Education Is Reforming Itself

Education Is Reforming Itself
(Jose Luis Pelaez Inc./Digital Vision/Getty Images)
Jeffrey A. Tucker

When I was in 5th grade, I woke one morning to the news that my school burned down. But as a kid, I thought it was a dream come true. No more walking one and a half miles from home to school carrying books (would parents even allow that now?) and no more sitting at desks learning math and science all day.

Two days later, however, we were back but this time our classrooms were trailers fitted with desks, dingy and awful. We were stuck there for the rest of the year and outside was nothing but ruins. It turned out to be an awful trauma for all of us. The disruption alone caused learning losses.

I think about those days often, as I try to put myself in the mind of the tens of millions of kids around the country (and the world) who faced one or even two years of shutdown, stuck in homes on Zoom and away from peers and dealing full-time with parents who had to pretend to work, while the dog barked and the younger kids screamed for lunch.

These are years that will have a permanent impact but already the costs are obvious, not only in terms of being tremendously behind but also being sick with every sort of allergy and respiratory infection. We once understood that kids desperately need not only socialization and routine but also pathogenic exposure to build a healthy immune system. The elites in this country took all that away, out of ignorance and cruelty.

The single most bizarre feature of the pandemic response was the school shutdowns. It has proven catastrophic for the kids of course, with years of learning losses and psychological devastation to last a lifetime. It got the kids hooked on digital media in the worst possible way, and undermined parental confidence in institutions built up over 100 years.

Even from the point of view of Progressives who mostly built and ran America’s public school system, this was incredibly destructive. Public schooling was their crowning achievement. Due to disease panic, institutional sclerosis, union control, or sheer exhaustion of an inefficient and ideological corrupt system, the apparatus faced an incredible collapse in a seeming instant.

Now we get the reports of a drain from the public school, a boom in private and homeschooling, and a quarter of a million students unaccounted for. Where are they? Well, they were pushed out of the school system during chaotic times and parents probably just kept them home or something, not bothering to re-register with the school district.

It’s very strange to say it but it seems like the left blew up their own pride and joy, and probably did so inadvertently. Maybe they genuinely thought they were keeping kids away from a bad virus but we knew even from February 2020 that kids were of near-zero threat. Even now, we have no record of a healthy kid having died from COVID, which is rather remarkable. There was never a reason to shut the schools, as Sweden and South Dakota proved. This surely constitutes one of the worst decisions made in the history of education policy.

Michael Lewis wrote a book called “The Premonition,” which valorizes a guy named Carter Mecher, a one-time emergency-room physician who went to work for the Veterans Administration with a specialty in biological warfare. He also happened to be an acolyte of Robert Glass, a computer scientist with no medical training, much less knowledge, about viruses. Glass, in turn, was inspired back in 2006 by a science fair project that his 14-year-old daughter was working on.

She theorized (like the cooties game from grade school) that if school kids could space themselves out more or even not be at school at all, they would stop making each other sick. Glass ran with the idea and banged out a model of disease control based on stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, business closures, and forced human separation.

When the pandemic hit, Carter Mecher was determined to have the most influence and invoked his past work with Glass to say that the schools absolutely must be shut in order to stop the spread. On March 10, 2020, Mecher sent the following note to nearly every important public-health person in the country, including Fauci.

​​“Just watch kids with runny noses and coughing and sneezing and touching one another (especially the younger ones),” the memo says. “You couldn’t design a better system to spread disease. Schools and daycare centers are clearly amplifiers of disease transmission .... We can guarantee that if the US does not close schools now, they will eventually close all the schools and universities out of desperation .... We don’t need to exhaust ourselves searching for perfect solutions to address all these challenges associated with the 2nd and 3rd order consequences of school closure.”

And so school closures became part of the pandemic response. But of course if the schools close, so too must the offices close and the malls and parks too, anywhere where kids might otherwise hang out had to stop. That even included other homes, and introduced domestic capacity restrictions for the first time in the history of the United States (or even the West!). Homeschool, which had previously grown under a legal cloud, became mandatory.

Given the situation and how long it lasted, a revolution in education was guaranteed. It is taking place now. Florida just introduced universal school choice, tying funding to parents regardless of financial need and allowing it to follow parental choice, whether that means public, private, or homeschool. The legislation also introduces some deregulation into the whole sector. It’s a first step but it could lead Florida to become one of the freest education sectors in the country.

Another very obvious reform is the final and complete abolition of the Department of Education. Anyone opposed to that idea is immediately outed as a shill for deep-state interests. It should be a campaign issue again, just as it was in the 1980s. But this time, Congress needs to be serious about it and do it. That place is a complete mess, as Betsy DeVos found out when she was made the head of it during the Trump years. A woman of extraordinary principle and courage, she left in complete disgust and now argues for razing the place to the ground.

Beyond that, all reforms need to take place at the state, county, and city level. The most important point is complete deregulation, even the end of compulsory attendance laws that give the state way too much control. Parents need to be in complete control. This way they can create every manner of hybrid and community schooling systems without state control.

This is the only way to gut the problem of a woke curriculum and massive inefficiency. This is coming one way or another, through fits and starts. The Progressives let their mighty achievement die, so it is up to everyone else to pick up the pieces and start something entirely new.

Most political reforms are extremely difficult. But when it comes to parents and the education of their kids, you add an existential level of passion and ferocity. We might see dramatic change sooner rather than later. Things will never be the same.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Jeffrey A. Tucker is the founder and president of the Brownstone Institute, and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press, as well as 10 books in five languages, most recently “Liberty or Lockdown.” He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He writes a daily column on economics for The Epoch Times and speaks widely on the topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.
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