Nuke Government Schools? A Thought Experiment

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry proposes a thought experiment:

Imagine that omnipotent space aliens from the planet Zyrglax land on Earth and take control of the United States. But these aliens are somewhat bizarre, and they change only one thing: they teleport all [government] school buildings into the sun, and prohibit the government from any action or law providing for [government] education, even ruling out school vouchers and the like. All school budgets are rebated back to the taxpayer. Failure to comply will result in America being blasted to dust from orbit.

What would happen?

Some, of course, automatically assume that the next generation would be surrounded by “a bunch of stupid people.”

So let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I personally don’t have a kid in school: it’s because I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people. – John Green

But this is simply the False Dichotomy Fallacy.

Or, as Bastiat expressed it:

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”
― Frédéric Bastiat, The Law

In short, government is not the only way to provide education. Andrew J. Coulson (Market Education), E.G. West, and James Tooley (The Beautiful Tree) have all shown that private provision of education has existed and is effective.

Before asking “what would replace government schools as we know them,” it is important to ask what is so magical about this 12 years times 180 days times 6 hours requirement – perhaps it is just a way to goldbrick lots of government teachers. Many people did very well in times past with much less mandatory education; even today, many children are starting college at ages from 12-16, when they have not had 12 years of mandatory education, and have had a most unconventional education prior to college.

About 80 years ago, Louis P. Benezet delayed formal math instruction until grade 6, with excellent results.

Researchers Hart and Risly discovered that the most important bits of vocabulary acquisition happen before age 3 or 4; the socioeconomic achievement gap turns out to be a gap of the 30 million words of interactive conversation heard by children during those crucial early years.

Geary has discovered that students who learn ordinary “number skills” from their home environment before first grade do very well in 7th grade math; this may lead to similar discoveries about early exposure to numbers and counting and other skills in the earliest years.

Horace Mann and millions of others accomplished a whole lot of self-education in the library, before the Internet was ever invented.

Daniel Greenberg discovered that the important arithmetic skills of the first 6 years can be taught in just 20 hours.

Paolo Friere discovered that adults can learn to read in just 30-40 hours.

With all this information, properly educating millions of people becomes less and less of a mystery, doesn’t it?

Cheap schools for the poor already exist, per The Beautiful Tree. Deregulation would permit more genuine innovation in America than is now possible.

Who says 12 years times 180 days times 6 hours is optimal for the student’s needs? Quite a bit of research suggests that less would be better.

While home education is good, homeschool co-ops may be even better, allowing more specialization of skills. 

Self education is pretty nifty. Older kids might be better served with mentors / coaches / clubs, rather than fixed-pace assembly lines.

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