The Implications of Federal Education

The U.S. Department of Education was established on May 4, 1980 with its primary objective being to “[assure] access to equal educational opportunity for every individual,” as well as to improve educational quality across America. One of the largest arguments for the creation of a federal department, however, was to coordinate the federal loan programs set forth in LBJ’s “Great Society” program. Johnson proudly signed the Higher Education Act of 1965 into law, proclaiming that the loan programs would “swing open a new door for the young people of America” by making higher education more affordable.

Flash forward several decades from these grand government schemes and these proclamations seem dubious at best. The average cost of attendance at a public university has increased from $950 per year in 1965 to $2,165 in 1980 to $11,034 in 2007 – to say that the federal loan program has failed to make college a more attainable goal for lower-class families would be an understatement. This rising cost spiral has been discussed at length elsewhere, however; the other issues inherent in the federal micromanagement of education are less often mentioned and are perhaps of more importance in our society.

For starters, the massive “free” public education system, combined with the plethora of after-school programs provided by the government, remove parental responsibility and the familial structure of our society. Rather than encouraging parents to be actively involved in the education of their children – probably the most important aspect of raising a child – subsidized government schooling encourages parents to send their kids to a building where they will be taken care of (and, naturally, shielded from “offensive” viewpoints or material). For families who lack the funds or resources to generate active involvement with their children in other ways, such as athletics or the arts, the destruction of this intimacy in education is ultimately damaging to the very families that public schooling claims to help. Combine this with the Federal Reserve’s inflationary policies, which has substantially increased the number of dual-income families in America, and the traditional American family is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Additionally, mandated national standards such as the unconstitutional No Child Left Behind program started under George W. Bush have transformed America’s education system from one that focuses on the student to one that focuses on the school districts, teachers, and principals. While each student’s needs are different, the Department of Education’s one-size-fits-all testing forces teachers to “teach to the test,” discouraging creativity and intellectual genius in young people who might have prospered by receiving the information differently.

Yet even if one were to consider the education of a state or region as a whole, standardized education simply makes no sense. A student in West Virginia, for example, might need to learn about the mining industry to open up employment opportunities above basic labor; however, in a state like Delaware, which has no mining industry, this would be nonsensical. Similarly, a student in Delaware might need to learn about the food processing industry, while this would prove relatively useless for the West Virginian. A student in a major metropolitan area may not need any such information, but could benefit from a more thorough curriculum in economics or business.

Finally, there is the obvious moral hazard of allowing an authoritatve government the power of educating its own citizens. Rather than presenting the objective truth, many textbooks used in public schools today blatantly mislead its impressionable students with propaganda or half-truths that support the government’s case (and, thus, its own security). For example, did you know that the Federal Reserve has essential purposes and functions that “provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system?” Perhaps you’d be absolutely stunned to learn that such a textbook was “revised by staff members of the Federal Reserve Board.” The conflict of interest is obvious.

Another common fallacy peddled by the historical revisionists is that the free-market capitalists of the early 20th century laid the groundwork for, and caused, the Great Depression. In Lawrence W. Reed’s essay, Great Myths of the Great Depression, he characterizes it this way:

Old myths never die; they just keep showing up in economics and political science textbooks. With only an occasional exception, it is there you will find what may be the 20th century’s greatest myth: Capitalism and the free-market economy were responsible for the Great Depression, and only government intervention brought about America’s economic recovery

…But those who propagate this version of history might just as well top off their remarks by saying, “And Goldilocks found her way out of the forest, Dorothy made it from Oz back to Kansas, and Little Red Riding Hood won the New York State Lottery.” The popular account of the Depression as outlined above belongs in a book of fairy tales and not in a serious discussion of economic history.

It only makes sense that the government would want to protect its own interests in the areas of political science or economics: the justifications for the overreaching programs of the state are always along the lines of “helping the poor” or “keeping inflation low” or “caring for the sick.” How would the state ever expand its power if its citizens were to learn that the market can take care of its sick, provide sound money, and advance the prosperity of the entire society?

Of course, we can only hope that the fate of our federal education program does not follow the lead of one of the clearest historic examples of this conflict of interest: Nazi Germany.

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