Annoy a Conservative! Recommend “The Case Against Public Education” Now!
He will be taught how to do socially useful things, and how to accept his social role peacefully, perhaps even to like it; that will be his “adulthood.” Meanwhile, the basic emotional dependency, fear of standing alone, and need for external guidance intrinsic to childhood will become permanent conditions of his soul. It is the teacher’s role to hold the child in position, gently and with love, until the community of the school can complete its work of beating him into submission.
From “Pragmatic Totalitarianism,” in The Case Against Public Education
Just over two years ago, I released my book, The Case Against Public Education: How Government Schooling Has Dismantled Modernity and Prepared Us for Tyranny, for free here in Limbo. In fact, Limbo, which had previously been a secret borough in my own soul, became a public, online haven for untimely souls simultaneously with, and primarily for the sake of, that book.
In the past 26 months, in addition to the online version you may read here in Limbo anytime, the e-book (available in every standard format) has been downloaded by readers from at least fifty-five countries — from Brazil to Belarus, from Sri Lanka to Sweden, from Mali to Mauritius, from Cambodia to China, from Turkey to Taiwan, from Iceland to India. In the meantime, however, and not surprisingly, the urgency that compelled me, as a philosopher, to write the book, and then, as a teacher, to make it available for free as a labor of love, has become increasingly critical and dire.
Now more than ever, it is time for those who dream of educational freedom and a saner political community to overcome the illusion that there is a path to these goals through the halls of “traditional schooling.” The standard conservative mantra that “schools were better in my day” is, in the final analysis, sentimental hokum, a new pool of Narcissus into which modern political conservatives dunk their heads in search of the self-consoling fantasy that since they escaped the harmful forms of public schooling, it is still possible to conceive of a return to such better days. Why, I ask, do they assume they did escape that harm? (There is, in fact, a chapter in Part Three of the book devoted to this very question.)
The truth is, there were no such better days. It is true, as I explain in detail in The Case Against Public Education, that public schools were less fatal in the past, in precisely the sense that stage one cancer is “better than” stage four cancer. But such schools were at all times, and in all forms, a metastasizing corruption of the body politic and the individual soul. The only differences between then and now are matters of degree, not essence.
For conservatives in the non-American part of the universe, government-regulated school reform directed toward some kind of non-progressive child-rearing is so far removed from present realities, both in political spirit and educational practice, that the goal of improving the public schools has by necessity ceased to be even a pipedream.
Among American conservatives, however, there is still an air of fantasia about this issue, fostered by poorly-understood reminiscences of the public school advocacy of Jefferson and Madison (who themselves never attended a government school), as well as by the current Republican Party’s occasional blather about “school choice,” a completely fraudulent idea that, in the end, amounts to nothing but the further abandonment of the principles of liberty, family responsibility, and self-determination, hidden behind the deceptive, vaguely liberal-sounding concept of “choice.”
Thus it is that many self-described American conservatives — typically of the schools-back-in-my-day variety — believed that Donald Trump might “do something” about education, and heralded his appointment of Jeb “Common Core” Bush’s friend and fellow school choice proponent Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.
To cut to the chase for those Americans still clinging to the not-very-American hope that politicians will solve the educational crisis: Solving societal problems is not what unlimited governments do — quite the contrary. Neither Trump nor any other contemporary political figure will do anything meaningful to improve education in the only way it could really be fundamentally improved, because both American political parties are completely invested in education as a government tool for producing the intellectually dependent and emotionally infantile citizenry they need. It makes little difference whether the specific aim of this or that faction is good little socialist activists or good little worker units for the corporatist economy. In fact, the “two sides” in American politics have been scratching each other’s back on this issue for generations.
To all self-described conservative parents, then, in America as everywhere else, I can only plead for the thousandth time: Get your children out of public school if you are still legally permitted to do so — and, as far as possible, out of “private” schools funded by, and therefore tethered to and monitored by, the government. Don’t make excuses, don’t argue that some parents aren’t competent to teach, don’t talk about the expense of private schools, don’t talk about needing two incomes to provide “all the comforts my children deserve.” Your children deserve to be raised by their parents, rather than by the government.
Raise your children, period. Stop letting the State do it and then pretending to be perplexed as to why each generation seems more susceptible to progressive propaganda than the last, and less thoughtful, reasonable, and moderate. You know why. And yet you choose this outcome, for the refusal to act where the results of inaction are obvious is a choice.
If this still seems uncertain to you, or too abstract, or vaguely insurmountable — something for future generations to sort out — then my advice is simple: If you have not already done so, read The Case Against Public Education now, and then recommend it to as many people as possible.
That’s not a sales pitch; I do not make a penny from the book, and I never will. It’s just friendly and heartfelt advice from one concerned human being to another.
There is no public issue more essential to the survival of civilization than education; for education is civilization. And there is no public cause more morally compelling than the wresting of malleable young souls from the spiritually enslaving grip of government-controlled schooling; for government education is the primary and most necessary practical mechanism of the peculiar totalitarian nightmare that Tocqueville divined as the chief threat to the survival of the modern free society: soft despotism.