by Billy Greer
Common Sense Regulation
I'll admit it, I've never been a big fan of lots of regulation either in business or in
our personal lives. I'm not against all regulation; I recognize that some type of law is
needed to ensure that our individual rights are protected. The problem is that regulations
often seem to take on a life of their own. They start off simply enough, with lots of good
intentions, but somehow grow more convoluted and onerous over time.
Most regulations start off with the intent to protect individuals or to protect the
common good. Unfortunately, once they are in place, they are often used in ways that
weren't originally intended, and they are often based on false premises.
Let's take a look at some of the regulations concerning education. Our current school
system is based on the idea that education serves the common good. Our country benefits
from ensuring its citizens are educated and it is important to provide educational
opportunities to everyone, not just the wealthy. It's hard to argue with a statement like
that, but why must it then follow that compulsory attendance to schools is the only way to
achieve these goals?
There are lots of other educational models out there such as apprenticeships,
mentoring, homeschooling, or tutoring, so why limit us to schools? Even more important,
why make school compulsory? The underlying assumptions here are actually pretty insulting.
We are being told in effect that we cannot be trusted to decide the best educational
format for our children. So the state decides for us. In theory, schools offer
opportunities for increased efficiencies through economies of scale and standardization
and that makes them an appealing choice for the state. By making school compulsory, the
state is telling us that we cannot be trusted to look after the best interests of our
children unless required to by law. The state decides for us, then tells us we must
We are so used to the idea of school that we usually accept many of its premises
without thinking. Let's put it in perspective by using a different example. If the state
has an interest in the "feeding and nourishment" of our intellects, then it has
just as much of an interest in the feeding and nourishment of our bodies. Imagine that the
state decided to set up free government cafeterias for our children. Some people wouldn't
mind that. It could be kind of nice to send the kids off to let someone else feed them
(and do the dishes afterwards!) Of course, some people might be upset that they have to
pay taxes to support these free cafeterias when they don't have any young children of
their own. Most restaurant owners would also be upset at the prospect of facing unfair
competition from a government agency that can offer "free" meals that actually
cost more than their higher quality restaurant meals.
Let's take it a step further. Now say that the government requires you to send all of
your kids to these cafeterias for their meals. The kids must report for breakfast, lunch
and dinner. They don't get any say over the menu selection, the size of the servings they
can have, or the time of their meals. They also get evaluations on how much of their meals
they eat, and they are weighed and measured regularly to make sure their growth is
progressing. The government hasn't banned private restaurants, so you can avoid all of
this and get a better menu selection if you can afford it. So, your only options are to
accept what the state provides, or if you have enough money, you can pay for something
better. Would most of us consider this an appropriate function of the state? Probably not,
but most people accept the same situation when it comes to education.
When one permits compulsory attendance to become law, soon more regulations are
required. Since parents are giving up the right to directly oversee the education of their
children or to choose who will be working with their children, many will want reassurances
that the "substitute parents" will do a good job. It now becomes necessary to
regulate teachers. They need to be "certified" and properly trained for the job.
Next, testing will be implemented to see how schools are performing.
Once regulations are in place, various groups learn how to make them work to their own
advantage. Teachers unions have a vested interest in presenting their profession as one
requiring specialized training. It helps protect jobs and justifies higher salaries. Do
you think a teachers union can ever publicly declare homeschooling to be a valid form of
education? Would they ever support vouchers or the separation of school and state? Of
course not! They can better protect the jobs of their members by gaining more control of
the system and adding more requirements that their "competition" is not likely
to meet. The trend is to encourage full time school earlier and earlier. Kindergarten has
already become mandatory in many states and there is serious talk about mandatory
full-time pre-school. The teachers unions will grow even larger.
The process is also likely to become political. Teachers unions can motivate lots of
voters. Any issue that is against the school system is equated to being against education.
No politician wants to appear to be against education, so it is easy to support
legislation which spends more money on the school system and gives it more control over
the lives of children. Publishers also have a vested interest in the existing system.
Schools present them with the opportunity to sell a large number of text books. In fact,
some text books are edited to assure that they are approved for purchase rather than to
assure accuracy. I grew up as a "Navy brat" and attended a dozen schools in
various states. I can tell you from personal experience that even between states as close
as North Carolina and Virginia, the history books present different slants on the Civil
War. I can only imagine the difference between textbooks used in Massachusetts and
Teachers unions, textbook publishers, testing companies, clothing manufactures, shoe
companies, construction companies, school bus companies, employers - they all have an
interest in maintaining the status quo. Our educational system should be protecting the
rights of parents and children, but instead it is taking away their rights in order to
support teachers jobs, lucrative construction contracts, back-to-school sales for
retailers, and political careers.
Wouldn't it be great if the state would trust parents enough to give us back the
freedom to raise and educate our own children?