Fred Reed wonders what purpose the public schools serve — other than to warehouse children while their parents work or watch television:
They certainly don’t teach much, as survey after survey shows. Is there any particular reason for having them? Apart from their baby-sitting function, I mean.
Schooling, sez me, should be adapted to the needs and capacities of those being schooled. For unintelligent children, the study of anything beyond minimal reading is a waste of time, since they will learn little or nothing more. For the intelligent, a public schooling is equivalent to tying an anchor to a student swimmer. The schools are an impediment to learning, a torture of the bright, and a form of negligent homicide against a country that needs trained minds in a competitive world.
Let us start with the truly stupid. Millions of children graduate — “graduate” — from high school — “high school” — unable to read. Why inflict twelve years of misery on them? It is not reasonable to blame them for being witless, but neither does it make sense to pretend that they are not. For them school is custodial, nothing more. Since there is little they can do in a technological society, they will remain in custody all their lives. This happens, and must happen, however we disguise it.
For those of reasonably average acuity, it little profits to go beyond learning to read, which they can do quite well, and to use a calculator. Upon their leaving high school, question them and you find that they know almost nothing. They could learn more, average not being stupid, but modest intelligence implies no interest in study. This is true only of academic subjects such as history, literature, and physics. They will study things that seem practical to them. Far better to teach the modestly acute such things as will allow them to earn a living, be they typing, carpentry, or diesel repair. Society depends on such people. But why inflict upon them the geography of Southeast Asia, the plays of Shakespeare, or the history of the nineteenth century? Demonstrably they remember none of it.
Some who favor the public schools assert that an informed public is necessary to a functioning democracy. True, and beyond doubt. But we do not have an informed public, never have had one, and never will. Nor, really, do we have a functioning democracy.