It was around this time that the States began to separately legislate compulsory schooling. At first, the laws only required that students attend what we would today consider “elementary” school, and allowed for private schools. Over time, and under the banner of “common education for all,” states attempted to outlaw private schools all together, allowing for a government created monopoly on schooling, but in Peirce v. Society of Sisters, the Supreme Court ruled that free citizens had the right to determine the course of their children's education, although the more basic question of whether or not the state had any right to compel education was not addressed by the Justices. In fact, the appellants argued that,
No question is raised concerning the power of the state reasonably to regulate all schools, to inspect, supervise and examine them, their teachers and pupils; to require that all children of proper age attend some school, that teachers shall be of good moral character and patriotic disposition, that certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught, and that nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare.
But perhaps we should raise that question. With the advent of compulsory education, the government was now able to use their monopoly on education as a tool with which people could be trained, coerced, and punished. White legislators denied funding for black schools, and even poor white schools in the south. In the north, where the local governments saw fit to educate their black citizens, literacy amongst black people was significantly higher.
Further, while they claimed that their interest was in promoting literacy to boost the economy, we have already seen that literacy was near universal prior to compulsory education. In fact, from the inception of compulsory education to 1993, functional literacy had fallen by between 30 to 50%. Roughly half of adults surveyed were barely able to fill out basic information about themselves on a form, find and interpret simple phrases from short passages, or do basic single digit mathematics, “using numbers that can be easily located in printed material.”
So if in fact, the stated goal of government provided compulsory education is literacy, they have failed miserably. Worse, public schools have become a breeding ground for juvenile crime and violence. In 1999-2000, 71% of schools reported some incidences of violent crime, with 20% of public schools reporting a serious violent crime such as rape, assault, or murder. The frequency with which students at public schools reporting being the victim of violent crime is nearly 50% higher than that of their private school classmates.
Government schooling, which was pitched as an effort to increase the educational level of the people, has clearly had the opposite result. Rates of functional literacy have lowered, basic knowledge and skills has decreased, and scores on standardized testing have actually fallen, as reported by the government itself. Either we are to believe that the state truly has our best interests in mind, and they are completely incompetent and so we must seek alternatives, or we are to believe that this is a systematic attempt to dumb down the education level of the proletariat, making them more dependent on the state and less likely to seek their own freedom. Either way, the results are clear, and so too must be our actions.
Poor education leads to poverty, crime, sickness, depression, and death. A good education is no promise of freedom from these things, but it gives a person a better chance going forward. So how can we get a good education, and how much would it cost?
How much is government education costing us now?