Get Rid of Public Education?

David Harmer

You’ve got to give this guy credit. He is nothing if not consistent.

A small-government, libertarian-leaning, Tea Party-endorsed candidate for Congress in California is on-record as having called for the abolition of public education. And the campaign of David Harmer (aptly named, some would say) did not respond to a question from Mother Jones as to whether he stands by his 10-year-old essay that waxes nostalgic about the days when, “Schooling … was typically funded by parents or other family members responsible for the student, who paid modest tuition.”

According to Mother Jones, polling data suggest that Harmer has a better-than-even chance of defeating his incumbent Democratic opponent. Will he maintain that edge after Harmer’s rival bashes him over the head with what is surely an unpopular and impractical idea?

As my veteran readers know, I’ve long been an advocate for charter schools, magnet schools and private school vouchers that offer an alternative to conventional public schools. I’m a firm believer that competition makes most people better.

What incentive do school officials have to improve their schools if they know money will continue to flow into their buildings no matter how poor a job they’re doing? Some public school teachers do an outstanding job of motivating students and going the extra mile.

Others, however, sleepwalk through their entire days, secure in the knowledge that any effort to get rid of them will be prohibitively expensive — and therefore unlikely to happen. I think you’d find that if the slackers knew their schools might close unless they pulled their weight, then they just might pick up the pace and help their schools become more competitive.

However, Harmer’s idea of abolishing public education simply goes too far. The only way to fund schools attended by the general public is if everyone pays into the system — even those without school-age children. Otherwise the cost would be prohibitive for the consumer and then we’d be left with a largely uneducated public — which, come to think of it — is pretty much the way things were back in Harmer’s beloved 19th century.

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  • Matt

    The public school movement is one of the United States' greatest achievements and although, like our car companies, it may have been tarnished by excessive union power it remains our only hope of staunching our decline. In the 19th Century that Harmer pines for, the United States was the Brazil of the 21st – unprecedentedly rich in natural resources and cheap labor. For better or worse we can't go back – we are now in Britain's shoes. The only way to avoid their decline is through the public education system – albeit upgraded through the introduction of charter and magnet schools – that got us here in the first place and which has now gone from world-beating to world-lagging.

  • Terry Cowgill

    Well put, Matt.