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A Misesian on the School Board

05/05/2006Jim Fedako


The vanity of pride hides the true reflected man. But every now and again an event will occur that straightens out the distortions and exposes one's real identity. One such event happened to me at a meeting between officials of a local city and the school district I serve as a board member. Before the call to the table, as members of both governments were milling about, the city manager spotted me from across the room and loudly congratulated me on my reference to Hayek in my then-recent letter to the editor. The city manager hastened over to me and excitedly talked about reading Road to Serfdom while in college. He loved the book and appreciated my reference. I, in turn, mentioned similar books from Mises that I had just read.

Then it hit me. There I stood looking at my reflection; a Hayekian and a Misesian talking shop just before we were to be seated at an intergovernment planning meeting. It was as if the meeting existed in another dimension, but there was the table, and here we stood, two hypocrites seeing ourselves as fighters for freedom while living lives of statists. Vanity could hide the truth for only so long, and when the veil is finally lifted, the true image is humbling.

It is moments like these that expose supposed achievements and actions, and allows one to take stock of where they are and where they want to be. These moments bring reality back into focus; they provide clarity to the distorted images.

What were we planning? What were our big ideas? The city and school officials were set to solve all the issues facing the local residents, but these plans never work out as envisioned. They only plot a new course toward chaos. The irony is that as the public school system slips ever further into disarray, more interventions are proposed and implemented. Each new program simply adds more layers of regulations, which then require new interventions, ad infinitum.

None of those in attendance at the planning meeting have any clue as to the solution. The problems are large and getting larger, though the solution is as simple today as it was over two hundred years ago. Why then can't the officials find the solution? Simple, they refuse to admit that they themselves are the problem.

I am the evil one, a minor member of the social apparatus of coercion and compulsion, serving as an elected member of a free and compulsory school district.

We all recognize that public education is in a sorry state. Money is being thrown down the rabbit hole by those who adhere to the Mad Hatter logic of "Clean cup, clean cup, move down" whereby the initiator of the intervention wins the clean cup full of hot tea while the rest are drinking from someone else's cup. The unions, the state departments of education and the local school boards all conspire to grab the new cup — the tax dollars — in the name of a supposed public good. "It's for the kids you know." No it's for the system. And our future — our children — will be stuck trying to down a lukewarm liquid from a used cup.

I started my intellectual journey toward economic truths after I was first elected. At the time I believed in the system. Sure there were failures in the past, but I was going to be the one to set the right direction, I would be the omniscient one. But as Mises showed decades earlier, and Rothbard confirmed, there is no rational way to direct a government bureaucracy. In fact, it's impossible. It does not even matter if the elected or appointed board member or administrator is skilled in the market or knowledgeable about economics; all members of a bureaucracy are flying blind.

But that truth never stops those who aspire to use government as the mean to an end. Instead of omniscient, I became omnipotent in matters of school policies.

Like Nero as Rome burns, school board members, school administrators, and local, state and federal officials, bursting with pride garnered from a belief in their own omnipotence and omniscience, meet to fiddle the next intervention. The pretenders swear fealty and kiss the ring of the highest official in attendance. His is the one that holds the power to douse the raging flames of public school failure. If the meeting is held in the audience of a congressman, then you know you have shaken the hand of a man who shook the hand of the President. Awe, pride, and self-conceit fill the room with a testosterone effect, power is certainly an enticing drug.

At the head of the table is the congressman who can get the job done, and he will tell you so. Your solutions become his solutions. Yes, even a lowly school board member can change the course of history. Maybe they will name the federal legislation after you. Maybe you will receive a pen from the signing of the bill into law. Regardless, you know that you are finally part of the solution. At least in your view of the situation, you are the selfless public servant delivering the public goods.

Real reform: $6

Bush proposes federal initiatives, state education departments add new programs, and local school boards pronounce missions and goals, but each can fix nothing. They simply form the current version of the Soviet Gosplan, creating five-year plans of improvement that will only create more havoc, more chaos.

Two questions beg answers: What are the solutions? And, what am I doing serving the beast.

I have been on the school board for over six years and I can state that government cannot solve the current education fiasco, and never will. Mises knew this in the early 1900s, but the advocates of public education sit here in the 21st century pretending that what Mises said has no value. They truly accept the Progressive belief that government is the way to salvation. I am here to say that Mises was indeed correct.

I learned from the shock of my image at the meeting that talking and doing can be separate actions. I allowed that moment of clarity to redirect my efforts toward liberty.

I am using the remaining months I have on the school board to try to make a change. No, I am not expecting improvements in the current system, none have happened thus far. Instead I am working for a revolutionary change, one that takes us back to the private system of education that was the primary education-delivery structure at the time of the Revolution; revolutionary indeed.

Do not buy the "education is a public good" mantra, and do not accept the current system — a system patterned after the 19th-century collectivist and socialist Prussian state. Instead, work for a free-market education system that benefits all and harms none. That is a future worthy of envisioning. That is the means to reestablish liberty in the United States.

Jim Fedako, a former professional cyclist who lives in Lewis Center, OH, is a member of the Olentangy Local School District and maintains a blog: Anti-Positivist. Send him mailComment on the blog.


Jim Fedako

Jim Fedako, a business analyst and homeschooling father of seven, lives in the wilds of suburban Columbus. Send him mail.

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