It's generally agreed that American primary, secondary and, increasingly, undergraduate education is a failure. But that assessment depends upon just what evaluation criteria is chosen. By some criteria, American education might be deemed a remarkable success. Let's look at it.
Pretend you're a politician or high-level bureaucrat seeking low accountability standards, as well as more power and control over American lives. Which would you prefer: ignorant and uninformed constituents, or ones who are educated and informed? Would you prefer constituents who evaluate public policy proposals in terms of emotion, soundbites and speaker delivery styles, or would you prefer constituents who could clearly think through and dispassionately evaluate public policy?
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I'm betting that on balance politicians and bureaucrats, seeking power, control and lower accountability standards prefer ignorant, uninformed and emotional clients and constituents.
You might be a politician wanting to keep more taxpayer earnings in Washington. Your strategy for that goal might be to employ demagoguery by claiming your opponent's across-the-board tax proposals are simply "income tax cuts for the rich." You might make a pretense of concern and compassion by demanding that any income tax cuts should be for those "working Americans" who are in the bottom half of income-earners.
Surely you wouldn't want Americans to be so informed as to know that the lower half of income-earners pay only 4 percent of the total income taxes. Informed Americans would see through your scheme and quickly recognize that income tax cuts aimed at the lower 50 percent of income-earners are no tax cuts at all.
Say you're a politician who wants to disarm Americans with piecemeal encroachments on the Second Amendment. You'd surely want Americans to believe that the framers gave us the Second Amendment so that we can go deer and duck hunting. You would not want Americans to know that James Madison said during the constitutional debates, in Federalist Paper No. 46, "The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation ... (where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms."
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You also wouldn't want Americans aware of Noah Webster's observation in "An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution": "The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword, because the whole body of the people are armed and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops."
Suppose you're a politician pushing for government spending on social programs and you say authority for doing so is found in the Constitution's "general welfare" clause. Surely you wouldn't want Americans to be familiar with Madison, the acknowledged father of our Constitution, who made this statement about the general welfare clause: "With respect to the words 'general welfare,' I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators."
In keeping Americans ill-educated, ill-informed and constitutionally ignorant, the education establishment has been the politician's major and most faithful partner. It is in this sense that American education can be deemed a success. The education establishment and politicians, particularly Democratic politicians, work hand-in-glove to further both of their goals. The education establishment makes large payments into the political campaign coffers of politicians, and politicians return the favor with large government education expenditures.