Ron Paul believes the public-school system in America is a thick, dim dinosaur bloated with tax dollars. When compared to other nations, it does a poor job of teaching kids science and math, but is wildly successful at installing values that contradict those of most American parents.
But the school system is like the weather – everybody complains about it, and nobody does anything about it. Reform efforts fail because power resides with money, and an educator’s (or politician’s) fastest route to unemployment is to suggest that school districts forfeit state and federal funding. That, Paul acknowledges, would lead to tax hikes, budget cuts and massive firings. So what’s a libertarian reformer to do?
Look at another dinosaur: the U.S. Postal Service.
In The School Revolution, Paul, the 12-term Texas congressman and three-time presidential candidate, suggests that the increasing irrelevance of the Post Office offers hope for the education of the nation’s children, if not the delivery of its mail.
Like the school system, the Postal Service squatted over its turf for a couple of centuries, deterring most challengers by heft alone. But then the government allowed Federal Express and UPS to deliver overnight packages, and then the Internet and email came along, and suddenly, the Post Office is looking much like a dead-letter office, without any effort at revolution by its critics.
“No major restructuring of the Postal Service by the federal government was necessary to eliminate it. It has been replaced by better technologies and better services provided by the private sector,” Paul writes.
Education, too, can be transformed by what Paul calls voluntary replacement: “reform that nobody notices.” The School Revolution is his blueprint for how this could happen. If individuals are conveniently aided by his own home-schooling program available – for a fee – on his website, well then, so much the better.
Well, look, the man’s got to make a living. Yes, he was a flight surgeon in U.S. Air Force, and before he became a Congressman, he was an obstetrician who delivered 4,000 babies in Texas, but in a free market, good ideas have worth. Besides, he’s only charging $9.95 for a one-year subscription to ronpaulchannel.com.
But, to be fair, this book could have been an infomercial for the Ron Paul homeschooling program, and it’s not. It’s a quick and inspirational read about liberty and personal responsibility as it applies to parents.
Paul believes most parents have unthinkingly abdicated the responsibility of their children’s education to the government, to the point that most of us only vaguely know what our kids being taught. And if we knew, we would be horrified, as he is. (The nerve of those FDR lovers!) But until the free market does its thing and eradicates the school bureaucracy like it did the Postal Service, parents have two choices: private education or home schooling. The good news is, both are becoming cheaper, thanks to the Internet. In an age in which esteemed colleges are putting their courses online for free, it can no longer be argued that a good education is expensive. A good education requires only that it be family-run, family-funded and liberty-intense, Paul says. In addition to science, history, economics and math, students must learn that “as individuals mature, they must accept greater personal responsibility for their actions.” They must learn to self-govern, which is, according to Paul, the basis of liberty and is not a concept promoted in public schools.
“The most effective way to reform tax-funded schools is for dedicated parents to remove their children from these schools,” he writes. “Every time a child is removed from a local school, the district loses state funding. That catches the bureaucrats’ attention. The more it happens, the more it catches their attention.”
At this point, the cynic might recollect that Paul is famous not for the legislation he passed during his time in Congress, but for the legislation he didn’t pass: not a single bill. But Paul is comfortable with his calling, which is to reignite the flames of liberty in a country that seems to lose more of it each day. (A footnote makes the grim point: In 2011, 83,000 pages of new regulations were published by the Federal Register.)
Most people write books to persuade others; oddly, Paul seems to be writing to those who already share his views. “If you are reading this, then likely at some point, you became convinced that we have surrendered far too much power to the state,” he says at the book’s beginning. But that mindset is not a prerequisite to gleaning ideas from this book; it’s a thoughtful primer on the intellectual traditions that underpin American democracy, useful for any thinker on the political spectrum.
Whether Paul (or his son, the junior senator from Kentucky) become president is not vitally important to him; that the libertarian ideals continue to new generations is. “It is my goal to train thousands of future libertarian activists who will dedicate themselves to spreading the message of liberty,” Paul writes. But 2016 looms, and he promises, “I’m not out of circulation yet.”
Originally published in The Hippo. Read Jennifer’s book reviews each Thursday here.