In an image being tossed around social media recently, John Green, author of several books including the excellent Fault in Our Stars, expands his literary repertoire to political commentary, specifically, education. He writes:
We have discovered as a species that it is useful to have an educated population. You do not need to be a student or have a child who is a student to benefit from public education. Every second of every day of your life, you benefit from public education. So let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don’t personally have a kid in school; it’s because I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.
I love posts like these because it really allows for logical exercise since there are so many fallacies contained. It’s like an Easter egg hunt for the illogical!
Let’s start with the false dichotomy. Green says that he supports public education because he doesn’t want to live in a country with a bunch of stupid people. The implication is that we either have public schools or everyone would be stupid but that’s a false dichotomy. It’s like saying I don’t want to live in a country with a bunch of murderers so, everyone should be in a concentration camp. Well, unlike Green, I went to public schools (government schools is a more appropriate term) and they produced a fair amount of stupid people. We’ve had government schools for quite some time and that hasn’t reduced the number of stupid people in this country. In fact, I’m pretty sure that number has gone up with the population enrolled in government schools. It’s not either/or here and in many cases public schools equate to stupid people.
Green says that he supports government schools because he wants students to go off and write great books and invent amazing things, but the type of schooling pervasive in the government education system (as I point out below) actually works against creativity and innovation.
Another fallacy that Green makes here is a combination of the “You Didn’t Build That” fallacy and the the Government Cheese fallacy. He states that we all benefit from public education even if we’re not a student or have a kid who’s a student and that’s true: education has a positive externality in which the beneficiaries of that education benefit society as a whole because they’re more productive and less prone to bashing people and taking their things. But saying that in order to achieve that positive externality, we must allow a different class of people to bash people and take their things (namely, the government taking taxes) is ridiculous and contradictory. You don’t eliminate violence by authorizing government to do violence, you simply shift the perpetrators.
An example would be a case in which someone takes $10 from you and gives you a block of government cheese. There’s a positive externality there (you won’t be hungry), but it’s not very efficient ($10 should get you much more than a block of cheese) and you don’t even like government cheese. The same is happening in government education. Bureaucrats take your money and give you the educational equivalent of government cheese. Sure, it’s an education, but it’s usually not what you want and it’s certainly not worth the price tag.
A good summary of the problems we face in government education can be found in the documentary “The Lottery“:
The scariest part about Green’s message isn’t a fallacy, however. He says:
Public education does not exist for the benefit of students or for the benefit of their parents. It exists for the benefit of the social order.
This is a perfect summation of the Prussian-industrial model of schooling, focusing on following directions, basic skills, and conformity. Its designer, King Frederick of Prussia sought to indoctrinate the nation from an early age and mold people into mindless, uniform, automatons who benefit society and the state at the expense of the individual. That’s the model that Horace Mann modeled our government education system after and, evidently is what Green is supporting here. The results of such a system are clear: a population that is devoid of innovation, critical thinking, and creativity but who can follow orders.
Education is vitally important to a thriving society; on that I agree with Green. But his defense of government schools is fallacious and his theory for the purpose of education is downright scary. Government schools are great for producing mind-numbing monotony, not intelligent free-thinkers. Green himself avoided the trap of government schools and with his CrashCourse Youtube channel is actually helping people avoid the mental black hole that is government schooling. It’s curious as to why he would persist in supporting it.
I do agree with Green in that I don’t want to see a world full of stupid people. That’s why I’m building indieschool with my brother. Indieschool is a curriculum builder and resource center for teachers, home educators, and students. I also can’t recommend Sal Khan’s book One World School House and the Khan Academy enough.
And here’s an inspiring TED talk by Ken Robinson: