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Breaking the Educational Cartel

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Every society has rites of passage. If you want to begin to understand any society, study its rites of passage.

In the Christian West, there are three acknowledged rites of passage: baptism, marriage, and funeral. Obviously, a funeral is a rite of passage for the survivors. Nobody wears street clothes — other than a mortician's street clothes — when he is invited by somebody else to one of these rites of passage.

Every society has additional rites of passage. There is usually a rite of passage associated with advancing from childhood to adulthood. I love the writings of Jean Shepherd, who wrote A Christmas Story. I think his greatest story was "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories." There, he established the connection between a tribal rite of passage for young men with the senior prom.

School Rites vs. Parental Rights

One of the rites of passage that apparently I am the only one who has recognized is what I call the dorm key ritual. When a parent takes his child to register in a college dorm, the person at the front desk hands the room key to the freshman student, not to the parent. The parent is paying for the room, but the student gets the key. Whether parents recognize this or not, this is one of the major rites of passage for about a third of the American population.

A more important rite of passage for most families is this: kindergarten enrollment. The parent has to take the child to the school to get enrolled. But this is not the main rite. The main right is the school bus rite. In the morning of the child's first day of school, the parent takes the child to the pickup location, and she watches her child climb aboard the school bus, possibly in tears. I mean both the child and the mother. The yellow school bus is the agency of the state as surely as the white bus of the prisoner heading for jail. I wrote about this in 2004. Read my article here.

Why do parents do this? In the United States in the early 19th century, there was no requirement for parents to send their children to school. Until after the Civil War, Southerners who wanted their children to get good educations hired tutors. There were a few colleges, but there weren't many. The parent was in charge of the selection of the tutor. But only rich families could afford this. Other families hired tutors through a local civil government. Attendance wasn't required, except in New England, but the state was in charge of educating children.

There is nothing inherent about the state's claim on the right to educate children. It goes back to the bureaucracy of Babylonia, where King Nebuchadnezzar had a hierarchy of educators who made certain that the best and the brightest young men who represented the conquered nations had to be educated. The first chapter of the book of Daniel is about this system. It had to do with empire.

The Lure of Certification 

Why do parents put up with this? Because they want their children to be certified. They want their children to have access to careers that are available mainly or only to people who have gone through a formal process of academic certification. This certification process places the school in authority over what the children are taught. This transfers authority from the family to the state.

The parents have no control over the content of the formal education except in rare circumstances. They don't have any control over the methodology of instruction, either. They meekly surrender their children to the educrats.

The American homeschool movement over the last generation has begun to siphon off maybe 5% of young people. This is a move in the direction of freedom. Parents are in control over the curriculum materials that they adopt. This is a transfer of authority back to the families. The families pay for the education they want for their children.

This control ends at college. That's why the dorm key ritual is important. It is the symbol of the transfer of authority over the minds of children from the parents to whoever is in control of the university's curriculum. Because of regional accreditation and state laws against the use of the word "college" or "university," the educrats have something approaching a monopoly over the final years of education. Even homeschool parents turn their children over to universities at the end of the process. They wash their hands of responsibility. They surrender. They don't fight any longer. Churches have not intervened to help parents. There were parochial schools in Catholic circles in the United States from the middle of the 19th century until today. But after 1970, bishops began shutting down the schools. They were expensive to run. The bishops were part of the Vatican II movement. They began to abandon the idea that they had any real responsibility over the education of the parishioners. The money was used for other purposes.

He Who Pays the Piper Listens Meekly 

Normally, he who pays the piper calls the tune. This has not been true in education, especially higher education, since the 12th century. Parents have paid for the education of their children, but they have not attempted to control the content of the curriculum.

In the medieval West, the church was officially in charge of higher education, but it did not exercise much authority. Officially, most professors were priests. Because he was ordained by the church, a priest had to be in subjection to the church. But he was really in subjection to the local college that employed him. The college demanded equal authority with the church. This was why professors and students wore black robes. It was to show equality of status. It was to show that the college and university system had equal authority to the priesthood. Priests also wore black robes.

The priests and the professors demanded equal authority with the with the judges of the civil government. The university inserted itself into the covenantal arrangement of church and state. It demanded a separate legal jurisdiction. This is why John Wycliffe was able to survive church pressures. He taught at Oxford. This was how Luther survived the pressure of the Catholic hierarchy. He had the support of the local prince, whose money established the University of Württemberg.

An End Run Around the Education Bureaucracy

It is now possible to begin to win back some degree of control over the content of college education. The educrats have accepted this institutionally, but parents have not yet figured it out. Neither have churches, synagogues, and mosques.

There is now a soft underbelly of the university system. This is the system of examinations known as college credit in high school. There are three exam systems: CLEP, AP, and DSST. These exams enable children who are still in high school to take an exam, get scores back, and get credit for college courses above a specified score. This saves parents at least 40% of the college bill. If the parents enroll their children in a distance learning program, the parents don't have to pay for room and board. This can reduce the college costs by over 90%. Not many parents do it, but it is now legally possible.

The exams need not involve classroom instruction, although AP courses are taught on high school campuses. The student never sits under a college professor, either literally or figuratively. If he can pass the exam, which is created by a committee and graded by algorithms, he can escape from college classroom indoctrination.

The exams cover what are considered the basics of a particular academic discipline. The indoctrination goes on, but it is condensed. It is not personal. A professor is not lecturing to the students. The impact of classroom presentations does not manifest itself in the examination system.

There is now a tremendous possibility available to individuals as well as churches or other organizations. If they can locate competent teachers who are capable of using screencast technology to produce instructional videos, the organization can create a shadow college.

Here's how it works. The video instructor assigns written materials that he thinks support the worldview of the organization that is putting together the shadow college. The instructor can then go through a basic textbook in the field. It can be a used textbook. It does not cost $250. It can be three editions back and sell for $25. The instructor may assign a CLEP study guide for the particular course. That could be another $15 purchased used on Amazon. This guide summarizes the material in the textbook. It focuses on the questions that are most likely to be asked. It probably includes practice exams. There is some trace of the ideology governing academic, but remember this: these tests and guidebooks are screened by committees. The books are bland. Their arguments must be acceptable to most of the people in the screening committee. It is indoctrination lite.

The instructor can go through the textbook and show where the presuppositions are wrong, the facts are wrong, and the interpretation is wrong. The instructor can inoculate the student against the humanism of the classroom. He is in control. He structures the lectures. He makes the reading assignments. He may even have the competence to write a textbook of his own and offer it in PDF form. Not many college instructors are willing to do this. They should have been doing this for the last 200 years, but they haven't. But the video instructor can show how the material that the students need to memorize to answer algorithm-graded exams is wrongheaded. He can use the textbook to demonstrate the silliness of whatever it is the textbook is trying to get into the minds of the students. There is a way for the instructor to protect the student from the textbook.

This is now a technological possibility. This can be done through YouTube. Parents can assign these courses to their children in homeschool environments. They will probably have to buy a textbook, but that's about the only cost associated with the instruction. The instructor online does his job. The parents can watch the videos if they're really concerned, but I don't think most of them will. But they can.

Since it costs no money to start a YouTube channel or a WordPress.com blog, any movement can create its own shadow university today. It can adopt the curriculum that will enable the students to quiz out of their first two years of college. The first two years are when the indoctrination really begins. That's when the instructors and the university undermine the authority of the parents and the parents' worldview. By the upper division courses, instructors assume that the screening process has already accomplished what was intended to accomplish, namely, to separate the student from the worldview of his parents. The parents have paid for this, either directly as tuition payers or indirectly as taxpayers. It is suicidal, but it has been universal for as long as there have been colleges and universities. It is part of the culture of the West to transfer children to the control of the educrats.

If churches were not asleep at the wheel, and if ideological groups were not asleep at the wheel, they would have begun doing what Salman Khan began doing in 2006. They would have recruited competent instructors to produce online homeschool courses with about 180 lessons per course, which can be delivered free of charge to any parent anywhere in the world.

The churches have no vision. They do not perceive that their worldview is being undermined by the humanist accredited educational establishment.

The churches don't want to get involved in anything controversial and therefore donation-threatening. Academic disciplines such as sociology, philosophy, economics, political science, psychology, and virtually all the other social sciences are highly controversial. The churches don't feel competent to recruit men who will challenge the reigning ideology of university education, not even with free YouTube videos. There will be other university-trained donors and pastors in the denomination who will scream bloody murder if somebody attempts to reconstruct an academic discipline in terms of the official creed of the church. These people have lived in a safe academic environment all of their careers. The church doesn't question what they teach the students. Psychology professors in Christian colleges and tax-funded universities teach a version of Freudianism or Jungianism or behavioralism. None of this is Christian. None of it is grounded in permanent ethics. All of it undermines the authority of the family. All of it undermines the authority of the church. But the church does nothing. It has done nothing for 200 years.

Adapted from a longer version of this article.  

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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