The Great Education Swindle

In his book, How Do We Know, Leonard Read claims that Napoleon Bonaparte was “more than anyone, responsible for government ‘education’ in the U.S.A.” As a firm believer in “education” (i.e. indoctrination), Napoleon was an early proponent of government-funded schools. Interestingly, Napoleon was less concerned with elementary education and allowed these to be administrated by local municipalities and religious groups. A true centralizer, Napoleon was more interested in secondary education, splitting the students (the male ones) into two groups: those headed for civil work and those headed to military service.  “Public instruction,” said Napoleon, “should be the first object of government.”

Oddly, many modern Americans are in firm agreement with the late French dictator. Few American parents stop to question the vast monopoly of government education present in the United States. Many begin walking their child to the bus stop at age five without giving much thought to the sheer arrogance—and contradiction—of turning their children over to complete strangers for 5-7 hours every day. In fact, this bizarre reality has gotten so commonplace and accepted that when parents choose to keep their child out of the public system they are viewed as being a bit strange. In this bizarro world, clear-thinking, free-market people, who wouldn’t think twice about saying that centralized government is a dangerous thing, are only more than willing to applaud the idea of centralized education.

Edmund Burke wrote: “Tell me what are the prevailing sentiments that occupy the minds of your young men and I will tell you what is to be the character of the next generation.” Napoleon well understood this. He believed that the young men in France belonged to him alone and he saw to it that they were trained appropriately for a life that most benefited France. Do you think that it’s any different in 21st America? Not a chance. Children will be taught what politicians and educators believe is “best,” not the parents. All education is indoctrination. No child is ever taught “objectively.” But we have a situation in American education where those paying for the service are by no means controlling the service. PTA meetings may give the illusion of influence, but illusions are all they are.

Leonard Read writes:

The responsibility for the education of children rests with the parents. For how long? Until the child matures into self-responsibility. If never, the problem is not educational but custodial.

Note that last sentence well. If our children are not maturing into self-reliant citizens of productivity and industry, the problem lies not with what they have been taught, but with what they have actually learned. It has become somewhat trendy, especially in conservative circles, to talk negatively about the American school system. And rightfully so, please don’t hear me defending government education in any way. But the point is that too many parents rely on the government to educate their children without ever inserting themselves into the process. Discussions about education mainly consist of “Is your homework done?” And this is only a prerequisite for letting the kid play video games or send text messages the rest of the evening.

Parents have convinced themselves that the “government education” stops the minute the kid walks in the door, but in truth it is continuing unabated. If Burke is correct (and I believe he is), what is currently “occupying the minds of our young men” will do nothing to help them mature into freedom-loving citizens. We must be diligent in training them for the difficult task at hand. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2).