Separation of Government and Education

Jonathon Kozol’s book “Death at an Early Age,” is a horror story about the decay of the early Boston public school system. Almost every horror story has a murderer and victims. The particular horror story is not about the murder of bodies. It’s about the murder of minds. In Kozol’s “Death at an Early Age,” the victims are students and the murderer is government. It is a compilation of true stories.

In 1964, Mr. Kozol began teaching fourth-graders in the Boston Public School System. He was assigned to one of the most over-crowded, dilapidated and rotten inner-city schools. A place where, in his own words, “the books are junk, the paint peels, the teachers call you nigger, and the windows fall in on your heads.”

The book’s formulaic (and often dulling) procession is a long first-person report documenting the author’s most horrific encounters in public schooling. The author is generous to include critical political, social and economic details that complement each gross account.

Public education is free to American children in every state. It is financed by taxpayers, operated by underpaid employees (most of which happen to be products of the same educational system) and is ultimately directed by local political powers. Advocates of free education are negligent in recognizing that our current free education system is neither free nor educational.

The purpose of a proper education is to teach a student how to live his life. This is accomplished by developing a student’s mind and equipping him with the tools he needs in order to deal with reality. It is theoretical or conceptual training that is the purpose of education. A proper education has to not only teach the essentials of knowledge discovered in the past but must also insure that the student is capable of acquiring further knowledge in the future by his own effort.

There are grotesque episodes in Kozol’s book where students are beaten for honest inquiries (but mostly for having dark skin), where teachers are instructed to abandon the effort of teaching some students (and never encouraged to give their best at teaching any student), where students are reminded of how lucky they are and how much worse it could be (but never told just what they are lucky of), and where teachers exchange child-beating stories in the same way that soldiers boast about their kills. This takes place in an alleged school-environment that is appropriately likened to a war-zone.

Jonathon Kozol, teacher, enters the Boston Public School System like a warrior in the last wave of a beach-shore invasion force. He encounters a fresh graveyard of crippled minds in a battlefield riddled with fallen hopes, decimated dreams and tortured intellects. One would think these are victims, but by the vague and empty public school standards these are the survivors. His platoon (of fellow teachers) is made of hypocritical monsters, willingly self-deprived, which deny the existence of any victims whatsoever and are armed with irrational and illogical gobbledygook – mental weapons – to convince impressionable youths that abandoning reason and hope and that living in the “good-enough” present with disregard for the future is indicative of success. Worse than a teacher who blatantly lies about facts is the teacher that destroys a student’s ability to discern facts from lies.

Just as the mind cannot survive without the body, so the body cannot survive without the mind. The depictions of classroom structure and function reeks of a mental slaughterhouse in Kozol’s stories: children are not taught how to think – they are taught what to think. They are not taught how to live life and attain happiness – they are taught how to avoid death and evade pain. Just as a poor premise in a logical syllogism is not confined to ruining one part, but the entire chain of proof, so is the problem that poor early education is not confined to ruining one part but the whole of an individual’s life.

This “free education” is not an education. Though children pay no taxes, it is still hard to argue that any free government “education” is free. One cannot consider it free when it demands that in exchange the student give up their cognitive faculty.

In the Boston Public School System, and in all public school systems, a teacher has no incentive and no means by which to exert their very best effort at preserving and expanding the capability and scope of a child’s mind. No school system under government control will ever provide the incentive or means for that ends as will a private school system.

A government is an institution that holds exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area. It is the one and only agency that holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force. Parents are compelled by law to educate their children via public school, private school or home school. Home schooling is time-consuming and in most families where both parents work it is not even an option. Since private school is scarce and expensive (mostly due to irresponsible government taxation), most of America’s youth is sentenced to public schooling.

Government programs have no incentive to enhance the quality of service: there is no competition or risk of cut finances (except in specialized cases which are not applicable to the problem of education). Public schools get money by how well they meet government standards. Most public schools are funded by good personal “connections” with people in power. The competition between public schools is the kind of competition that exists between all government organizations: pressure group warfare – competing not for survival but for that little extra bonus grant.

The fundamental difference between the quality incentives offered by a private enterprise and those of a government enterprise is that no matter how poorly an important government organization performs it is never at risk of going out of business. It can remain decrepit indefinitely.

Kozol, writing in 1967, shows that it costs approximately $9000 to educate a student in the public school system and approximately $93,000 to hold him in state juvenile delinquency confinement. The numbers have not changed. Statistics show that crimes rates increased dramatically during the late 60’s, which is conveniently about the same time when public (and especially college-level) education was at it’s worst.

An overwhelming number of programs die in the hands of the government, decaying like a host grown dependent by an unstoppable virus. If the solution to a problem is a government program, you haven’t found a solution.

Kozol’s book shows in graphic detail a cold, dank and murky image of a crumbling fortress-like building called school. Its ceilings are rotted, its desks are broken, its blackboards are cracked and its windows are glassless. The minds of its students are in no better shape. When an educational organization lacks the funds to maintain even the most minimal degree of shelter, one can infer just how much funding it has to provide good cognitive development. It is no accident that well-maintained schools also have well-minded inhabitants.

There ought to exist a separation of government and education, just as there is a separation of church and state. It is notable that America’s education system grew out of teaching the Bible (and also that the physical classroom, even of today, still resembles a church: a large audience before a priest). In ancient societies (the Greeks specifically), citizens were successfully well educated without a public education system. Those rich enough could afford special private schooling and those not rich would enter apprenticeships and work for knowledge.

The efficiency of governmentally financed programs is flawed in principle. No amount of legislation, linguistic manipulation, or political evasion about the issue of government education will render a governmentally financed education superior to that afforded by a quality-conscious private education. Kozol’s book is testimony to the alternative.

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