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by Billy Greer

Common Sense Regulation

I'll admit it, I've never been a big fan of lots of regulation either in business or in our personal lives. I'm not against all regulation; I recognize that some type of law is needed to ensure that our individual rights are protected. The problem is that regulations often seem to take on a life of their own. They start off simply enough, with lots of good intentions, but somehow grow more convoluted and onerous over time.

Most regulations start off with the intent to protect individuals or to protect the common good. Unfortunately, once they are in place, they are often used in ways that weren't originally intended, and they are often based on false premises.

Let's take a look at some of the regulations concerning education. Our current school system is based on the idea that education serves the common good. Our country benefits from ensuring its citizens are educated and it is important to provide educational opportunities to everyone, not just the wealthy. It's hard to argue with a statement like that, but why must it then follow that compulsory attendance to schools is the only way to achieve these goals?

There are lots of other educational models out there such as apprenticeships, mentoring, homeschooling, or tutoring, so why limit us to schools? Even more important, why make school compulsory? The underlying assumptions here are actually pretty insulting. We are being told in effect that we cannot be trusted to decide the best educational format for our children. So the state decides for us. In theory, schools offer opportunities for increased efficiencies through economies of scale and standardization and that makes them an appealing choice for the state. By making school compulsory, the state is telling us that we cannot be trusted to look after the best interests of our children unless required to by law. The state decides for us, then tells us we must comply.

We are so used to the idea of school that we usually accept many of its premises without thinking. Let's put it in perspective by using a different example. If the state has an interest in the "feeding and nourishment" of our intellects, then it has just as much of an interest in the feeding and nourishment of our bodies. Imagine that the state decided to set up free government cafeterias for our children. Some people wouldn't mind that. It could be kind of nice to send the kids off to let someone else feed them (and do the dishes afterwards!) Of course, some people might be upset that they have to pay taxes to support these free cafeterias when they don't have any young children of their own. Most restaurant owners would also be upset at the prospect of facing unfair competition from a government agency that can offer "free" meals that actually cost more than their higher quality restaurant meals.

Let's take it a step further. Now say that the government requires you to send all of your kids to these cafeterias for their meals. The kids must report for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They don't get any say over the menu selection, the size of the servings they can have, or the time of their meals. They also get evaluations on how much of their meals they eat, and they are weighed and measured regularly to make sure their growth is progressing. The government hasn't banned private restaurants, so you can avoid all of this and get a better menu selection if you can afford it. So, your only options are to accept what the state provides, or if you have enough money, you can pay for something better. Would most of us consider this an appropriate function of the state? Probably not, but most people accept the same situation when it comes to education.

When one permits compulsory attendance to become law, soon more regulations are required. Since parents are giving up the right to directly oversee the education of their children or to choose who will be working with their children, many will want reassurances that the "substitute parents" will do a good job. It now becomes necessary to regulate teachers. They need to be "certified" and properly trained for the job. Next, testing will be implemented to see how schools are performing.

Once regulations are in place, various groups learn how to make them work to their own advantage. Teachers unions have a vested interest in presenting their profession as one requiring specialized training. It helps protect jobs and justifies higher salaries. Do you think a teachers union can ever publicly declare homeschooling to be a valid form of education? Would they ever support vouchers or the separation of school and state? Of course not! They can better protect the jobs of their members by gaining more control of the system and adding more requirements that their "competition" is not likely to meet. The trend is to encourage full time school earlier and earlier. Kindergarten has already become mandatory in many states and there is serious talk about mandatory full-time pre-school. The teachers unions will grow even larger.

The process is also likely to become political. Teachers unions can motivate lots of voters. Any issue that is against the school system is equated to being against education. No politician wants to appear to be against education, so it is easy to support legislation which spends more money on the school system and gives it more control over the lives of children. Publishers also have a vested interest in the existing system. Schools present them with the opportunity to sell a large number of text books. In fact, some text books are edited to assure that they are approved for purchase rather than to assure accuracy. I grew up as a "Navy brat" and attended a dozen schools in various states. I can tell you from personal experience that even between states as close as North Carolina and Virginia, the history books present different slants on the Civil War. I can only imagine the difference between textbooks used in Massachusetts and Alabama!

Teachers unions, textbook publishers, testing companies, clothing manufactures, shoe companies, construction companies, school bus companies, employers - they all have an interest in maintaining the status quo. Our educational system should be protecting the rights of parents and children, but instead it is taking away their rights in order to support teachers jobs, lucrative construction contracts, back-to-school sales for retailers, and political careers.

Wouldn't it be great if the state would trust parents enough to give us back the freedom to raise and educate our own children?








Billy L. Greer has over a dozen years of business experience in management and quality assurance. He has always been struck by the similarities between the leading ideas in management and the leading ideas about learning. He shares his observations in this regular column.

Qualifications and reviews

Parents are usually responsible for feeding their children. When you go to a restaurant or cafeteria, someone else prepares the food. Since you cannot oversee that process yourself, the government establishes some regulations to protect your interests. Laws are passed requiring food preparation facilities to be licensed and inspected by the health department. Since these laws are in place, should you have to meet the same requirements and be inspected if you decide to cook dinner at home?

Most schools are required to have a registered dietician on staff to plan menus. Would any reasonable person take this to mean that parents are not qualified to prepare meals for their children unless they are registered dieticians? Should you be required to meet with the school dietician several times a year to make sure your meals are acceptable? If schools are required to have a registered nurse on staff for administering aspirin or treating minor injuries, does that mean a parent must be a nurse to take care of their sick child?

Of course not! Schools are different from homes. Just because public schools require teachers to be certified and to have specific training, it does not follow that parents must meet the same requirements or be reviewed by the same system.

It is interesting to note that private schools are considered by many to be better than public schools, but they often do not require their teachers to be certified. In fact, studies show there is little or no correlation between teacher qualifications and student performance or teacher performance!

Taken from issue 12 of F.U.N. News

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