This story begins not with the immediate, breaking news issue, but with a preface, a “Once Upon a Time…”
Once upon a time, when residents of the United States talked about education, the vast, vast majority of them did not discuss a mandatory, top-down, government-run, taxpayer-funded, one-size-fits-all indoctrination machine based on a Prussian model and run by an essentially uniform cadre of unionized pseudo-intellectuals seemingly intent on undercutting the concept of natural rights.
They did not think of education in this way because there were virtually no government-run, taxpayer-funded schools. Until the latter half of the 19th Century, children in America were educated privately, by parents, through apprenticeships, through churches, or through charitable organizations, and, as Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld noted in his monumental book, “Is Public Education Necessary?” the vast majority of children were literate to a degree not seen in contemporary America.
As Dr. Blumenfeld has observed, and as I noted in a book a few years ago, 1812 saw the famous architect, Charles Bulfinch -- who was in favor of a Unitarian plan to remove education from private (especially Calvinist) hands and put it into public hands – head up a study of local Massachusetts education to find, much to his chagrin, that over 90% of children in the state were privately-educated through grade seven (and the qualitative content of that education was superior to what many high school seniors receive today). In 1831, when Alexis deToqueville visited the US to write a book on the penal system here, he was so impressed by the rate of high literacy and civic aid, all done sans government taxation, he wrote a completely different book, and we have the seminal “Democracy in America” thanks to his efforts.
This preface is offered to make people aware that many folks in the US today have a normalcy bias when it comes to education. Since government has been involved with “schooling” for so many generations, most Americans are unaware that there was another way to do it, and that this method prospered, without creating the “tragedy of the commons,” i.e. state-run systems where rights are crushed, and everyone fights over how the resources will be used.
Case in point: A news story and potential lawsuit have appeared in New Jersey that, if the accusations are borne out, exemplify the stark intellectual and moral corruption at the heart of government-run education.
On September 28, Jeff Goldman, of NJ.Com reported that a Manville High School student named Frank Harvey had been suspended by the school system and ordered to undergo a psychological exam over what he and his mother, Mary Vervan, claim was a class project from the last school year.
According to Goldman:
Harvey produced a video that provided examples of people who used guns to defend themselves from home invaders, the report said. His video also displayed anti-gun-control political cartoons… The teenager ran into trouble when he mistakenly left the thumb drive with the project on it in a computer in the school library. Someone found it and turned it over to the school administration, who then contacted police.
Goldman goes on to note that Manville police viewed the video and cleared Harvey (of what, we aren’t told, possibly criminal threatening?), but school district officials suspended him and stipulated that if he wanted to go back to the school which his mom’s taxes help fund, he would have to undergo a wonderful, completely non-fascistic five-hour psychological examination.
The boy and his mother would not comply with the mandate, and so he is studying at home for his GED, and his mother is considering a lawsuit.
The video was published at NJ.Com on the 29th, in an article by Dave Hutchinson, and is a quick, innocuous watch. But the story becomes more complicated, especially if one is a school bureaucrat who cares not a whit about the First and Second Amendments.
According to Harvey’s teacher for the class, Rachel Gottfried, she never gave her students an assignment to argue about gun control.
But Harvey begs to differ:
She said my project would be perfectly fine… I presented the video to the class and took a few questions from my classmates. My presentation went over well. The whole idea of the assignment was to expose students to an idea they hadn't considered before… What the response of the school tells me is that I'm allowed to do my schoolwork as long as it agrees with their point of view on an issue.
The school district superintendent claims she is “unable to comment” because of “privacy” laws. But, of course, the mother who is having her money taken by the school system under penalty of law must reveal her earnings, allow home inspectors to value her home and be charged by the government for it. And the state has escalated the situation, sending a tax-funded official from NJ Child Services to the Harvey home, and inspiring Vervan to ask:
(W)hy is the school taking these extreme actions and harassing us with child services?... I don't understand why they're doing this.
Meanwhile, Manville police, the Child Services office, and the school system say nothing.
Harvey is frustrated that merely expressing an opinion about the right to keep and bear arms, merely citing instances where people defended themselves against violent attackers, and observing that criminals don’t care about statutes that make possessing guns illegal, have caused the machine of the state to attack him like this. He is sad that he won’t be able to graduate with his friends, and bewildered about why he is being singled out:
I don't understand why I'm being disciplined for following the instructions of my teacher and no one else is.
Could it be possible that the teacher did not get permission from the school administration for the assignment, but gave grades, and did not expect word of the project to get to the Administration? Was Harvey’s mistake of leaving the flash-drive in the school computer the first time school officials heard about the presentations, and, as a result, perhaps the teacher is covering up? One can only speculate. But Harvey has noted that he showed the presentation to the class, so if it comes to a lawsuit, other students are free to testify on his behalf.
But, even if the teacher didn’t assign this project, why is this student being punished and persecuted? Is there more to the story? Are he and his mother making things up?
The police certainly did question him, and they did review the contents of the drive, so if there are other factors involved, those certainly were not considered by police, who found no wrongdoing when they reviewed the flash-drive.
The closer one looks, the more this appears to be another case of contemporary public school bureaucrats and teachers trampling the rights of students and parents that are supposed to be protected by the First and Second Amendments of the US Constitution.
Some might argue that children don’t have rights like these in school. After all, how would school function if kids were able to speak at any time, say anything they wanted?
Which brings us to the most important lesson of this troubling mystery: Rights and Government do not, and cannot, coexist. Despite vaunted claims to the contrary, in order for states to operate, they cannot allow people to exercise their rights to speech, property holding or many other important, peaceful activities. The only way for governments to get the cash they need -- to pay for even the police function they tell you will “protect” your property -- is by claiming an a-priori power to take whatever portion of your property the government officials or the majority of voters see fit.
Mr. Harvey’s problem is a perfect example of how free speech cannot be allowed and will not be tolerated in public schools. To do so would upset the “apple cart” designed by elitist thinkers going back to 1829, when the push to stop private education began. As Oresetes Brownson, a one-time supporter of this idea in the 19th Century, wrote:
The plan was to establish a system of state – we said national – schools, from which all religion was to be excluded, in which nothing was to be taught but such knowledge as is verifiable by the senses, and to which all parents were to be compelled by law to send their children.
The fruits of the utopian educrats have been poisonous for many years:
- Abysmal literacy rates,
- Skyrocketing expenses,
- Dissatisfied parents and
- Disregard for civil liberties.
Mr. Harvey’s story is just one of many that are driving more and more parents to flee the public schools, even as their tax cash is pilfered to prop it, and its bureaucrats, up.