Children must be taught. The child will crawl by itself, but must be guided to not lick the electric outlet. He or she will walk, but must learn to not dash into traffic. Nothing a child is taught is more important than reading. Reading exposes them to other people’s thoughts beyond their immediate contacts. Reading shepherds the child into an expanding world. As the child is exposed to other people’s ideas, he or she will distinguish one from another, true from false, fantastical from actual, and eventually develop a mature ability to think. Parents should teach children to read. No other parental responsibility is more important.
Contemporary public schools are not interested in teaching students to discover their innate freedom of thought, of speech, or of communication. Public schools teach reading but focus on developing normative students. They treat all exceptions as special needs projects. Socrates could not teach in any public school today for the same reason he was jailed in Athens. Athenian authorities wanted children to become good citizens first and good soldiers second. Socrates taught students to question the lessons and offered the students a method of inquiry. Nothing has changed in the oldest case study in education. Socrates’ heresy is still heresy. No Socrates would be hired at an American public school. He would still be a corrupter of youth.
The education of the young can serve the prevailing ideology or it can serve the individual. Athens had one opinion and Socrates another. Today the state prefers one and many families the other. This remains an unequal contest because the state, specifically the education establishment, has legal authority over children, and therefore does not care much what families think about individual learning.
American public education uses a mutable progressive ideology. Mutable because it changes gradually over time and with the goals of educators, but without losing focus. Ideology because the ideas of the curriculum interlock to create a self-referential reality. The result is designed to limit freedom of thought. A population emerges that is limited in its ability to discriminate good ideas from bad, or truth from partial truth.
Public educators understand that learning to read does not create a free mind. The process of teaching reading can itself be a vehicle used to bind the thoughts of children, like ancient Chinese women had their feet bound.1 The resulting chattels walked gracefully for the teacher, but could not wander off. Functional literacy may be the right skills for a good student or a good citizen, but not for a person destined to wander away from the institution.
Compulsory education law demands that parents hand over children to state authority and indoctrination. Even homeschools do not escape this authority. Homeschools must submit to state regulations and local supervision. Home schooled students must be tested in the core educational ideas of the local public school. Local school boards, social services, and the police are on hand to enforce this authority.
Much damage has been done. America is no longer the most literate country on Earth. The normal American operates the government and most business. The labor force is just functional. This is by design. Liberty always irritated the leadership. Industrialists did not approve of free thinking workers any more than planters wanted literate slaves. Business still does not want literate employees in call centers and box stores. Normative behavior and politically correct thought are the ideal for workers and citizens. The two ideas grew together in the United States and both work toward a common goal: a compliant functionally literate worker. Grandpa Johnny Couldn’t Read and his kids came of age listening to creole pidgin hip-hop. Millennial children coming of age live in a world of images and surfaces a few inches from their faces. The most reasoned statement they see is a meme. Normal people in all three generations have become disinterested and docile. The 2020 emergency demonstrated how docile.
Ironically, the dual track education system, one for the leaders (private) and one for the workers (public), that solved the initial problem of too many literate workers was damaged by the health emergency. Many people came awake and are now questioning whether the compulsory public education that set the standards for good workers and good citizens is still helpful in their lives. Something can be done immediately to push back against this indoctrination. Parents should teach children to read.
Parents must see the harm in letting public school teach the child to read and choosing the texts. Public education aims for minimum proficiency. It aims for functional literacy. It aims to instill specific ideas about the world. Control of the narrative must not be allowed from the first reading lesson.
Parents should derail the process by teaching children to read before and during their public education to counter-balance the indoctrination. The child has no chance of meeting a teacher in school who is interested in their reading skill and their freedom of thought. Parents should get quality material in front of the child as soon as possible. Middle school or high school is not too late to read a little Thomas Paine or Murray Rothbard. The more children who think independently, the fewer Prussian adults the state can march off into the permanent military underclass staffing Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, or Ukraine.
Parents should teach children to read as early as possible. In or out of public school, the parents should expose the child to non-ideological, traditional texts. Every step closer to emancipation is a win. The family that takes this path will have a fight to the last school day with authorities who want supremacy over the child, but there is a fighting chance if the free thinking child is in the family’s corner.
1J. S. Mill, On Liberty