The past is a foreign country, as Montgomery’s book makes clear — but certain patterns seem familiar. At the time, California was following the Northeast’s lead and instituting mandatory public education. In fact, parents needed the state’s permission to send their children to private school, and, further, insulting a public school teacher was a crime. Who serves whom?
Montgomery’s main argument against public education is that it goes against the laws of Nature to usurp parental authority. The statistical evidence of the time supports his case. It shows that states with public education — notably Massachusetts, the home of the whole idea — have higher rates of literacy, but also have higher rates of pauperism (poverty) and crime. Intriguing.
He suggests that the children of poor laborers contract the same habits as their better-off classmates — the same love of ease and the same aversion to and contempt for manual labor — but they can’t all become bank clerks or politicians. (I’m reminded of Turchin’s point about elite overproduction.)