Picking up an article from Human Events, our Mississippi-focused friends over at Ya’ll Politics have reported that the former two-term GOP governor of the state is calling upon the Republicans to include in their platform a promise to abolish the Department of Education on the federal level. This “certainly doesn’t mean you want to get rid of public education,” he said.
Kudos to Haley Barbour! Public education existed before the department was organized on the level of the Cabinet by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, and it will continue to exist when the department is gone.
At the most basic level, the strongest argument for abolishing the US Department of Education is that it’s simply unconstitutional. Whether you call it a good idea or a bad idea, whether you argue its spending to be wise or wasteful, and whether you can point to rising test scores or not, the fact is that the Constitution grants no powers to the federal government for the education of the citizens. Some Republicans tried to remind us of this back in 1979 when the old Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was carved into two separate entities: the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. Liberal Democrats won the day. They did it by abusing the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, the Pandora’s Box that liberal politicians use as a universal excuse for the federal seizing of unconstitutional powers.
As I have argued recently in this blog (HERE and HERE), Americans have a woeful lack of understanding when it comes to the United States Constitution–and more importantly, when it comes to the limited powers granted to the federal government it established. If the Constitution is out of date, it’s only because it’s being ignored. Its meaning and purpose are more important now than they have been since it was framed in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Somehow, our brightest and best kids are leaving high school thinking that the purpose of elected federal officials and the bureaucrats they command is to come up with lots of romantic ideas about making our country a nicer place to live. Nonesense! The job of those officials is to govern federally within the confines of the limited powers granted them by the states.
Imagine what a mess it would be to play the game Monopoly by the standards of softball, or how ridiculous it would be to play chess by the rules of poker. You can certainly do it by making all sorts of exceptions, by ignoring some rules and making up others to offset the impossibilities that arise. But when you do that, would you really be playing Monopoly or softball anymore? There would be nothing left of the games of chess and poker; there would only be the game pieces and a whole new system of gamesmanship that barely resembles what you started with. This is where we find ourselves today with regard to the United States Constitution. And too few of us really give a damn until a liberty we cherish is gone.
Public education has a long and useful history in the United States. Even prior to the adoption of the Constitution, Congress (under the Articles of Confederation) set aside land to be used by local governments for the support of education by way of the Land Ordinance of 1785. But the responsibility for education was understood to be a local one. People in Massachusetts claimed no right to tell Virginians how to educate their children, nor did the good people of North Carolina presume to lecture New Yorkers on how they should educate and rear their children.
We do not need a federally-mandated common curriculum. Let the people of Alaska, Maine, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and each of the other states decide what they will teach. The competition between the states will be healthy and will push them to do better. The United States are a federal cooperative. The framers of the Constitution resisted calling the federal government a “national” government. By constitutional standards, the federal government can only exercise a small number of duties as enumerated in the Constitition. Education of all citizens isn’t one of them.
By reclaiming the right to educate their own children, the people of the states will once again have the opportunity to preserve their liberties. They can demand of their educators that children be educated in the values and style of government established by the Constitution. A new generation of young constitutionalists can arise to prune the federal government to its original purposes while weeding out the oversized, expensive bureaurocracy that burdens us all by limiting our lightbulb choices, dictating the water used in our toilets, taking us to war without a congressional declaration, scanning our genitals at airports, spying upon us with military drones, and limiting our constitutional right to free speech just because we are in the presence of an elected official.
The United States Constitution is a sacred compact between sovereign states, a powerful tool for mutual cooperation and defense. It is not a contract for controlling the states. It is said that those who control education control the people. Let the people control and govern themselves by demanding and reclaiming the right to self-education, state by state.