- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004


by Herbert J. Walberg and Joseph L. Bast

Hoover Institution Press, $15, 388 pages

Tip-off on this extraordinary book: Its authors call a spade a spade and bravely tag public schools as “government schools,” a name-change adopted by Nobel economist and intellectual freedom-fighter Milton Friedman.

Co-author Herbert Walberg is a noted educational psychologist, author or editor of 60 books and presently Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Joseph Bast publishes School Reform News and heads the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think-tank.

The two see voucherization, or the restoration of parental school choice, as a way to break entrenched government monopolization of schools and so revitalize K-12 education through competition and privatization — through what economists W.H. Hutt and Ludwig Mises called “consumer sovereignty.”

Clearly, since the school voucher is yet another Friedman idea, our authors are again indebted to Uncle Miltie. Indeed, they trace the idea back to 1955, when Mr. Friedman sprung the school voucher concept in an article and later expanded it into a chapter in his classic “Capitalism and Freedom” in 1962. Then Mr. Friedman declared government funding and operation of K-12 schools — presently involving some 50 million U.S. schoolchildren — as an “indiscriminate extension of governmental responsibility.”

Indiscriminate, yes, but breaking its status-quo grip is tough, even as parochial, private and home schools cut into government-school enrollment. Instructive then was the fight over California’s Proposition 174 in 1993, when teachers and other union members of the California Education Association hit the Parental Choice in Education Initiative in and out of the media.

They badgered signature-gatherers and voters trying to sign petitions. They made illicit use of government-school funds to fight Proposition 174. The initiative failed. As did voucher plans in Michigan and Washington state in 2000 as teacher unions again pulled out all the stops. Plainly, many government-school parents voting down these initiatives were confused if not cowed.

Ridding America of such confusion is the worthy goal of the Walberg-Bast team. Furthermore, our authors tell libertarians and separationists who would simply oust government schools, “but objectives are not plans. They fairly scream at us the obvious question: How do we get from here to there?”

Privatization got a big boost in2002,whentheU.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of Cleveland vouchers in Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris. It was, say the authors, “a historic victory for parents and defeat for the unions.” Not that teacher unions won’t still continue to fight parental choice state by state while advocating smaller classes and higher teacher pay as better ways to “improve” K-12 schooling. Sure.

So can’t one argue that today’s hailed bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act leaves every government-schooled child and his/her parents behind, precisely due to its denial of choice, its avoidance of market-capitalist solutions of K-12 schooling — and thus its imposition of liberalism, costly inefficiency, ineptitude and mandatory monopolization (as antitrusters look aside)?

No wonder our authors devote much space to the question of what capitalism is and whether it can be trusted. Yes it can, they say, sharply defining economics and capitalism. Chapters in “Education and Capitalism” include “Nine Myths about Capitalism,” “Capitalism and the Intellectuals” and “Capitalism and Morality.” The authors explain the public choice theory for which George Mason UniversityeconomistJames Buchanan won the Nobel Prize. Mr. Buchanan saw how self-interest often underlies the “public interest” loudly professed by legislators, bureaucrats and establishment educators.

The note on morality is apt. Government schools often seem to reflect a conscious if unspoken amorality, a philosophy of almost anything goes, one that loosens student restraintasin,say,the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 or in sex education in government schools.

Mr. Walberg and Mr. Bast quote the Cato Institute’s executive vice president, David Boaz: “Because education involves teaching children about right and wrong, about what is important in life, it must be controlled by individual families, not by politicians and bureaucrats. No monopoly system can adequately reflect the values of all parents in a diverse society.”

Again, this is an exceptional book:wellbalanced,researched and thought-out, unafraid to stake a position controversial to many, at once timely and focused on the future — on where American democracy is heading.

William H. Peterson is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and a contributing editor to the Foundation for Economic Education’s magazine,theFreeman: Ideas on Liberty.

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