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The New Abolitionism: A Manifesto for a Movement
The second in a series . . .
In the first essay in this series on educational freedom (“How the Redneck Intellectual Discovered Educational Freedom—and How You Can, Too”), I recounted the intellectual journey by which I went from being an education “reformist” to being a “separationist”—a proponent of the principle of “Separation of School and State.” I argued that if you support the principle of “Separation of Church and State,” which virtually everyone does, then you must, logically, by definition, support “Separation of School and State.” The argument for the former is identical to the argument for the latter.
If “Separation of School and State” is true in theory (which it is), then the obvious question is: how do we get there from here? In other words, what must be done to achieve this moral-political ideal in practice? More specifically, what are we to do with the current education system?
The answer is clear: if you are a “separationist” then you must be an “abolitionist,” that is, you must favor abolishing America’s dominant education system in one way or another. The one follows the other as night follows day. Simply put, “separationism” means “abolitionism.” Again, the logic is irrefutable. You can’t be a proponent of the one and not the other. Separation of School and State is the end and abolition is the means.
For most Americans, however, this is a huge leap. America’s public-school system is as American as apple pie, and the idea of abolishing it is a bridge too far for most people, including if not most especially for conservatives. But this is no time for sentimental attachments, apathy, and timidity, which is why I must speak to you in a voice that is plain, direct, bracing, and even brutal. Justice can be a harsh mistress, but the alternative is always worse.
My working thesis is simple: America’s “public” school system is the most immoral and corrupt institution in the United States today, and it should be abolished as soon as possible. It should be broken up for the same reason that chattel slavery was ended in the 19th century: Although obviously different in purpose and in the magnitude of harm to its victims, public education, like slavery, is a form of involuntary servitude. The primary differences are that public schools force children to serve the interests of the State rather than those of an individual master, and public schooling ends after thirteen years.
These are—to be sure—radical claims, but they are demonstrably true, and the abolition of public schools is an idea whose time has come. It is time for Americans to reexamine—radically and comprehensively—the nature and purpose of their disastrously failing (and immoral) public school system, and to launch a new abolitionist movement, a movement to liberate tens of millions of children and their parents from this form of low-grade bondage.
Twenty-first century Abolitionists are confronted, however, by a paradoxical fact: Most Americans recognize that something is deeply wrong with the country’s elementary and secondary schools, yet they support them like no other institution. This phenomenon has been referred to by my colleague Eric Daniels as the “Thompson Paradox,” which says that virtually all Americans recognize that the nation’s education system is failing but they nevertheless think their local school is doing a great job of educating their children. This phenomenon can be seen most clearly amongst Republicans and conservatives in small town America. Mention the possibility of abolishing the public schools and most people look at you as though you are crazy—or worse! And, of course, no politician would ever dare cut spending to our schools and to the “kids.”
For those who take seriously the idea that our public schools are broken and need to be fixed, the most common solutions include spending more money, raising standards, reducing class size, promoting anti-CRT legislation, issuing vouchers, and establishing charter schools. And yet, despite decades of such reforms, our schools only get worse.
The solution is not further reforms. Reforming America’s public-school system is impossible. It’s a fool’s errand. The rot is too deep. There is one and only one solution and that is abolition.
Just as antebellum Americans in the North had to be roused, educated, and radicalized on the evils of government-sanctioned involuntary servitude and on the need to abolish slavery, so too 21st-century Americans need to be shown the horrors of government-run, involuntary schools and persuaded to abolish them. Americans must come to see not only that the public-school system is failing, but also that it cannot be reformed—because, like slavery, it is fundamentally immoral. Abolition will not be achieved anytime soon (probably not in my lifetime), but we must work tirelessly, step by step, to achieve that goal. The future of our posterity depends upon it.
The purpose of this essay is to inspire a great intellectual and moral awakening in the minds of the American people—to shake them of their sentimental attachment to the public-school system—and to convince them to unify into an unstoppable movement toward the eventual abolition of public schools. To that end, we will examine over the course of the next few essays what the “public” schools are, why they are immoral, why they are impractical and don’t work, and why the only rational and moral course of action is to eliminate them. I will conclude this series of essays by demonstrating how and why a free market will provide a far superior education to all those who want one.
The Coercive Nature of Public Schools
When we talk about the public-school system, what exactly are we talking about? What are its defining characteristics and purposes?
The public-school system is a government-created, government-run monopoly that fills its classrooms with tens of millions of students through compulsory attendance and truancy laws and that pays for its operations with money taken coercively from American taxpayers. Government bureaucrats dictate what is taught in the classrooms and how it is taught. Government-approved or government-certified teachers run the classrooms, where they are required to use government-approved curricula, lesson plans, and textbooks.
The so-called “public” schools are therefore more properly called government schools; and, because their essential characteristic is force, they are properly classified as political institutions. From this point forward, I shall only refer to the so-called “public” schools as government schools—and you should, too—because that’s precisely what they are.
If you think about it, even for just a moment, the idea of “public” education is non-sensical and contradictory, and for several reasons.
First, there is no such entity as “the public” as though “the public” were one collective body or mind. There are, of course, only individuals, and only individuals think and learn. And since “the public” does not think or speak, the obvious question is: who thinks and speaks on its behalf?
Second, this floating abstraction called “the public” does not run the schools in any way, shape, or form; they are run by government officials who serve not the interests of “the public” but their own ideological-political interests.
Third, America’s “public” schools are based on coercive force which is anathema to thinking and learning.
As I shall demonstrate in the next essay in this series, the “public” school system is an institution run by and for the government.
Think about it this way: from the time your children are five-, six-, or seven-years-old until they are at least sixteen, you are legally required to send them to a government-run or government-approved school. In some states today, there are attempts to establish compulsory, universal day care or preschool, which means that the age of compulsion could be lowered to four, three, or even two years of age. At the other end, some states are considering legislation that would raise the age of compulsory attendance to eighteen. Support for this idea comes from the top: In his 2012 “Remarks on the State of the Union,” President Barack Obama proposed that every state in the union pass a law requiring students to stay in high school until they graduate or until they turn eighteen.
Because the government forces parents to send their children to government-run or government-approved schools, the government-school system is properly classified as a form of conscription. Failure to comply with compulsory attendance laws means you can be harassed and interrogated by the government; your home can be subject to government inspection; you can be fined and jailed; and your children can be taken from you, evaluated by government psychologists, and put in the care of government social services workers.
As an illustration of what compulsory attendance laws mean in practice, consider that in Texas a few years ago, a seventeen-year-old honor student, Diane Tran, was jailed and fined for missing too much school. In addition to being a straight-A student, Tran works two jobs during the school year to support two dependent siblings.
Homeschoolers, too, must comply with government demands. In 2008, Judge H. Walter Croskey of the Second District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles ruled (as Time’s Kristin Kloberdanz summarizes) “that children ages six to 18 may be taught only by credentialed teachers in public or private schools—or at home by Mom and Dad, but only if they have a teaching degree.” Croskey stated, “California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children.” Furthermore, Kloberdanz reports, the judge held that “if instructors teach without credentials they will be subject to criminal action.” Croskey partially reversed his ruling later in 2008, finding (in Kloberdanz’s words) “that as long as parents declare their home to be a private school, they may continue to homeschool their children, even if the parents do not have credentials.” However, Croskey continued to hold that parents may homeschool their children only at the indulgence of the legislature, which may grant, alter, or revoke permission to homeschool at its discretion.
In 2012, the New York Department of Children, Youth, and Families accused a home-schooling mother of “educational neglect” (which is a criminal offense) and, with the sanction of a judge, abducted her son and put him in a foster home. What was the mother’s crime? Her crime was that the educational bureaucracy had been slow in processing her duly-filed paperwork to homeschool her son. Finally, after a protracted court battle, the woman got her son back—but only after assuring the government she had complied with its home-schooling regulations.
Although subject to State control, homeschooling in America is at least legal. Not so in Germany. As the Observer reviews:
Home-schooling has been illegal in Germany since it was outlawed in 1938. Hitler wanted the Nazi state to have complete control of young minds. Today there are rare exemptions, such as for children suffering serious illnesses or psychological problems. Legal attempts through the courts—including the European Court of Human Rights—have so far failed to overturn the ban.
Today, some eighty-five years later, German education policy is set by Article 7 of the German Constitution, which reads: “The entire school system shall be under the supervision of the state.” (German law permits private schools, but only when approved and regulated by the State and “when segregation of pupils according to the means of their parents will not be encouraged.”) There is no difference in theory between the National Socialist law of 1938 and that which governs education in Germany today, and, for many individuals who live under the current law, there is no meaningful difference in practice.
For many German homeschooling families, the situation is dire. In “Home-School Germans Flee to UK,” the Observer recounts a few disturbing stories, such as this one:
Klaus Landahl . . . who moved in January from the Black Forest in Germany to the Isle of Wight with his wife, Kathrin . . . said they had no option but to leave their home, friends and belongings in order to educate their five children, aged between three and 12, legally and without fear. “It feels like persecution,” he said. “We had to get to safety to protect our family. We can never go back. If we do, our children will be removed, as the German government says they are the property of the state now.”
Other German homeschoolers, Time reports, have fled to the United States, including Ewe Romeike and his family:
Romeike decided to uproot his family in 2008 after he and his wife had accrued about $10,000 in fines for homeschooling their three oldest children and police had turned up at their doorstep and escorted them to school. “My kids were crying, but nobody seemed to care,” Romeike says of the incident.
It gets worse. In 2007, as Paul Belien reports for the Washington Times, “15 German police officers forced their way into the home of” a German family and “hauled off 16-year-old Melissa . . . to a psychiatric ward. . . . [A] court affirmed that Melissa has to remain in the Child Psychiatry Unit because she is suffering from ‘school phobia.’”
Another European nation that has recently banned homeschooling is Sweden, where political leaders are even calling for the legal abduction of children from home-schooling parents. Michael Donnelly of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) warns, “Sweden’s educational policy is becoming increasingly totalitarian. A country that does not permit home education is not really a free country.”
Case in point: In 2009, a seven-year-old Swedish boy named Domenic Johansson was abducted by armed police officers acting on behalf of the State social services department. Domenic was kidnapped from an airliner as it sat on the runway waiting to take off to India, where his family planned to resettle and homeschool him. When Domenic’s distraught father attempted to have his son released from State custody, government authorities publicly branded him a “human rights fanatic.” Tragically, Dominic was never returned to his parents. This is what the nineteenth-century Abolitionists called “child stealing,” and it is evil.
How do these foreign horror stories relate to education in America?
Attempts have been made throughout American history to pass laws similar to those established in Germany for the purpose of using government force against parents and their children in the realm of education. And these efforts were not limited to assaults on homeschooling; in seeking to require all children to attend government schools, they assaulted private schools as well.
Massachusetts led the way with compulsory attendance laws. As one scholar of government schooling writes, Massachusetts first imposed compulsory education in 1789; then, in 1852, “established the first comprehensive statewide, modern system of compulsory schooling in the United States.” In 1862, the state “made jailing of habitual truant children mandatory, and extended school age to between ages seven and sixteen. In 1866, school attendance was made compulsory for six months during the year.” Most other states imposed compulsory attendance laws in the 1870s and 1880s. “By 1900 court cases had affirmed state enforcement of compulsory attendance laws based on the benefit to the child and the welfare and safety of the state and community.” By 1918, “compulsory-education legislation was passed in all the states.”
In 1922, the full meaning of the compulsory nature of government education came to fruition in Oregon, where the state legislature passed a law effectively prohibiting the existence of private and parochial schools and compelling all children to attend government schools. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law in 1925 in a well-known case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters; however, the court upheld the ability of states to compel attendance at government-approved schools, whether “public” or private.
Since that ruling, private schools have been legal in all states in America. But a movement to regulate or even ban all forms of private education—including independent, religious, and homeschools—has gained ground in recent years, with advocates in the media, America’s law and “ed” schools, and teachers’ unions. Homeschooling in particular is on the front line of these attacks.
For Robin L. West, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, the “recriminalization” of homeschooling is not a politically “viable option” today, but only because homeschooling is “such an entrenched practice.” So, in lieu of recriminalizing homeschooling, she supports government regulation of what is taught in the privacy of the home. Curricular regulation, West writes, would give the state the authority to ensure that students are “exposed to diverse and more liberal ways of life.” And Kristin Rawls, a popular journalist writing for Salon, does not “believe the answer is to end home schooling altogether,” nor does she think it necessary to “imprison” home-schooling parents, but she does advocate heavily regulating home education, including the creation of a government “home-school watch list.”
Catherine J. Ross, a professor at George Washington University Law School, argues that a liberal society “should not tolerate the inculcation of “absolutist” views that undermine toleration of difference,” and so the state “can and should limit the ability of intolerant home schoolers to inculcate hostility to difference in their children—at least during the portion of the day they claim to devote to satisfying the compulsory schooling requirement.” Ross’s explicit goal is for the state to regulate those home-schooling parents “who believe in an absolute truth.” Such views, she writes, “have no place” in America. Apparently, Ross is oblivious to the fact that her condemnation of other people’s absolutist views is itself absolutist, not to mention the fact that she is willing to use the coercion of the state to support her absolutism.
Likewise, Professor Kimberly A. Yuracko of Northwestern University law school has argued that constitutional and political limits must be placed on home-schooling parents who “teach their children idiosyncratic and illiberal beliefs and values.” Professor Martha Albertson Finemen of Emory University Law School has openly proposed that public education in America “should be mandatory and universal”; that parents should be permitted only to “supplement but never supplant the public institutions where the basic and fundamental lesson would be taught and experienced by all American children: we must struggle together to define ourselves both as a collective and as individuals.”
None of the aforementioned critics of homeschooling has specified—at least not yet—what punishments they would advocate for people who resist their decrees. Perhaps—indeed, it seems almost certain—that they would support treating America’s homeschooling families as Dominic Johansson and his family were treated by Swedish government officials.
As the actions of the U.S. Department of Justice have made clear in the last year, the Education Deep State wants to be the “second mother” to your children. The government wants to control what your children learn and think. Thus it is and ever was.
But we shall resist, and resistance is just the beginning. “Immediate emancipation, immediately begun” is the rallying cry for the New Abolitionist Movement.
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. See Lee Ann Bisulca, “Arrested for Homeschooling,” Home School Legal Defense Association, March–April 2011, http://www.hslda.org/courtreport/V27N2/V27N201.asp.
. “Texas Judge Jails Honor Student for Missing Schools,” Russia Today, May 30, 2012, http://rt.com/usa/news/texas-judge-jail-tran-532.
. Kristin Kloberdanz, “Criminalizing Home Schoolers,” Time, March 7, 2008, http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1720697,00.html. (Emphasis added.)
. Kristin Kloberdanz, “A Homeschooling Win in California,” Time, August 13, 2008, http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1832485,00.html.
. “Achieves Return of Homeschooling Child to Family,” Home School Legal Defense Association, January 17, 2012, http://www.hslda.org/hs/state/ny/201201170.asp.
. Charlie Francis-Pape and Allan Hall, “Home-School Germans Flee to UK,” Observer, February 23, 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/feb/24/schools.uk.
. “Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany,” Deutscher Bundestag, October 2010, https://www.btg-bestellservice.de/pdf/80201000.pdf, p. 17.
. Francis-Pape and Hall, “Home-School Germans Flee to UK.”
. Tristana Moore, “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Homeschoolers,” Time, March 8, 2010, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1968099,00.html.
. Paul Belien, “2007 German Horror Tale,” Washington Times, February 27, 2007, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2007/feb/27/20070227-084730-5162r.
. Michal Elseth, “Home-School Ban in Sweden Forces Families to Mull Leaving,” Washington Times, July 18, 2010, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/jul/18/home-school-ban-in-sweden-forces-families-to-mull-/?page=all.
. “Swedish Pol to Social Services Minister: Take Homeschooled Kids!,” Home School Legal Defense Association, January 17, 2012, http://www.hslda.org/hs/international/Sweden/201201130.asp. At least a Swedish court declined to terminate parental rights in this case; see “Parents of Boy Seized by State Hopeful after Favorable Court Ruling,” Home School Legal Defense Association, June 14, 2012, http://www.hslda.org/hs/international/Sweden/201206140.asp.
. Dale Hurd, “Swedish Home-School Family ‘Broken to Pieces,’” CBN.com, March 21, 2012, http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2012/March/Swedish-Homeschool-Family-Broken-to-Pieces.
. Murray N. Rothbard, Education: Free & Compulsory (Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999), pp. 40–41.
. Cynthia A. Cave, “Compulsory School Attendance,” Encyclopedia.com, 2002, http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Compulsory_School_Attendance.aspx.
. Andrew J. Coulson, Market Education: The Unknown History (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1999), p. 84.
. Cave, “Compulsory School Attendance.”
. Robin L. West, “The Harms of Homeschooling,” Philosophy & Public Policy Quarterly, vol. 29, nos. 3–4, Summer–Fall 2009, http://ippp.gmu.edu/QQ/Vol29_3-4.pdf, p. 11.
. Kristin Rawls, “Home-Schooled and Illiterate,” Salon, March 15, 2012, http://www.salon.com/2012/03/15/homeschooled_and_illiterate.
. Catherine J. Ross, “Fundamentalist Challenges to Core Democratic Values: Exit and Homeschooling,” William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, vol. 18, no. 4, 2010, http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/wmborj/vol18/iss4/8.
. Kimberly A. Yuracko, “Education off the Grid: Constitutional Constraints on Homeschooling,” California Law Review, forthcoming, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 07-11, October 26, 2007, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=980100, p. 70.
. Martha Albertson Fineman, “Taking Children’s Interests Seriously,” in What Is Right for Children? The Competing Paradigms of Religion and Human Rights, ed. Martha Albertson Fineman and Karen Worthington (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2009), p. 237 (emphasis in original).