Public, government-controlled education is a troubled and all but moribund system that, in the private sector, would have been bankrupt and out of business long ago. Its effect on everyone involved is parallel to the classic stages of mourning, defined so well by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
School administrators, superintendents, principals and all those within the schools who make excellent salaries outside the classrooms are firmly in the Denial stage. For them the system works, the status quo is fine, and all that is needed is more money, always more money, and a higher caliber of teachers and parents.
Kids 10 and older, smarter than adults, recognize that "compulsory education" is an oxymoronic idea; they move from an unconscious Denial during the fifth grade to a semiconscious Anger in the sixth and seventh, rejecting a government (grown-ups) that forces them to the water and insists that they drink. The administrators react by dropping both academic and behavioral standards surprisingly close to zero. The kids, realizing that they're being warehoused, meander through the latter stages of mourning, to Bargaining, to Depression and to Acceptance.
Anger is the condition of the few knowledgeable taxpayers who are aware that it costs more than $150,000 per year to keep 30 kids sitting in a government-operated first grade. Those parents scheming to get their kid transferred to a "better" school are Bargainers, as are those who take flight to a suburb.
Teachers, when new, Accept everything, including the powerlessness of the classroom instructor who dares not give more than a handful of low grades and who isn't trusted to dismiss any kid who is disrupting the education of others. They do not realize that their low status is necessary to the higher salaries and status of the non-teaching people. Their initial Acceptance turns to almost simultaneous Denial and Depression, usually seen as burnout.
Government (public) schools in America are a mournful, socialized failure. Everyone who wants more from them than "free" child care knows this. Among all the industrialized nations our kids come in dead last in just about any test or comparison. As 30% of our precious raw material is wasted and "dropped out," many of the remainder are given counterfeit diplomas with no guarantee that they have mastered the essential skills or developed the proper values to make this nation competitive in the world or us safe in our own streets. We are, as we dolefully agree, a nation at risk. How come?
We have collectivized our schools, just as the Soviet Union collectivized farms, and the results have been equally disastrous: mismanagement and waste, disaffection and dehumanization. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm. In my 30 years of public school teaching, I sensed that the only real enthusiasm came from the inevitable "blue-ribbon" commissions set up year after year to meet "the crisis in education." With enthusiasm, but also with a hopelessly naive arrogance and conceit, they always imagined that they could plan the use of educational resources better than the millions of individuals who actually provided the resources.
Like the Soviets, who didn't trust the farmers to make their own decisions and control their own lives, our public school lobby convinced government that education was too important to be left to the people, that the people did not really want to trust themselves with the education of their children.
"Self-trust is the essence of heroism," quoting Emerson again. But we the people, not being heroic enough, have acquiesced in probably the most monumental boondoggle that could befall us. We have education by civil servants and curriculum planning by career bureaucrats who preach hypocritical cant equating government thought-control with national unity, equal opportunity and "the American Way." They have forced us to think of education in terms that Big Brother would approve.
Jefferson's famous line is rarely quoted in its entirety: "That government is best which governs least, because the people discipline themselves." When government gets involved with minds and controls how, what, why and where its citizens think, it is governing not least but most, not best but worst, and it is robbing those citizens of the will to discipline themselves and the trust they would have in themselves.
In a brave and freedom-loving society, government ideally would get out of the mind-altering business, limiting itself to welfare-type "education stamps" for the poor. The rest of the citizens, relieved of most of the education taxes that they now pay to government middlemen, would happily contract for educational services, becoming personally involved to a far greater degree than is possible today.
Other solutions of honesty and merit are tuition tax credits or a simple voucher system, both of which recognize that the schools will never improve until the public school monopoly is broken and all schools can compete on an equal basis.
For government to "relieve" parents of the responsibility for education is to do great injury to the familial relationship, depriving parent and child of the sense of bonding and mutual appreciation that is the deepest principle of human existence and the ultimate form of self-esteem. The breaking of this bond, I am convinced, has done incalculable harm to the American nation.