What’s wrong with the term “government schools?”
A recent op-ed in the Wichita Eagle read: “Some have begun to call public schools ‘government schools,’ a calculated pejorative scorning both education and anything related to government.”1
This is not the only time people have objected to the term “government schools.” Public schools bristle at use of the term. In a 2008 email from Wichita School Interim Superintendent Martin Libhart to Wichita school employees, he took issue with those who, using his words, “openly refer to public education as ‘government schools.’”2 “Openly refer,” he writes, as though it should be kept a secret.
It’s surprising that liberals and progressives object to the term “government schools.” They like government, don’t they? They want more taxation and government spending, don’t they?
When we think about public schools, we find they have all the characteristics of government programs.
Public schools are owned by government.
Their funding comes almost totally from governmental sources, which is to say taxes. (Isn’t it strange that few will donate to public schools?) If you can’t use the services of public schools and don’t want to pay for them — even if you are also paying for other schools that meet your needs — the full weight of the government will come crashing down on you.
Through laws passed by government, public schools are guaranteed a stream of customers.
Public schools are regulated — heavily — by government.
The members of their “board of directors” (the local school board) are chosen through a governmental process — elections.
Public schools are welcoming to labor unions at the time the private sector is becoming less unionized. In fact, labor unions are becoming a hallmark of government, and government only.3
Accountability of public schools, like other forms of government, is weak.
In sum, public schools have all the negative attributes of government institutions and few or none of the positive characteristics that make markets the source of continuous improvement and innovation. So I guess it isn’t surprising that public school advocates like Merritt object to being lumped in with government in general. But public schools share all the characteristics of government, and government is the worst way to supply services except in a few special instances.
What’s also troubling is how Merritt equates using the term “government schools” with scorn for education. Turning over education to government — with its litany of troubles as listed above — is scornful for children.
Merritt and others want to have the benefits of governmental institutions without accepting the reality of what government means. That’s a shame for Kansas schoolchildren.
- Merritt, Davis. Can traditional conservatism save Kansas schools? Wichita Eagle, May 17, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article77969617.html. ↩
- Weeks, Bob. Wichita School Superintendent Martin Libhart: What’s Wrong With “Government Schools?” Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-kansas-schools/wichita-school-superintendent-martin-libhart-whats-wrong-with-government-schools/. ↩
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union Members Summary. January 28, 2016. Available at www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm. ↩