TIME FOR BITTER BUSINESS
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder’d,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
Hamlet, Act II Scene ii
On the subject of dismantling compulsory government schooling, many people seem inclined to speak as though they cannot wait another moment to spring into action—and then act as though they need the hand of God to point the way ahead before they do what they know in their hearts must be done. This is not meant as harsh criticism. These people are merely exhibiting an innate human weakness defined for all time by one of our greatest archetypes. They are Hamlet.
At a moment as historically important as this one, two inner threats lie in wait for those who understand the seriousness of the situation. The first is that they should undermine their own cause with reckless outbursts and the resulting disarray. The second is that they should cocoon themselves against the clear imperative to act by bemoaning the lack of a perfect plan. It is this second danger that I wish to address now. The people I am thinking of are men and women who know that generations of public schooling have laid waste to reason, morality, and responsible citizenship. They desire radical change—and yet something about the enormity of the situation has paralyzed them. Much like Hamlet, they rail (correctly) against the undoing of their family’s and society’s legitimate authority by an unjust and destructive usurper—but then they lament the supposed reluctance of the heavens, or of their fellow men, to provide a solution.
The truth is that education is one of the few areas of authoritarian encroachment where most of us can, for the moment at least, advance civility and morality through our own action. There is no need to wait for presidents, legislators, or courts to act on our behalf, which would actually be putting the cart before the horse. Nor is there any need to demand that people with public voices, billions of dollars, or political connections take the first step. The first step is available to anyone who wishes to take it. Millions have already taken it; one need only join them.
Hamlet, the eternal essence of the ratiocinative man trapped in a moment of practical urgency, always has a reason for inaction. All his reasons seem reasonable to him—indeed, they are reasonable—and yet they conspire against his soul’s moral imperative, functioning in his virtuous mind as excuses function in the minds of vicious men. Hamlet, an honest man, does not “rationalize” or “procrastinate.” Rather, he clogs up his moral arteries with nuanced qualifications; he racks himself with second thoughts.
This, I believe, is where too many people stand today with respect to the warning presented to them, not by their father’s ghost, but by the ghost-like witness of their own children, or those of others—children whose souls and potential are daily being siphoned off by an education system designed to produce subjugated spirits, mere slogan-vessels, whose (carefully nurtured) dominant passions are born of greed, sloth, lust, and envy, which can easily be subdued and manipulated by the power elite’s petty material promises, entertainments, and demagoguery. Our Hamlets see this treason, and want to avenge it, but they have become obsessed with the seeming intractability of the corrupt system, rather than focusing on practical actions they could take today that would squeeze off its blood supply. Their obsession with the political enormity of the corruption, combined with their impatience to unravel it, threatens to reduce them to caustic skepticism precisely where positive engagement is most needed.
Some of us are dedicated to developing the most persuasive theoretical ammunition for the long battle to protect future generations from state indoctrination. In reply to these efforts the impatient Hamlets declare, “This historical and theoretical mumbo-jumbo is all well and good, but when is someone going to come up with a practical plan?”
Thousands of parents speak and write in a hundred different forums about their successful experiences as home educators. And yet Hamlet says, “But individual action is pointless—when are we going to get organized?” or “A parent would have to give up his or her job to teach the children full-time,” or “Some parents are not competent to teach their own children.”
Advocates and administrators of private schools, secular or religious, produce evidence and argument for the myriad advantages of rescuing children from the public system quickly, and the eminent feasibility of doing so. And yet Hamlet says, “It’s too expensive when we’re already paying taxes for public school,” or “There’s nothing we can do until politicians radically reform the compulsory school laws.”
A collective plea is issued for reasserting parental control over children’s education in the name of renewing a dying civilization, but Hamlet says, “It’s too late to save civilization now—it would take generations.”
Let us begin with this last point. “It’s too late to save civilization now—it would take generations.” This view, variations of which appear regularly in conservative forums, is self-contradictory. The claim that something would take a long time to achieve is itself an acknowledgment that it is indeed possible. Of course it will take generations. Education is a slow process in an individual soul. As a societal shift, it is even slower, because at the outset most people will not be involved in the revolution, and because even those who are will vary in competence and results. Are those who use this argument against immediate action on education imagining that a rejuvenated civilization will arise spontaneously from the approaching collapse? As things now stand, it is no exaggeration to hypothesize that the majority of people will enter the difficult times ahead ignorant of human nature and history, conscienceless, and lacking both practical efficacy and the independent character to acquire it. What kind of society is likely to emerge from such a population during a period of crisis? No—the belief that collapse is inevitable is all the more reason to take what action you can against the spiritual degradations of public education right now, while there is still hope of starting someone’s life off on the path to self-reliance and moral integrity. There will be no quick fix for civilization. We are certainly looking at a multigenerational war; all the more reason to start the process without further delay.
We must once again take our cue from the earliest progressives, who got the ball rolling on compulsory schooling throughout the modern world so many generations ago. Motivated by a gnarled combination of raw power lust, messianic reformism, and moral condescension, they took what limited steps they could in the midst of the prosperous, growing societies of which they disapproved. They are long dead now—and yet today, if they are not burning, they must be enjoying the fruit of their cynical labors posthumously. Men’s most momentous actions, as Hamlet would certainly agree, are often those which overreach the bounds of our mortality. In redefining education you will need to count on future citizens to complete the most far-flung goals of your efforts. On the other hand, you will realize through this work that you have the power, with your actions today, to define the trajectory of motions that will extend beyond your material life.
In the meantime, virtuous action is its own reward. You can, by helping to save even one child from the wasted years and the moral and intellectual diminution of public school, help to set your own community on a road to strong character, self-reliance, and resistance to government dependency, combined with an unleashing of the innate curiosity that allows children to develop talents and knowledge at remarkable rates, almost without assistance—unless the state is allowed to beat or hug them into submission first. Future generations will need all the virtue, intellectual dexterity, and historical perspective within their potential if they are to withstand the hard times ahead, and emerge as free men and women. Delayed action at this late date will have tragic consequences.
Remove your own children from public school now. If you are intending to have children in the future, begin planning for their private education immediately. How will you provide it? How will you pay for it? If you are not prepared to face these questions squarely, perhaps you are not prepared for the responsibility of raising children suited to a free society—and you, along with your fellow citizens, will most assuredly reap as ye have sown.
Whether or not you have school age children yourself, encourage the reasonable parents among your relatives and friends to remove their children from public school. Make the case, rationally and thoroughly. Leave them to think about it, and then make the case again. Give them some good reading material to ponder, such as Gatto’s Underground History of American Education (invaluable regardless of your nationality, as the machinations it describes have had global effects). And as a show of good faith, offer to help educate their children.
If you belong to a church or synagogue with sensible leaders and a responsible congregation, urge them to form a school together. If you know teachers who are working in a public system but are fed up with its failures and corrupt agendas, encourage them, cajole them, beg them, to join a private school venture—their consciences are probably already tugging them that way. If you are planning to educate your child at home, seek out others who are doing the same. Exchange ideas, or teach one another’s children according to each parent’s strengths. If you are not engaged in educating a child of your own, consider how you might contribute to the education of others’ children. Grandparents, shake your adult children, and reclaim your historical role as patriarchs and matriarchs. The broader the market of available sources of learning, the more likely parents will be to remove their children from the government re-education centers—and the more affordable doing so will become. (This is also, by the way, an immediately practicable method of defunding public schools, which receive tax money based on student numbers.)
If you have skills or knowledge that might help to stir a new, energized generation of unfettered children to seek understanding or practical efficacy the way today’s shackled young souls seek computer game high scores and perverse music videos, then use them for the sake of your community’s future. Whether full-time or part-time, for profit or on a volunteer basis, offer to tutor young people in those areas where your abilities might fill a gap in a parent’s or private school’s offerings. Do you have a long-standing interest in European history, astronomy, bird-watching, or carpentry? Then offer to teach it to young people, individually or in groups. I recently realized, upon reflection, that of all the primary and secondary schooling I underwent, the only class I remember with unequivocal fondness was not a school offering at all. A man in my Catholic parish, the father of one of my elementary school classmates, had an interest in photography, and decided to start up a little camera club for boys from the church. We used cheap cameras, and only black and white film, because it was easier and less expensive to process. We learned how to take pictures and develop them. What a joy it was to stand in Mr. Deduca’s little basement darkroom, watching my masterpieces arise from the photographic paper. If only a few of my “real” classes, with my “real” teachers, had been half as interesting, or had exerted half so positive an effect on my subsequent life!
What about the other common considerations and over-considerations with which people talk themselves out of doing the obvious? Will some parents and private schools do a worse job than others? Yes—but in a world of private education, there will always be available alternatives to a failing effort, as opposed to the inescapable damage done to every child in the one-failure-fits-all world of public education. In addition, granting the minimal requirements of a relatively safe and stable environment, basic amenities, a few good books, and a sensible guiding hand, a child left almost to his or her own devices is likely to achieve far more real intellectual growth, while incurring far less moral deformity, than the same child in a government school.
And that last point really is the point. We must remind ourselves that merely meeting the government-standardized definition of an educated person more efficiently, and without the direct moral harm of public school socialization, while much better than nothing, is in the end only a provisional goal. It will likely appeal to more people today than a more fundamental rejection of progressive educational standards—because in an age inured to the universal schooling entitlement, persuading people that the entire project has been a fraud right down to the floor will take time—and therefore even this provisional goal is certainly worth encouraging. Such improved efficiency, however, is at best a transitional aim. An age that comes to grips with the tyrannical history and meaning of public schooling will be compelled at last to completely reject that model’s principles and priorities, and not merely its buildings and social structure. To find less damaging ways of doing something that is inherently limiting and spirit-diminishing—to beat the system, so to speak—is an improvement, to be sure. But the ultimate transformation must be toward true educational freedom, which means children raised independently of all state-regulated standards of success. Today’s progressive-academic-corporate complex benefits from a very specific kind of mental training, and therefore seeks to vet young people according to its own illiberal needs. The forcing of all souls through this social funnel is the injustice that must ultimately be corrected. A renewed economic and work environment prioritizing the individual pursuit of practical knowledge and self-determination, and the revival of academic principles favoring liberal education, will develop gradually out of a growing popular undercurrent that boldly rejects this entrenched, government-standardized funneling—the compression of men into vast uniform masses, as Humboldt called it. The final goal, in other words, cannot merely be high-achieving homeschoolers out-scoring their publicly-educated counterparts on standardized tests. That would entail a basic acceptance of the state’s wisdom on intellectual potencies and socio-economic purposes. Rather, the real models of success, and of a fundamental redirection toward educational liberty, would be Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and Jane Austen: unschooled, family-directed, self-taught, driven by the desire for knowledge, self-development, and excellence, rather than by the quest for top rank in a universal and uniform vetting process. This deeper victory takes great courage and patience, as it requires forsaking the short-term social advantages of living according to rules written by and for an elite with power lust in its heart and disdain in its eyes. As I envision it, progressivism’s multi-generational process of spiritual centralization and collectivization must be incrementally reversed, gradually devolving child-rearing authority, including the authority to set goals and standards, from the domain of a permanent administrative establishment back down to the family level. The first step in this revolution is to give as many children as possible the widest range of learning opportunities beyond both the physical environs of government schools and the dehumanizing distortions of the universal ranking system.
Is private education costly, whether in tuition fees or in the lost income potential of the home-educating parent? It may well be—but how do you weigh the budgetary priority of a child’s dignity, mental development, and preparedness for responsible citizenship against, say, the value of a new car, a bigger home, or an expensive vacation? And taking the long view, how do you weigh the value of a renewed spirit of self-reliance and civic responsibility against the perpetual enslavement of the state-dependent herd and the submissive, socialized “labor force” that are guaranteed to issue—that are meant to issue—from the continued manipulations of the progressive public school establishment?
Hamlet, in the aftermath of King Claudius’ self-exposure during the play within the play—“Give me some light: away!”—declares himself prepared to “do such bitter business as the day would quake to look on.” But then, yet again, he fades into qualifications and second thoughts. We, facing a similar moment of clarity, must not fade. There is no need for further proof, nor time for further introspection. It is time to act, while action is still viable. Thinking, writing, and speaking are worthy actions, and are essential in the long run, as persuasive arguments are our primary weapons. But in addition to these, for those who perceive the centrality of education in determining the future possibilities of a man, a community, and a civilization, immediate practical steps are required. The first and most vital step is relatively obvious—it only seems obscure if our inner Hamlet has us paralyzed. Work as though your life depended on it—your freedom certainly does—to get any child within your sphere of influence out of government schooling immediately. Legislative solutions will come last, not first, as future generations of self-sufficient and strong-charactered individuals make their stand against a withered and debunked paternalistic establishment. The greater the number of such free-spirited men and women, the starker and more humiliating the contrast with the downward-ratcheting standards imposed by the growth-stunting racket we call public school.
A final thought: Rebuffed and humiliated paternalists, such as will result from a significant public school exodus, will become even more brazen in their tyrannical lunges. Men and women of real and steadfast virtue will be needed then—all the more reason to start producing such people today.