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Public education

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Let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools even though I don't personally have a kid in school: I don't like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.
—John Green[1]

Public education is the provision of state-funded education to a country's residents, or, more generally (and taking history into account), the provision of publicly-funded education to the residents of a given region.

The existence of public education itself is largely uncontroversial (although in the United States movements to privatize the entire system have gained increasing clout), and most debate concerns the material being taught, the nature of funding, the ultimate goal of the education system, and teacher behavior.

International comparisons[edit]

Every three years the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) carries out an international comparison of students around the world in three areas: mathematics, science and reading. The most recent period for which data has been released is 2018.[2] Due to obvious reasons, PISA 2021 was posponed to 2022.

Asian countries like Singapore, Mainland China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea dominated most of the rankings, while Estonia had the best results in Europe. America came out in 38th out of 79 countries in Math, but scored better at science (19th) and reading (15th). Countries like Philippines and Dominican Republic came out at the bottom of the rankings.[3]

When it comes to literacy rate, many countries from the former Soviet Union claim to have a 100% literate population over 15 or something close to it.[4]

Education goals[edit]

One can ask why it is necessary to send children to school from the age of four. A number of possible explanations occur that will appeal to different segments of the population. These include:

  • To give their parents some peace and quiet.
  • To socialise children, in other words to teach them how to get along with their peers.
  • To indoctrinate children into the particular worldview that happens to prevail in a given society, whether they be religious, political, or racial!
  • Associated with the above, to teach them the moral values of the society where they live.
  • To teach them something about math, history, Latin etc.
  • To teach skills and behaviors deemed beneficial to their likely future employer.
  • To teach them how to think for themselves. Evil!

It is probable that the goals of the education system change along with the age of the student.

Attempts by fundamentalist Christians to hijack the education system[edit]

See the main articles on this topic: Classroom prayer and Creationism in public education

Fundamentalist Christians have been trying to shoehorn their religion into secular American public schools for many years. Their main attempts at this have been by putting official-led prayer in schools, putting proselytizing Bible instruction in schools, and putting Christian creationism in science classes. These three things have existed in some public schools at various times in history — in violation of the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution. In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled against official-led prayer and official-led Bible reading in school.[5][6] Teaching creationism and intelligent design in public schools was also ruled unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, and was based on the "Lemon test", which derived from the Supreme Court ruling in Lemon v. Kurtzman,Wikipedia the test stated among other things, laws should not cause "'excessive entanglement' between government and religion, thus violating the Establishment Clause." The court rulings have not ruled against individual Bible reading, individual prayer or individual study of creationism in public schools, but that is not fundamentalists want — they want indoctrination.

In Abington School District v. Schempp, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bible could be taught in public schools, but that the teaching must be objectively neutral.[7] Despite this, fundamentalists have tried to insert Biblical literalist textbooks into public school that at best only have the veneer of neutrality.[8][9] At least three groups have been trying to insert their Bible curricula into public schools, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS), the Bible Literacy Project (BLP), and one by fundamentalist Steve Green, founder of the Hobby Lobby.[8][9] An analysis by Mark Chancey, professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University found serious deficiencies in the three curricula with regard to their quality. The NCBCPS curricula included pseudoscience, urban legends, and fringe theories.[9] Chancey found that the "BLP materials lapse into a tone of assumed historicity – that is, the story under discussion is basically an accurate historical account. The overall tone is clearly one of Bible boosterism."[8] A review of the Green curriculum by Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University, found that it lacked objectivity and that it claimed that the Bible was historically accurate (contrary to academic Bible scholarship).[10]

Although fundamentalists probably do not want to have the Bible taught in an objective manner, it is possible to do so in public schools without violating the Establishment Clause, and Chancey has outlined how that can be done in his report.[9]:58

In criticizing public education, fundamentalist Christians have frequently claimed that public education is indoctrination.[11][12] A parent who with his wife have experienced both fundamentalist Christian homeschooling and public schools stated, "People who think the public schools are indoctrinating don’t know what indoctrination is. We were indoctrinated."[13]

History of public education[edit]

One reason for attempts to improve the overall levels of literacy was the belief that more people could read the Good Book and would benefit thereby.

Alleged history[edit]

Oh, no, evil industrialists founded the education system to churn out obedient little factory workers! Clearly the nefarious goals of men who died 200 years ago should lead us to dismiss one of the most beneficial services provided to us by the government!

Compulsory vs. optional attendance[edit]

According to many libertarians and anarchists, and some conservatives, compulsory attendance takes away children's freedom, and the ability of their parents to educate them as they choose. Since non-public education options are not wholly allowed (such as private schools or arrangements such as homeschooling) they argue that forcing people into schools is coercion. So here's some points:

  • Supposing such a voluntary system of education were established, it's blatant that many students wouldn't even bother wanting to be educated and would instead elect to sleep in until 4 pm. They would especially not have any real motivation or desire to try to get get an above average level of education. Surely that isn't a requirement to work in reputable jobs with good living wages and solid references.
  • Speaking of jobs, many employers will not even bother considering résumés of people who have never graduated from public school due to their lack of degrees. Even if people are somehow well-educated without having gone through a normal school curriculum enough that they can work just as well as people who have degrees, the chances they will be hired are still slim to none. Unless they can get a Rocky Balboa-style break, then the choices of a good careers with living wages without an accredited high school degree are almost non-existent. Even with a high school diploma, it's only slightly better because jobs for people with just that will almost always pay under a living wage and lack genuine fulfillment. The real meaty careers require, at best, an associate's degree or vocational certificate from an accredited college or university. Fields like science and medicine require higher degrees. Good luck even trying to work as a doctor at a prestigious hospital without an MD.
  • As there would be no compulsion to attend a public school, the burden is on parents who are faced with the option of paying to have them schooled. Almost all private schools or alternative education methods that put the responsibility of paying upon customers are not cheap: something those opposing compulsory education fail to often mention (and/or hope to profit from). If they are accosted on it, their responses often boil down to "Tough shit. You have no right to my money!" From there that answer can stay as it is or branch off with proponents trying their damnedest to better hide the fact they couldn't give a fuck if many people can't send their children to schools without help.
    • One of these sub-reasons is "The parents should teach them themselves." That would be a solid reason except not all parents are suitable teachers who will be good educators. Even more will very likely not even bother teaching their children well or not even bother trying at all. Neither bodes well for their children or society's well-being. Plus such parents have yet to find a way to create accredited diplomas to impress potential employers thus guaranteeing their children will not be stuck in dead end, low-paying careers for the rest of their lives.
    • More important to note is that parents often lack enough time to adequately devote to teaching their children. This is often due to work: that thing they have to do to put food on the table to feed said children. This often means they'll often choose not to bother teaching them at all or will entrust the task to others which, as they'll find, requires money to do. That again brings the problem of voluntary education back full circle to their wallets that are often found lacking cash-wise.

These problems and the desire of parents to have others educate their children are precisely what resulted in public school systems around the world being created. They exist as a result of parents who wouldn't have to worry about doing it themselves, ensuring they bring home enough money to stay alive and have the bonus of getting rid of their mini-mes long enough to have some breathing space. How's that for irony?


Some people feel that, since public schools purport to produce productive citizens, they should be owned by the people who will later be employing the (former) students. This is called privatization, and many, many other things, mostly four-letter words. Additionally, some people believe that certain aspects of public education (like food service) should be privatized.

Attempts also happen with the aim of semi-privatizing education. This has sometimes given charter schools a bad name.[14]

Milton Friedman's push for the privatization of the public school system was in response to the then recent push to desegregate public schooling. Freidman and others saw this as a way of pushing a radical neoliberal agenda. To quote the Institute for New Economic Thinking:

Friedman and his allies saw in the backlash to the desegregation decree an opportunity they could leverage to advance their goal of privatizing government services and resources. Whatever their personal beliefs about race and racism, they helped Jim Crow survive in America by providing ostensibly race-neutral arguments for tax subsidies to the private schools sought by white supremacists. Indeed, to achieve court-proof vouchers, leading defenders of segregation learned from the libertarians that the best strategy was to abandon overtly racist rationales and embrace both an anti-government stance and a positive rubric of liberty, competition, and market choice.[15]

To quote Freidman's exact words on the subject of school privatization:

In my ideal world, government would not be responsible for providing education any more than it is for providing food and clothing. [...] Private charity would be more than ample to assure that there were schools available for every child.[15]


According to some nutjobs, the public education system is a communist, or Freemason plot, or something, to prepare for the antichrist.[16]

See also[edit]


  2. PISA Homepage
  3. "Publications - PISA" (in en). 
  4. "Literacy rate, adult total" (in en). 
  5. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962)
  6. See the Wikipedia article on Abington School District v. Schempp.
  7. Abington School District v. Schempp (Argued February 27-28, 1963.-Decided June 17, 1963)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Teaching Or Preaching? Religious Right Groups And Their Legislative Allies Say They Want ‘Bible Literacy’ In Public Schools – But Are They Really After Something Else? by Rob Boston (April 2019) Church & State Magazine.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Reading, Writing & Religion II: Texas Public School Bible Courses in 2011 – 12 by Mark A. Chancey (2013) Texas Freedom Network.
  10. Hobby Lobby Bible course objective? by Stephen Prothero (Published 5:28 p.m. ET May 11, 2014 | Updated 5:44 p.m. ET May 11, 2014) USA Today.
  11. The myth of ‘woke’ indoctrination of students by Glenn C. Altschuler & David Wippman (04/09/23 9:30 AM ET) The Hill.
  12. The Indoctrination in Public Schools Is Working by Nate Hochman (February 24, 2023 5:14 PM) National Review.
  13. The revolt of the Christian home-schoolers: They were taught that public schools are evil. Then a Virginia couple defied their families and enrolled their kids. by Peter Jamison (May 30, 2023 at 8:52 a.m.) The Washington Post.
  14. See the Wikipedia article on Charter schools.
  15. 15.0 15.1 "How Milton Friedman Aided and Abetted Segregationists in His Quest to Privatize Public Education" - Institute for New Economic Thinking
  16. FREEMASONS STARTED THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM! Jesus Is Savior. Beware of green ink!