Tea Party Candidate: Abolish All Public Schools

Thought Americans were dumb enough as is? Apparently you’re just not ambitious enough; this from David Knowles at AOL’s Newsdesk:
Empty Classrooms?School’s out … forever?

Tea Party candidate David Harmer, who is running as a Republican for the U.S. House of Representatives in California’s 11th District, thinks the nation’s public education system should more closely resemble the way it looked in 1825. In other words, Harmer would abolish public schools altogether.

In an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000, Harmer wrote the following:

To attain quantum leaps in educational quality and opportunity, however, we need to separate school and state entirely. Government should exit the business of running and funding schools.

This is no utopian ideal; it’s the way things worked through the first century of American nationhood, when literacy levels among all classes, at least outside the South, matched or exceeded those prevailing now, and when public discourse and even tabloid content was pitched at what today would be considered a college-level audience.

Figures provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau, however, show that illiteracy rates fell swiftly in the decades after public education was made available in the United States, especially among blacks.

While taking stands against gay marriage and health care reform, Harmer does not mention the topic of education on the “Issues” page of his website.

Many tea party candidates espouse the notion of repealing amendments of the U.S. Constitution so that it better resembles the document written back in the 1700s. Likewise, Harmon and many of his conservative allies would gut government by abolishing departments they consider unnecessary. But Harmer’s belief that public schools represent “socialism in education” is something of a unique position.

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  • lighthouse

    He is right, we need to start over.

  • lighthouse

    He is right, we need to start over.

  • http://deliverators.typepad.com Andrew Dobbs

    I have seen a lot of liberal whining over this guy’s ideas, and all of them make the same mistake, one that radical education theorist Ivan Illich talks about in his seminal “Deschooling Society”: mistaking salvation for the church. Public education advocates mix up the process of gaining an education for the product of actually knowing anything. “Thought Americans were dumb enough as is? Apparently you’re just not ambitious enough…” the assumption is that we know what we do thanks to school, and that getting the state out of schooling would undo what little we know. But if you just look at tabloid press from the 19th century and other “low” writing directed towards the least educated sectors of the masses and compare them to even the New York Times editorial page today, it is clear that when there were fewer schools, when these schools operated for a much shorter period of the year and when people were not expected to go to school for as many years people were smarter than they are today.

    I happen to think that Harmer is too timid in his proposal, only wanting to get rid of PUBLIC schools and not all of them. Education is a form of alienated learning, a system which makes the process of learning (which we are born with a desire to undertake, just as we do eating and sex) so miserable as to make us hate it. Learning is taken out of our hands and reorganized as a hierarchical affair, it is made into something that is done TO us as opposed to something we do for ourselves. The whole process, from grades to age-segregated learning to the student-teacher dichotomy to legal requirements that coerce us into this particular disciplinary institution is corrupt, and it has to be undone if we are going to revolutionize society. Education is one of those threads that if it is pulled can unravel the entire garment of oppressive power.

    For all the billions that have been spent and all the obsession of researchers and the reforming crusades of various politicians, nobody has answered whether people are smarter now than they used to be. We can say that they score higher on certain tests, but even this is ambiguous (they made the SAT easier, for example). The broadest sense of intelligence is immeasurable, this goes double for wisdom. There is plenty to indicate that we are dumber today than we used to be despite the fact that we have more education. We won’t have any chance of doing anything about this so long as anybody who challenges the bourgeois jobs program/prison preparation organization called public education is shouted down as crazy. Harmer is a jackass it seems, but this is the least useful line of opposition to him.

    • vns

      Yes, people are stupid today since they are listening to Morons like him. He wants to say that people in 1700s were so great that what they wrote was correct and we do not have any brains and should follow then like sheep? They wrote what they thought correct based on their limited knowledge of that time. Only ‘morons’ can think that what they said will be true for ever.

    • Haystack

      “But if you just look at tabloid press from the 19th century and other “low” writing directed towards the least educated sectors of the masses and compare them to even the New York Times editorial page today, it is clear that when there were fewer schools, when these schools operated for a much shorter period of the year and when people were not expected to go to school for as many years people were smarter than they are today. ”

      In the early 19th century, only around half of the population were able to sign their own names on a wedding contract–which was the standard by which literacy rates were recorded back then. The explosion in literacy during the 19th century directly follows the rise of the public school system. If people who could read were willing to tolerate the thick, complex style of contemporary newspaper writers, that speaks more to the fact that they had no alternative but to put up with it (e.g., no TV, etc.) than the quality of the education they were receiving, which was often highly pedantic.

      Your assertions about the shortcomings of education and the way it inculcates students to live in a hierarchical society are valid, but all of this leaves open the questions of how kids are going to learn to read without schools. Despite what Harmer would have people believe, people were not smarter or more literate before the advent of the public school system.

    • Word Eater

      Unfortunately, to get ahead in life, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.

      How many kids love getting up early to catch a school bus so they can learn “useless” things like reading, writing, and simple math? I’m sure they’d rather just stay home, maybe get up around 10:00, play some Wii and have mom and dad pay the bills.

      No. Kids need school to teach them that you can’t always do what you want to do when you want to do it. Kids need school to teach them how to understand the written word.

      Are American schools total crap? Yes, they are. But that doesn’t mean the concept of schooling is crap. It means American schools have been beat up by the government, the people, and the teacher’s for so long that it has forgotten its mission.

      School is supposed to teach children how to live in America and how to be good citizens. That’s inherently socialist. It is up to the family and the culture to teach children how to be good *people* who don’t bow to shallow authority.

      It’s a conflict, but a necessary one.

      • http://deliverators.typepad.com Andrew Dobbs

        “Kids need school to teach them that you can’t always do what you want to do when you want to do it.”

        I think that makes my point for me. I think we ought to create a world where everyone does what they want when they want to, therefore no education QED. Short of that I think we ought to take Illich’s idea of disestablishing education seriously, of creating a society where no ritual is compulsory for everybody. The standard by which people are chosen for a position ought not to be whether they have gone through the ritual of obtaining a degree which may or may not indicate that they know anything, but rather whether they can demonstrate competence and intelligence for the job regardless of how they obtained it. Why should a skilled autodidact be turned down for a position in favor of someone who eked through a degree with cramming, cheating and luck? It is another one of the major contradictions and absurdities of our system, proof that education is there not to ensure competence but rather obedience (as you indicate) and jobs for bourgeoisie otherwise unemployable.

        To answer Haystack, I think that a free world would probably not have “societies” or civilization, so I’m not sure how much literacy we would need. Just to play it both ways here, I’m not a primitivist, so I’m less interested in rolling back civilization than I am transcending it, “looking back to move forward” as Ursula K. Le Guin has put it. Literacy might be a good thing, and I think that we can organize learning in a non-hierarchical, non-compulsory way. We have to de-alienate learning, and instead of it being something that is done from ages 5-22 in age-segregated institutions where there are teachers and students who are compelled to be there from morning to evening every weekday some 9 months out of the year, with a curriculum established from on high, we could create a place where learning resources exist for anyone to use them any time, and anybody can teach anybody else about whatever they are interested, everybody can learn from one another. Learning would not be about gaining jobs or outdoing the Chinese on standardized tests, but rather would be done for its own sake. The process of building such an organization and a community that could effectively take part in it would require revolution. We used to focus on labor and the workplace, perhaps we ought to begin looking at learning and schools for building a different world.

        I don’t think that this is as utopian as it sounds, and I think that Word Eater’s assumption that kids will not want to learn if they aren’t forced to gets everything backwards. We are born to learn, and it takes massive, multi-billion dollar apparatuses to drive this urge out of us. Will everyone want to learn? No, but not everyone learns with schools–the argument is non-unique. This ensures that those who want to learn can do so freely, and by disestablishing schooling we ensure that learning is more important than education. It is a concrete path to a freer, saner, smarter world.

        Oh, and to the people who insulted my intelligence, go fuck yourselves. VNS, your post is less than 4 lines long, and I can count four grammatical errors. And Liam, there is no ideal form of government, any more than there is an ideal form of debilitating illness. You yourself are a GENIUS, who can’t recognize that 95% of people today are proles bound to their jobs and schmucks. Furthermore, those in warlord conditions had far greater day-to-day freedom than people who are constantly policed, surrveilled and kept in compulsory institutions of state power a la schools. We have greater overall freedom in that we can go to some other part of the world and our chance of being beheaded by knights is pretty low, but the trade off may not be as beneficial as you believe in your indoctrination and privilege.

        • http://deliverators.typepad.com Andrew Dobbs

          Ah! I meant “as schmucks” in the fourth line of the last graf. Last time I attack my online attackers after drinking.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Yeah. And pre-literate fedual warlordism was THE ideal form of government–with 95% of the population bound to the land as serfs.

      You’re a GENIUS.

  • http://deliverators.typepad.com Andrew Dobbs

    I have seen a lot of liberal whining over this guy’s ideas, and all of them make the same mistake, one that radical education theorist Ivan Illich talks about in his seminal “Deschooling Society”: mistaking salvation for the church. Public education advocates mix up the process of gaining an education for the product of actually knowing anything. “Thought Americans were dumb enough as is? Apparently you’re just not ambitious enough…” the assumption is that we know what we do thanks to school, and that getting the state out of schooling would undo what little we know. But if you just look at tabloid press from the 19th century and other “low” writing directed towards the least educated sectors of the masses and compare them to even the New York Times editorial page today, it is clear that when there were fewer schools, when these schools operated for a much shorter period of the year and when people were not expected to go to school for as many years people were smarter than they are today.

    I happen to think that Harmer is too timid in his proposal, only wanting to get rid of PUBLIC schools and not all of them. Education is a form of alienated learning, a system which makes the process of learning (which we are born with a desire to undertake, just as we do eating and sex) so miserable as to make us hate it. Learning is taken out of our hands and reorganized as a hierarchical affair, it is made into something that is done TO us as opposed to something we do for ourselves. The whole process, from grades to age-segregated learning to the student-teacher dichotomy to legal requirements that coerce us into this particular disciplinary institution is corrupt, and it has to be undone if we are going to revolutionize society. Education is one of those threads that if it is pulled can unravel the entire garment of oppressive power.

    For all the billions that have been spent and all the obsession of researchers and the reforming crusades of various politicians, nobody has answered whether people are smarter now than they used to be. We can say that they score higher on certain tests, but even this is ambiguous (they made the SAT easier, for example). The broadest sense of intelligence is immeasurable, this goes double for wisdom. There is plenty to indicate that we are dumber today than we used to be despite the fact that we have more education. We won’t have any chance of doing anything about this so long as anybody who challenges the bourgeois jobs program/prison preparation organization called public education is shouted down as crazy. Harmer is a jackass it seems, but this is the least useful line of opposition to him.

  • vns

    Yes, people are stupid today since they are listening to Morons like him. He wants to say that people in 1700s were so great that what they wrote was correct and we do not have any brains and should follow then like sheep? They wrote what they thought correct based on their limited knowledge of that time. Only ‘morons’ can think that what they said will be true for ever.

  • Haystack

    “But if you just look at tabloid press from the 19th century and other “low” writing directed towards the least educated sectors of the masses and compare them to even the New York Times editorial page today, it is clear that when there were fewer schools, when these schools operated for a much shorter period of the year and when people were not expected to go to school for as many years people were smarter than they are today. ”

    In the early 19th century, only around half of the population were able to sign their own names on a wedding contract–which was the standard by which literacy rates were recorded back then. The explosion in literacy during the 19th century directly follows the rise of the public school system. If people who could read were willing to tolerate the thick, complex style of contemporary newspaper writers, that speaks more to the fact that they had no alternative but to put up with it (e.g., no TV, etc.) than the quality of the education they were receiving, which was often highly pedantic.

    Your assertions about the shortcomings of education and the way it inculcates students to live in a hierarchical society are valid, but all of this leaves open the questions of how kids are going to learn to read without schools. Despite what Harmer would have people believe, people were not smarter or more literate before the advent of the public school system.

  • Word Eater

    But public schools are *exactly* “socialism in education.” That doesn’t make it a terrible thing. Socialism is not a dirty word. Thanks to socialism, we have curb side garbage pick up, paved highways, and street lights.

    Unfortunately, I do think America’s schools have been forced to concentrate on the wrong things while the teacher unions do their best to politicize something that should out of politics completely.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Come to think of it, in essence, democracy is *socialized* government; whereas privatised government is monarchy.

    • Dirtgrain

      Politicians politicize it. In Michigan, we (public school teachers) are often given mandates that stem from politicians who do little to understand what actually goes on inside a classroom.

  • Word Eater

    But public schools are *exactly* “socialism in education.” That doesn’t make it a terrible thing. Socialism is not a dirty word. Thanks to socialism, we have curb side garbage pick up, paved highways, and street lights.

    Unfortunately, I do think America’s schools have been forced to concentrate on the wrong things while the teacher unions do their best to politicize something that should out of politics completely.

  • Word Eater

    Unfortunately, to get ahead in life, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.

    How many kids love getting up early to catch a school bus so they can learn “useless” things like reading, writing, and simple math? I’m sure they’d rather just stay home, maybe get up around 10:00, play some Wii and have mom and dad pay the bills.

    No. Kids need school to teach them that you can’t always do what you want to do when you want to do it. Kids need school to teach them how to understand the written word.

    Are American schools total crap? Yes, they are. But that doesn’t mean the concept of schooling is crap. It means American schools have been beat up by the government, the people, and the teacher’s for so long that it has forgotten its mission.

    School is supposed to teach children how to live in America and how to be good citizens. That’s inherently socialist. It is up to the family and the culture to teach children how to be good *people* who don’t bow to shallow authority.

    It’s a conflict, but a necessary one.

  • Hadrian999

    not designed to reinstitute a stratified class system at all…….

  • Hadrian999

    not designed to reinstitute a stratified class system at all…….

  • Anonymous

    Yeah. And pre-literate fedual warlordism was THE ideal form of government–with 95% of the population bound to the land as serfs.

    You’re a GENIUS.

  • Anonymous

    Come to think of it, in essence, democracy is *socialized* government; whereas privatised government is monarchy.

  • Dirtgrain

    Politicians politicize it. In Michigan, we (public school teachers) are often given mandates that stem from politicians who do little to understand what actually goes on inside a classroom.

  • Marklar_Prime

    Like all tools it’s all in how you use it. Public schools are a great boon if designed to educate children rather being designed to indoctrinate children to oppressive authority as their primary goal. Unfortunately the public school system was not designed by the Fords, Dewey’s and Rockefellers of the world to educate beyond a rudimentary level, but rather to create obedient factory workers able to tolerate an oppressive corporate system in which boring and repetitive work under degrading conditions are the norm. The true history of this slavery by design is horrifying when you look into it.

    That being said the obvious answer is to reform the basic function of school towards education and away from indoctrination but there is a lot of momentum to overcome in order to achieve this and letting school systems be run by the State or county level without so much federal interference might go a long way towards solving the problem.

  • http://twitter.com/Marklar_Prime Marklar Kronkite

    Like all tools it’s all in how you use it. Public schools are a great boon if designed to educate children rather being designed to indoctrinate children to oppressive authority as their primary goal. Unfortunately the public school system was not designed by the Fords, Dewey’s and Rockefellers of the world to educate beyond a rudimentary level, but rather to create obedient factory workers able to tolerate an oppressive corporate system in which boring and repetitive work under degrading conditions are the norm. The true history of this slavery by design is horrifying when you look into it.

    That being said the obvious answer is to reform the basic function of school towards education and away from indoctrination but there is a lot of momentum to overcome in order to achieve this and letting school systems be run by the State or county level without so much federal interference might go a long way towards solving the problem.

  • http://deliverators.typepad.com Andrew Dobbs

    “Kids need school to teach them that you can’t always do what you want to do when you want to do it.”

    I think that makes my point for me. I think we ought to create a world where everyone does what they want when they want to, therefore no education QED. Short of that I think we ought to take Illich’s idea of disestablishing education seriously, of creating a society where no ritual is compulsory for everybody. The standard by which people are chosen for a position ought not to be whether they have gone through the ritual of obtaining a degree which may or may not indicate that they know anything, but rather whether they can demonstrate competence and intelligence for the job regardless of how they obtained it. Why should a skilled autodidact be turned down for a position in favor of someone who eked through a degree with cramming, cheating and luck? It is another one of the major contradictions and absurdities of our system, proof that education is there not to ensure competence but rather obedience (as you indicate) and jobs for bourgeoisie otherwise unemployable.

    To answer Haystack, I think that a free world would probably not have “societies” or civilization, so I’m not sure how much literacy we would need. Just to play it both ways here, I’m not a primitivist, so I’m less interested in rolling back civilization than I am transcending it, “looking back to move forward” as Ursula K. Le Guin has put it. Literacy might be a good thing, and I think that we can organize learning in a non-hierarchical, non-compulsory way. We have to de-alienate learning, and instead of it being something that is done from ages 5-22 in age-segregated institutions where there are teachers and students who are compelled to be there from morning to evening every weekday some 9 months out of the year, with a curriculum established from on high, we could create a place where learning resources exist for anyone to use them any time, and anybody can teach anybody else about whatever they are interested, everybody can learn from one another. Learning would not be about gaining jobs or outdoing the Chinese on standardized tests, but rather would be done for its own sake. The process of building such an organization and a community that could effectively take part in it would require revolution. We used to focus on labor and the workplace, perhaps we ought to begin looking at learning and schools for building a different world.

    I don’t think that this is as utopian as it sounds, and I think that Word Eater’s assumption that kids will not want to learn if they aren’t forced to gets everything backwards. We are born to learn, and it takes massive, multi-billion dollar apparatuses to drive this urge out of us. Will everyone want to learn? No, but not everyone learns with schools–the argument is non-unique. This ensures that those who want to learn can do so freely, and by disestablishing schooling we ensure that learning is more important than education. It is a concrete path to a freer, saner, smarter world.

    Oh, and to the people who insulted my intelligence, go fuck yourselves. VNS, your post is less than 4 lines long, and I can count four grammatical errors. And Liam, there is no ideal form of government, any more than there is an ideal form of debilitating illness. You yourself are a GENIUS, who can’t recognize that 95% of people today are proles bound to their jobs and schmucks. Furthermore, those in warlord conditions had far greater day-to-day freedom than people who are constantly policed, surrveilled and kept in compulsory institutions of state power a la schools. We have greater overall freedom in that we can go to some other part of the world and our chance of being beheaded by knights is pretty low, but the trade off may not be as beneficial as you believe in your indoctrination and privilege.

  • http://deliverators.typepad.com Andrew Dobbs

    Ah! I meant “as schmucks” in the fourth line of the last graf. Last time I attack my online attackers after drinking.

  • baph777atyt

    The long and short of this is that the Conservatives want to take us back to a time when most people were illiterate so that they won’t be able to put another leader in like Obama that might put ideas into the lower classes’ heads that might make them want to have more from the rich than the crumbs that they get now, and Conservatives with a strong Fundamentalist background don’t want people being exposed to theories like evolution, psychology, and higher criticism that show that their religion is pure bs because if they learn Christianity is bs, then it loses its grip as the crowd control mechanism it was designed to be.

    I knew that if the Republicans happened to get back in charge they would try to do away with whatever they could see as a threat to them in the future, so that they wouldn’t have the possibility of ever having to face a rising up of the common people again, and it’s pretty obvious that after Obama, education would become the number one enemy.

  • baph777atyt

    The long and short of this is that the Conservatives want to take us back to a time when most people were illiterate so that they won’t be able to put another leader in like Obama that might put ideas into the lower classes’ heads that might make them want to have more from the rich than the crumbs that they get now, and Conservatives with a strong Fundamentalist background don’t want people being exposed to theories like evolution, psychology, and higher criticism that show that their religion is pure bs because if they learn Christianity is bs, then it loses its grip as the crowd control mechanism it was designed to be.

    I knew that if the Republicans happened to get back in charge they would try to do away with whatever they could see as a threat to them in the future, so that they wouldn’t have the possibility of ever having to face a rising up of the common people again, and it’s pretty obvious that after Obama, education would become the number one enemy.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IGPGVYS2CFH6KKA5C2V25T3QYY Past LPF Chair Ralph Swanson

    Don’t confuse public education with government coerced education. in CA especially they make Homeschooling a nightmare, I’m told. For information on schooling options, see some of the articles at http://www.Libertarian-International.org

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IGPGVYS2CFH6KKA5C2V25T3QYY Past LPF Chair Ralph Swanson

    Don’t confuse public education with government coerced education. in CA especially they make Homeschooling a nightmare, I’m told. For information on schooling options, see some of the articles at http://www.Libertarian-International.org

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