Some Thoughts on Public Education

Some Thoughts on Public Education

Gary Hunt
Outpost of Freedom
November 29, 2010

Introduction

Public Education in America has a long history.  In the Cape Code area, a public school was established in the early seventeen hundreds.  The pay for the schoolmaster was in the form of part of the catch of fish.  Public Education was not established by government, rather, by the parents and members of the community.

Today, we have a “public education system” that has deviated from that original intent to such a point that, except for the name, they bear little resemblance to each other.

The current form has become an administrative nightmare; a means of social reform (indoctrination); and, fails, miserably, to achieve its intended purpose as a mechanism for the diffusion of knowledge, focusing instead, on an institutional evaluation of the failure of that system.

So, let’s look at what public education was, from Jefferson through the end of the 19th century.

Historical perspective

Thomas Jefferson, the principle advocate of public education, is probably the finest source of the intent of that system.  Below are a number of historical quotes by Jefferson regarding the subject:

“I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself in strength: 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.  2. To divide every county into hundreds, of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1810.

Education not being a branch of municipal government, but, like the other arts and sciences, an accident [i.e., attribute] only, I did not place it with election as a fundamental member in the structure of government.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816.

“The present consideration of a national establishment for education, particularly, is rendered proper by this circumstance also, that if Congress, approving the proposition, shall yet think it more eligible to found it on a donation of lands [this applied beginning with the lands acquired under the Treaty of Paris — Ohio Territory], they have it now in their power to endow it with those which will be among the earliest to produce the necessary income.  The foundation would have the advantage of being independent on war, which may suspend other improvements by requiring for its own purposes the resources destined for them.” –Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806.

A bill for the more general diffusion of learning… proposed to divide every county into wards of five or six miles square;… to establish in each ward a free school for reading, writing and common arithmetic; to provide for the annual selection of the best subjects from these schools, who might receive at the public expense a higher degree of education at a district school; and from these district schools to select a certain number of the most promising subjects, to be completed at an University where all the useful sciences should be taught. Worth and genius would thus have been sought out from every condition of life, and completely prepared by education for defeating the competition of wealth and birth for public trusts.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813.

The less wealthy people… by the bill for a general education, would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government; and all this would be effected without the violation of a single natural right of any one individual citizen.” –Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821.

The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.” –Thomas Jefferson: Diffusion of Knowledge Bill, 1779.

It is an axiom in my mind that our liberty can never be safe but in the hands of the people themselves, and that, too, of the people with a certain degree of instruction.  This is the business of the state to effect, and on a general plan.” –Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1786.

Nearly a century later, we can observe the view and understanding of the public school system from, “Elements of Civil Government, A text-book for use in public schools High schools and normal schools and a manual of reference for teachers, by Alex. L. Peterman, 1891″. From that book:

CHAPTER II. — THE SCHOOL.

Introductory. — When children reach the age of six or seven years, they enter the public school and become subject to its rules.  We are born under government, and we are educated under it.  We are under it at home, in school, and in after life.  Law and order are everywhere necessary to the peace, safety, liberty, and happiness of the people.  True liberty and true enlightenment can not exist unless regulated by law.

Definition and Purposes. — A school district or sub-district is a certain portion of the town or county laid off and set apart for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a public school.  It exists for educational reasons only, and is the unit of educational work.  The public schools are supported by funds raised partly by the State, and partly by the county or the township.  They are frequently called common schools or free schools.  It is the duty of the State to provide all children with the means of acquiring a plain English education, and the State discharges this duty by dividing the county into districts of such size that a school-house and a public school are within reach of every child.

Formation. — The limits of the school district are usually fixed by the chief school officer of the county, by the town, by the school board, or by the people living in the neighborhood…

Functions. — The functions, or work, of the school are solely educational.  The State supports a system of public schools in order that the masses of the people may be educated.  The country needs good citizens: to be good citizens the people must be intelligent, and to be intelligent they must attend school.

MEMBERS.

The members of the school district are the people living in it.  All are interested, one way or another, in the success of the school.  In most States the legal voters elect the school board, or trustees, and in some States levy the district school taxes.  Those who are neither voters nor within the school age are interested in the intelligence and good name of the community, and are therefore interested in the public school.

Children. — The children within the school age are the members of the school, and they are the most important members of the school district.  It is for their good that the school exists.  The State has provided schools in order that its children may be educated, and thus become useful men and women and good citizens.

***

Parents, their Rights and Duties. — All parents have the right to send their children to the public school, and it is also their duty to patronize the public school, or some other equally as good.  Fathers and mothers who deprive their children of the opportunities of acquiring an education do them lasting injury.  Parents should use every effort to give their children at least the best education that can be obtained in the public schools.

GOVERNMENT.

The school has rules to govern it, that the pupil may be guided, directed, and protected in the pursuit of knowledge.  Schools can not work without order, and there can be no order without government.  The members of the school desire that good order be maintained, for they know their success depends upon it; so that school government, like all other good government, exists by the consent and for the good of the governed.

***

Duties. — In most States it is the duty of the district officers to raise money by levying taxes for the erection of school-buildings, and to superintend their construction; to purchase furniture and apparatus us; to care for the school property; to employ teachers and fix their salaries; to visit the school and direct its work; to take the school census; and to make reports to the higher school officers.

***

Powers. — The teacher has the same power and right to govern the school that the parent has to govern the family.  The law puts the teacher in the parent’s place and expects him to perform the parent’s office, subject to the action of the directors or trustees.  It clothes him with all power necessary to govern the school, and then holds him responsible for its conduct, the directors having the right to dismiss him at any time for a failure to perform his duty.

***

CHAPTER III. — THE CIVIL DISTRICT.

Introductory –In our study, thus far, we have had to do with special forms of government as exercised in the family and in the school.  These are, in a sense, peculiar to themselves.  The rights of government as administered in the family, and the rights of the members of a family, as well as their duties to each other, are natural rights and duties; they do not depend upon society for their force.  In fact, they are stronger and more binding in proportion as the bands of society are relaxed.

In the primitive state, before there was organized civil society, family government was supreme; and, likewise, if a family should remove from within the limits of civil society and be entirely isolated, family government would again resume its power and binding force.

School government, while partaking of the nature of civil government, is still more closely allied to family government.  In the natural state, and in the isolated household, the education of the child devolves upon the parents, and the parent delegates a part of his natural rights and duties to the teacher when he commits the education of his child to the common school.  The teacher is said to stand in loco parentis (in the place of the parent), and from this direction, mainly, are his rights of government derived.

The school, therefore, stands in an intermediate position between family government and civil government proper, partaking of some features of each, and forming a sort of stepping-stone for the child from the natural restraints of home to the more complex demands of civil society.  The school district, also, while partaking of the nature of a civil institution, is in many respects to be regarded as a co-operative organization of the families of the neighborhood for the education of their children, and its government as a co-operative family government.

From Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:

Public, a. [L.publicus, from the root of populus, people; that is, people-like.]

1. Pertaining to a nation, state or community; extending to a whole people; as a public law, which binds the people of a nation or state, as opposed to a private statute or resolve, which respects an individual or a corporation only.  Thus we say, public welfare, public good, public calamity, public service, public property.

Education, n.

The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners.  Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations.  To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

Knowledge, n.

1. A clear and certain perception of that which exists, or of truth and fact; the perception of the connection and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy of our ideas.  Human knowledge is very limited, and is mostly gained by observation and experience.
2. Learning; illumination of mind.

Public Schools

Jefferson realized that knowledge was essential, in the people, if the government was to be of service to those people, when he said, “The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.” He also provided that such knowledge would “enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.”

It is clear that education was not a service to or by the government, only to be encouraged and provided for by the government, when he suggested that parents could utilize the public or private schools, though the minimum education would be that afforded by the public school.

He further suggests the limitation of federal government involvement in education by allowing that they only provide “donations of land” which would “endow” the schools to “produce the necessary income”.  Though he suggested the division of land into districts, he never suggested that the government was a player in that education, rather, that it would educate all, thereby “defeating the competition of wealth and birth for public trusts“.  How could you entrust those of birth and wealth with controlling education if the purpose was to defeat their control of that education?

The ultimate purpose of the public education was to assure that the less wealthy people “would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government,” warning, also, that ” our present state of liberty [is] a short-lived possession unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree.”

In establishing that the responsibility for providing the public education is not a function of government, he says, “Education not being a branch of municipal government, but, like the other arts and sciences, an accident [i.e., attribute] only, I did not place it with election as a fundamental member in the structure of government.”

Now, it is possible that what Jefferson has told us could be considered as conjecture, not of practice.  This would suggest that he was in error and the government must take a greater role in the education of our children.  If that were the case, surely, practice would have changed shortly after Jefferson left the scene and would have removed itself from that “public” sphere and into the realm of government control by the end of that century.  So, let us look at public education as it was described and practiced in 1891:

From “Elements of Civil Government”, we find government is a rather broad term.  It applies “in home, in school, and in after [later] life.”  That “[i]t is the duty of the State to provide all children the means of acquiring” an education“.  So, here we come to a crux in the difference between public education and what we have, today.  The means of an education versus the education, itself.  Providing you the means of fishing does not provide you the fish — only the means to acquire the fish.  Education is, likewise, from the standpoint of government, only the means, not the education.

The members of the school district are the people living in it.  All are interested, one way or another, in the success of the school.”  This would exclude people not living in the district, say, in the State capital, or, Washington, D.C.  What conceivable interest could politicians totally unrelated, and, probably, unaware of the nature of the district, should be interested in the outcome of the education?  Surely, if they were other than simply pretending to be interested, we could expect that any true interest would be divisive, and, perhaps as was suggested by Jefferson, a result of their “ambition under all of its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers and defeat its purpose”.  After all, if the truth is what is legislated, there is no role for the people to judge what the government is doing.  It is, for all intents and purposes, a “perversion of power into tyranny“.

Looking at the relationship of the teacher to the student, we find that “The teacher has the same power and right to govern the school that the parent has to govern the family.  The law puts the teacher in the parent’s place and expects him to perform the parent’s office.”  This is further supported by the fact that when we look at the Civil District (city or county), we find that there are “special forms of government as exercised by the family and the school” that are “peculiar to themselves“.

To assure a proper understanding of the relationships stated above, let me repeat from that source that:

“School government, while partaking of the nature of civil government, is still more closely allied to family government.  In the natural state, and in the isolated household, the education of the child devolves upon the parents, and the parent delegates a part of his natural rights and duties to the teacher when he commits the education of his child to the common schoolThe teacher is said to stand in loco parentis (in the place of the parent), and from this direction, mainly, are his rights of government derived.

“The school, therefore, stands in an intermediate position between family government and civil government proper, partaking of some features of each, and forming a sort of stepping-stone for the child from the natural restraints of home to the more complex demands of civil society.  The school district, also, while partaking of the nature of a civil institution, is in many respects to be regarded as a co-operative organization of the families of the neighborhood for the education of their children, and its government as a co-operative family government.

So, when you send your child to school, you have made the teacher in loco parentis.  If you have not assigned that right to the federal government, the state government, or even the school district, then, should that authority apply only to those to whom you have granted, should it extended to people unknown, in places unknown, for purposes unknown?

Government Schools

The United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare (Welfare has since been changed to “human services”) was formed in 1953.  Given that the Founders and Framers only saw fit to provide grants of land, at the federal level, for the support of the public education system, we must wonder why this expansive move into the rights previously held by the parents.  However, these intervening 57 years have clearly established the consequences of the establishment of that Department.  It has resulted in a near complete takeover of the education process and moved it into absolute (despotic?) control of the federal government, including denial of the parent’s right to involve themselves in the education process.

Along with the expansion of federal authority in the realm that was previously reserved to the community, the State governments have also encroached well beyond their original enrolment in education.  BY submitting to federal dictates, mandates and funds allocation, they have become co-conspirators with the federal government to undermine the purpose of public education, as envisioned by the Founders and practiced, for over a century, as a right of the local community and the parents, resulting in the subjugation of our children to an indoctrination program the prescribes social relationship, undermines religious and moral values, and, subjects the children to a belief in the absolutism of government’s authority.

Conclusion

The Constitution stands mute on the subject of education and schools.  The only authority that the federal government had was with regard to the “public lands”.  That authority underlay Jefferson’s desire to found the federal support only to the “donation of lands”.  Clearly, no authority was granted by the Constitution to subvert the rights of the parents and the school district in matters of education.  Even an expansive misrepresentation of “the General Welfare” could not subordinate the authority of the parents and the school district, even if they were failing, miserable, in the pursuit of a proper education.  After all, who but the parents could determine whether there was a failure in the process? 

That ascension of authority to the federal government made way for the ascension of State authority, well beyond that which was intended.  Initially, states could set certain guidelines, and, historically, these were quite limited and included the matter of taxation for funding, usually granted to the county or district, and protections to be afforded the district and schools for protection from abuse.

Taxes for the support of public schools were, for many decades, raised through ad valorem (on property) taxes.  This did provide for inequality in education, however, this inequality was no different from the inequality in housing and diet.  Those who worked harder received greater benefit.

This did not demean education.  The basics of reading, writing, mathematics, and science were necessary as a foundation for subsequent learning, whether through the educational system or the ability to acquire additional knowledge by reading books, periodicals, and newspapers.  It was the foundation that was the necessity of public education.  Those who proved themselves worthy were able to take advantage of scholarships to increase their education, though that route was, and should only be, available to those competent, desirous of, and willing to pursue such higher education.  It was, and should be, the foundational education that came within the purview of “public” education.

The consequence of attempting to assure that all people had such higher education available was that the higher education has been lowered in quality to accommodate those who were not mentally capable of such aspirations, though they had been convinced that it was their “right” to achieve what would otherwise be beyond their abilities.  This has resulted in college graduates with 6th grade reading skills, and, and overall reduction of the equality of education of the higher levels, except where wealth has afforded certain individuals with access to expensive private colleges.  The entire country has suffered as a result of this malaise in education by allowing those to have degrees that are not indicative of their scholarly achievements, rather, the fact that they have completed a course of education without regard to the quality thereof.

Public education, to serve the intentions and practices under which it was first instituted, must return to that which serves the people rather than the government.  To allow the government to impose any more than the “means” to educate; to allow the government to subvert the needs of the people, as defined by the people through their school boards of local, interested parties; is to allow the government the means of indoctrination of the people, especially the young, into acceptance of despotism and subjugation.

Tags: , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Public Education”

  1. […] lot N 16, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools, within the said township… https://outpost-of-freedom.com/blog/?p=373 http://historyeducationinfo.com/ Here is another gem of information about how our education was […]

  2. […] lot N 16, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools, within the said township… https://outpost-of-freedom.com/blog/?p=373 […]

Leave a Reply for The Origins of Local Control – Mike Leuzzi for Puyallup School Board Director