Public schools are designed, in part, to solve a problem . . . that may not exist.
First, for links to the study, consult Wednesday’s Common Sense for links.
For a gimlet-eyed view of Horace Mann’s philosophy — peering behind the strata of praise heaped upon his reputation — try the work of education historian Joel Spring. In Educating the Worker-Citizen Spring: The Social, Economic and Political Foundations of Education, , Spring writes much of interest:
Mann’s arguments were based on his fears about how individuals would act, given the opportunity to elect their own governors. In calling for the teaching of a republican catechism, Mann was essentially saying that a republican society could function only if people acted the way he thought they should act. Or, stated another way, people could be free as long as they acted in a good manner and endeavored to do right. “Good” and “right” were to be defined by people like Horace Mann. (p. 13)
Much later in the book, Spring contrasts Mann’s idea of compulsory attendance and funding of public schools with the ideas from those on the opposite end of the spectrum, Milton Friedman being his primary example. What, he asks, about another area of possible government support, “free and compulsory eating?”
As [E. G.] West argues, it seems strange that contemporary governments provide free and compulsory education establishments but not free and compulsory eating establishments; there would seem to be more proof of the beneficial effects of diet than of the beneficial effects of schooling. . . . West’s illustration highlights the uniqueness of government-provided schooling in terms of other services provided by government. (p. 165)
E. G. West’s contributions to the economics of schooling and education reform are fascinating and important. You can learn a lot from reading West. But Spring seems more radical. His basic take? See chapter nine of the book I’ve been quoting from: “The major hindrance to the completion of the liberal revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has been the rise and expansion of the modern school.”