Teaching Kids to Love Big Government
by Ari Armstrong, March 23, 2004
"What kind of right-wing bullshit is this? ... I'm a public school teacher, and I think we've cut taxes too God damned much already."
That was a reply I got earlier this month while collecting signatures for Douglas Bruce's new tax-cut initiative. And, while the reply was more heated than most, it was typical. Several times people looked at me with incredulity and said simply, "I'm a teacher!", as if that alone explains why they support higher taxes.
The angry teacher confused the desire to ease the tax burden with "right-wing" politics, even though economic liberty is bound up with classical liberalism and modern libertarianism. It seems the notion that there might be an alternative to the modern right and the modern left is beyond the conformist thinking of that teacher.
Of course, some teachers in the government schools welcome the libertarian alternative: Ralph Shnelvar, David Bryant, and I have been invited to speak in class, as, I'm sure, have others unknown to me. Some teachers are sympathetic to free markets and economic liberties. Still, the incentives of the government establishment make such cases the exception to the rule.
Those of us who believe forcing the unwilling to fund the education of other people's children is immoral, or who think bureaucratized education is systemically flawed and reduces the quality of education, are unlikely to work in government schools. Thus, government schools are structurally biased against free-market thinking. Advocates of economic liberty aren't likely to seek employment in a socialized industry.
There also seem to be some serious problems with modern government schooling. The AP released a story about an attempted murder on March 16. "A teenager was charged with attempted murder after police found him outside school with 20 homemade bombs, a rifle and a note saying he wanted to injure everyone at his high school except for three friends." The story doesn't say much about the student's family life, prior behavior, or possible motivation.
However, given the relative frequency of these sorts of events (they're frequent enough to suggest a deeper cultural problem), a look at the structural defects of modern government education is warranted. Granting there are many other personal and family matters at work, still government schools tend to be large and impersonal. A small group of students seems generally to get picked on or even bullied. Assaults in government high schools (hitting, pushing, etc.), along with severe verbal abuse, are relatively common. While most of any student body seems to adapt fine, government schools seem poorly able to check bullies or encourage the more fragile or independent spirits.
The superintendent of the school district in which the arrest occurred told the AP about the student, "All the way through [school], he was just a little different. He liked to be alone... His enjoyment was weapons." So, in the mind of the superintendent, the quality of being "just a little different," the enjoyment of being alone, and an appreciation of weapons is automatically linked with sociopathy.
Yet every genius in the history of the world has been "just a little different," and most have enjoyed spending a lot of time alone. Some of the most ethical people I know enjoy weapons and the shooting sports. Many youth enjoy competitive shooting and hunting. None of these things, in reality, is related to sociopathy. Yet, rather than focus on, say, tendencies of violence, the superintendent instead focused on other irrelevant traits. (We should remain aware, of course, that the AP may not have quoted the superintendent completely.)
According to the mentality suggested by the superintendent, our two choices are collectivism or sociopathy. There is no room for the individual achiever, for the benevolent individualist who selectively cooperates with others while retaining a strong sense of a "different" personality.
Certainly it is possible to attend government schools and break free of the molds of conformism, collectivism, and socialism. Many of us have done so. Many government schools are okay, and many government school teachers are quite talented. Government schools, though, are structurally pathological in some important ways, which is why I believe responsible parents will offer their children alternatives.