Families can’t run Public Schools; NEA is Needed

I recently received an email from a well-meaning friend who was discussing some options regarding the upcoming Presidential election. My friend is a public school teacher and a Christian, so I was a bit surprised when he made the following statement:

Paul is the only candidate still talking about eliminating the National Educational Association’s interference with education, which is something that as a public school teacher I think ought to be controlled first by families and second by the most local government possible.

To quote Rudy Giuliani when he blasted Ron Paul’s attempt to blame America for September 11, “That’s really an extraordinary statement.” For my friend to assume that a president can, single-handedly, “eliminate” the NEA’s interference with education, is beyond my comprehensive skill levels. Why would we ask one man, any man, to take a stand against the NEA when the local men and women of each individual school district do next to nothing about it? Moreover, why does my friend think the public school system out to be controlled by “families first” and “local government” second? Should the power of the public school system ever fall into the hands of families, it would be absolute chaos.

We live in a morally degenerate society. Families all have different beliefs, mindsets, and ways of life. While most parents, at their heart, have good intentions when they send their children to public school (i.e. wanting to be involved, going to PTA meetings, monitoring their children’s progress, etc.), there are also other parents who use the school system to give them a more free lifestyle. Their children are there because there is no time, patience, or resolve by the parents to be involved in their children’s education. It isn’t because they “can’t” teach their children, it’s because they “won’t”.

As a public school teacher, I’m sure my friend witnesses this disparity on a daily basis. How can both sides come together and work toward a common purpose in public schooling? Only by having a strong central control of both the students and the teachers. Without a central (federalist) approach to public school, the system would collapse, generate warring factions, and disintegrate into a myriad splinter cell approaches to education.

No, there can only be one “way” to teach in public school. The brief 100-year history of public school has been a complete and abject failure. It has survived this long because the system has periodically recognized the continual breakdown of its processes and has established, as a remedy, tighter controls and stricter policy measures. Without such, schools would divide into pockets of Creationist science classes vs Evolution science classes, ideological free-thinking teachers vs strict teachers of curricula, quiet independent studiers vs hands-on tutorial-minded students.

While some in the public school movement believe (incorrectly) that public school does provide different learning environments for different folks (for instance, special education classes, music programs, etc), the reality is that these small steps toward individual instruction are extremely costly and again, are done on a centralized level.

To eliminate the NEA and to put the hands of public school in the control of attending families will never happen and will see the elimination of public school as state control of education.

Quite frankly, there is already family control of their children’s education: you can do it yourself, you can hire professional educators of your choice (private tutoring), you can enroll your student in a private education program that mirrors your own ideals and methodologies (private school), or you can turn your child over to the state. One assumes that the last option is, on some base level, a statement by the parent that they do agree primarily with the methods and ideals of the public school system.

In the past 25 years, this family control has led to the greatest exodus of Christians from ANY form of government in our modern age: 2,000,000+ homeschooling families (mostly Christian) and tens of millions more who enroll their children in private Christian and Catholic schools. All send the same basic message to the public school system: “We don’t agree with your ideals and methodologies.”

Whether Ron Paul or any president can eliminate the NEA isn’t really the question. The question is “Should they?”. It’s clear that the parents who disagree with the public school system have moved on, are moving on, and will continue to move on. The elimination of the NEA won’t persuade them to return. What it will do, however, is to weaken the iron-fisted control of the state and federal governments on public school. In essence, the children who quite often have the worst home lives (without a strong family environment) will now find themselves without a strong central form of authority at school where they spend the vast majority of their week. Teachers, with no form of government control on curricula, would be thrust into endless debates with parents about what they should teach and how they should teach - and with, quite often, parents who have the least amount of understanding or care on the matter. Thus, teachers will actually become MORE powerful, able to manipulate weak-minded parents, and teach in an almost haphazard manner whatever winds of doctrine they personally would like to, whenever they want to.

Why? Because all the parents who have already bolted from the public school system won’t be around to voice their concerns. In fact, they won’t even care. The remaining parents won’t have the time or resolve to defeat the local school board or their local teacher. If they had the time or resolve, they wouldn’t have their children in pubic school in the first place. The sole exception would be, as I pointed out earlier, they actually agree with the methodologies and ideals of the public school system - which I believe is rare.

Most parents place their children in public school for the benefit of convenience. If not fully for this benefit, it plays into the decision to some degree. And I fully agree, it is a very convenient system. It excels at that one thing (and I might argue, that one thing only). Like all good government programs, it has at its core one simple mantra: To Provide. And it does so with fervor and excellence.

But it can only maintain its primary purpose (in the eyes of some parents) with a strong central control. Should that get removed, parents of public school children will have to get more involved (unless one suggests that the children themselves start making the decisions). Parents will have to attend more meetings, quibble over curriculum choices, debate over teaching styles, argue over class size and class times, and differ over homeschool assignments, school projects, and school plays. In essence, every aspect of their child’s education slowly becomes the domain of local parents while the administration becomes increasingly held hostage by the parents.

Parents who do take the time to get involved (lest the teachers independently wrest full control of the system on a class-by-class basis) will begin to question their time and effort. They will come to the conclusion, over time, that if they are going to have to put this much time and energy into seeing that little Johnny gets a decent education (often without positive results), they might as well do it themselves or hire someone more aligned with their worldviews.

And thus, the next big exodus of the public school system would begin anew. No, for the public school system to survive, it must have organizations like the NEA, a strong top-down flow of control, and the ability to decide matters like curricula and teaching methodologies in a structured, ordered way.

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