission. According to Judge Stephen Reinhardt, “[T]here is no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children.” Ultimately, the court wrote, parents’ right to control the upbringing of their children “does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door.” The court continued, stipulating that once a parent puts a child in a government school (something many parents must do given compulsory schooling laws, the taxes they are forced to pay for public schools, and their inability to pay for education twice), the parents’ “fundamental right to control the education of their children is, at the least, substantially diminished.”38
The same year Judge Reinhardt issued his California ruling, David Parker, a Massachusetts father of a five-year-old boy, was arrested, handcuffed, thrown in jail for a night, and fined after he went to his son’s school objecting to his child being forced to read and discuss the book Who’s in a Family (a book promoting same-sex marriage). (Parker was arrested for trespassing after refusing to leave the school until it honored his requests.) Parker sought merely to arrange an opt-out for his son, but his efforts were in vain. The following year, Parker filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in order to defend his right to have some control over his son’s education. Parker’s lawsuit claimed the school had “intruded upon,” “impaired,” and “invaded” his substantive due process rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments in three ways: first, by violating his rights as a parent and guardian “to direct the moral upbringing” of his children; second, by violating his “familial privacy rights”; and third, by violating his right to the free exercise of his religion. Federal court judges in the Parker case eventually ruled that parents have no right to interfere with the authority of the government schools to educate children on whatever topics they please.39
Given that parents are forbidden from determining what subjects their children will study in school or how they will be taught, given that these matters are fully in the hands of government educators, what ideas and values are these educators teaching American children?
Over the past several decades, a well-organized movement has revolutionized the curricula and culture of the nation’s government schools. Its aim is to eradicate the “prejudices” and attitudes children learn from their families with regard to issues of race, class, the environment, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. These are the obsessions of the government schools.
Officially, the schools claim to teach no moral values per se. But that claim is patently contradicted by the fact that they constantly push “diversity,” “tolerance,” and moral relativism. Such “values” are intended to strip the children of any standards or principles they may have previously embraced so that the teachers can replace them with the values of the cultural left: egalitarianism, multiculturalism, feminism, community service, environmentalism, and “social justice.” The primary function of teachers is no longer to be the transmitters of knowledge but to serve as agents of social change.
America’s leading teacher-training institutions, teacher unions, and textbook publishers push a radical, New Left, Marxist-feminist-egalitarian ideology.40 One could write a book on this topic alone, so let us consider just a few examples that have been in the news in recent years.
At the cutting edge of this trend is the attempt by government schools to eliminate many gender and other social distinctions. As of 2007, California’s education code states that gender pertains not to anything biological but to “a person’s gender-related appearance and behavior.”41 In a training seminar funded by the California Teachers Association, “Gender Spectrum” trainer Joel Baum told Oakland students in a mandatory class, “People can feel like girls. They can feel like boys. They can feel like both, and they can feel like neither.”42 In Sweden, where the same ideology dominates the education system, teachers at some schools are forbidden from addressing little boys and girls with third-person singular pronouns such as “him” or “her.” Instead, they are required to address all students as “friends.”43 In Britain, teachers at some schools have banned students from having “best friends.” The students are discouraged from playing in small groups and encouraged to play in large groups. 44 To have a “best friend” or to prefer certain classmates over others is to commit what Ayn Rand called the “Transgression of Preference.”
At the heart of the government’s education propaganda machine are the “values” of collectivism, multiculturalism, and “social justice.” In order to promote these, the Seattle school district has redefined racism as “whiteness”—that is, one is a racist by virtue of being white. Racist values, according to the Seattle educators, include “emphasizing individualism” as opposed to collectivism and having “a future time orientation.”45 In other words, you are a racist if you like to plan ahead.
America’s government schools also openly and explicitly teach and promote a new religion—the religion of environmentalism. For instance, in 2011, Maryland began requiring all students to take a course in “environmental literacy” in order to graduate from high school. Curricular guidelines encourage students to “take informed action” against forces that “threaten human health.” Students are encouraged to combat “consumption of natural resources” and “the impacts of climate change.”46 In Vermont elementary schools, students watched Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth in their math and English courses, while other “students testified before legislative committees about global warming and what Vermont can do about it.”47 Upon winning the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, one Louisiana teacher praised the students in her class because, as a result of taking her course, they had become “spokespeople for wetlands and the environment” and “activists” for trees.48 Science classes around the United States have students inundate local newspapers with letters opposing new home construction, sell T-shirts to help preserve the Brazilian “rain forests,” and boycott McDonald’s for its negative impact on “the environment.”49
What impact does such a barrage of environmentalist propaganda have on children? When asked about “the most serious threat facing humanity today,” one California sixth grader answered, “Human existence.” Agreeing there are “too many humans on the planet,” the girl said, “Sometimes I wish we didn’t exist.”50
Further Atrocities in Government Schools
In addition to indoctrinating students in multiculturalism, “social justice,” and environmentalism, government schools are probing into the private lives of children and their parents.
For instance, in a New Jersey elementary school students were asked on one of their standardized tests to “reveal a secret about their lives [and] explain why it was hard to keep.”51 Regardless of whether this was an act of innocent stupidity or malicious calculation on the part of New Jersey school officials, the fact remains that this kind of psychological intrusion into the lives of children has the effect of turning them into stooges for the state. When government school officials gather private information from students, what is to stop them from using such information against the children or their parents? Suppose teachers learn that a given student’s parents refuse to recycle, or that they cook with trans fats, or deny global warming, or own guns, or attend Tea Party events, or buy Big Gulps on the black market. Would anyone in his right mind be comfortable with the government gathering such information?
In addition to placing children in the service of the state, government schools can and in some ways do turn teachers into spies for the state. In the Canadian province of Ontario, a father was arrested and strip-searched recently, his home ransacked by police, and his wife and children taken into police custody and interviewed by family and children’s services, all because the man’s four-year-old daughter drew a picture in her kindergarten class of her father holding a gun. When teachers asked the girl what the picture was meant to represent, she replied: “He uses it to shoot bad guys and monsters.” The girl’s teachers reported the picture to the local police. After he was arrested, the father explained to police that he neither owns a gun nor kills monsters—facts confirmed by the police when they searched his house.52
Back in America, the focus is less on parents and guns and more on children and sex. In Massachusetts, seventh-grade students in a government school were asked to complete a graphic survey about their sex lives that included asking the twelve- and thirteen-year-olds if they’d ever had oral sex.53 At a government school in Wisconsin, students were required to take a “Heterosexual Questionnaire” that asked them questions such as: “If you have never slept with someone of your same gender, then how do you know you wouldn’t prefer it?”54
Not only do many government schoolteachers mine their students for personal information about themselves and their families, many government schools are outfitted with barbed wire, metal detectors and locked doors, timed bells that go off at regular intervals, closed-circuit television monitors linked directly to local police stations, armed guards and bomb-sniffing dogs, protocols for strip searches, and a bevy of state-sponsored psychologists. At one school district in Texas, students have been expelled for not wearing their government issued, microchip-embedded ID cards, the purpose of which is to monitor their whereabouts at all times while at school.55
And then there are the drugs. Starting in the 1980s and 1990s, psychologists, counselors, and teachers working in government schools began diagnosing young boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in alarming numbers and then pressuring parents and doctors to have the boys medicated with Ritalin, a drug similar to cocaine.56 The Christian Science Monitor reports, “According to testimony given before Congress in 2000, ADHD diagnosis in children grew from 150,000 in 1970 to 6 million in 2000, representing 12 to 13 percent of US schoolchildren.”57
These tragic statistics, however, do not reveal the depths of the scandal. Teachers and school counselors—not medical doctors—in the government school system are driving this dramatic increase in the number of American children being medicated with psychotropic drugs. Some physicians report that they have been told by government schoolteachers that if they did not prescribe Ritalin for their students, the teachers would “find a doctor who will!”58
Teachers and government officials have even threatened to send boys to special-education facilities if their parents refused to medicate them with Ritalin, and they have accused parents of “child abuse” and then threatened to report them to child protection services if the parents balked at giving their kids the drug.59 As a result, some parents are medicating their children simply out of fear of having them abducted by government officials.60
Why has the government school system become America’s biggest drug pusher? The answer is threefold. First, the government schools have an incentive to diagnose as many children as possible with ADHD because they receive federal funds for each student labeled “disabled”; second, the schools are full of incompetent and badly trained teachers who do not know how to handle America’s Tom Sawyers and Huck Finns; and third, the so-called “whole language” reading technique (and like methods) has caused many children of several generations to be functionally illiterate and mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD.61
By 2004, the coerced drugging of American children by the government became so bad that President George W. Bush signed into law the “Prohibition on Mandatory Medication Amendment,” which bans government schools from forcing parents to drug their children for classroom or behavioral problems.62 When politicians start banning government bureaucrats from immoral behavior, you know the situation must be very bad, indeed.
Not only are America’s government schools corrupt and immoral for all the foregoing reasons, they are also (and consequently) failing academically. Educational standards and performance in the United States have been in a well-documented state of decline for the past fifty years, and today they are in total free fall. On state, national, and international tests, American academic preparedness is at an all-time low. In every major academic subject—from reading to arithmetic, from history to physics—American students know less and less. They know less relative to American students from one hundred years ago, and they know less relative to students from other countries today.
In history, for instance, only 20 percent of U.S. fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders, and 12 percent of twelfth graders who took the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams were deemed “proficient” or “advanced” in their knowledge of the subject. More than 50 percent of high school seniors posted scores at the lowest level (“below basic”), and “only 35% of fourth-graders knew the purpose of the Declaration of Independence.”63 According to a recent survey, 42 percent of Americans think Karl Marx’s communist slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is to be found in one of America’s founding documents.64
In a 2002 survey on geographic literacy conducted in nine nations, American students scored next to last; 11 percent of American students could not locate the United States on a map of the world; 29 percent could not locate the Pacific Ocean; 69 percent could not find the United Kingdom.65
American students’ science test scores are equally abysmal. Two-thirds of U.S. fourth graders, 70 percent of eighth graders, and 79 percent of twelfth graders failed to show science “proficiency” on the 2009 NAEP test.66
Likewise in math: In 2007, 61 percent of U.S. fourth graders and 66 percent of eighth graders scored below the proficient level on the NAEP test.67 On international mathematics exams, American students typically finish close to the bottom of world rankings of industrialized nations. In 2009, for example, American fifteen-year-olds ranked twenty-fifth among their peers from thirty-four industrialized nations on an international math test.68
From a historical perspective, today’s schools could not hold a candle to those of the 19th century. In 1885, the following math question was on the admissions test for eighth-grade students applying to Jersey City High School: “Find the sum and difference of 3x – 4ay + 7cd – 4xy + 16, and 10ay – 3x – 8xy + 7cd – 13.”69 By contrast, here is a sample question from the 1998 Ohio ninth-grade mathematics proficiency test: “About how long is a new, standard-sized pencil? (A) 7 inches, (B) 7 pounds, (C) 7 yards, or (D) 7 ounces.”70
And then there are the reading scores. In 2007, 33 percent of American fourth graders scored “below basic” (the minimum standard defining literacy) on the NAEP reading test.71 In 2009, 74 percent of American twelfth graders tested at or above the “basic” level on the NAEP reading test, meaning that more than a quarter of students scored below that level.72 In 2011, only 7 percent of Detroit eighth-graders scored “proficient” or better on the NAEP reading test—and 57 percent scored “below basic.”73 In 2003, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy conducted by the U.S. Department of Education found that 14 percent of American adults (about 30 million people) scored below the “basic” level of prose literacy, which means they demonstrated “no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills.” In other words, they are barely literate—even though 45 percent of this group graduated from high school.74
The result of the decline and fall of American education is summed up in a 2007 newspaper headline: “American kids, dumber than dirt.” The article’s subtitle put an even finer point on the issue: “Warning: The next generation just might be the biggest pile of idiots in U.S. history.”75 American kids are, of course, not less intelligent than they have ever been, but they do know less than ever before.
And the students are not alone in their ignorance. Many of their teachers, unsurprisingly, are ignorant, too. In Illinois, 78 percent of prospective teachers failed an eleventh-grade level competency test administered in 2010.76 Reporters in Atlanta recently found that “more than 700 Georgia teachers repeatedly failed at least one portion of the certification test they are required to pass before receiving a teaching certificate. Nearly 60 teachers failed the test more than 10 times.” What’s more, “There were 297 teachers on the payrolls of metro Atlanta school systems in the past three years after having failed the state certification test five times or more.”77
When so many teachers in America are this academically incompetent, should we be surprised that American children aren’t learning very much?
As if the flunking academic performance of American students and teachers were not bad enough, our government schools are also in a state of moral anarchy. From drug and alcohol abuse to sexual nihilism to bullying to mass murder, if it is bad for life and happiness, it can be found in the government schools. A recent survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 17 percent of American high school students (roughly 2.8 million teenagers) use drugs at school. The survey, reports U.S. News & World Report, “also found that schools can be a hub of drug-dealing activity, with 44 percent of high schoolers saying they know a fellow student who sells drugs at their school” and “61 percent of students at public schools saying their schools are ‘drug infected [sic].’”78
More disturbing still is the sexual abuse of students by teachers and administrators and the sexual nihilism of the students themselves. A 2004 report sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education says that more than 4.5 million students—that is, one in ten—endure some form of sexual misconduct by teachers and school employees.79 The study found that roughly 290,000 students had experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a government school employee between 1991 and 2000, making teacher sexual abuse a significantly worse problem than the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal of recent years. (The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a study in 2004 that found 10,667 people made sexual abuse allegations against priests or deacons in the fifty-two years between 1950 and 2002.) In the words of Charol Shakeshaft, the author of the 2004 report, these figures suggest that “the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.”80
Statistics alone, however, do not tell the whole story, and they certainly do not reveal the human tragedy and suffering that go on in America’s schools. Here is just a brief indication of how bad things have become in recent years, beginning with the sexual abuse of students by teachers.
ABC News reports that a 61-year-old third-grade teacher in California was arrested in January 2012 for taking hundreds of bondage photos of himself sexually abusing at least forty-eight students. Police reported that the man blindfolded students, taped their mouths, put live cockroaches on their faces, and spoon-fed his own semen to nine-year-old girls.81 In Florida, a 360-pound teacher was arrested for raping a thirteen-year-old boy nearly one hundred times in his classroom after school. He was convicted of multiple felonies.82 In Texas, a married female teacher and mother of three children, was arrested for engaging in a five-person orgy with eighteen-year-old students. The orgy was captured on cell phone video.83
The tragic sexual nihilism of students themselves is equally disturbing. In Indiana, school officials attempted to hush up a news story about two sixth-grade students who, in 2007, reportedly had sexual intercourse in shop class while ten students and their teacher were present.84 Associated Press reports that in 2005 in Ohio, “A 16-year-old disabled girl was punched and forced to engage in videotaped sexual acts with several boys in a high school auditorium as dozens of students watched, according to witnesses.”85 City Journal reports that in 1996, in a school district in Georgia, two hundred students were diagnosed and treated for syphilis after engaging in after-school orgies they had arranged while at school.86 The Austin American-Statesman reports that in Marble Falls, Texas, five fourth-grade boys were suspended from school in 2002 for performing oral sex on each other at least twice—in a classroom, during reading period, and in the presence of their teacher (from whom the boys were “hiding” under coats).87
Perhaps we should not be surprised that students act in such ways given how some of their teachers act. In Georgia, seven middle school teachers and staffers were reprimanded for turning their school’s public-safety office into a sex room.88 And in Massachusetts, school administrators and teachers bused high school students to a state-sanctioned conference, where students learned about such sexual techniques as “fisting.”89 At a similar conference a year later, Planned Parenthood distributed sex kits to students containing latex gloves and lubricant. When the conservative Massachusetts News claimed that the gloves were intended to be used for “fisting,” the leftist Media Matters indignantly retorted that, no, they were intended for use in oral sex.90
As a final and most disturbing indication of the moral anarchy reigning in today’s government schools, consider that, in the past few decades, hundreds of students have been murdered in government schools (323 in the fifteen years between 1992 and 2007 alone).91
And how much do Americans pay for all this academic failure and moral anarchy? U.S. taxpayers are forced to pay considerably more in taxes per pupil for education today than they did one hundred years ago, and more relative to the education taxes paid by citizens of any other industrialized nation. Over the course of the past one hundred years, annual per pupil spending in the United States has risen by more than 2500 percent. In 1890, Americans spent $275 per pupil (adjusted for inflation and presented in 2000 dollars); in 2000 they spent $7,086 per pupil, which is a 25-fold increase.92
The United States also spends more on education than any other nation in the world, but with shockingly poor results. In 2003, the United States spent an average of $10,240 per pupil, while twenty-five other industrialized nations spent on average $6,361,93 and students from these other nations typically score better on international tests than do American students. Today, the United States spends $11,467 per pupil; New York, $18,618; and New Jersey spent $16,841 per pupil in 2010.94
Not surprisingly, many private and parochial schools do a much better job of educating children and spend much less money doing it. In socially and economically comparable neighborhoods in Los Angeles, for instance, the government schools spent more than $13,000 per pupil, while the Catholic schools spent an average of $3,750 per student; yet the Catholic schools outperformed their government school rivals in both reading and mathematics tests at every grade level.95
It is a strange world, indeed, where children can spend thirteen years in an American government school and then graduate with a diploma they can’t even read. And for all this, we pay more than $11,000 per child, per year.
* * *
The case for abolition is clear. America’s government school system is immoral, impractical, and unfixable. It is immoral because it is coercive—because it forces parents to submit their children to government-sanctioned educators, government-sanctioned curricula, and the whims of government bureaucrats—and because it forces Americans to fund its immoral operations at the point of a gun. The government school system is impractical in that it fails to educate children—and it fails to do so by design. Its goal is not and never has been to educate children; its goal is to create obedient citizens who will serve the state. And because the government school system is by its very nature immoral and impractical, it cannot be reformed. It must be abolished.
The task before us is daunting. But that is no excuse. Who would have thought in 1830—with the notable exception of one man, William Lloyd Garrison—that slavery could be abolished in America? Garrison and his followers ultimately succeeded because they were right in principle, they knew it, and they proceeded accordingly. We who recognize that the government schools are fundamentally immoral and impractical must take the same principled course with respect to our cause. We must be the New Abolitionists. We must identify ourselves as such. We must unabashedly speak the truth. And we must uncompromisingly call for ending government schools.
Part and parcel of our principled approach must be the wholesale rejection of conservative demands for “prudence,” demands that the government schools not be abolished but rather be “reformed.” Nonsense. You cannot reform that which is fundamentally corrupt.
Conservatives (not to mention leftists) will attempt to smear us as “extremists,” as “firebrands,” as “incendiaries.” Good. We will answer that we are extremists—extremists for what is morally right and educationally practical. We will explain that because our position is right in theory, it will also work in practice. We will explain that the only approach deserving of the term “prudent” is the approach based on sound moral principles and the actual facts on the ground.
William Lloyd Garrison and the other original Abolitionists were extremists, firebrands, and incendiaries—and they were called far worse than “imprudent” for taking their principled stand. Yet they courageously and proudly stood and said, “I am an Abolitionist.”
Do we lack their courage and pride? Or will we stand with them and say: “I, too, am an Abolitionist.”
That is the question with which we are faced.
I’ve made my choice: I am an Abolitionist.