Graver: Keep Uncle Sam out of the classroom

As Yale students, we all have at least one thing in common. No — it’s not a superiority complex, a fledgling caffeine addiction or an affinity for College Wine. It’s the fact that we all have gone to high school, or at least have some form of equivalent schooling.

As Winston Churchill wrote, “A universal education is the cornerstone of a democracy.” Western civilization, from its origins, has placed a high value on an educated citizenry.

However, somewhere along the line, we fell off track. Despite spending more per student than any other nation in the world on average, we still have a system of public education that is inferior to other developed nations and ill-equipped to prepare future generations for a globalized workforce. In response to this issue, many call for greater government action (more schools, more oversight, more funding, etc.). However, this will do nothing more than subsidize a failed system. Rather, we need to do the opposite. We need to almost entirely remove government from the implementation of education and abolish public schools.

The logical impulse to this argument is to ask — won’t this prevent America’s poorest from getting an education? In fact, the opposite will happen. The key is distinguishing government’s role — enablement rather than implementation.

Through a system of grants, be it in the form of vouchers or checks, government can create a competitive market for secondary education. Fundamental to the success of the American experiment is an understanding that the free market is man’s fairest, most just and most efficient system of social organization. A free market, by its nature, is the quickest and best way to increase accessibility while decreasing prices. However, since most American families cannot afford private school, no such market exists — an issue that can be readily solved by government grants. In cities like New York, Washington and New Orleans, we’ve seen that increased competition in education, through school choice, exponentially improves the quality of such education.

While many concede that school choice has worked in urban areas, some repeatedly bring up an objection that it cannot work in rural or suburban areas, where the population only calls for one school to cover a vast area. I would say, though, that this further illustrates the necessity of education grants. Such a public school has no impetus for change and, like any monopoly, produces a socially inefficient result. If parents were allotted the necessary funds that could incentivize an entrepreneur to start a school in such an area, that possibility alone will motivate the existing school to constantly improve.

I, of course, am not arguing for the immediate abolition of public schools — there certainly will be a necessary transition period. And while I believe once a market for privately run schools is created that public schools will naturally fall into extinction, we should also make a conscious effort to expedite the process for both pragmatic and philosophical reasons. Pragmatically speaking, public education is both inefficient in terms of government spending as well as in terms of quality education. Over the last 20 years, we have increased spending per child in public schools 35 percent (to about $12,000). How has this increase in funding to another wonderful government-run service improved education? Well, noting the fact (by National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores) that the average American student scores the same in reading as he did in 1980 and worse in math compared to 1999, I would say pretty terribly.

By in large, public schools are failures (though, as I can attest to personally, there are exceptions). If we diverted those 12,000 dollars previously mentioned to private grants, we would finally be able to escape the crippling stagnancy of our public institutions mainly by finally ridding ourselves of the paralyzing grip of teacher’s unions — the greatest detriment to American progress in education.

There is also a larger philosophical issue to be addressed of government setting curriculums. I remember, coming from a New York City public school, being taught that Keynes was right, FDR was the greatest president of the 20th century (we didn’t even cover Coolidge) and the Soviet Union just collapsed on its own accord. The purpose of education is primarily to prepare someone for the workforce, but a nearly-equally important secondary role is to instill a set of morals and established world view — a function for which parental choice is necessary. I will concede that government needs to regulate basic standards in math, science and literacy for this privatized system, but we have a moral obligation to give American families a choice in how the core formulation of their children is conducted. If a family wants prayer in school or a curriculum more catered to conservatism, we should not allow poverty to prohibit this basic right.

Looking at the realities of our current education system, privatization is the answer. We need to start propping up the invisible hand rather than acting as it — it’s time for public education to end.

Harry Graver is a freshman in Davenport College.


  • theantiyale

    ***” . . . a failed system” ?***


    ***Bill Gates*** went to ***Tyee Park Elementary School*** in the Clover Park School district located in Lakewood, Washington.

    ***Steve Jobs*** attended ***Cupertino Junior High School and Homestead High School*** in Cupertino, California,

    ****Ken Burns**** graduated from ***Pioneer High School*** in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1971.


  • ignatz

    The article makes some excellent points. But it neglects to deal with 2 issues.

    One is the U.S. Department of Education (annual budget = $42 billion; number of students actually taught = 0), which should be closed.

    The other is the American Federation of Teachers (annual budget = $170 million), the implacable foe of school reform. “AFT members in every division are increasingly threatened by privatization and contracting out,” says the AFT Web site. AFT fat-cats earn their keep by urging our elected officials to put the interests of union members (a/k/a teachers) first. Those policies have failed on every level, and they should be scrapped.

  • RexMottram08

    End the government monopoly in education. All education expenses should be tax deductible. Enable vouchers for ALL parents/students.

  • FreddyHoneychurch

    One hardly knows where to begin … The Enlightenment, maybe.

  • FailBoat

    Oh how cute. It’s a libertarian freshman.

    Not that I disagree with your sentiment, Mr. Graver, but this piece would have served a better purpose had it called for across-the-board cuts in public school funding rather than the wholesale abolition of the institutions themselves. One is unlikely. The other is impossible.

    Baby steps.

  • ygrd

    Wow… I can’t believe this article. If we abolish all public schools, we only increase the gap between those who are well educated and those who are not. Is this what you really want, turning back the clock 200 years? A population where an intellectual elite rule over the unwashed masses, too poor to afford a good education?

    Of course there are problems with public education, and there needs to be major changes within the system. But just because something isn’t working well doesn’t mean we should just get rid of it entirely. That’s just trying to give an easy answer to a complicated problem.

  • RexMottram08

    People educated their children before public education.

    Bill Gates stands ready to finance numerous worthy projects.

    Community groups, private charities, and *gasp* churches are very capable of financing education.

    Only a fool would let the current system continue.

  • FreddyHoneychurch

    @ RexMottram08

    Before public education most people *did not* educate their children. This is a reason why public education was introduced.

    And I’m always puzzled why this failings-of-education debate so rarely accounts for the disturbing family-society changes over the last several decades. Ask any retirement-age elementary teacher and she’ll tell you that the first graders she gets today are of an entirely different sort than those she saw in the ’60s or ’70s. Same school, same demographic, but a shocking change in children and their parents. Now she sees doomed six-year-olds with impossibly tangled family trees, kids who cannot be kept still, who know (and talk) more about sex than adults once did, parents who only speak to their children to cuss them, parents with zero interest in collaborating with teachers. And remember, four times as many daddies (not “husbands”) are in prison today than there were in 1990 (privately run prisons!).

    Communities (and their groups), charities, and churches should concentrate on turning this around, so that a small child isn’t in serious, serious trouble before he skips off to school.

  • RexMottram08


    Schools aren’t the only place to receive an education.

  • ebc29

    Despite his persuasive rhetoric and eloquent prose, Mr. Graver’s utter (and seemingly blind) faith in free markets is both fallacious and disturbing. Without any explanation, the young boy writes, “Fundamental to the success of the American experiment is an understanding that the free market is man’s fairest, most just and most efficient system of social organization.” Aren’t free markets also instruments for greedy capitalists to exploit families for personal gain over the well-being and progress of the students? We like to think that private schools–particularly non-profits–are solely focused on the education of their students, but we must also remember that human self interest can and will skew even the best of intentions.

    Moreover, we have to consider that giving parents “a choice in how the core formulation of their children is conducted” can be abused, either by irresponsible parents or irresponsible administrators. Say what you want about the minor liberal agenda in the current education system, but it is undeniable schools based on ideology (conservatism, for example) are breeding grounds for biased education and, potentially, brainwash. If nothing else, I think we have a moral imperative to do all that we can to grant children the ability to shape their own worldview.

    And if the government struggles to control the current system that they themselves run (or so you argue), how can we expect them to monitor and ensure the success of this new, increasingly decentralized system? It sounds like the sub-prime mortgage debate all over again…and we all know what happened there.

    I don’t mean to come off as a sullen pessimist–I do think humans are inherently compassionate and honest. But I’m not young enough, idealistic enough, or naive enough to put one of the most fundamental pillars of of our nation’s progress so far from regulatory oversight, either.

  • RexMottram08

    ebc29, government regulation benefits the large corporate interests more than a free market. Free markets are sought by small businesses and individuals. Big Business wants to lobby for special treatment, to use regulations to protect their business. Government oversight isn’t an aid for the small and poor; it is a club to beat down the little guy.

  • PurpleHaze

    I shake my head at every single person who comes up with some grandiose plan to revamp the American education system without addressing the primary problem plaguing the current system (which is not the teachers unions, as suggested in this article and countless others): parents and families. Despite what much of the media today would have you believe, not every disadvantaged youth or single parent out there is being failed by the system, and problems are not isolated to the inner city or other impoverished districts. Rather, scores of students and families today are failing the system in average neighborhoods across the country. When parents don’t care about enforcing discipline at home, how are teachers to enforce it in the classroom? When a teacher’s recommendations for much-needed extra study and work after school are ignored, who’s really to blame? When a teacher is expected to manage poorly fed, ill-clothed, heavily medicated,TV-addicted, and even abused students who have no respect for any form of authority while still meeting AYP, what should be prioritized? Such situations are not an anomaly in today’s schools; they are the norm.

    Until more American “families” start showing a real interest in receiving a top-notch education and a willingness to put substantive effort toward that cause (because regardless of resources, the most critical element to educational success for almost everyone is plain old hard work), it won’t matter what sort of school system we have in place. Public, private, charter, whatever – changes need to happen at home first.

  • Undergrad

    Hmm… Universal education, run entirely by private entities, with government subsidies for those who can’t otherwise afford it… sounds exactly like the recently enacted health care reform. So does the author support “Obamacare”? Based on his rhetoric about free markets, I doubt it.

  • Yale12

    You tell me: when half of the children in your kindergarten class enter without knowing how to write their name or to sing their alphabet, and when three of those children cannot even speak enough to TELL you their own name (not because of mental problems but because of neglect)–whose fault is these children’s resulting inability to learn? The school system’s? The teacher’s? Or is it the parent’s?

    PurpleHaze has it right. The “privatization” of education makes one fatal assumption: that all parents will invest in where their children go to school, and fight to try and give them a good education. This is sadly just not true. Lots of parents frankly don’t care; many don’t have time. The children of these parents will end up just where they are now: in poorly-managed and poorly-performing schools, falling even farther behind the children of the wealthy.

  • Goldie08

    Families are part of the problem, however they are out of the “system.” I do not advocate intervening in home life in the name of equal opportunities for education. Further, how much of a parent’s apathy towards a child’s education is a result of the parent’s own poor educational upbringing.

    The elements of the “education system” that could most easily be changed are the teacher’s unions. When you hear stories about the NYC rubber room, its clear that interests of the children are nowhere near the top. Bust up the union and change will follow. We may even see the next generation of parents take an interest in their children’s education without enacting some kind of home life social reform.

  • theantiyale

    Let’s bash teachers. It’s so easy. It makes the problem seem so simple, so swiftly solvable.
    It makes the bashers seem so “in control”, so BIG, and makes the bashed seem so small, so demonic.

    If ***immediate*** social change is the goal : DOUBLE all salaries of police and of teachers. The high quality personnel will gravitate to the jobs accordingly and the tide will lift everyone as the expectations increase.

    I admit, this is idealistic and unrealistic.It’s never been tried, so no one knows whether it is unworkable or not.


  • Goldie08

    I would say we should DOUBLE all salaries of EFFECTIVE police and teachers, but the union mechanism prevents that from happening.

  • theantiyale

    Not in Vermont. Unions are elective. There is no tenure.

  • theantiyale

    PS: That comment refers only to teachers. I do not know about police.

  • FailBoat

    > If immediate social change is the goal : DOUBLE all salaries of police and of teachers. The high quality personnel will gravitate to the jobs accordingly and the tide will lift everyone as the expectations increase.

    In not-unrelated news: Paul Keane is a teacher.

  • FailBoat

    > Universal education, run entirely by private entities, with government subsidies for those who can’t otherwise afford it… sounds exactly like the recently enacted health care reform.

    Except that it unwinding from nationalized industry, rather than socializing a free(r) industry.

    Except that the costs of schooling a student is stable and not subject to moral hazard or any of the pitfalls of an insurance system.

    Except that it does not create regulations on which students schools can choose to accept or reject.

  • Paul Keane

    I will exempt myself from any pay raise. Raise everyone else, however.

  • penny_lane

    > The purpose of education is primarily to prepare someone for the workforce, but a nearly-equally important secondary role is to instill a set of morals and established world view.

    I don’t think Churchill, Jefferson, or anyone else who touted education as necessary for Democracy would think highly at all of your view of education as an opportunity for indoctrination. What a frightening thought. Mr. Graver, I may just dress as you for Halloween!

  • RexMottram08


    People accept employment with one firm vs. another based on a host of factors, including compensation. Just increasing pay won’t solve our terrible teachers. American teachers are pulled from the bottom 1/3rd of grads. Given that teachers receive a host of benefits and deferred compensation, the pay problem is actually the smallest issue. Bureaucracy is a big one. Dangerous/unruly schools another. Absurd PC rules, regs and curriculae are another.

    LOL at Obamacare mentions here.

  • The Anti-Yale


    It (doubling teacher salaries) won’t solve personnel problems immediately, but it will stop the tide and reverse it (or at least that’s my fantasy).

    BTW. I reject your “terrible teachers” description. I’ve been a teacher in public schools for 25 years and was *magna cum laude* (not the bottom third) of my undergraduate class.

    Money has never been a primary incentive for me. In fact my salary was designated “hardship status” by the Yale Registrar’s Office for a more than a decade after I graduated from YDS. I probably made LESS annually than any Yale gradute during those years.

    I have many devoted and talented colleagues for whom “inspiring students” , not “increasing salaries”, is the primary motivator.

    Don’t paint all the roses red, Alice, regardless of what the Queen (Michelle Rhee? Oprah Winprey?) says


  • RexMottram08


    Our own government has published data confirming that US teachers from from the bottom of college classes.

    In a nation of millions, your few examples are just that, exemplary, not the rule.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Sooooooooo—-Try my CRAZY IDEALISTIC PLAN ! Over 20 years all personnel will be replaced.


  • penny_lane


    The reason teachers tend to come from the bottom is because most people with brains are going to go into more respected professions, which tend, not coincidentally, to provide higher paying jobs. Raise teachers’ salaries, and maybe you’ll see more top college students getting MATs/MEds instead of MBAs, JDs, MDs and PhDs.

  • The Anti-Yale


    MAT’s and M. Eds. are Mickey Mouse degrees.

    M.A. or M.S. in one’s discipline is what is needed.
    I speak from the inside of both. Remember, it was a Yale president, A. Whitney Griswold, who abolished Yale’s Graduate Department of Education, saying, “It is unnecessary to teach teachers how to teach.”

    Here, here!


    M.Div. ’80

    M.A., M.Ed.

  • FailBoat


    It’s “hear, hear”.


    YC ’11

    B.A. Expected

  • The Anti-Yale

    YC ’11

    Thanks for the correction.

    However, it works as an invocation: “This country, this country!”


  • RexMottram08

    penny_lane, I don’t want to see students wasting their time and money on MATs/MEds. Useless pieces of sheepskin. Credentialing and licensing is part of the problem.

  • penny_lane

    You guys aren’t taking into account those who intend to teach below the high school level (and even then some training in curriculum design is necessary). At that point, more knowledge of developmental psychology (with emphasis on social and cognitive development), and an in depth understanding of how to teach the basics (math, reading, etc.) effectively are required. The sad truth of the matter is that the younger you go, the worse the teachers are–just take a look at the people who staff preschool and kindergarten classrooms. Most of them only have an associate’s, and yet we entrust our childrens’ nascent reading skills to them! Plus, Griswold was wrong. Any old fool can’t be a teacher; it’s a profession like any other, and no one should be allowed in a classroom who hasn’t had extensive training first.

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