An Overview of Governmental Regulation of Public Education in the United States

As I said earlier today, I am going to talk a bit about homeschooling in the next few posts, but first I want to make some additional comments about something I talked about the other day and that is the use of terms like liberal, conservative, radical, etc. Because humans need to use words, we tend to create classificatory categories as shortcuts to help describe ourselves, other people and things in general. The problem with these words/categories is that they are amorphous,vague and how one understands them depends on one’s “horizon of meaning” [perspective or point of reference].

We use these very imprecise and open-for-interpretation categories because they save time and energy. For instance, I call myself a political and religious heretic, because that is easier and quicker than writing long statements of my political and/or religious beliefs every time I want to say that I disagree with orthodox Christian beliefs or that my political beliefs are outside the norm of the American political establishment.

Paired oppositions like liberal/conservative or birth/death are perceived by most Westerners as the opposing poles of a linear continuum. I take a more Eastern, circular view of things. This is one of the things that makes me a heretic, I suppose. Life comes full circle with death and a new cycle is started. What that new cycle looks like is something I cannot answer. And, in politics, if your go far enough to the left, you end up on the right. Kind of like what Columbus set out to accomplish in his first voyage – that you can get to the East by sailing West.

So, why all this rather odd philosophizing? Because, although I consider myself to be an extreme liberal, someone on the far side of left, that actually brings me close to the conservatives, to the far right, on at least some issues. And one of the most important issues that I make common cause with the far right is on the subject of parental rights. The government’s, whether political liberal or politically conservative, has been slowly eroding our rights as parents. This is true at every level of government, whether local, state or national. And this erosion of parental rights is most insidious in the area of education. Here the conservatives, and even the religious fundamentalists, and I see eye[to eye, to some point anyway.

It is the parents’ God-given right to determine how their children are to be raised: their religious beliefs, their morality, their worldview. And we learn most of our religion, our morality, our worldview through education, both formal and informal. The government should not be the final arbiter of what we teach our children or how they learn it. But that is exactly what is happening, even when the government propaganda says that their latest regulations are in the best interest of our children, That may be the case, but then again it may not. Let the parents decide.

A classic example of the government infringing on parental rights is mandatory vaccinations, an issue I have discussed here in relation to autism and my son Ian. The government can suggest or recommend these vaccinations, but it should not demand or require them. It is my right as a parent to make the final decision as to which vaccinations my kids will have, I should not have to ask permission from the government to exempt my kids from one or more of these vaccines; rather they should have to ask my permission to give them/ If I remember correctly back to when I was a kid and the polio vaccine was new and being offered for free in the schools, my parents had to sign a legal permission slip for me and my brother to get the vaccines. That is how it should work. Even their doctor or the hospital where they are born should be required to get signed specific permission for each and every vaccine they administer, not give them without permission because the government says the vaccines are mandatory.

Compulsory public school education was first instituted in the United States in the state of Massachusetts in 1852 for elementary education only. It took till 1918 for all states to make elementary education compulsory. High school education, at least to the age of 16, was not mandatory until the last century. As state governments took a more active role in regulating education, there is a shift from small, localized school districts that are very much responsive to and controlled by the local community to state-mandated consolidation of these small districts into larger and larger non-localized districts, which make direct community (parental) control over education more and more difficult.

By the middle of the 20th century, most states took a more active regulatory role than in the past. States consolidated school districts into larger units with common procedures. In 1940 there were over 117,000 school districts in the United States, but by 1990 the number had decreased to just over 15,000. The states also became much more responsible for financing education. In 1940 local property taxes financed 68 percent of public school expenses, while the states contributed 30 percent. In 1990 local districts and states each contributed 47 percent to public school revenues. The federal government provided most of the remaining funds.A History of Public Education in the United States by Deeptha Thattai

But parents had the option of sending their children to religious schools, like the Catholic schools, or to private schools and still be compliant with the law. However, in a lot of smaller communities, public school has been the only option that is compliant with the compulsory education laws, unless the parents could affords to send their children to private boarding schools, but that option is just another way of ceding parental rights to an institution. My ex-wife and I sent her daughter from her previous marriage to a private high school and that is a mistake I do not intend to make again.

With the passage of a couple of “landmark” pieces of legislation in the mid-twentieth century, the role of the federal government and its regulation of public education greatly increased:

The federal commitment to improve and finance public schools expanded enormously when Congress passed the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. In these two landmark statutes, Congress addressed for the first time such broad problems as expanding educational opportunity for poor children and improving instruction in pivotal but usually neglected subjects, such as science, mathematics, and foreign languages. Other federal acts that addressed educational issues in this period were the Vocational Education Act of 1963, the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1963, and the International Education Act of 1966.
A History of Public Education in the United States by Deeptha Thattai

And as the cited article goes on to discuss, issues like racial equality, gender equality, and others, have led to an ever-increasing level of federal involvement in regulating education. All in the name of improving the quality of public education at the expense of parental rights, I might add.

Has all this government regulation significantly improved public education? Are our kids better able to compete in the global market since the government has increased its regulation of educational standards? We will answer those questions next time. Until them peace!

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