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JOHN WEICHER, INDIVIDUALISM AND POLITICS: The Question of Federal Aid to Education - Ralph Raico, New Individualist Review 
New Individualist Review, editor-in-chief Ralph Raico, introduction by Milton Friedman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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INDIVIDUALISM AND POLITICS
THE LARGEST LOBBY in Washington last year, according to the official statements of expenditure, was neither the AFL-CIO nor the National Association of Manufacturers, but the National Education Association. It spent its money largely to promote the most far-reaching of the proposals for Federal aid to elementary and secondary education, the Murray-Metcalf bill. Thus it fulfilled its promise of 1959 to wage an “all-out” fight for this measure, which provided over $1 billion each year for four years, to be divided among the states in accordance with their school-age populations, and available for school construction or teachers’ salaries, as the states wished.
On behalf of this, the NEA out-spent the traditional lobbies; on behalf of this, or something close to it, the NEA and the Kennedy Administration are exerting every pressure they can bring to bear on the present Congress.
Few issues illuminate so sharply the contemporary left’s faith in the Royal Touch of more money—preferably spent by government, by the largest possible unit of government. With the charm of several billion dollars, all the scrofulas of modern society will vanish. There may be a certain amount of truth in this in regard to sewage plants (ignoring the fact that local action is almost invariably cheaper), but it will not hold for education.
The current agitation for Federal aid to education has resulted from the Soviet Union’s being the first nation to launch a Sputnik and from its presumed lead in certain fields of space exploration and weapons development. But this lead has been achieved not through mere government aid to education, but through government control of education and, more immediately, of research. The Soviet Union has devoted its resources to fields which will yield results of direct value in its continued conflict with the free nations.
On our part, the United States has directed research into the military fields even before the National Defense Education Act. Its research contracts have long been a major item in the budgets of our leading universities. The Armed Forces have conducted their own language schools. Within the last two years, Congressmen A. Sydney Herlong and Walter Judd have sponsored legislation to create a Freedom Academy.
Admiral Hyman Rickover, perhaps the best-known critic of the nation’s school deficiencies, has suggested that, if local and state agencies cannot educate children adequately, then Federal standards—Federal controls—should be set up. He has suggested these norms as a last resort, if other means of improving the schools fail. His chief emphasis has been on the scientific disciplines useful in defense, and he has based much of his argument on defense needs.
Federal control of education—particularly Federal control by Admiral Rickover and others devoted to excellence in schools—has some appeal as a shortrun, ad hoc measure needed for national survival. But this is not really the central point at issue; the argument from defense needs is largely window-dressing and defense is not among the major aims of the NEA. It professes strongly its opposition to Federal control of education, and Federal control by Admiral Rickover is the last thing it wants.
Robert Schuettinger’s article, “Modern Education vs. Democracy,” in the April issue of New Individualist Review, set forth the prevailing educational philosophy of the NEA. It is not Admiral Rickover’s, but it is that of most of the state departments of public instruction, and of the United States Office of Education in the Eisenhower Administration, under Commissioner Lawrence Derthick, who bitterly opposed the views of Admiral Rickover, the Council for Basic Education (CBE), and other groups seeking more rigorous standards. The CBE has expressed the hope that the new Commissioner, Dr. Sterling McMurrin, does favor solid intellectual achievement, but if he does, he will face a monumental housecleaning job in his department before those views can prevail.
The question of standards was carefully avoided by both President Kennedy’s Task Force on Education, and by a panel of citizens reporting on the need to extend the National Defense Education Act. Professor Arthur Bestor of the University of Illinois, a member of the latter panel, evaluated its report in these terms:
“Committees, I discover, will always agree to spend more money, whether or not they agree on anything else. I cannot conscientiously subscribe to a report like the present that refuses to discriminate the conspicuously valuable program from the comparatively worthless one, and devoutly prays Congress to make its sun to rise on the evil and on the good alike.
“The National Defense Education Act of 1958 is a hodge-podge of different measures. Certain of these have contributed importantly to the improvement of American education. Others, it seems to me, have reinforced the very tendencies that produced American educational weaknesses in the first place . . . The various federal educational programs that point in this adverse direction should, I feel, be abandoned or curtailed . . .
“The resources of the federal government should be husbanded for the purpose of stimulating the full development of our intellectual resources. Local communities should pay the full cost of the frills to which they may be addicted.”1
Apparently, Professor Bestor was alone in his views.
THE DECLINE of standards has been a major phenomenon in education over the last twenty or more years. While most colleges were talking of the increased competition among prospective freshmen in the wake of the Soviet Sputnik, a 1958 profile of Harvard in Harper’s magazine commented that Harvard was taking a larger and larger share of its entering class from the private schools, and expected to continue to do so as long as public school standards continued to fall. This situation may be changing as some of the public school systems change their policies under public criticism, but if so it is changing not because of the NEA, which has gone so far as to advocate a boycott of the Luce publications when Life magazine attacked “life-adjustment” education a few years ago, but in spite of it.
A major point of controversy has been Federal aid to private and parochial schools. Enrollment at these schools has been growing more and more rapidly since 1940, in the face of a mounting tax burden which must deter many people who would like to send their children to parochial or private schools. This is discomfiting to those who regard private schools as divisive and would like to see them eliminated. If Federal aid to public education only is approved by Congress, the added burden will seriously curtail the freedom of choice of many people as to where to educate their children, and a major step toward the eventual uniformity of American education will be taken. But if Federal aid to private schools is approved also, then what has happened to the Constitutional separation of Church and State? Further, if Federal aid means Federal control, as it eventually must, we may then be on the way to a system similar to the French, where public and parochial schools offer identical curricula, both being administered by the state. Neither alternative is conducive to educational freedom.
In regard to whether Federal aid means Federal control, it should be noted that the state most in need of greater spending on education, according to the NEA statistics on per-capita spending and other indicators, is also the state whose opposition to Federal aid is likely to be most ferocious—Mississippi. The reasoning is quite simple: Federal aid is likely to mean integration, with or without the Powell amendment prohibiting funds to segregated schools.2 If grants are made to the Southern states to build segregated schools, the interesting question arises of whether the Federal government is violating the law of the land as expressed in Brown v. Board of Education. But if integrated schools only are allowed, surely the Southern states will abstain from participating in the program; and since the Southern states are those most lagging in their educational programs, this would mean that the states for whom the program is designed are excluded, rendering the program largely useless, if not worse: for in that case the Southern states would be taxed to help support the educational programs of the richer, integrated Northern states, making it harder for the South to raise its educational standards and actually contributing to greater inequality of educational opportunity.
Even on the NEA’s own quantitative basis, impressive evidence has been compiled to show that Federal aid is unnecessary. The classroom shortage, estimated at over 300,000 rooms five years ago, is now estimated at 132,400 by the Office of Education.3 The accuracy of both these figures is open to question, however; each state department of public instruction is asked to estimate its own needs, based on its own definitions (which vary from year to year) of “substandard” and “over-crowded.” Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina investigated his own state’s reported shortage and discovered that a classroom was counted as “needed” for each classroom having more students than the desired ratio. If a classroom had 29 students and the desired ratio was 28, a “shortage” of one was counted.4 Roger Freeman, in discussing the state estimates, wrote: “The so-called 10-year requirements . . . should not be treated as essential needs nor as attainable goals but as what most of them are: expressions of the desires of functional administrators who are conscientiously trying to promote what they believe to be in the best interest of the people but who cannot be expected to judge the relative priorities of the multitude of claims for public funds nor the over-all capacity of the economy to meet them.”5
Everyone from President Kennedy to Freeman agrees that this country will need 60,000 new classrooms a year for the next ten years. But over the last five years, we have been building at a rate of approximately 70,000 classrooms per year—without Federal aid.6 This means that if the state and local authorities continue to build at the current rate, the existing shortage (whatever it is), all new needs for the expanding population, and replacements for all classrooms which become unusable between now and 1970, will all be supplied.
The other chief “need” for Federal aid is to augment teachers’ salaries. Freeman pointed out that teachers are now better off than they were in 1929, and that even according to the NEA’s own figures, the supply of teachers is steadily catching up on the need for them. Moreover, in the fields where teachers are sought by outside employers—chiefly science—the teachers themselves refuse to permit higher salaries in these fields without across-the-board raises. At current rates of increase in salaries, teachers will be earning between $6,000 and $6,700 (in present dollars) by 1970. Freeman concludes: “The great majority of teachers do as well financially in teaching as they could anywhere else. Many do better.”7
The real needs of the schools—which neither the NEA nor the Administration propose to remedy—are for higher standards and tighter discipline, which are inter-related. The former requires a change of philosophy among the departments of education and the NEA, the latter a change in philosophy among the children and their parents, and perhaps among teachers and administrators. When these problems are dealt with and we are near a reasonable working solution of them, we will find that Federal aid to education has ceased to be necessary to improve the schools. And these problems can best be handled on a local level. The NEA would be more useful if it stressed more rigorous training for its members in the subjects they teach, and if it sought to work with state and local officials to provide better discipline within the schools.8
[* ] John Weicher is an Associate Editor of New Individualist Review.
[1 ]Council for Basic Education Bulletin, February, 1961, p. 3.
[2. ] In spite of the protestations of the advocates of the NDEA, it is clear that Federal aid means Federal control even in that act. Professor Claude J. Bartlett of George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tennessee, reported a startling example of Federal intervention in a Guidance and Counseling Institute set up under the NDEA at his college; eventually, the school dropped out of the program. See “Federal Control of Education: A Case History,” in Human Events, March 10, 1961, p. 152.
[3. ] Wilkinson, Ernest L., “A Report to Thruston Morton,” Human Events, March 17, 1961, p. 165. Wilkinson quotes the United States Office of Education canvass for 1959.
[4. ]Congressional Record, February 16, 1960.
[5. ] Freeman, Roger A., School Needs in the Decade Ahead (Washington, 1958), p. 192.
[6. ]Ibid., p. 200, and Wilkinson, loc. cit., p. 165.
[7. ] Freeman, op. cit., Chapters III and IV, especially pp. 167-172.
[8. ] The discipline problem, which is not discussed in the article, is widely recognized as extremely acute, particularly in the larger cities. Chicago has recently seen a 14-year-old fifth-grader confess the murder of his teacher during school hours; a number of teachers of my acquaintance have told me they will refuse to teach in the city at all rather than teach in certain schools. New York’s problems are, of course, well known. It is questionable if any kind of Federal aid would be effective in these areas, short of sending in the National Guard.