I double checked my copy of the Constitution from the ACLU and my copy from the Cato Institute. Education is not mentioned. There is no constitutional reason for the federal government to provide education to anybody. It is not in the Amendments either.
Now if you want to get fiddly with it you might make the case that in the preamble that "promote the general welfare" might mean that education is implied but I know how some of you feel about the word "welfare." It is right up their with socialism.
The Case for Not Educating Children With Public Funds
- Families have traditionally taught and homeschooled their children in faith, reading and work skills. Many families depend on their child’s labor to support the family. The intrusion of the state takes away parental authority.
- Businesses would suffer having to pay higher wages for older workers.
- It is sinful to allow idle hands when there is gainful employment to be had.
- Providing education becomes a never ending financial drain on the population, city and state budgets. It is unfair taxation and unconstitutional.
- Poor children, those in foster care and orphans could become productive members of the society without government support. Sure there were crimes, abuses and fraud but on the whole it works; why change?
- Everyone agrees, education is a noble and worthwhile goal but why not leave it to the charities – this isn’t a concern of a capitalist society.
Unfortunately I am not making this up. These were the historical reasons given by parents, business leaders and political pontificators at various stages in American history about not providing education to children. There were fights about classical versus practical education. There were compromises on education and child labor. There were riots about a secular Protestant education and a new wave of Irish Catholic immigrants who were not about to step foot in such a school.
What Is Socialism?
It has been used as an invective, a pejorative and something that no breathing American would seem to tolerate. When I hear a word being used with such frequency I look up the original meaning and bring myself forward.
In one of my dictionaries it is defined as:
State ownership of all or most of the means of production and distribution with control over aspects of social welfare and planning.
Another definition is:
The view that the government should own and control major industries using the dollars earned to provide benefits to citizens.
Now it does strike me funny that few people have gone over to the actual socialists to find out how they define themselves. That is what I did. I visited World Socialism.org and read what they had to say. You can read their definition for yourself.
So When The Government Provides Public Education It is A Socialist Act?
Well match it up with the definitions. If the city, state or federal government uses taxes to provide educational services that replicate private industry practices and then distributes those services to the population then a case could be made that that is a socialist act.
On the other hand, it could be said that providing education to children is an act of capitalism when citizens invest in the supply of functional, capable future workers who will continue to support the goals of the government and provide businesses and the population with a stability, self-sufficiency population who contribute to the tax base.
It could also be said that education is a means of defense. Educated people as a whole tend not to commit violent crimes and are less likely to be victimized due to ignorance. A literate population monitors and participates in the governance of the country. Educated people have a voices that can’t be taken away by surface intimidation.
Did Socialism via Public Schools Destroyed Private Education?
No. When there were no schools there were no alternatives to schools if you were not wealthy. It was either work or apprentice to learn a trade. This meant a population that was incapable of adjusting to new situations or environments. They were vulnerable to being ripped off, prayed upon by certain members of the business class and inviting mental stagnation.
Private schools for the affluent members of the society continue to exists. Faith based schools continue to exist.
There have always been for-profit schools that provided value added instruction. Trade schools are in demand as students look for ways to quickly gain skills to enter the workforce and as a means of continuing their education.
Schools are a reflection of the society. When Brown vs. Board of Education became law many southern parents (and a whole bunch of northern parents too) pulled their children out of public schools and started “Whites-only academies.” When public education failed to provide equal services some African-Americans set up their own schools.
The options increased, not decreased. That is one of the strength we have is to see beyond the visible and imagine a new way to do things. That has nothing to do with socialism or capitalism. It has to do with imagination, not the fear of staying on the same dead grind.
Why Should I Pay For Your Child’s Education?
I’ll be the first to say public education is not perfect but the alternative of having huge chunks of the population being non-literate is a security issue. The constitution does say “provide for the common defense.” I need to know I’m not surrounded by bone stupid people. So in that sense, yes there is a constitutional reason to fund education.
Education is a reflection of the needs of the citizens, the business community and the government. We all have a stake in what we believe and know for a fact; that we are joint members of this society.
It is a civic duty to insure that all of us, regardless of age, have the opportunity to develop, learn and prosper however you choose to define it. It is our civic duty to make sure that the children who come later have the ability to do the same. We are not isolated beings that just happen to live in the United States.
Individuals, yes. We are connected to each other. We are so much more than political polarities. I am willing to invest in that opportunity. I’m waiting on that kid that will find a way to take old tires and transform it into something life affirming and non-toxic. Yes, I proudly want my tax dollars to contribute to the education of any child, teen or adult.
A Little Mind Nurturing for Time Challenged People Paid for by Taxes, Donations or Listener Contributions:
- Hold This Thought – a one minute audio and podcast on literature culture and history from KSKA public radio.
- The Loh Down on Science with Sandra Tsing Loh who is a CalTech grade and a gifted writer/performer.
- The Writers Almanac – what happened this day in literary history and Garrison Keeler reading a poem.
Gena Haskett is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer.