I have a daughter. She’s bright (in her school’s “high ability” program”. She’s athletic (swim team for a couple of years now). And she’s utterly adorable. (Don’t challenge me on that. Just…don’t.)
Unfortunately, she’s in public school and there’s not a lot I can do about that. As much as I’d love to homeschool, I’ve got to keep working to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. And my wife can’t do it because while I bring home the bigger paycheck, it’s at a very small company and my wife’s job does things like provide health insurance. (And with my various problems–I’d say it’s a shame we’ve got to get old, but when you consider the alternative…–we really need that insurance.)
So, she’s in public school.
A couple of years ago she brought back a school report which had an item “The purpose of government is to provide services that individuals can’t pay for.”
So I ask her about it. She tells me that the example they gave was street cleaning. Someone has to clean the streets and that’s the purpose of government. (I’ll have a bit to say on this subject somewhat later.)
Again, what? Yes, to a certain extent that may be a role of government but the role? Don’t think so.
Obviously, the school and I disagreed on this subject. This wasn’t a matter of there being an objectively “right” answer but rather presenting something that’s a matter of philosophy and values as though it did have an objective correct answer.
Now, I could have gone into the school and raised a fuss, insist that they teach my philosophy and values on the rest of the class. Instead, I took the time, generally when driving my daughter to school in the morning, to discuss the issue with her. I started with the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
And, so that the purpose of government is to secure our rights and that the basic rights include Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.
Once she had that, we went on to the Constitution, the three branches of government: Legislature which makes the law, Executive which carries out (executes) the law, and Judicial which tries cases under the law. We went over the Bill of Rights.
And, so, I made sure that my daughter understood my philosophy of government because that’s my responsibility.
And it’s not just matters of value and philosophy. The schools, or at least the teachers, have been known to be wrong on matters of fact. And this is nothing new. Sometimes it’s outdated information. For instance, when I was in grade school mountain building was described as being caused as follows:
When it was formed the Earth was much hotter than it is now. As it cooled it contracted, as cooling things are wont to do. This caused the crust, the “skin” to wrinkle like a withered apple. These wrinkles are mountains.
This was at least a decade after plate tectonics had become widely accepted as the cause of such things as mountain building.
Other examples include a fourth grade teacher telling me that all radioactive rocks contain Uranium. (I could see in the book that Uranium was given as an example of something in radioactive rocks, not an exhaustive listing.) And a Sixth grade teacher telling me that the Curies discovered radioactive elements (as in discovering radioactive elements existed rather than the accurate statement that they discovered particular radioactive elements). And so on.
And sometimes it’s not the teacher. Sometimes it’s the book. The encyclopedia I grew up with described stellar evolution thusly:
Stars start as large gas clouds. They start to contract. As they contract, they heat. (So far, so good, in an oversimplified way. But now it goes off the rails) At a certain point they are hot enough to glow as Red Giant stars. They continue to contract, getting hotter, and proceed through “yellow giant” “white giant” and “blue giant” Eventually contracting to a “blue dwarf”. Once they reach blue dwarf stage, they gradually start to cool, going back through the spectrum until they reach red dwarf and finally extinguish.
That theory was superseded in the 1920’s. Yet there it was, presented as Gospel Truth in a respected encyclopedia forty years later and being taught in our schools.
More recently I came across another particularly egregious example where a child got in trouble for correcting a teacher who said that a kilometer was longer than a mile. In the note sent back to the parents, it admitted that the child was right about the kilometer but was wrong for challenging the teacher’s authority. In this case it wasn’t about right or wrong but about enforcing the hierarchy. Now, I’m not going to say that this is deliberate, but if you really wanted to enforce a hierarchy, insisting that people claim that something demonstrably and provably wrong is right and to do so from a young age would be the way to do it. No, I don’t think they put errors in deliberately. Everybody makes mistakes, even teachers and textbook writers. But by insisting that these errors be accepted as “right” substitutes submission to authority for reason and learning.
Sometimes the teacher is wrong. Sometimes the book is wrong. You, as an individual, have to be ready to question the book, question the teacher, and make sure your children do so as well.
And, now, I’m going to digress a bit on something brought up above simply because I think it’s interesting. I mentioned street cleaning and that I’d have a bit to say on that somewhat later. Well, it’s somewhat later.
Folk have argued, with some justice, that public good activities such as street cleaning are among the legitimate functions of government. And, in at least some instances, they make a compelling case. Michael Z. Williamson in his Libertarian paean Freehold goes into this a bit. There is a scene involving heavy, road blocking snow. The libertarian government of Grainne (the eponymous freehold) has no services for things like snow removal. Thus, it is up to each individual business or property owner to clear the road in front of his own business/property. And if the guy next door doesn’t do it, well, then it doesn’t get done unless you do it yourself. The residents of Grainne, almost rabid on the subject of individual liberty, are willing to accept that. Other folk may not find that an acceptable trade. One, however, has to be careful with that because Government is Force, including deadly force. Matters of public sanitation, with the spread of disease and encouragement of vermin, may justify that force. Other things do not.
And, with all that said, perhaps you will like my story EMT where one of the problems they faced was someone using the excuse of sticking to “the book” when, for the conditions they faced, the book was, indeed, wrong: