Well Known Biases

Politics, Economics, and the Law

Notes on ‘It Takes a Family’ (pt. 6)

Part 6: Educational Excellence

Santorum is surprisingly knowledgeable concerning the roots of compulsory public education, citing the European forerunners of public schooling (the Prussians) and the anti-Catholic roots of the American public education system. Realizing the origins and original motivations for public schooling goes a long way towards explaining why they seem to be failing their assigned task, which one might assume is educating our youth. The fact is they’re doing an admirable job of creating the “good citizens” the state wants: Politically apathetic consumers, workers, and soldiers. He argues in support of school choice, in the form of grants, vouchers, the right to home school, etc. This would certainly be a step in the right direction. If you recognize that public schools are delivering an inferior product, it is appropriate to allow people the choice to use a superior product if they so desire.

Next on the docket is the topic of manners. Here too I have no real disagreements (and he has no policy points, which helps me not find anything to disagree with). Showing other people respect and courtesy is indeed important, and is a civilizing force. We don’t need any laws for this, nor does he suggest we do. What we do need is greater parental action in instilling these social codes.

Santorum home schools his own children (His wife does, anyway. Also, very impressive being trained both as a nurse and a lawyer, Mrs. Santorum), and while he feels its the best option for his own family, he concedes that this isn’t really practicable for everyone. He notes a variety of educational options. While I don’t have children, I have thought about the “local cooperative” model of education myself, and find the idea appealing.

He discusses, at some length, the teaching of sciences. He lends support to efforts to teach both classical evolutionary theory, as well as intelligent design, and authored a bill with the intention of fostering thought and debate in schools over these theories. There is of course room for this debate, as there is always room to think about the implications of any descriptive theory. Or, to put it different, answering how ‘x’ works within a given system says nothing about why (or if there is indeed a “why”) it works within that system. That said, I’m not sold that intelligent design has any place in science curriculum, as “why” questions seem more properly understood with philosophy or theology.

Santorum attacks the liberal bias of universities, which they do indeed have. Try finding a school with more than a bare handful of libertarian professors, or one that teaches Austrian economics… the pickings are slim. He doesn’t have much in the way of policy ideas to change this, nor should he (a fact he acknowledges). He devotes most of this final section to admonishing parents, and society at large, to demand change.

I come from a family of teachers. Both of my parents taught at the local public school. I have friends who teach, and friends who intend to become teachers. With that said, I don’t think Santorum goes far enough. If you understand the historical basis for compulsory public education, acknowledge that it is doing the job of education poorly (though it does the job of indoctrination quite well), and believe there are much better alternatives, then the logically consistent thing to demand is the dissolution of this institution. Compulsory public education is a house built on a poor foundation. We keep pouring money into repairs, but none of these efforts correct the fundamental underlying fault. But my own ideas on how to address education are at best tangentially related to Santorum’s book, and therefore won’t be discussed at this time.

This is the final section of the book, so the only other post I’ll be doing on it is some conclusions and afterthoughts, after I let it settle in my mind for a few days.

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