Monday, May 23, 2011

Prologue: The Purpose of Education

I firmly believe that the purpose of education is to teach a person how to think independently and to question. Its purpose is to teach a person to think outside the box, be a self-starter and come up with new ideas. To learn how to question authority is part and parcel of an education.

The educated person has learned how to learn. Material and experience learned is used to figure things out independently. An educated person has learned to be a self-reliant self-starter and self-teacher.

To learn how to read is very important, not just so one can parrot the ideas of other people, but so that the ideas of others can trigger the formation of ideas of one's own. The classics, including not only American literature, but also literature going back to the early Roman and Greek, are very good sources of ideas, as these works were written in surroundings entirely different from our own. Literacy has declined as schooling has increased. John Taylor Gatto described some statistics on the decline of literacy. The phonics method of teaching children how to read, which works, was dropped in our schools (1).

In the United States today, there is very little of what can be called "education." In fact, until a person is 18 years old, true use of the mind is strictly forbidden. There are so many restrictions on young people that I believe a comparison study of slaves in the ante-bellum South and today's "minors" would be worth doing.

And it is tragic. It has been shown that once people reach puberty they are capable of adult behavior (2). If they do not behave as adults it is because they have every reason not to (3).

According to studies cited in the Epstein book, the ability to reason and figure things out peaks in the early teens. John Taylor Gatto believes that by age 12 a person should be enough of an adult to be earning his or her own money out in the community (4).

So why are youth locked in that tiny little box? Why does the establishment refuse to acknowledge their abilities? I would answer that question with questions: How would the size and scope of government increase without minor-status laws? How would teachers' unions benefit from a change in the direction of freedom? They would not. Governments, unions, and other establishment entities are benefitting on the backs of youth.

And, most important of all, how would the populace be kept docile if people were allowed to learn how to think at the time they could best learn? Keeping people in line is government's most important job if it is to go on growing stronger and taking freedom and productivity away. A thinking populace cannot be kept in line.

So, as far as young people and their education is concerned, by the time they turn 18 and are allowed any freedom at all, the train has left the station. And I firmly believe this is exactly how the establishment has designed the system.

Minor-status laws have proliferated exponentially over the decades. While it is true that most of these no longer apply to 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds, they have become far more numerous and stringent for persons under the age of 18. This has been on a steep rise through the last half of the twentieth century and has doubled since 1970! (5).

Some status laws prevent young people from engaging in activities that are technically legal for them, such as the legal inability to sign a contract until they are 18. No contract? No cellphone, no car, no rentals, no land ownership, and no marriage, at least not on their own. And, on their own is the way they should do such things. Californians under 18 cannot deliver newspapers because carriers are required by newspapers to buy insurance, which "minors" cannot (6). The health club I belong to requires members to be 18 and I am sure this is a liability issue that it has no control over. Regulations that are choking all of us are even tougher on youth.

Therefore, "minors" are relegated to second-class- or even third-class-citizen status. Actually third-class is the more accurate as we study public schooling.

The kids do not count, as we will see. They have no money, no vote, and no rights in the eyes of the establishment. We will also see that parents and taxpayers do not have much status either, at least not compared to politicians, bureaucrats, union big-shots, and others who are well-connected.

It is these well-connected who hold the purse-strings and power, while the rest of us, especially the students, are shafted.

As I explained before in previous essays, the establishment has picked policies out of the air when it comes to youth laws. No minor-status laws at all have any basis in either the Bible (7) or the Constitution. There is zero mention of any age in the Constitution, except regarding holding elected office. There is no reason any young adult, Christian or otherwise, should observe any "minor" laws.

Edwin G. West's Education and the State (8) shows that state "education" applies to groups rather than individuals and leads to state monopoly. This tends to frustrate the universal desire for self-improvement. He starts the book right at the outset with the treatment of "minors."

Even the most ardent 19th century advocates of laissez faire, says West (9), believed that the purpose of government is to protect people.

They were wrong, in my opinion. The sole purpose of government is to protect the individual's rights. So they were working from the premise that government is to protect individuals themselves rather than individuals' rights. If their premise is right, then it is perfectly OK, for a simple example, for government to force you to wear a seat-belt to protect you, but it should not protect your right to decide whether or not to wear your seat-belt on your body in your  car.

However brilliant these defenders of laissez faire might have been, this was a fatal blunder. But what of children, who cannot protect themselves? This is what parents are for. God in His infinite wisdom has created mankind in such a way that the child has two parents, each responsible for protecting him from all kinds of dangers, including the other parent, and including over-reaching paternalistic government. (Obviously sometimes a child has only one parent, or none, or cruel parents, but I will not digress.)

Minor-status laws are one evil from which parents must protect their children, even into young adulthood. There are so many things young people technically cannot do, and it is the job of parents to help them find ways around these restrictions.

Of course, the defenselessness of little children, plus the idea that government's function is to protect, led to special "protection" of kids and that segues right into the idea that education is a function of government. This idea was swallowed whole by even free-market of thinkers such as Milton Friedman (10).

And now today, it is this very government school system that children need to be protected from, if they are to grow into truly educated people who can think for themselves, teach themselves, and question "authority."

(1) John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of American Education, The Oxford Village Press, New York 2003, P. 52, 53.

(2) Robert Epstein, The Case Against Adolescence, Quill Driver Books/World Dancer Press Inc., Sanger (California), 2007, Chapters 6 & 7.

(3) Ibid. P. 164, 165.

(4) Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, B.C., Canada, 2009, P. 136, 137.

(5) Epstein P. 32.

(6) Ibid. P. 32.

(7) Ibid. P. 288-290.

(8) Edwin G. West, Education and the State, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 1994, (Third Edition).

(9) Ibid. P. 3.

(10) Ibid. P. 4.


Fritz Ward said...

On a more mundane level, I want to note that California, which at one time had some of the highest standards for mathematics will replace its current standards with new ones in 2015. Currently, 5th grade students are to add, subtract, multiply and divide with decimals in 5th grade. They also need to know how to find fraction and percent equivalents of decimals, and find the percent of a number. Under the new standards, they only have to "read, write, and compare" decimals.

Obviously, the new standards can best be described as "dumbing down" education. But undoubtedly some parents would want that, as will a large number of students. Others will want tougher standards. It may be the only way to resolve such an issue is to simply end the state imposed cookie cutter "one size fits all" education system.

Michael Morrison said...

Mr. Ward makes an excellent comment, and his news about the, as he so accurately put it, "dumbing down" -- or, really, further dumbing down -- of California schools is disturbing.
However, I take issue with him on one point. He said "the only way to resolve such an issue is to simply end the state imposed cookie cutter 'one size fits all' education system."
No, there is a better way: Completely end government involvement in schools.
We don't want government -- meaning politicians and political bureaucrats -- involved in, for example, religion and churches. For the same reason, that we're dealing with ideas and opinions, we shouldn't want them involved in schools, and even less so in education.
Let free people in a free society provide schools and education, and watch these United States reclaim the number one position in the world.