Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 592, October 17, 2010

"Taxation is theft.
Taxation is slavery.
And taxation is the fuel of war."

Previous Previous Table of Contents Contents Next Next

Salt on the Ruins
A Chapter from the Forthcoming Where We Stand
by L. Neil Smith

Bookmark and Share

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

Nothing is wrong with American education that can be cured, or even changed, by tinkering with American education. Its problems, like so many others in that country, arise from a fundamental and long-standing conflict between American values and practices which, unresolved, will go on making things worse until the educational system collapses, dragging the rest of the culture down with it.
—L. Neil Smith, Pallas

They were right—although I had to see it for myself before I fully grasped the magnitude of the phenomenon—children are learning machines, more or less in the same sense that sharks are eating machines.

The only phenomenon more astonishing than that is the way the public school system manages to kick, stomp, and crush a child's inherent curiosity and love of learning, often destroying it altogether by the third or fourth grade. Yes, children are learning machines. The fact that government schools have managed to condition them against learning is an astonishing—if wholly negative—feat, achieved at the unspeakable cost of countless hundreds of billions of dollars.

Nobody has any choices in the matter. The government's schools are underwritten by the kind of theft we call taxation, and nothing good can ever come of that. Their little desks are filled by a kind of conscription. The entire institution is administered and operated by unionized net tax consumers, who savagely resist any attempt to objectively assess their work and reward (or punish) them on that basis.

I'd like to have a nickel for every time I've had to listen to school administrators inviting parents to participate in the education of their own children—and then complaining when parents actually do it.

They want you to participate, all right, but only on their terms. They don't want you questioning their policies and practices. They want you to validate whatever they do to your kids, to provide them with what Ayn Rand called "the sanction of the victim". And if you won't do that, or if you won't sit down and shut up—or better yet, just go away—then they identify you as "problem parents" and "trouble-makers".

I have long suspected that it's gotten easier to homeschool kids because the people interested in doing that are the same people that teachers and administrators don't want to have to deal with at the PTA.

Or in the principal's office.

It always curdles my blood to hear teachers complain about how badly paid they are. What's the appropriate fee for destroying young, defenseless minds? Teachers today are paid far better than the average American. The school system is a source of steady, lifelong, highly secure and remunerative employment for the fundamentally unemployable. Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach administer.

Mind you, I'm not saying here that all public school teachers are worthless, parasitic drones. I've known many a public school teacher myself who was dedicated to all of the values I respect most when it comes to education. It's just that there are so many of the former that the latter, the few good teachers, are cancelled out, many times over. To remain inside a system like that has to be an exercise in masochism.

Many individuals today labor under a vague impression that tax- supported public schooling is an all-American institution that has been with us since the country's beginning. Certainly little has been done by government, the media, or the system itself to dispel such a misunderstanding.

However nothing could be further from the historical truth. Inspired by the rigid disciplinary culture of Prussia, American public education is entirely a creature of the late 19th century—the beginning of the so-called "Progressive Era"—the ultimate objective of which might be described as "a place for everyone and everyone in his place", as unAmerican an aspiration as an aspiration can possibly be.

Public schooling in America was largely the brainchild of elitists like Horace Mann and John Dewey, whose advertised desire was not to create and cultivate autonomous adults, but to spawn properly subdued, pliable, and compliant workers and citizens, "hewers of wood and drawers of water" in the Platonic mold, sturdy, uncomplaining cogs in the orderly machinery of mercantilist democracy. They even cautioned against too much abstract, conceptual learning, for fear that pupils might aspire to become intellectuals—of which American society already had too many—and not be content simply to functions as common artisans and laborers, as if the two were somehow mutually exclusive.

To give you an idea of just how far this goes, notice how the left fawns obsessively over animals—whales, spotted owls, snail darters, the whole menagerie—principally because an animal has no intellect. They can pretend to speak for it without fear of being contradicted. An animal is incapable of challenging their tired, discredited ideas. It can't tell them, "Leave me the hell alone and get a life, you geek!"

The left loves the mentally retarded for exactly the same reason.

People-managers greatly prefer to imagine that their subjects are predictable, but it is a tenet of Austrian "Praxeology", the study of human action—a tenet borne out by my own understanding of history and human nature—that real people are invariably and completely unpredictable. The experts couldn't possibly predict personalities like Eric Hoffer, author of ten books on philosophy and politics, who worked as a longshoreman on the docks of San Francisco, or Rex May, the wry, prolific libertarian cartoonist who considers himself a "redneck intellectual". To those who plan societies for others, such anomalous individuals represent a threat, rather than the delight they are.

Those who would control our lives are obsessively-compulsively tidy, whereas genuine freedom has a tendency to be messy. As I've often observed, there are authoritarian personalities among us (too frequently in positions of authority) who reflexively perceive even the faintest indication of individuality (let alone of individualism) as a threat or problem that somehow must be dealt with one way or another.

It doesn't have to be that way. I'm happy to confess that our daughter, now in her twenties, never set foot in a public school, except for a couple of times when came with us to vote, and once when a friend invited her to spend a day with her in school. What's more, we never told the system she existed, never asked some bureaucrat's permission to school her at home, where she absorbed knowledge like a sponge.

My wife taught our daughter to read—it took only a few weeks—and I taught her science, history, moral philosophy, and politics. A good friend tutored her in math. She taught herself to use a computer and probably can't recall now when she first put fingers to keyboard. She finished her G.E.D. with one of the highest scores possible, and presently maintains a four-point-oh at the local community college where she studies Arabic, Italian, public speaking, and acting. She's worked from the earliest moment she could get a job, run her own ice-performance repertory company, and written four (or is it five?) novels.

Yes, she's bright, and yes, she comes from bright parents. But I believe she's doing so well, not because of any genetic endowment, but simply because her intellect wasn't crushed by the public schools. I believe that practically any kid, from practically any background, could do well if they first avoid the toxin of government "education". Having watched my daughter direct her own education, for the most part, I'm not sure anymore if private schools are necessary or even desirable.

It's very interesting to me that the performance of home-schooled children in activities like national spelling bees so thoroughly and consistently outstrips that of public school children that supporters of the government education system would really like to separate the competitions into two divisions so their students won't look quite so bad.

From the taxpayer's viewpoint, public schools are little more than babysitting facilities, made necessary by taxes which prevent one spouse from remaining at home to teach and care for his or her own kids.

For government, public schools are nothing more than propaganda mills (assuming they were ever anything more than that), advocacies for victim disarmament and the United Nations, indoctrination centers for the promulgation of politically useful lies like global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain, global deforestation, desertification, and so on, endlessly. In the demented view of the professional educational establishment, it's more praiseworthy to save the whales and the polar bears—and the sharks, as well, for godsake—than the half million innocent children who died of hunger and disease as a result of the American blockade of Iraq. The bone-chilling sound of little schoolkids chanting praises of Barack Hussein Obama should be a dire warning of what lies ahead of us if we allow this institution to continue to exist.

More and more, it appears to be the objective of the public school system to teach little boys to be little girls. While billions are spent on not teaching them to read and write, public schools promote an unhealthy tolerance for injustice. Most of the time when a child defends himself against an aggressor, he will be punished as if he were the bully, himself. Public school teachers, exactly like parents and police, aren't interested in justice, they simply want quiet. They expect their charges to allow themselves to be victimized quietly.

There's also a certain "educational" value in conditioning young children to resign themselves, teaching them never to expect anything even remotely resembling justice in the "real" grownup world around them.

At the same time, public education has always been a source of popular support for war. American children in both World Wars were called on to "do their bit" by collecting string, paper, or scrap metal, and above all, buying war bonds. During the Cold War, while outspoken belligerence against potential enemies was not considered politically correct, children were cruelly deceived into believing that hiding under their little desks would protect them from atomic weapons. Barack Obama is far from the first American leader to assert that this country is capable of "absorbing" a devastating enemy attack.

All of this has been in aid of creating and maintaining a culture of harmlessness, a collectivist's utopian ideal exclusively populated by easily-managed masses of what individuals of a somewhat differing point of view have aptly termed "rabbit people"—human groceries, if you will—to be used and abused in any way the first sociopath to come along may wish. Think of the pathetically harmless and passive Eloi and their cannibalistic Morlock nemeses in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.

America's public schools have notoriously become "freefire zones" where criminals and crazies may, without risk to themselves, terrorize and murder groups of victims who have very conveniently been rendered helpless and harmless for them, in both the physical and mental sense, by officials and their policies that are not a whit less evil, less stupid, or less insane than they, the psychopathic killers, are, themselves. Any children who are injured or killed under such a regime must be considered martyrs to an orthodoxy of cowardice and irrationality. Their suffering must be held against the politicians, bureaucrats, and policemen who callously threw their lives and safety away.

As long as public schools continue to be permitted to exist, at the least, public officials at every level of government—especially including the Presidency—must be required, under stringent penalty of law, to send their own children to randomly selected public schools.

It is bound to get worse—far worse—under the public school system's brutally sacrificial policy they call "zero tolerance" for self-defense. Just as an example, to eradicate weapons, a huge concern of theirs, you must first eradicate knowledge of weapons and to eradicate knowledge of weapons, you must finally eradicate knowledge itself.

The only rational alternative is to eradicate the public schools, instead, to empty out their buildings and raze them to the ground, so that not one stone is left standing on another, and sow salt on the ruins.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


Help Support TLE by patronizing our advertisers and affiliates.
We cheerfully accept donations!

Big Head Press