Someone reading Tuesday’s Random Fire, “Overgrowing the Government,” indicated that he would like “to see a more balanced column putting forth constructive suggestions [with] specificity.”

I don’t do balance too well. I’m a polemicist. But specificity is not a problem, and Time magazine has decided, however unwittingly, to help out with a cover story in the current issue about home schooling and the challenges it provides for government schooling.

Fundamentally, what interests me about the “Home Sweet School” feature is its support for the thesis of “Overgrowing Government,” in which I basically argue that the best way to reform politics, long-term, is to work around it and develop alternative institutions to do whatever worthwhile things government now does.

The prejudice in favor of government’s expansionist role in society is a cultural inclination. To battle the results of this prejudice – the interventionist state – on a political level does nothing to alter the underlying worldview and philosophy of government. And, as Jonathan Rauch points out in “Government’s End,” the effort to reform at a political level is largely fruitless due to the engrained nature of special interests.

Politicians don’t battle special interests the way they always promise during elections – they battle for the special interests that back them, against the special interests that back the other guy.

So relying mainly on politics to reform politics is, to conjure an image from Sunday School, fighting Goliath with Saul’s armor. If David had confronted the giant weighted down with weaponry that would have inhibited him from the real task, killing the Philistine champion, he would have failed the second he started – as do most political careers launched under the auspices of reform (look no further than the 1994 GOP for proof). Instead, David handed back the armor and opted for an alternative.

So should we.

I argued that by strengthening other institutions in the society – families, churches, communities – they would out-compete the state, in essence overgrowing it. In time such an overgrowing would delegitimize the state by creating a culture disinclined to government expansion in society.

The Time article on home schooling confirms this point with two short but revealing quotes – one cited by Lew Rockwell in his column today about education taxes.

First to bat is Ray Simon, the director of the Arkansas department of education. “A third of our support for schools comes from property taxes,” says Simon. “If a large number of a community’s parents do not fully believe in the school system, it gets more difficult to pass those property taxes. And that directly impacts the schools’ ability to operate.”

The next is a supporting quote from a fellow traveler, the executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, Kellar Noggle: “We still have 440,000 kids in public schools, and some 12,000 [in home schooling] is a small number. But those 12,000 have parents and grandparents. Sure, it erodes public support.”

By eroding public support for government education, its very purpose and means of existence are challenged. Smart guys both, these two educrats recognize home schooling for the genuine threat that it is.

By families educating their children at home, they are in part delegitimizing the purpose of public education. They’re saying to the government, “No thanks. We’ve got it covered. Don’t need you. And what’s more, we don’t want you, either.”

A natural result of this is that, as Simon said, paying for schools becomes harder because home-schooling parents are less than thrilled with jacking their taxes to pay for somebody else’s kids. Home schooling (and private schooling for the same reasons) is a direct challenge to the role of government, first by competing against its educational monopoly and next by fighting it for funds, thus endangering its very livelihood.

It’s obviously a long-term fight, but education provides a good real-world example of this cultural transformation. The reason is that this fight in education has been going on for 30 years or so already.

The political and legal hoops through which home schoolers and private schoolers much jump are much easier to deal with today than they were when my father (a public school teacher, incidentally) decided to put my sister and me through private school. Thanks to that frontline force back then – fighting the court battles they did, dealing with the meddlesome, intimidating bureaucrats – more and more families are reasserting their role in education, completely sidestepping the state. And as they do so, it becomes more legitimate, an increasingly good alternative to many people.

The thing to remember is that as private education expands, a corresponding contraction in public education follows – precisely the fear of the educrats previously cited. As the culture disinclines itself from government involvement, it also disinclines itself to fork over money for it.

The transition from state to other cultural institutions starts out in the subculture – the people willing to incur the greatest difficulties sidestepping and undermining the statist hegemony – but as its successes increase, the general culture increasingly sees the appeal, and, as the legitimacy of the government is eroded by the successes of the alternative institutions, the general culture inches closer toward acknowledging the superiority of the anti-statist solution.

If challenging the expansionist state is your goal, privately educating your children – either at home or in an alternative institution – is the best way to start overgrowing the government.


Related column:

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