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Why parents and taxpayers have no say in education

By Tom DeWeese
web posted May 14, 2001

Parents across this nation are always astounded to discover they have no say in the education of their children. They may, if sufficiently stirred with concern, attend and even speak at a meeting of their local board of education, but the reality of who actually controls the education of their children is far more complex and distant.

Writing in "The Underground History of American Education", John Taylor Gatto revealed the infrastructure of an enterprise that, by the end of 1999, involved 75.5 million people out of a total population of 275 million.

About 67 million were enrolled in schools and colleges, 4 million were employed as teachers or college faculty, and 4.5 million were employed in some other school capacity. In other words, the primary organizing discipline nearly 29 percent of the entire U.S. population consists of obedience to the routines and requests of an abstract social machine called "School."

Gatto points out that control of the education enterprise is distributed between more than twenty interest groups, each of which can be subdivided into warring factions. This removes the actual decision-making process affecting every single child from either their parents or the taxpayers called upon to underwrite the billions involved. "The financial interests of these associated voices are served whether children learn to read or not," says Gatto.

The first groups with control over the education juggernaut are government agencies that include state legislatures, particularly those politicians known to specialize in educational matters. Then come ambitious politicians with high public visibility. Currently, President Bush has stimulated widespread discussion of testing and "accountability" in his quest to have Congress allocate more billions to education.

Next come big-city school boards controlling lucrative contracts and, of course, the courts. Courtshave played an increasingly growing role in education, having ordered busing programs in the past and the allocation of millions to mandate schools in urban centers be "equal" to those in suburban areas. Answering to the legislatures and the courts are state departments of education.

Controlling curriculums everywhere is the Federal Department of Education. And there are other government agencies seeking to influence education. Among them are the National Science Foundation, National Training Laboratories, Defense Department, HUD, Labor Department, Health and Human Services, to name a few.

There are, notes Gatto, many active special interests that include major private foundations. Well beyond the notice of parents and taxpayers, about a dozen foundations have been the most important shapers of national education policy in this century. The primary players have been the Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller foundations.

Giant corporations, acting through a private association called the Business Roundtable, are evidence of the centrality of business in the school mix. The New American Schools Development Corporation has among the eighteen CEOs making decisions about the education of American's children those from RJR Nabisco; Boeing; Exxon; AT&T; Ashland Oil; Martin Marietta; AMEX; Eastman Kodak; WARNACO; Honeywell; Ralston; Arvin; B.F. Goodrich; along with two former Governors, two publishers, a television producer.

There are a number of private associations that weigh in on educational matters and these include the National Association of Manufacturers, the Council on Economic Development, The Advertising Council, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Foreign Policy Association, to name just a few.

There are, of course, professional unions such as the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and the Council of Supervisory Associations. Among private educational interest groups, there's the Council on Basic Education and Progressive Education Association.

Circling the education establishment is the "knowledge industry" that includes colleges and universities, teacher-training colleges, researchers, testing organizations, non-print materials producers, textbook publishers, and the "knowledge" brokers, subsystem designers.

Adding to the cacophony of groups seeking to influence the curriculum are single-interest groups such as abortion activists, pro and con, and groups concerned with teaching or not teaching evolution, and comparable topics.

Beyond the domestic foundations and corporations, unions and others eager to influence the nation's educational system is the United Nations through UNESCO, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and other UN agencies.

Little wonder, then, the concerned parent addressing the local school board has no power to influence any decision, nor do the taxpayers who must ultimately pay the costs of an educational system everyone agrees is failing to prepare students to read, to write, to master the basic elements of arithmetic and mathematics. The broad-based knowledge of the liberal arts, history, literature, and science, necessary to make informed decisions, is so lacking that entire generations of Americans are at risk of knowing little of what they require to maintain and protect the nation.

Tom DeWeese is the publisher/editor of The DeWeese Report, a monthly newsletter that addresses education and other issues. DeWeese is also president of the American Policy Center, a grassroots, activist think tank headquartered in Herndon, VA. The Center maintains an Internet site at www.americanpolicy.org.

Other related articles: (open in a new window)

  • Close the Department of Education by Vin Suprynowicz (April 9, 2001)
    What's a few hundred million between friends? Recent testimony by a Department of Education official admitting massive waste and fraud is a good reason to shutter that federal department, says Vin Suprynowicz
  • The Bush education fix will only make it worse by Tom DeWeese (February 5, 2001)
    George W. Bush's love of promoting education may be honourable, but his recently announced plans do nothing to fix the fundamental problems America's schools have, writes Tom DeWeese
  • Indoctrination, not education by Alan Caruba (February 12, 2001)
    Alan Caruba denounces George W. Bush's education "fix" as an expansion of power for the Department of Education, an agency no one can find listed in the constitution

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