Public Schools


Public schools (PS) are not the same as public education.

Public education is the original term used by the Founders who knew that their republic would not survive unless the people knew, debated, helped formulate the issues in the public realm. The Northwest Ordinances of 1787 included “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Education was understood to be for adults and did not cost the government anything; it simply meant that the curious citizen could get information, discuss and act on what he believed.

Public schools (PS) piggybacked onto the honorable term of “education” to aggrandize their own project of schooling, which is the training of individuals, much as we train soldiers, doctors (like myself) or dogs for that matter. There was taxpayer money involved and profit for some.

Horace Mann talked the Mass. legislature into instituting this scheme in 1852, but there was a lot of resistance among the citizenry and no other state dared to repeat the Mass experiment until the progressive era in the 1870s. Michigan passed our law in 1871, NY, in 1874. Before that, no “free,” mandatory and universal schooling in the USA.


The above is a picture of the plaque about the PS at Fayette State Park in the UP.  One third of the kids in a tiny encampment would not go to the school on the village green. The good citizens who were pretty smart didn’t think that PS were an advance of civilization and many would not subject their kids to the governmental training. I’ve often noted that the original PS in Kent County which are spaced at two mile intervals and built at the intersection of the main roads all have the date 1891 on the door lintel. It’s probably the year that the Kent County commission caved in to state pressure.

The battles over the public schools were fought vigorously and in public; Mark Twain’s “Schooling interferes with their education.” says a lot.

On the other side, were progressives like John Dewey who wanted to design the perfect society. He wrote at some length that PS were to re-train bright enterprising farm kids to become dull, uncomplaining factory workers. This was the era of manufacturing when designers and planners like Frederick Taylor (of scientific management) squawked loudest in the media. The term “Factory model School” has been applied. Children, like automobiles were to be moved down a line and stuff added to them at station one, station two, grade three, grade four etc. They still operate on the principle of loading our kids up with facts and use the amount of stuff added up, be it mathematics, English or Science, to judge their efficacy and efficiency. They never, ever look into how fit their work product is for living in a constitutional republic or in a moral universe. PS enforce PC, teach “diversity” and eschew judgementalism.  Everyone is great and gets participation awards. The PS must make everyone equal, right all societal injustices, even prevent the bright from progressing ahead of the dull. And, of course, none of this can push religion.

There are good reasons for doubting PS claims that they have led to any advance of civilization. I’ll list some of them;

1) Our greatest presidents; Washington, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and FD Roosevelt-no public schools. I cannot find evidence that any of these guys ever went to any schools until their adulthood when the Roosevelts went to Harvard.

2) There is good evidence that literacy was almost universal in the US as early as 1820. De Tocqueville claimed that fewer that 3 out of a thousand American farmers and workers were not fluent in reading, writing and arithmetic but I find that hard to believe. Other studies however reveal a remarkably literate society. and

Think on it; what else did a family have to do for entertainment after the grim workdays of 200 years ago except read from the Bible or from Pilgrim’s Progress, write, or maybe make some humble house music. Read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie for information on the communal spelling bees that her father won in the 1870s, pre PS. Webster sold 5 million copies of his American Dictionary in the 1820s and 30s in a population of 20-30 million. Compare literacy from 1820 to that of any large city in Michigan in which up to 50% of high school graduates are unable to read. 

3) Home schooled kids excel; they seem to win all of the national spelling bees, science contests, quiz bowl competitions. They are sought after when they apply to colleges. The next most highly educated group in Michigan are the Amish who go to one room school houses taught by their 19 year old aunt and stop going to school after seventh grade. They run enterprises running into the hundreds of thousands and have families with a dozen kids by the time that they are 30 years old. Compare that to graduates of Harvard University of whom Ben Franklin said that they were unable to earn a living by using their wits. Ben, BTW, had a year of primary school in in native Boston before he left for Philadelphia to earn his fortune as a printer, publisher and raconteur. (He had an out-of-wedlock son with whom he fought all his life and married at age 24 to prevent “venery” an old term for syphilis-a man after my own heart.)

4) Folks who didn’t go to PS invented the telegraph, telephones, steam engines, built railroads and steel mills, wrote Shakespeare and the Declaration of Independence, developed the calculus and business empires. The guys who developed computers, plastics and automobiles stood on the shoulders of creative and unschooled giants.

5) The PS are quick to claim credit when one of their products is elected to public office or makes a lot of money. But roads run downhill in both directions. Public Schools must accept reproach when the individuals and groups that they favored and profited from indulge in crimes or in other antisocial behavior. And so we can finally put Nikolas Cruz into context. He came from a dysfunctional background growing out of the easy divorce and public assistance dating from progressive social ideas and from the Great Society programs during the 1960s. The ideals that he was taught in the classroom were a mixture of becoming a team player, a cell in some glorious but formless organ blended in with the kids in the neighboring desks, the anti-individualism that is now the dogma in academia beginning in Pre K through to post docs. He learned that the individual does not count. Only the collective provides guidance and is the reason for his existence. Furthermore, he was a white kid with an Hispanic surname and so morally suspect. Nikolas had little reason to respect himself and certainly had no pole star of truth that made his fellows important, much less sacred as he might have learned had he homeschooled or gone to a small community school.

So, what prevents Nikolas from fantasizing escaping his being a tiny blob, a part of a larger blob of protoplasm?  He has learned nothing of the moral universe from 13 years of governmental indoctrination, told that he is a nothing and longs in some maudlin fashion to be something, so buys a semiautomatic and uses it. Headlines! And he has broken free of his humdrum PS reputation.

6) The PS claim falsely, that lifetime earnings and presumably happiness increase in direct proportion to the amount of schooling that one has, Wrong! These “studies” are based on pure selection biases. Kids who finish high school or college or grad schools are more disciplined, have better family structures, start off with more family money, are more motivated to succeed and above all, have higher IQs than do folks who don’t excel in the academic milieu. I could as easily claim that more schooling makes kids dumber and less successful in life than they would have been had they walked away from the PS and colleges; prove me wrong.

7) The use of “educational attainment” for hiring and advancement is racism. Let’s say an employer foresees that he needs to pay moderately well to hire a friendly greeter for his customers, someone who requires some minimal technical training. If he advertises for a college grad he knows he will get a pleasant, tractile white woman and doesn’t have to deal with an aggressive abrasive black male drop out who could as easily learn the ropes and do the job and probably take a lower salary.

8)I have tried to look at “education theory” and dogma as scientific literature; it is as close to fraud as it can get. It is the equivalent of bloodletting and grinding up horned beetles in medicine. I could not use this level of bad statistics and of flights of imagination to treat patients and not be sued into poverty or arrested for assault and battery.

9) More money will improve PS is a fool’s errand. If you want to improve PS. get better students. The output goes up directly with the input, not with the quantity of money that you can extract from the impoverished poor people who pay these taxes.

10) The regimentation (Common Core) and impersonality characteristic of large PS inevitably lead to groupthink, all of the students have the same inputs, year after year and end up looking alike, replicas lined up at the end of the assembly line. Anyone who has an untaught thought stands out like a gouty toe. I visualize the next generation as endless rows of well schooled seals balancing beach balls on their noses and responding to chunks of dead fish thrown at them while the million or so homeschooled adults lead them around and polite, independent Amish avert their eyes.

11) US PS fare notoriously poorly in international comparisons (PISA.)  Many PS are actually chaotic hellholes where the bored adolescents ignore the lessons, become disruptive or buried in their smartphones. Yet the USA leads in earning Nobel prizes. A paradox! Could it be that not fully learning nonsense allows our graduates to imagine the hidden and wonder about some unexplored frontier? The bored and resentful but bright kid escapes the chaos and mindlessness of American classrooms by going into his own world, going independently into chasms and heights where his mind, freed of cant can roam and discover?                                                                                          Our lousy PSs, at the very least, don’t interfere with the kind of outside-the-box exploration necessary to earning Nobels. Graduates of the highly praised great PSs in China, Korea and FInland who are serious scholars come to the USA to study and emulate what graduates of our over priced and shoddy PSs have created. The turbulent and nearly non functioning US PSs might actually foster the more desirable American higher education with its out-of-the-box thinking and earnest seeking after truth.

12) Finally, I’ll say publicly what really promotes the PS to most parents; their children will get free (to them) day care. I know that that was the reason that our kids went to City (we lived in GR at the time.)  We sent them but I told each one to not believe a word of what they heard there. 

I have no particular animus against PS but I present the above historical and observational features to create a suspicion that maybe, the “needs” of the PS for more money and influence are overwrought, that we should be rethinking “more education” as the cure for every societal ill, and that there might be better ways to truly let the public “educate” themselves by letting them spend time with their families, with their religious and philosophical thinkers and with the cornucopia available on the internet.

I would personally advocate for one room neighborhood schoolhouses until age 14 or so. Let these community centered facilities teach what the parents want their children to learn and allow the brighter kids to test out of sitting through the repeated attempts to drill basics into the skulls of the dimmer. After kids master the basics, we might encourage enrollment in apprentice and work-experience programs at an early age. We can use the internet and the few surviving larger schools attract whichever students who desire that kind of instruction and let kids do whatever self education that they want and/or need..

Paid for by Erwin Haas