Education

The American tradition of public education began in one-room school houses when frontier farm families hired dedicated teachers to teach their children.

When I attended public schools in the 1950s, I received an excellent education. American schools were rated the best in the world. Those schools prepared me for Caltech, and Caltech prepared me for a wonderful life in science. I owe my career and accomplishments to the great start I received in the public schools.

Those public schools were locally controlled and locally funded. Teachers and parents worked together on the content of curriculum, student discipline, and all aspects of school life. In addition to being academic institutions, public schools became centers of sports competition, social events, and other aspects of community life.

Unfortunately, our public schools are no longer locally controlled. They are largely controlled by federal and state agencies and special interests empowered by government. Local school boards still meet, but the most important decisions are out of their hands.

As local control diminished, so did the academic quality of our schools. U.S. schools are now rated as among the worst in the developed world. This is more than a tragedy – it is child abuse.

When 50 million American children – in whose hands the fate of our nation rests – receive poor quality elementary academic educations, the future of our country is in serious jeopardy. The federally and state controlled public schools that are ruining our children’s educations should be abolished – and replaced by the locally-controlled public schools that served our children so well in the past. No school should be permitted to ruin the life of a single student.

A vast federal bureaucracy and numerous special interest organizations it empowers now stand between our students and our teachers. It should be eliminated. All aspects of a student’s upbringing are the responsibility of the student’s parents and any professional whom the parents wish to engage. Together, they should provide the student with the best possible academic opportunities. This effort must not be imperiled by those who use education for their own purposes, rather than for the student’s best interest.

Americans have responded to the deterioration of their schools by providing more and more tax money, but more money has not worked. Much of the money never reaches the students or the teachers. It funds a literal army of non-teachers, administrators, and federal, state, and local bureaucrats – who generally spend their time making life miserable for the teachers and interfering with their efforts to teach.

Tax funding for Oregon schools is now, on average, about $10,000 per student year. Suppose that one of our thousands of great teachers were to be given 30 students, a check for $300,000, and asked to teach those students for nine months. Do you think the teacher would have sufficient resources? (Some schools receive less than the average of $10,000, but even $200,000 would suffice for this example.)

The teacher could rent the best room in town, hire an assistant, raise her own salary, buy everything the students need, fully fund all extracurricular activities, and have money left over. The teacher could, of course, do this more efficiently in a school with other teachers. This single teacher example illustrates, however, that education resources are sufficient – if the resources go directly to the classroom.

The local school board would assure that resources do go to the classroom and provide sufficient supervision, which need not cost much.  Following World War II, my uncle taught school in Iowa. In addition to teaching a full load of classes, he was given a few dollars extra to be the superintendant of schools.

I have been an educator all my life. Starting with earning a little money for college by tutoring students in high school, I eventually became a faculty member at the University of California at San Diego, teaching chemistry to 300 undergraduates each year and supervising graduate students. Currently, our family business provides curricula, books, and teaching aids to approximately 60,000 home schooled students in the U.S.

In the 1950s when our schools were under local control, there was almost no home schooling in America because there was no need for it. Now, millions of American children are being home schooled because their parents want better educations for them than are provided in the academically inferior schools that are under federal, state, and special interest political control.

Not even nuclear war could “abolish” American public education. It is an integral part of our way of life. However, American schools must be returned to local control. The federal Department of Education should be closed, and education returned entirely to the states and the people as the Constitution specifies. The states and localities can collect the needed taxes. No increase in overall taxes would be needed.

Local control is close to the parents, where real concern for the student lies. Also, local control places our school districts in competition with each other for academic excellence, so students benefit.

Improvement of our public schools cannot wait. It cannot be neglected in hopes that they will gradually improve over the coming decades. The 50 million children in these schools now will not have a second chance at some future date.

Beyond high school, the U.S. system of private and public universities is also functioning below its potential because of political control. Oregon State University, located in Oregon District 4, serves as an example. This university receives more than $250 million in federal research dollars each year, including approximately $30 million as direct earmark funding from incumbent Congressmen during the last congressional session. By comparison, OSU private funding for research is now less than $6 million.

Is it any surprise, therefore, that in the 2010 election, OSU facilities and personnel were mobilized in favor of the incumbent Congressional candidate in District 4 and against the challenger? OSU courses often contain partisan political content, even science courses with no logical political purpose. OSU has become a very partisan political institution, which can lead to reprehensible injustices to students, as evidenced by my own family.

By contrast, the California Institute of Technology receives only about half of its funds from political sources. The other half is supported by income from Caltech’s endowment, which mitigates the effect of outside political influence.

Oregon State University and the University of Oregon (also in Oregon District 4) are very important institutions. Both universities would, however, be much better off if they were not completely dependent upon politicians for their immediate existence. Very large independent endowments should be built for both universities. These could be built with both public and private funds, but then be administered by the universities without political control.

Public education, from first grade to the university levels should be as independent of federal and state political influence as possible.