by Charles Curley
Exclusive to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
“You can only wait so long for other people to make a change before you need to take action.”
— Kristen Braia
There is hope for this country. As always, it lies with the entrepreneurs, with the rebels. Not with the bureaucrats and politicians.
Think of major political changes as a supersaturated solution. In physics, hit a supersaturated solution with some small shock: a dust mote, a small vibration, something most of us would never notice. But change come all across that solution: the saturated material starts to precipitate out and fall to the bottom. And the precipitation grows until the solution is no longer saturated.
In societies, something small precipitates huge changes that no-one anticipated. The Arab Spring started when a street merchant, frustrated with life around him, set himself on fire as a protest. Governments fell, and for many people life got better (Tunisia). For many people, life got worse (Libya). The same thing with three famous revolutions, the American, Russian and French revolutions.
I have long maintained that education is the most important issue facing this country. If we don’t reform that, all else is vain. We can repeal all the gun laws we want, cut all the taxes we want, and if our children are the illiterate, innumerate and emotionally stunted products of the government schools, within a generation we’ll be right back where we are now.
Which makes Kerry McDonald’s book so encouraging. We are looking at a revolution in education. In this case, the revolution was precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, when the government school system responded with exactly the wrong response. Kids, parents, and teachers all over the country saw what was going on — and opted out.
The book is short, only 77 pages, much of that photographs of neighborhoods, the schools, and founders and students. It is divided into five sections, and some conclusions. The five sections are four major US cities, and a rural area.
One thing the five area have in common is a lot of poverty. Which brings us to the first interesting implication. Poor folks are the worst served by the government schools. Rich folks can afford private schools or the high property taxes that go with good government schools. Poor folks can’t. So poor folks innovate and entrepreneur because they must.
These unconventional operations are inexpensive. The average annual cost of a student in the Wyoming government schools is $16,861. That’s high in the Rocky Mountains, but middling nationally ($13,701, 2018-19). Pace Academy, in Virginia, has a tuition of just under $10,000 a year. Braveheart Christian Academy, in Arlington, Texas, has an annual tuition of $7,000. Mountain Montessori, in rural Oregon, charges $6,000 a year. Dream Tech Academy’s annual tuition is approximately $4,600. Other programs may mix home schooling with part time schooling, and charge proportionately less.
Some states now have so-called back-pack funding: the funding follows the child. Innovative schools qualify in some states. Some states have some sort of virtual school or virtual charter school, like Oregon’s TEACH-Northwest. These will help defray parents’ costs. In addition, there are plenty of non-governmental scholarship programs. With imagination and hard work (those two ingredients of the American Dream — remember that?) even the poorest of children can have access to entrepreneurial personalized education.
Another thing that stands out is how many of these programs were started by veterans of the government school system. Many left the government schools in frustration at the bureaucracy, the unwillingness to change, the “not invented here” syndrome. Now those teachers are flourishing along with their students. One founder has a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Key to all of this is individualized learning. Many of the programs are Montessori or Waldorf, which emphasize individual learning. One third grade child came to Dream Tech Academy having gotten Bs and Cs at the local government school. Danette Buckley evaluated the child, and realized that the kid couldn’t read. Not even simple words like “dog”. Buckley created a custom curriculum and within three weeks the parents and Buckley notice great improvement. In an interview separate from this book, McDonald says that this example is not unusual.
This book isn’t exactly a Tolstoy novel, but if you still don’t want to read the whole thing, read the first three pages, then go to the conclusions at the very end. The pages in between give you a close look at individual programs across the country.
The closest thing to a complaint I have is that I would like to have seen more rural programs. Living in rural Wyoming, one of things that critics think limits non-governmental options is the vast space between people in states like Wyoming and Alaska. But even in Wyoming there is cause for optimism. While the Natrona County School District is losing students (due, the school board moans, to a lower birth rate) the local Casper Classical Academy is looking to hire another teacher.
That nitpick aside, go read this book.
There is hope for this country. If the bureaucrats and politicians don’t screw it up.
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